I almost missed it.
In the tossing and purging frenzy that has become a way of life for Mom and me since my dad's death nearly a year ago, it is nothing short of miraculous that the small yellow newspaper clipping survived. For years--who knows how many?--it had lain obscurely in an out-of-the-way desk drawer along with a myriad other various and sundry documents. Many of these still rested in their original envelopes, expertly sliced open across the top and often bearing an 8-cent Eisenhower postage stamp.
There were statements and cancelled checks from now-defunct banks, insurance EOBs from accidents and surgeries long past, even receipts from funeral home payments made in the early '60s when my grandparents died. And then, nestled unassumingly among these long-outdated papers, was the poem. Titled "My Creed," it ended its three eight-line stanzas of iambic tetrameter in a predictable aabbccdd rhyme scheme with "Author Unknown."
I would guess that Dad used his pocket knife long ago to extract it from some old paper or newsletter, perhaps something like Capper's Weekly. It is of that ilk--a regularly rhymed and metered piece that tips the scale heavily toward sentiment. It is the kind of poem that I usually don't appreciate much, but this one was somehow different.
It was different because it surprised me. It blew me away that my father, a lifetime farmer and self-taught garage mechanic to whom I never would have attributed a penchant for the literary, had made the effort to clip out and save, of all things, a poem. This coon hunter and squirrel hunter and quail hunter and turkey hunter had saved a poem. But I read it, and I can see why. The poet's "creed" was Dad's creed as well.
Here are the poem's first eight lines: "To live as gently as I can;/To be, no matter where, a man;/To take what comes of good or ill/And cling to faith and honor still;/To do my best, and let that stand/The record of my brain and hand;/And then, should failure come to me,/Still work and hope for victory." I leave you to look up the other stanzas if you so desire.
A quick Google search of the first line led me to author Edgar Albert Guest. Known as "Eddie," Guest went to work as a schoolboy for the Detroit Free Press at the turn of the Twentieth Century and remained there for sixty years. During that time, he wrote some 15,000 poems, which when syndicated became wildly popular, earning him the reputation of "The People's Poet" and creating a nationwide public demand for collections of his verse.
According to the website poemhunter.com, Eddie worked nights with his brother to typeset and publish his first poetry. They could do only eight pages at a time before they had to recycle the e's. Eddie Guest was a hard-working, self-made man. It is no wonder Dad found something in his words that explained how he aspired to live his life. Clearly, the two of them were shaped by the same mold.
Chances are, if you google Guest and look at his poems, you will soon grow weary of their predictable sameness. I did.
But I am going to tuck away the clipping anyway. It is a poem that spoke to my father, and his was a life that spoke volumes to me with a steady, consistent reliability that I will never find outdated or trite.