Monthly Archives: June 2014

We need a blockbuster movie to show us the troubles, a poem

Is FAIR so hard?

We need a blockbuster movie to
show us the troubles.

We need a blockbuster movie
so rich people get it.

We need blockbuster movie to
light a fire.

We need a blockbuster government but
we aren’t going to get one.

We need a blockbuster barrel
of money to cool the troubles by ourselves.

Cause if there is no blockbuster
of something we will burn.

That fire will burn and bust
All the neighborhoods.

There’ll be neither boutiques nor
pawnshops anymore.

We need a blockbuster movie on
how to get back to fair.

Do we need a blockbuster movie
to define fair?

Come on!
Nancy Haydon Gray 5/24/2014

New! Breaking the Surface, a book of poetry

One of the 24 poems in Breaking the Surface and the Importance of Breathing

I Am the Colorado Sun.

 I am the Colorado sun.

I come up on the flat plain

And fly

Over the most beautiful blue sky

You ever saw.

I change to red

And drop behind Mt. Meeker and long’s Peak

Just for you.


Burn—more sunny days than anywhere;

Makes people smile,

Go outside,

Act proud and cocky—not like Texas though.

Colorado’s special; it’s joy.


I’ve come through for you, haven’t I?

You come, and I shine.

Your new dogs run.

They run in the joy of the grass,

the trees and the squirrels—teasing.

I make Rainbows because they dry your tears.

I call the swallows from your barn.

I say “Fly through the rainbow,”

and you take pictures and laugh

—just as I hoped you would.

And I stop for rain, hard, astonishing rain

—because it makes you stop.

My corn is so high and sweet-scent alfalfa, no soybeans.

Remember, Jim tried to grown soybeans on the old pasture?   Too many weeds.

You and Donald work to beat back the weeds.

You plant seeds: Big Bluestem, Side Oats Grama, and Indian Rice Grass

“I want a medium-grass prairie. I want it to wave in the wind,” you said.

The seeds don’t take, not even trailing, little Buffalo Grass! It’s too dry here.

You work in my sun and become taller and happier than you had ever been.

Colorado and sun.

Hunters, blinds, trucks, gun racks, even holsters, flat prairie,

Furrows, seeders, tractors, harvest, plow to fine dust—a storm, brown air coats everything.

December, January, and February:

I snow on ten-thousand-foot-tall mountains; they glisten.

Snow, spring, snowmelt

to rivers, to creeks, to ditches, to fields, rushing, cordoned off, shares—of water!.

I show you all this that is new, you smile, and your mind breaks free.

“Shares of water, can you imagine that!” you say.

You thank me every day.

By Nancy Haydon Gray, Newark, Delaware, November 21, 2010

To Build a Practical Memorial Granite Bench

To build a practical memorial granite bench

You might want to build a bench to honor a relative, a hero in your town or a special event. Here is what we did. My family and I designed and built a granite bench to honor my husband. The bench is in the center of our family burial lot. He died when he was only 58, and it was important that my son, daughter and her husband and I work on something special to mark his life. The project took a year and a half, and it worked as a precious healing time for us, which is exactly what I hoped it would be.

May this essay of mine speed you on your way if you are thinking of honoring a person or commemorating an event or a place. I felt my husband’s life demanded special attention, and as I was now head of the family, I was going to be sure it got it. I wanted a project for us that would let us pay tribute to him and help us close his life with the respect it deserved. He died so young with no warning. Very quickly, we found a place we liked in a garden cemetery that is dear to my son’s heart. He led that process. We did the rest with each of us doing what we could do best.

As most cemeteries do, it had design and placement restrictions, actually a set of guidelines and rules. We reviewed the rules and generally agreed with them except that lettering and decoration could not be embellished with gold or color. At first, we had a meeting with a design firm and asked them to design our bench, but theirs was too fancy. Their work was done on the agreement that we only paid for it if we liked it, and we did not. They had agreed because the project was quite different and they wanted to give it a try. I thought we could do it on our own.

So we proceeded with our designing and all the plans that were necessary. My daughter drew a bench and the templates for the decoration and wrote the inscriptions for both it and his gravestone. She was back home overseas at that point, and phone calls were expensive. This was many years before Skype or vigorous competition between phone service providers. Nevertheless, we mailed and faxed drawings until we had that part together. We all liked it. Her husband made a small wood model which let us visualize the design.

