Monday, March 9, 2009

She Came In Handy and Molly Marine

These were inspired by the epitaph on a gravestone. It says...

She Came In Handy

When she signed up in ‘43

She got no special name,

But wore the eagle and the globe

And anchor all the same.

She trained with guns and aeroplanes

And learned to march just dandy,

But it was keeping things in check

She really came in handy.

They said she freed a man to fight

So he could win the war;

At home she did the vital jobs

That he had done before.

She typed the Captain’s letters up

And filed his work away,

She kept a calendar for him

And organized his day.

She felt great fear she couldn’t show

About the plans they made

To drop a bomb to end the war--

At least that’s what she prayed.

She gave her days to Uncle Sam

And when the war was done,

She shook their hands and said goodbye

And felt life had begun.

She married Jack and had three kids,

And when the kids were grown,

She helped by taking on the books

At the station that they owned.

She lived a life of sacrifice,

Blessed others by the giving,

And when she passed short years ago

She left a life worth living.

Upon her grave they set the stone

That told the world a story

Of one good life lived out in time

Without a thought for glory.

In words so sweet and measured out

Like little bits of candy

That summed her worth for all to see,

They said, “She came in handy.”

Molly Marine

Me? Bothered by a stone?

Why, child, there’s a ring to it—

rhymes with dandy, and I was that,

in that uniform I wore.

They told us not to fraternize,

but I could have. I’d march by those men,

and I knew the power of my hips!

Never used it, though.

I was a good girl, a good Marine.

Wore the eagle, globe and anchor.

Did my job for God and Uncle Sam,

in my own way.

I freed a man to fight, they said.

He went to die, and I went to work.

Spent my time typing up the war

and praying they’d not drop that bomb.

But they did.

That might have been the happiest

and the saddest day of my life,

Cause then it was done.

I traded a salute and Semper Fi

for an apron and a big belly –

three younguns and fifty-three good years

with one man before it was over.

But you know, once a Marine,

always a Marine, and I never

felt so proud in all my life as the day

they planted me here with the rest.

Seventy-nine years doing

for others what I could, and I reckon

I earned the way they summed my life.

It’s no insult, child: I came in handy.


  1. i love the rhythm of "Handy" - it bounces and swings and has that unique blend of patriotism and moxie that defined that era - i can practically hear the andrews sisters singing it on a uso stage somewhere.

    then "Molly" gives us her heart and soul - i love the affection in her answer and the perspective she has on her own life, in her own way.

    either one is a warm and wonderful tribute - together, they are just exceptional.

  2. "I knew the power of my hips!
    Never used it, though.

    A true marine.

    And a true lady.

  3. I was tempted to consider the epitaph somehow insulting, but, I guess, in the end, it sums up a good life. It's just the word "handy" that gives me trouble...
    Your poem, however, is excellent, the answer a real, true woman would have given to the stereotyping done by men.

  4. I can see where "handy" just foisted its own rhyme on you - it's irresistible, isn't it?
    She Came In Handy reminds me of the Irving Berlin war songs from "White Christmas" - very catchy and with that military ring.

    It's your true-to-form piece that I really like though - the comeback, if you will - denying the naysayers who would assume she'd have been upset by the epitaph!

    I love the line: "I knew the power of my hips!"

    Both poems are really enjoyable and keenly perceptive.


  5. What a pair these two poems make, with the rhyming march of the first poem and the easy narrative of the second. In the second, of course I felt closer to the woman, more like I was hearing her story first hand.

  6. The poems are beautifully done. But I think I am with Vesper, still struggling with the phrase "came in handy." Because when we use it we usually mean something nice, but extra--not something necessary. "That would come in handy." You don't need it, but it would be nice. I feel that this woman did so much more than come in handy.

    So after the first poem it was bothering me. Less so after the second. I love how you allow her to reclaim the term and redefine it. Through your words, I believe her. But for some reason even if I am comfortable with her referring to herself that way, I am still not sure about someone else doing it. And I can't help but wonder if she would have possibly preferred a different phrasing, and what it says about me that I am still mentally arguing the point after she says it's no insult! :)

  7. I think being handy, or useful, had a different connotation then. It meant fulfilling a sacred duty to God and country. All these individuals were tied together by their large and small sacrifices, and in their mutual giving, became so much bigger than the sum of their parts. Being "handy" in stopping the tide of fascism seems like a noble tribute, indeed.

    Charming, buoyant poem, Karen. I loved that you honored one woman's story in this way. It's bursting with optimism and pride for a life well lived. And I liked that spicy dash of playfulness, too. ;)

    (Thank you for the award, btw!! I'm very honored. :))

  8. "She came in handy." Gave me a chuckle because that was the tone used for women of that era. I believe that was the beginning for women. Rosie the Rivetor was the first step to understanding that a woman has many talents...and still know how to use their hips.

