In Memoriam: Virginia S. McLaren, 1927-2019

My mother, Virginia S. McLaren, passed away yesterday, at the age of 92. This is a poem I wrote while sitting by her bedside over the last few weeks. Rest in joy, Mom! (February 11, 1927 – June 29, 2019)

For all who knew and loved her, we hope to organize an informal memorial service in Maryland sometime this fall. In lieu of flowers, please make a generous donation to her beloved Cedar Ridge Community Church, here:



Your Places


The corner of the dining room

In Rochester, New York,

Where you put blankets over chairs

And made a pretend house

Where you played dolls with your sisters

In the early 1930’s.


The hospital room where you visited your father, who

Had taken up house painting in the middle of the

Great Depression,

Who fell from a ladder too old to keep using,

Broke his back,

And smiled from his Stryker frame whenever

He heard a little girl’s voice say, “Hi, Dad.”


Your back porch on Petrel Street where your father sat,

Home after ten months in hospital,

And fed what they used to call hobos,

Giving them the dual gifts of your mother’s home cooking

And his friendly presence, so they didn’t have to eat alone,

Marking you for life with generosity and hospitality.


The familiar pew in the church of your childhood

Where you sat beside your mother,

In her Sunday best of pearls and perfume,

And sang hymns: I Love to Tell the Story,

When I Survey, In the Sweet By and By,

I Surrender All.


The doorway where your dad would squat each day after work

At the piano factory,

Leaning against the doorframe,

And you would rush to him, hug him, and tell him about your day

At school and at play, leaning on his knee.


Your high school, where you won


As a “Senior Superlative.”


The office at Kodak where you worked after graduation,

Using shorthand to take dictation,

Typing fast, dressed smart,

Proud to be part of a professional world.


The volleyball court at a church youth camp,

Where you met a young man

In medical school, who quoted Shakespeare and said,

“The fates have been kind,” and who became your

Beau, and then your fiancé, and then your husband

For sixty-four years.


The kitchen on Sherwood Avenue where your mother cooked

Chicken dumplings and baked grape pie,

And after you left, where a perky parakeet reminded her of you,

Your going away gift to her

When you followed your husband far away.


The window of a train you took cross country,

To board a ship where you stood at the railing

And watched flying fish thread the blue Pacific waves

En route to Japan

Where your Army-doctor husband was stationed

During the Korean War.


A mobile home where you lived after the war,

While your husband got a degree in public health,

And then your first house on The Windfall Road,

Where after a long wait, you gave birth to two boys,

Your pride and joy.


A white pine tree beside that house

Where a robin built her nest,

Where you watched your husband

Lift your sons, again and again,

So they could see four perfect blue eggs

Cupped inside.


Picnic tables,






A table in a church basement where

You taught Sunday school classes, with

A flannel graph board on an easel,

And Jesus, surrounded by children,

Red and yellow, black and white.


Your cars … a quirky Nash, a trendy Pontiac,

Then, practical Chevy and Chrysler station wagons, and later,

A thrifty Chevette and used Ford Fairlane

When your boys learned to drive,

Then a Toyota, then a Buick … with their seats of vinyl and cloth,

Where you were ever the skillful navigator and co-pilot,

A map on your lap,

As the world flew by so fast.


Your living room on Russett Terrace,

The floor boards sagging with teenagers,

You setting out cookies and punch for

the Monday Night Fellowship,

The foyer full of shoes,

The air charged with Spirit-joy.


Beside a hospital bed in the living room of

Your parent’s last house on Blackwell Lane,

Your mother fading as cancer slowly

Took her breath.


Then, a few years later, the kitchen of that same house,

Still full of the aroma of coffee,

And the scent of your father,

The morning of his funeral.



Your kitchens, always crowded with gadgets,

Your dining rooms, with an abundance of china tea cups,

Where you served

So many roast beef and mashed potato Sunday dinners, with

Your perfect gravy, yellow corn, warm rolls with melted butter,

Always a pie or cake or brownie for dessert,

Set on that big walnut table, always with lit candles.


The swimming pool on Martins Lane, the space

Resounding with 

your grandchildren’s

Laughter splashing everywhere:

“Watch this, Grandma!”


RV’s, yours, your sister’s, for cross-country

Adventures in retirement,

The Smith girls reunited again,

Discovering America, campground by campground,

Beach by beach,

Mountain by mountain.


Beside another swimming pool, after your move to Florida,

Quiet, but for the

The rustling palms outside the lanai and

An ebullient mockingbird on a telephone wire in the distance,

A Bible and Our Daily Bread on your lap,

Your last years with Dad.


Doctor’s offices during Dad’s decline.

A move to assisted living.


The mango trees that shaded his grave,

Where on that fierce hot day in May,

You could hardly stand.


Your many desks in many homes

Where you paid bills, made lists,

Saved nearly everything, wrote notes of love,

Chronicled your family’s history with annual Christmas letters, and

That last glass-topped desk where you

Showed your first stark signs of aging, moving papers back and forth,

Back and forth, from one side of the desk

To the other.


Your recliner where you spent the last five years, content,

Filling word-search books circle by circle,

Making puns with your table mates at meals,

Then back to your recliner, the past flooding in,

Memory upon memory,

A jumble of gratitude upon joy, like

Beloved books fallen from the top shelf.


Now, in this bed, breathing unevenly,

Tended by caring hands with distant indistinct voices,

Your frail body tired, bruised, torn from falls,

Yet resilient,

This strong body that bore two boys

Who love you more than words can say,

In whose hearts you will always have 

Your places.


At the end of a driveway,

Me, driving away, you,

First with dad, then alone,

Standing outside, waving until after

I am out of sight.

“Bye for now,” you always call out,

Already anticipating the next reunion,

Never wanting a goodbye to be final.


One more place:

Here, in this vacancy,

This room inside all of us who love you, and have

Felt your love, and feel it