Around The Rim Country

The gift of the white robin


Mabel Anderson was a teacher, a writer and a lover of horses. So am I. Mabel Anderson was born and raised in Michigan and ended up spending her happiest years in the Rim country. Me too.

As Rim country neighbors, our paths finally crossed, and, considering what we had in common, it's not surprising we became friends. Besides horses, writing was Mabel's passion, and I guess that was our strongest bond.

But as much as she loved to write, Mabel wouldn't go near a computer. In fact when the principal of the high school where she taught English told her there would be a shiny new computer on her desk the following fall, Mabel opted for early retirement.

I've always been amazed how the greatest writers, people like Shakespeare, Thoreau and Poe, managed without computers or even typewriters. But then so did Mabel.

Her poems ran the gamut, from playful pieces about her love of horses:

"The Horse-Pox hit when I was three.

I fell hard, with a smile, I'm told.

For 68 years it's been them and me.

I've loved and lost and bought and sold...."

To her hatred of Brussels sprouts:

"My mother and I are on the outs.

She made me eat my Brussels sprouts...."

To the searing droughts in the Rim country:

"Forests withered in the steel-hot sun, dusted, dry

Hammer hands of heat mauled twisted crevices...."

One of my favorites was "Gifts," a haunting poem about white robins. It began:

"The white robins came in the spring of the year

Shy in the light of the summer sun

They stayed by themselves in obvious fear

Ghost white, timid, other birds shunned."

Growing up in Michigan, returning robins were welcomed after long, cold winters as the first sign of spring. In fact, the robin is Michigan's state bird. But these were traditional red-breasted robins. I had never heard of or seen white robins.

About a year ago, Mabel had to move to the Valley because she had developed heart problems and had trouble breathing at this altitude. Besides, her children lived there and could care for her.

About a month ago she died.

I took out her poems the other day and right on top was the one about white robins. But now this poem about birds I had never seen made perfect sense as a metaphor for Mabel's life.

The poem is about an experience Mabel had when she was a young girl. A family of rare white robins showed up in the spring, stayed the summer, and then migrated south. The summer a young Mabel enjoyed the white robins reminded me of the brief three years that I enjoyed her friendship:

"The summer days were long and full.

We swam and fished, hiked and played.

Fall's approach was slow, and still

The days were warm and the robins stayed."

Then Mabel had to move to the Valley:

"'What will the robins do, Mom?' I said.

'They'll go south. All the robins do

When the weather gets cold and their food is dead,

They fly where it's warm and the sky is blue.'"

The little girl asks if the white robins will return. Her mother says they will have to wait and see, much as we waited and hoped Mabel's health would take a turn for the better and allow her to return to the Rim country:

"We watched and waited but all in vain.

No white birds perched in the wild cherry tree.

The white robins never appeared again.

We felt the loss, my mom and me."

But the little girl realized that the beautiful things in life are a rare gift to be enjoyed in the time we are given. And so, for us, was Mabel:

"For we'd been given a gift for free

To view for a little while birds so rare

Not many knew they could really be

For one short summer ours to share."

Back when I wrote a community column for the Roundup, Mabel contributed a Christmas poem each year. Here, one last time, is a Christmas message from Mabel to the people of the Rim country she loved so much:

Daddy, How Did Christmas Start?

by Mabel Anderson

It didn't start with Santa Claus

Or colored trees with colored lights,

It didn't start with silver bells

Or reindeer, sleighs, and worldwide flights.

It didn't start with happy elves

And workshops full of high-priced toys.

It started with a star so bright

It led the wondrous way

To where the Christ child, son of God,

In a shabby manger lay.

And angels sang to tell the news

The songs reached all the earth.

And mankind marveled everywhere

About the virgin birth.

This tiny boy, this son of God

Would grow to be a man.

He'd give his life upon the cross

To pay our sins, God's plan.

His precious blood was shed for us.

Like him, we die, but live.

His birthday is the reason that

We bring these gifts to give.

So surround yourself with lights and toys,

With Christmas trees and silver bells.

Read stories about Santa Claus,

And talk about how Christmas sells.

But after all the parties end,

Before the night is through,

Remind yourself how it began,

Gather all the family 'round,

And read aloud Luke 2.

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