Let’s get this perfectly straight – I cannot write poetry – it is pathetic (ask any kid I ever taught in school) however, I appreciate aspects of poetry. To me, poetry must speak to you. The second thing is that it must relate to you in some way and when I read the poem, The Ones Who Came Before by Dianne Combs, I loved it, as it spoke to me loudly and clearly and I can relate to almost every word. I asked her if I could use it as I had an idea. Oddly, I had two and this is neither of them, but let’s give it a whirl – something a bit different for Around The County.
I questioned Dianne if she wrote this piece with anyone particularly in mind. She said, “Well, no not really, but I did mention my great grandmother.”
When I saw the picture of her great grandma’ Margaret Thompson Hostetter I just adored her. Just wanted to sit down and talk to her and ask her about the hardships Dianne penned in her poem. Margaret, sometimes called Maggie, lost one of her daughters when Mary was just 35 in a sad childbirth gone bad (uremic poisoning and other complications). One of my cousins cried in my arms at the funeral of her son who was 56. She said, “It doesn’t matter the age of your child, it’s still your child. Guess I’ll just have to spend more time with my others.” And, luckily, Maggie had two sons, George Dayton and Eugene plus Dianne’s grandmother Anne Marie who all lived lengthy lives.
Maggie married Corbin three days before Christmas in 1882 and for close to a quarter of a century, they were happy, but the poor man passed away at age 48 after ten days of fighting pneumonia and three days with brain deterioration, assumingly from fever with the pneumonia. His obituary stated that “he was truly devoted to his family, always looking ahead for their welfare. He was always ready to lend a helping hand to his neighbors and friends in time of need.” Sounds like a great guy. Their children were about age eight to 15.
After Corbin’s death, this amazing lady (note the shoes for work, not looks and the hands that are worn from toiling in the photo Dianne provided) and her daughter, Anne Marie, baked cakes and pies for area harvest crews for several years.
Dianne also says she sees great grandmother reflected in her grandmother and sister. Her grandmother’s picture is on findagrave and yep, indeed they look alike.
This poem speaks to me in several ways – I can see my own grandmother working at her sewing machine, creating parachutes during WWII and clothes for me from any material she could grab (most nice but occasionally I had some weird outfits). Where did I get my voice, too as it is a contralto and my mom sang much higher so it wasn’t her. Love of history? Now, the mad desire to constantly read comes from several ancestors so that one I have pegged. IF I could just write poetry I could do one on that alone.
Certainly, I have searched for more – “looking, seeking, wondering.” The last line actually sums-up my whole life – “I need to find them!”
Thanks so much Dianne for sharing the poem and entertaining me, making me think, smile, tear-up … I loved it and hope you all will enjoy it too!!!!
The Ones Who Came Before by Dianne Combs
It’s like looking through the crowds on a busy street,
Searching for a face I’ve never seen.
If I could look into their souls,
Would I see myself?
My funny quirks, my hairline, my voice?
Did anyone out there love chocolate like I do?
Did their fingers itch in the spring, anxious to get down into the dirt?
Was there a rhythm, always dancing in their heads, that wore a beat on the table?
Who gave me the quick temper? The early gray? The funny thumbs?
Was there a mother who looked at her children and saw me?
I feel like shouting into the crowd, “Great Grandmother, I’m here! I’m here!”
I weep at her hardships, a lost baby, a husband gone too soon.
I’ve seen her picture, reflected in my grandmother, my sister.
The curly hair, the smile, the way they could feed us all in such a loving way.
I search for more, looking, seeking, wondering,
Who am I? Why did I become me?
What decision did they make, turn right or turn left, that decided
I would be?
Would I have loved them all?
With their secrets?
With their awkward way with people?
With his stern countenance? With her glaring looks?
Some things are better left back there, in the dust of time.
Maybe it’s just best to see on that granite stone,
“Loving mother and wife.”
Her whole life summed up in that one line.
I still search, I look, I seek, I wonder.
They’ve been here before.
I need to find them.

Karen Zach is the editor of Montgomery Memories, our monthly magazine all about Montgomery County. Her column, Around the County, appears each Thursday in The Paper of Montgomery County.