My son and I checked out the work to actually make the bench. I visited two stone cutters, one a young man and the other a seventy year old woman, an old timer and more of an artist, to see about the design and inscriptions, but hand stone work turned out to be impractically expensive. Instead, my son heard that a friend did etching on glass and asked him if he could do it on granite. He could, and the cost was far less and less time consuming than stone cutting. My son made an appointment at the E. L. Smith Quarry in Barre, Vermont, and set off from his home in Massachusetts with our designs. When it was finished his friend went to the quarry and did the etching.

Next were some of the very practical tasks. The bench was to be put on a truck and delivered to the cemetery, but first, it needed a concrete foundation to be poured, cured and ready to receive it. I called two landscape designers to see if this was something they could do. One seemed too casual about it and setting a bench that weighted at least a ton was not a casual task. The second designer had just finished her studies in landscape designer and was quite positive about what had to be done. When it was delivered, truck, crane and workmen, she was on top of the job like the true supervisor she was trained to be. Over twenty years later, the bench is there, as solid as it was on the first day it was set. Our designer chose the plantings, a fothergilla, as the background shrub for our lot, and low plantings around the armrest. Fothergilla is a flowering shrub that grows to about 10 feet high and has white fuzzy flowers in the spring with downy twigs and pretty leaves, native to woodland and damp ground. Our lot is shaded and that worked just fine.

We are proud of the design of the bench; it is soft, medium gray granite, five feet long and curved, rounded at one end and with a substantial, boxy arm rest at the other, and the back curves up in the middle. There is a floral design etched into the back and my husband’s (and our children’s) surname and mine are on the side of the arm. We all worked together and contributed different talents. Each of us was responsible for different parts of it depending upon what we were good at.

We visit it when it is covered with snow and sit on and talk and look at the scenery in the sun in good weather. We like our bench. We discovered we could do this, and it is not only heroes and notables who can have a bench. My son lives close by and often visits to sit and enjoy where it is, in a garden cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We wonder how many other people sit on our bench and we hope they enjoy it too.

Naughty nighties, oh, no, not that way!

Dear Ladies’ Nightgown Industry Head Honchos:

Re:  Nightgowns and Winter Time.

Please, dear designers, consider redesigning nightgowns for those of us who live in a climate that includes winter.

Why do I wear one if not to keep warm? Because the sheets are cold and the nightie is warm. I am warm from the day and my shower. When I slide between the sheets for that first few minutes, my body is saved by my nightie. It’s saved from the shock of putting my nice warm back and bum on the cold sheet.

Soon, soon . . . my shoulders are cold, cold I tell you. The neckline is more suitable for a pop-up bra commercial. There I am with my sheet and blanket carefully arranged at my chin to keep my shoulders warm, and then I roll over and have to adjust the covers all over again. Then I roll over on my other side – you see what I mean? My Nightie is designed to keep me awake all night adjusting it to keep my shoulders under the covers. If the nightie came up nice and warm and soft around my neck, it wouldn’t matter if I got those covers just right. And, oh, a bit of sleeve, ah, that’s it.

And the volume of fabric, goodness! There I are on my back. Fine. Then I roll over and all that fabric has to be rearranged. As I fall asleep, I turn on my side and untwist all that fabric. Its fine when I turn the first time, but now, again, you see what I mean? Try untwisting all that and not waking up. I say, “How dumb a design is that!” and I write a letter in my head to you all as I try to assemble myself once again.

Which leads me to say, nightgowns are too long or two short. If they are too long, there is altogether too much fabric to fight with. If they are too short they don’t quite fit under my bum so it’s cold, and I have nothing under me when I sit to watch TV. Some designers understand, and I thank them, but I do have to look high and wide for just the right length, a modest neckline, a slim cut without so much fabric.

And by the way, ditch your scratchy nighty designer labels. Dear designers, rub your chosen label across your cheek. No, not that one, the one on your face. Do you see what I mean? I cut them off and your brand name is lost for good. Summer is coming soon, and I won’t have to wear a nightie at all. So, maybe you can work on these problems over the summer. That would be wonderful.

