- The Peddler:A Pilgrim Story
I stand searching Marion Post Wolcott's peddler picturingmoments with my own peddler grandfather. Sun-scorched, already oldbefore I first jumped down to greet him and New Englandfrom the dusty Studebaker and long hot drive from Texas. His image?Unlike Wolcott's—who seems prepared for all seasons andevents—hardware, groceries, a sun-shaded buggy. My memory
holds only a stooped slight man; one season, summer; a memoryof ripe fruit; and poverty. I am picturinga bony gray horse, rickety wagon, plums squirting purple, andthe fat green watermelons his freckled oldhands slashed bright red. That hesitant smile, the imageof wonderment that he had somehow gotten his family to New England.
Up at dawn to select the best, hurrying to protect his New Englandcorner on Pembroke. "Flummen, flummen, fruitman." Sound is memory,too: horse hooves, Yiddish cries, coins jingling, dropping. Imageand echo envelop me half a century later as I stand picturing [End Page 52] his world. Hartford, his 'Jerusalem of gold,' safe from oldshtetl horrors and Hitler's grasp. A place for dreams and
hope that his son could go farther than he. Andthe son, my father, did, picking tobacco up and down New England,riding rails and a scholarship west to derricks and dust, his oldlife hidden in letters written home in Yiddish. A memoryof my father commanding me to the phone to say hello, picturingthrough tattered English, silence and breathing, the image
a frail grandfather, failing. The Garden Street cemetery, an imageso unlike Longfellow's that I am afraid to stay there andcan only hold myself in place by picturingmy grandfather's terror of pogroms before he fled to New England.(Look at what we must do to honor memory.)I wander further, searching soldiers, gilded pilgrims, old
posters. They cannot yield what a child could not know. Oldmyself now, I yearn for a fully exposed imageof my grandfather's life, his pilgrim journey. I want memoryto keep me anchored, honest, andtruly linked to New Englandas we all are. I return to the photograph picturing
Marion Wolcott's peddler and let her shutter enlarge my memory.Suddenly, I am picturing my grandfather younger, stronger, an imagedetermined to make what was old, new—and New England, newer still.
Davi Walders' writing has appeared in more than 200 publications, been read by Garrison Keillor on Writer's Almanac, and nominated for Pushcart Prizes. She has received numerous awards for her work including a Puffin Foundation Grant, a Maryland Artist Grant in Poetry, and a grant from The Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry in support of the Vital Signs Writing Project she developed at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Her Jewish feminism infuses much of her work, particularly her recently completed manuscript "ReSisters: Poems of Women's World War II Resistance," now seeking a publisher.