Woman shares childhood memories in book of poems

March 24, 1999

Ruby DiffendalBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

SMITHSBURG - The many paintings that grace the walls in her Ottawa Street home serve as daily reminders of her childhood.

Not that Ruby Diffendal needs them.

To find evidence of the 81-year-old Smithsburg resident's vivid recollective power, turn to page seven in the thick white book on her coffee table.

Diffendal is a published poet.

She spent more than 40 years fishing in her memory and scribbling notes for the three poems that will make her immortal. One of those pieces, "My Home," is printed in "The Great Beyond," an anthology of poetry published in 1998 by the Poetry Guild.


Another poem, "Grandmother," will be published by the International Library of Poetry in "The Sound of Poetry."

Diffendal said she has sent the third poem, "Baptism Hole," to several publishers, but hasn't gotten a response.

"I was so homesick when I left home, all my life, that I started writing about it," Diffendal said. "I didn't want just anything in my poems. I wanted what I wanted in them," she said.

Details are scattered through Diffendal's poetry like the yellowed pages of notes that cram boxes in her bedroom.

In "My Home," Diffendal describes a dwelling's decline from a home filled with children's laughter to a house with decaying window panes and a "broken heart."

She leads the reader down the pathways of her childhood, down the cedar row, along the "Potato Run," to the hill overlooking the creek and the "Flat Grounds" beside it.

Her words sketch a map of Culpeper, Va., a farming community situated in the rolling hills in the north-central part of the state. It is the hometown that she praises with the paintings on her walls, and to which she travels in her poetry.

"I could draw a map of every street," Diffendal said.

She said she was born on the "Upper Farm," also known as "Walnut Shade" or the "Butler Place."

It was through the white picket fence and over the threshold of the green-shuttered white house depicted in the picture over her bed that Diffendal's father carried his 17-year-old bride.

In a piece called "Grandmother," Diffendal laments the life of her mother, Annabelle Shaw Butler.

"Every word in that poem is what she said," Diffendal said.

Diffendal's ode is written in her mother's voice. It is the story of a young woman who came to her marriage home carrying a bit of sod and her grandmother's locket in her pocket.

It is the tale of a woman who birthed 16 children, who "loved to dance and had no time to dream."

Diffendal said she began writing the poem in the mid-1950s, when her 81-year-old mother told her she was too old to visit the poet in her Hagerstown home.

"She said, 'If you want to see me, you must come here, my dear,'" Diffendal said.

The response is the last line in the poem.

Diffendal said she worked on "Grandmother" and the other two poems in her spare time. Inspiration would often strike while she was sleeping, and Diffendal said she learned to wake and record her thoughts.

Although she said she's always loved writing, Diffendal said her goal was to get published. She said she was "overjoyed" when she received her first letter of acceptance.

"It might take you 80 years, but there's nothing you can't do if you put your mind to it," Diffendal said.

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