Sincerely yours,


© Nancy Haydon Gray June 8, 2014 Newark, Delaware

79-year-old English major writes poetry, illustrates and takes dance

From the University of Delaware Review, student newspaper

79-year-old English major still showing off talents

May 18, 2014

Nancy Haydon Gray, a 79-year-old English major, writes poetry, illustrates and takes dance classes at the university.
Cori Iliardi//THE REVIEW
Nancy Haydon Gray, 79, has been taking classes at the university for four years. Currently, she is enrolled in Dance 101.

Copy Desk Chief

Among the students showing off their long boards, knitting projects and modified toy vehicles at the Design Innovation and Positivity (DIP) club’s showcase last weekend, there was one student who didn’t look quite like the rest: a 79-year-old English major.

Nancy Haydon Gray has been studying at the university for four years, taking one class a semester on a pass/fail basis, but this is not Gray’s first time pursuing a degree. Gray already holds two master’s degrees in communications management and elementary education.

She has been taking classes for four years, but she says she doesn’t have a status like freshman or sophomore.

“I get away with as much as I can, so I never have to graduate,” Gray says with a smile.

Gray displayed her works over the last 25 years at the DIP showcase, she says. Her works were compiled into books of poems and short stories which also included illustrations Gray has created over the years.

At the showcase, she asked attendees—children, students and adults alike—to draw a picture of a wagon for her next project. Her next project is a children’s story, most likely a picture book, she says. On the table was a prompt for attendees to read, explaining why she was asking them to draw wagons.

The sign—which demonstrated the purpose of the book and wagons—talked about a neighborhood that’s bare and sad, but the children come up with an idea to make it more lively again.

“[It will] show how a bunch of little kids can do more than maybe their parents think they can do,” she says. “They’ll create a parade with wagons.”

Gray is going to use the wagons the guests drew for her in the picture book, she says. These wagons will be spread throughout the book as the parade of wagons the children in the story create.

Although Gray is majoring in English, her interests span far beyond that, and she takes more than just English classes. This semester, she chose to take Dance 101 where she says they learn about history of dance through films, but they also try out some of the dances.

“They’re beautiful young people, absolutely beautiful, and some of them are so graceful,” she says. “It’s just a pleasure to be around them.”

Professor Jeanne Walker met Gray when Gray took her Introduction to Poetry class. She says she was excited to have someone Nancy’s age in her class, even though it was a class of mostly juniors and seniors—all under the age of 22.

Walker says Gray was one of the top students in the class, and she was always up for anything. She was top of the class, very smart and highly motivated, Walker says.

“Nancy always said what she thought,” Walker says. “She was very straightforward. On the other hand, she is capable of making friends with somebody at any age, and therefore, our undergraduates, I think, loved her.”

Gray is very hospitable and kind to people at all levels, Walker says.

To demonstrate Gray’s kindness, Walker says she once met with Gray to discuss some of Gray’s artwork and poetry. Walker says her office was so cold, she almost needed mittens. After the next weekend, Walker returned to her office to find a large package outside her door. She says she couldn’t imagine what it could be, and when she opened it, she found Gray had sent her a space heater.

“It’s absolutely typical of the way she goes through life,” Walker says. “I bet a lot of people could tell stories that are similar.”

But beyond just being sweet and kind, Gray has lived an interesting life, knows a lot of people and stays in great shape, Walker says.

“She still has the capacity to meet new situations with zest and curiosity,” Walker says. “She has a fierce intelligence, and she’s still curious.”

Posted by Cori Ilardi

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An improv dance program for older adults

I propose an improv dance program for older adults.  I am a 79 year old woman with friends ages 60-90.  We would have to tone it down from contemporary stage performance and make adjustments so it was gentle.  Imagine that one of us demonstrates a move straight out of our heads and everyone tries it, and the next person invents a step that comes to them from the music.  Imagine that music was no louder than it would be in your living room.  Whatever one could do would be perfectly all right.  Laughter and talking are encouraged.  Little by little we would loose our shyness and take pride on working together.  Imagine how much we would learn about one another.

