22 April

Mary, Who Are You Now? A Testament.

by Jon Katz
Mary and Maria, A Love Story

Wind sucks breath out of life, 

in relentless grasp of land,

poking nose into cracks and crevices

seeking to chill beyond borders..”

Mary Kellogg, Isolation, September 2009.

There are few people in this world, including our own families, who are more important to Maria and I than Mary Kellogg, our very beloved friend, a poet who has published three wonderful books of poems, a fiercely independent woman who has lived on a windswept farm on the top of a mountain for more than 30 years, most of them alone.

Mary and I became friends about a decade ago when I met her at the first Bedlam Farm, and she later brought me some of her poems to read after we became close friends.  It was the only time I have ever seen her frightened.

I was the first person in her then 81 years of life to see them. They were quite wonderful and we began a ballet of friendship and encouragement, all she ever needed, she said, was someone she respected to encourage her. No one ever had. Maria and I, new friends to one another, agreed to work together to publish them in a book called My Place On Earth.

Mary loved coming out as a poet, and we almost never saw her without her thanking us.

I recall during one raging winter blizzard –  Mary was alone up on her hill alone – and I prepared to drive up in the storm and bring her some dinner. As I prepared to leave, there was a knock on the door and it was Mary, holding a large vat of soup. “I thought you might need something warm,” she said, “I know you always fall down in storms.”

Mary did not need anyone to take care of her.

She was central to Maria and I coming together, Maria admired Mary tremendously, she was a role model and inspiration to her, a mother and mentor figure in her own life and art. Their friendship is deep and profound, Mary saw the strength and pain in Maria and watched over her, encouraged her and loved her.

Maria returned the favor.

Whenever we wavered or stumbled, we thought of Mary, alone up on that hill in her 80’s quite often without phone service or electricity, feeding the deer and birds, tending her gardens, thinking of her beloved Dick, for whom she cared for 10 years after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, writing her poems (she has written three books, we are working on a fourth together).

Mary was the first person to bless my relationship with Maria, she said she would keep me in line.

She came to every one of our Open Houses to read her poems, to support us and talk about her poetry.

She is a symbol to us of independence and strength – no one on this earth told Mary what to do – and great compassion.

She worked for years to raise funds and organize the building of a two-bed hospice unit out in the country that is operating still to help people on the edge of life. She was also a proud garden lady, showing her flowers faithfully in her garden club. She drove the elderly – often people younger than her – to their doctors appointments and brought them food.

She loved her farm so much, she loved her life the birds, the bees, the flowers. She defied every cliché and conventional wisdom about aging and creativity.

She reminded us that life is very much what you will make of it, at any age. She never stopped loving us, thinking of us. At a time when I had lost faith in myself, and many others had lost faith in me, Mary never did. She was and is a rock.

A few weeks ago, Mary fell down in her kitchen and broke her hip.

She had surgery in a hospital, weeks in a rehab facility, and was recently moved to an adult care center in Granville, N.Y. She is disappointed, she hoped to go home.

We are learning that Mary has been struggling to care for herself for some time now, suffering from memory loss and fragility and continuous weight loss. She did not, of course, say a word about it to us. We were shaken by Mary’s fall and the aftermath.

We didn’t know, Mary always seemed so fiercely alert and alive to us, but our visits were short and less frequent the last few months, we just didn’t grasp what was happening. I suppose Mary was sometimes larger than life to us.

Mary’s broken hip has brought some of her life into focus, we are seeing her regularly, talking to her and her family. We began to prepare for this new and different passage of her life. Mary always seemed  a kind of Wonder Woman and we had trouble  seeing the wind sucking some of the breath of life from her.

“Who is Mary now?,” Maria asked me this morning, as we talked about visiting her today, bringing her some books and collecting the poems she had been saving for us for her next book. We need to understand where our friend is. It is not clear if she can return to her farm soon, or even at all.

We were all overjoyed to see one another, and threw our arms around each other. The visit was full of emotion. We know who Mary is, we love her to death, it was liberating for all of us I believe.

She is fortunate to have two devoted daughters – Nancy and Barbara – with whom she is close. They have cared for her and, we now understand, have made it possible for her to be on her farm alone these past few years. Nancy moved up to the country to be near her mother  these past few years and to help her stay on her farm.

No one defeats aging, no one defeats death, Mary has written this more than once in her poetry. “We accept death in the far distant future,” she wrote in 2011, in Comfort Care,” one small thing that humans think about large within heart and soul.”

We  had a beautiful visit with her today, laughter, smiles, memories.

She was very glad to see us in her temporary new home, an adult  care center. She said the people were very nice and the food very good, but she was anxious to go home. She is determined to work hard to get well and get back to the farm. She is  frail and moves with a walker.

How long she stays is between her and her family, of course, not us. She is in good and loving hands. Her fierce sparkle was very much in her eyes.

I can’t speak for Maria, but I feel closer to knowing who Mary is now. Her mind and spirit are very familiar, her body has its own ideas. “As the shadows lengthen,” she wrote in Comfort Care, “destiny with comfort and care softens transition  whether within few minutes, hours or days to see, hear love, laugh, live this final passage of time, gentle hands to hold, patience to listen, love to give comfort care…”

Life is unbearable sometimes, but Mary still laughs and sees the world clearly. If you read her poems, it is clear she knows where she is, at all times.

She often says she has had a good life, she says she misses her husband Dick very much, and every day. She says when the time comes, she will be very happy to be by his side again.

This is not a eulogy, but a testament, I am filled with feeling today. I don’t know how much life Mary does or doesn’t have, it isn’t my business. She can take care of herself, those flashing blue eyes are quite clear.

I respect life, and I accept it.  Mary has had a good one, and is not yet done. Some things are bigger than us. We hope she makes it back to her farm, even for a little while. We will be visiting her quite often.

I told her today that however long it lasts, hers is a life we will always celebrate, not mourn.

She smiled at that, and winked.

If you wish to write Mary, she loves receiving your letters.  She says times goes by slowly sometimes. Knowing Mary, she will try to answer each one but may not be able to. Her address there is Mary Kellogg, Room 2 C, Holbrook Adult Home, 73 North Street, Granville, N.Y., 12832. 

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