    I liked both poems very much. I liked how you took the first one and turned it into first person. That is very difficult to do. (I know, I've tried).

    Nicely done, Ms. Karen!

  9. P.S. My own Epitaph will read:

    "I told you I was sick."

  10. joaquin - Thank you for your nice comments. Handy is sort of Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy, isn't it? I'll bet she could have danced to that! I always think of you when my mind fills with rhymes.

    Bevie - Thanks for stopping by. I think this is the first time I've heard from you. Come back anytime. I'll check out your blogs, too.

    Vesper - The epitaph struck me, too, as an insult to a woman who gave herself to her country. I wonder, still, who chose the words they used. The poems, though, are her answers to me. She was of another generation. Would she have been offended? She says not...

    Kat - Thanks for your comments. I almost didn't post both, but somehow I had to put them together to get some perspective on her.

    Rachel - I kind of like the old gal! I'll bet she was full of spunk. Thanks for your comments on both pieces.

    Jennifer - Read my response above to Vesper and also Sarah's comments. When I saw the picture (one my son took because HE couldn't believe what it said), I initially thought I'd write something sarcastic about the epitaph, but Molly just told her own story. I think her generation might have had a unique way of looking at this.

    Sarah - Thanks for putting this in the context of its times. I do believe that her "handiwork" was vital to winning the war and that's not small thing.

    Roberta - Sadly, we're losing that generation very fast. My mother was a Rosie, until they learned at the munitions factory that she had lied about her age and was only 16. Fortunately for her, that meant she had to go back to school, which in turn, led to a much better life than she might otherwise have had. Still, she wanted to serve.

    I'm laughing out loud at your epitaph!

  11. Karen, two very fine poems and a wonderful tribute to "Molly". I love the way Molly can't be bothered by a phrase. She knows how valuable she was in the war and later at home -such chutzpah, in the best sense of the word. I think there could be worse things said about a person...

    I really like your fresh approach and unique format here. You are always on the cutting edge. Thanks -

  12. I read your words with all respect from one Marine to another..

  13. My word verification on the last post was "blesses" - how about that!

  14. I visit here daily, though I don't always comment.

    Your poetry is nice to read.

  15. Karen, this is awesome! I'll have to admit the phrase "she came in handy" also made me bristle at first. Then I read the poem, and I felt myself wanting to cheer. But when I read the response poem, I was really blown away. It felt like she was speaking directly to me. This is fabulous! Wonderful picture, too.

  16. K. - Thanks. I almost didn't post these, but I felt that Molly needed a chance to give her perspective on things. I like her, too.

    Marty - Welcome! Thanks for stopping by, and you have my greatest respect and thanks as well. "Blesses" is a really good thing!

    Bevie - I'm glad you do!

    Julie - I'm so glad you like this. You're the guru when it comes to bringing characters to life, so I really appreciate your comments.

  17. Karen, sorry I'm so late getting here. What a lovely pair of poems for what sounds like a lovely person. Was Molly related to you? A wonderful tribute.

  18. Hi, Cat - No, I didn't know her. My son saw this stone and was struck, like most of us, by the inscription. I've thought about her for a while -- especially how she would have reacted to what seems to be a slight. This just came to me as I imagined her. (I really did wonder where you were. Hope all is well.)

  19. Thanks Karen! All is very well! But physically I am really in pain from being at the computer too much. The weather has been great this week here in NC, so I've been taking advantage of it by being out and about a whole lot more.

  20. Karen - I've had some computer-related pain in recent times as well. I get it in my right shoulder blade sometimes and a few weeks back my left hip was so uncomfortable I could hardly get in and out of bed without wincing. Someone advised that I sit on the couch with my laptop and that did help the shoulder issue. When I went back to working at the table, I put a cushion that conforms to my butt (not memory foam, thank goodnes!) and the pain in my hip virtually disappeared after a few days. I thought I had sciatica or worse, but it's all gone now.
    If it's your wrist and carpel tunnel, have you tried a gel-filled wrist-rest? They work really well.

    Take care,


  21. Kat - Sounds like we've all been suffering from bloggershoulder this winter! Hopefully, the spring sun will send some vitamin D to the old bones and let us heal. Meantime, it's move the laptop and hope! (By the way, that was Catvibe's computer pain; I'm suffering right now with a torn rotator cuff and hoping it will heal itself. This getting old stuff isn't for sissies!)

  22. Dave - Thanks for continuing to read here. I know you have so many "followers" that it must be hard to get around to all of them.

  23. "Of one good life lived out in time,
    Without a thought for glory."
    Speaks in great depth... and sums it all up. A lovely pair of poems Karen.

    A beautiful tribute to a truly deserving person.
    Thank you this.

  24. Aniket - I'm so glad you've found the time to visit here. I appreciate your comments. I always look for them elsewhere, and now you're here with me, too! Thanks!