We could find an Improv Dance teacher to teach us, but not lead us.  We would learn, together to work as a team in a friendly, cooperative process and use our imagination through movement.  Sometimes a person would lead, and sometimes follow.

The Economist magazine leads with the heading for April 26, 2014, “A Billion Shades of Grey,” which speaks for itself as to the potential numbers of older adults who might enjoy and support a different kind of exercise. I say, there is more to exercise than following the leader. Our brains can do more.  I would like to try it.

©Nancy Haydon Gray, June 7, 2014, Newark, Delaware

Introducing a new and beautifully illustrated book of poetry

Introducing a new book of poetry

Breaking the Surface and the Importance of Breathing, by Nancy Haydon Gray. Published by Peace and Poetry Press, Newark, Delaware, 2013.

In this beautiful, illustrated book of poems and stories, Nancy takes readers through 25 years of her life. It begins as she is newly widowed and writes, “That is the hardest thing: to hold on to my right to my own life each day instead of someone else’s.” She works her way through her husband’s proud and daunting mindset. Then, on her own, she moves to the high plains of Colorado, and does, indeed, breathe deeply, joyously. Her serious themes give way to delight in mother- and childhood, and she leaves readers at the end with a whimsical version of the creation of the earth and a plea that her brilliant friend let her be right at least once. She has built her own feminist theme that runs through her poems. She becomes more and more confident. She ceases to questions so much. And, as her title tells her readers, she truly breaks through the surface of uncertainty and breathes free and confident. She will celebrate her 80th birthday in January, 2015, and plans a big celebration. Nancy is a native of Pennsylvania and now lives in Newark, Delaware. She has lived in Helensburgh, Scotland, and Galway, the Republic of Ireland, and travels to Sydney, Australia, and Boston, Massachusetts, to visit family there. She looks for new ideas everywhere and is working on a children’s storybook and a new book of poems.

A movie to mend the social fabric of our cities

A movie to mend the social fabric of our cities

Individuals can transform at risk youth one group at a time.  Movies can change society.

have a project I would dearly love to have Dreamworks or another major Hollywood studio care about very deeply.  I would like it to be the magnitude of Saving Private Ryan.  The move will, give little black male children that vision we have heard so much about since the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech. My piano teacher told me a six year old white boy came to her house for his lesson and said, “This is going to blow your sox off,” and he sat down to play.   He was not all that well prepared but he had the hutzpah to strut in, sit down and expect approval. There is a deep undercurrent in this vignette. We give this confidence, humor and comfortable interactions to our white boys.  Who and what are doing this for the little Black boys.

What if a movie could give little black boys as young as four or five a deep, enduring sense of potential?  What if they went into a theater time and time again, and when the lights went down, and the movie started, they believed? I use the words Black boys knowing full well that Black men were called “boys” for far too long. I could use “little African American male children,” which is ponderous and takes all my passion away.   As a white woman I didn’t know that boy was an insult to an African American male to this day. Last week, II asked a black man what he thought of my idea of helping Black boys by way of movies, and he said, in a pointed but polite way, “Maybe you could find a better word than “boy.”   I am talking about little kids, and I know language matters, but really, they are what matter.

I asked Black women how it would help them if Black men were more peaceful, better educated and had more pride in themselves instead of protective braggadocio.  I asked, “What if they had quiet confidence?” Most said a simple phrase, “It would help.”   Disney has transformed little girls into princesses time and time again. Do you know any little girl who doesn’t know how to put on a tiara and stand properly, regally? The simplest princess dress transforms a little girl into a graceful monarch. Suddenly she takes charge of her world. Why not do that for the black boy child?  Dreamworks is aptly named and transforms children into amazing creatures in their minds.  Both have the  writers, animators and creativity abounding to make that movie, and more – to create that valued Black boy child so he knows he is valued.  Can you imagine a world of proud Black young men who don’t die by gunshot, ever.  Movies can make that happen, over time,by giving them a new vision. Movies can educate them, and make it smart to be smart, not smart assed.   Imagine if Dreamworks or Disney made this movie, and another one, and little by little Black youth don’t go to prison because they learned better things to do. Because of these films, Black men headed families with the same aplomb white men do.  White men succeed or fail, but they expect they can do it. It is not fair the Black little boy doesn’t grow up with the same presumption.