Today, we bring you one of Sylvia Henricks’ “Remembrances.” You can read more of Sylvia’s columns weekly in The Franklin Township Informer, or in her book From The Ash Grove (available directly from the FTHS, and via the web site).
Brenda Lempp of Madison, Wisconsin, has been writing poetry, she says, since she was 13 year old. She was born and grew up in Acton, the third oldest of Clifford and Betty Kight’s nine children. Now married to her high school pen-pal from Germany, Steffan , who is a mathematics professor at UW-Madison, she is the mother of three children, and has recently published her second collection of poems about her childhood.
Brenda and I became acquainted several years ago when she worked for the Informer. After graduating from Franklin Central, she attended Franklin College, earning a degree in journalism. Brenda has worked for newspapers in Indiana, Florida, and Illinois. She has also taught, substituted, supervised a school lunch room, volunteered in school libraries, edited school yearbooks, and “clowned around as Buzzy the Clown with Happy’s Clown Club.”
Poetry has always been a big part of her life, she admits. She has led a poetry group for 20 years, and is a member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and the Wisconsin Regional Writers’ Association and. She published her first chapbook, Yellow Smiles, in 2000, and her poems have appeared in several publications.
Last year she produced her second book, Collecting Memories, Childhood Poems, dedicating it to her parents. So large a family provided Brenda with countless images and memories of the life they shared in Acton., images of home-made fun and happy times.
Brenda signed and sent two copies of her latest book, one for the Historical Society and one to me. In a note she said that she recently shared in a reading for the Wisconsin Festival of Poets. “I dedicated my reading to Mildred Mahler, and I read two of her poems,” Brenda wrote, “and several from my chapbook.” (Mrs. Mahler, named by some “Acton’s Poet Laureate” wrote many poems from which Olga Woolman and I chose some for a Township Historical Society’s publication, Apron Pocket Poems, printed in 1980.)
Collecting Memories contains 41 of Brenda’s poems, with the title poem on the back cover.
Being a poet, is a meaningful part of her life, Brenda Kight Lempp says, although she admits “I sometimes am too busy to write.” “But,” she adds, “I can’t stop writing.”
Brenda’s first chapbook, Yellow Smiles, Family Poems, about her three children, Kiki, Kari, and Kevin, was published in 2000. Her latest book, Collecting Memories was completed last year. Both books are in the Township Historical Society’s collection of local authors.
In Collecting Memories, Brenda writes about her own childhood in Acton where she grew up, one of nine children of Clifford and the late Betty Kight. She dedicated the book to her parents. Her poems reflect a happy, if sometimes crowded household, family fun, and many of the small-town pleasures of life in Acton.
The first one in the book is “Mom’s Favorites.”
I miss my childhood days
when mom cooked peppery sausage, biscuits and gravy,
or hot French toast topped with grape jelly.
For a snack after school,
we loved hot buttered sugar and cinnamon toast,
Those cold Indiana winters were warm
with Mom’s special home-canned vegetable soup.
For dinner, cornbread crumbled with white navy beans
or garden green beans cooked with potatoes and ham.
And oh, I could never resist smothered liver
or a rhubarb crisp cooked in Mom’s old iron skillet.
(three holiday meals omitted)
When I get homesick, there’s nothing
like cooking Mom’s favorites,
Just the smell of a bacon and egg sandwich at breakfast
takes me back home.
There’s only room for the two final verses of “My Special Place.”
Sometimes I look back,/ and I see the little girl/sitting by the lamp.
I hear the refrigerator murmur,/ the clock tick on the wall.
I feel the thirst for knowledge/ and the flow of words on paper.
Years later,/ I still want that corner in my life.
There is my special place/ the lamp warmed me/ the bench hugged me
The clock listened to me, / the refrigerator soothed me,/And words flowed from my pen.
The next best thing to writing poetry is to read it. Thank you, Brenda.