Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Kenneth M. Kapp

Clarisa was overjoyed that her daughter had decided to attend her alma mater in Wisconsin. It was a warm Sunday morning and the rest of the family were already out running errands. She started a fresh pot of coffee and went to wake her daughter. Bending over the bed she whispered in her ear, “Time to wake up, Marjie. I’ve fresh coffee brewing and I’ve a secret waiting for you on the deck. It’s all about the U.”

“Ah, Mom. I never get to sleep late anymore. Please.”

“Don’t be silly, it’s almost 11.”

Marjie pulled the pillow over her head.

“OK, no lecture. But hurry, you’ll even learn how you came by your name.”

Marjorie scratched her head. “Ten minutes then. I need to shower first.”

The morning was lovely and twenty minutes later Marjorie carried out two mugs of coffee while her mother brought along two pieces of plain whole grain toast, having agreed months ago that they both needed to do a better job watching what they ate.

They sat around the small wicker table, positioning themselves just right for the sun. Clarisa permitted a few sips of coffee as they listened to the birds chirping. She reached over and squeezed Marjorie’s hand. “You know how I’ve always told you that my years at the U were the best years of my life, never mind meeting your father there in my senior year. And how fun the Student Union was, especially in the summer: sailing, canoeing on the lake, and swimming off the pier. But I never told you about the old poet who took up residence there under a dead tree in a far corner of the terrace.”

Marjie sighed. She knew her mother was always going on and on about art this and great novel that. Jeez, you can’t make a living selling poems. She was going to law school; it was a lot less yucky than Medical School. And she thought of a dozen things she needed to do that afternoon. “Yes, Mom. I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned a poet.” She was tempted to ask if they’d an affair but didn’t want to be stuck on the deck all afternoon. She wasn’t one for mother-daughter secrets.

 Clarisa could see her daughter was impatient. She hurried on. “Well, he came in from the bus stop on the corner carrying a little folding chair, the kind you see painters carrying when they paint en plain air, and a large satchel held together with duct tape. And he had long hair under an old beret that was pushed to one side.” She thought for a moment. “And frankly he was a little smelly, you would have thought he was a painter. He’d open the chair and sit, placing the satchel to one side. He’d open it and reach around inside for another hat. Well maybe it was once a hat, and he snuggled it between some gnarled roots. Then he took out a sign and propped it inside the hat: ‘Rhymes for dimes.’ If you stopped even for a moment, he would explain how ‘in summer, with the gentle breezes over the lake and clouds telling strange stories it is only natural to ask yourself about love and life. Oft’ the answers can be found in rhymes.’

“He would then cast his eyes down on the hat, in which there were several folded slips of paper. ‘If you are tongue-tied, don’t worry. Some words work better than others and as King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”’ He’d tease the coeds; I never saw any of the boys stop. ‘Off-the-rack answers are a dollar. For your word and my rhyme two dollars.’ Most of us laughed and skipped off. I mean he was perfectly harmless. My sorority sisters said he’d been there for ages and ages.”

Marjorie looked down into her empty cup. “Mom, really. He didn’t say he could read tea leaves?”

“No. And if you want to learn how you came by your name, then please let me finish. I’m almost done.”

OK, OK. But then at least let me bring out the coffee pot. You want anything else?”

“No, Sweetie. Coffee is just fine.”

Marjory was back in a minute with the coffee and two more pieces of toast.

“All your talking has made me hungry.” She poured the coffee. “OK, you were saying something about the paper and readymade rhymes.”

“You know in my days, people would still joke how girls went off to college to get a degree, an M R S, a MRS., get it? To get married.”

“Wow, that’s really an old joke. I never heard that before. So?”

“So, I was a senior and 22 and still hadn’t met Mr. Perfect. It felt like time was running out. I thought, what the hell, next Friday I’d come back with two dollars and give him my word. I could always tell the story to my grandkids if I ever had any.”

“Mom, really!”

“Stop interrupting. Now what was I saying? Oh, yes. I won’t even make you guess. I’ll tell you my word – ‘time.’ I was worried I was running out of time, not having met anyone. And I had no idea what I was going to do after I graduated.”

“Boy, I’m glad I didn’t live back then!”

Marjorie, be nice!”

“So next week you gave him your two dollars and whispered your word in his ear.”

“No, that would have been unsanitary. He was an old man and I said he smelled. No. I bought a new little sketch book and wrote ‘TIME’ on the third page in a flowery script to inspire him. And I went when I knew none of my friends would be about.”

“So what happened?”

“He smiled at me, took the book slowly from my hands – and did I say I gave him my best fountain pen? – and turned to the third page. He looked from the word to me and back again to the word and then closed his eyes. I thought he had fallen asleep; it felt like an age. And then he wrote in my book.”

Clarissa paused and closed her eyes.

“Mother, you can be so exasperating. What did he write?”

“Well it took him a while so I thought you too could wait a moment; after all, it’s your name.

A stich with thyme

When you wanted a rhyme

Needs more than a sage

And less than a page.

            “I was surprised; maybe he was an artist after all since he wrote the rhyme in a hand that was exactly like the word I had written. But then underneath he printed:

                        Remember, marjoram is different from oregano.”

            “So that’s why you and Dad always use marjoram on Italian food?”

            “No, well sort of. Let me finish. Two weeks later I went with some of my sorority sisters to a fancy Italian restaurant, a pre-graduation celebration. There was this really super waiter, a graduate student in chemistry. When I asked for oregano he came back with two large shakers. He said one was marjoram the other oregano and explained that they were both in the same genus or family but marjoram was sweeter and milder. He was right. The other girls laughed when he said he liked to cook and preferred the subtlety of marjoram. He blushed. You know how girls can tease. I thought he was cute, so when I went to the ladies I wrote my name and number on a slip of paper and added that he could call me if he wanted to. Well, that’s the story; the waiter’s your father and he still likes to cook. Any wonder we named you Marjorie.”

            “No. But why did you wait so long to tell me?”

            “Because it’s a stich with thyme and you never liked poetry.”


Kenneth M. Kapp was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, an IBMer, and yoga teacher. He lives with his wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, writing late at night in his man-cave. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He was a homebrewer for more than 50 years and runs whitewater rivers on the foam that’s left. His essays appear online in and articles in

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