A Stroll Down Memory Lane with Henry David Thoreau & Rose Mary Clarke

Rose Mary Clarke

My Mom, Rose Mary (Gard) Clarke aka R.M., had always loved books and passed that love onto me. In thinking over my life there are always two types of pictures of my Mom that instantly pop into my head. One is of her reading in bed, in a chair, in the car… and the other is of her writing something either by hand, typewriter, or later on the computer. I believe one of her dreams starting out was to become an author like Erma Bombeck who was among many of her favorite authors.

Instead of using a journal my Mom favored legal sized yellow pads. She would use them to jot down notes, menu plan, party plan, ideas for volunteer work projects, her job, and of course ideas for things to write about.

Hand written notes for column ideas

She wrote columns for local Indianapolis publications as well as her hometown paper The Banner in Knightstown where she worked in her younger days. During her job as a Realtor® with Better Homes & Gardens, later known as Carpenter Realty, she would send out her “essays” in newsletters to all of her clients.

She began writing regularly for what was once The East Side Herald a small newspaper on the East Side of Indianapolis and was writing a weekly column for the Weekly View (aka Eastside Voice) when she died at the age of eighty in 2017.

A picture of R.M. & Victoria C Clarke at the Art Institute of Chicago
Our last trip to the Art Institute
of Chicago

A month or so after Mom died, I got the idea of gathering up all of her notes, clippings, and full newspapers to organize, retype and eventually publish them in a new book in memory of her. Stowed away I have a three-inch binder of nothing but her ideas for things to write about. I also have a large chunk of everything she’s ever written that has appeared at some point in print starting from around 1979. Needless to say, the daunting task of typing that much material all at once was overwhelming and put on the back burner at that time.

For now, I’ve decided to start with the one book that she finally got published not just because it’s a collaboration I did with her containing my artwork but because she hand picked each story in it. Each of these stories are ones that either she or her readers loved.

Picture "Dear Daughter, working together has been a very satisfying experience for me. Mine were the words, but your lovely drawings gave them added life. They were the frosting on the cake."
A handwritten note from Mom in my copy

So without further ado…..


R.M. Clarke – Introduction

When I was sorting through over five hundred columns that had been published in newspapers to decide which ones to include in this book I saw how often I had quoted passages from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden as well as those from the works of other great authors such as Dickens and Proust.

Thoreau grew up in Concord Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard. Louisa May Alcott and her family and Ralph Waldo Emerson were neighbors. Thoreau was an expert naturalist, a political dissenter and a fervent abolitionist. His family and he were involved in the Underground Railroad. As an experiment in living, from 1845 to 1847 Thoreau lived alone next to Walden Pond in a tiny cabin that he built on land owned by Emerson.

The result was a book with some of the most beautiful writing in the English language. It’s also full of wit and delicious sarcasm about society’s pretensions and foibles. He wrote that people are slaves to style: “The head monkey in Paris puts on a traveler’s cap and all the monkeys in America do the same…” His possessions were few because he didn’t want stuff that had to be dusted, while the furniture of his mind was still undusted.

His reflections on life are as timely today as when he wrote them. For example, his comments about people’s desire for expensive homes: “Many are harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box.” He believed that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation because they become the tools of their tools and are owned by their possessions rather than the revers.

I haven’t lived by his dictum, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” Too often my life has been crammed with too much mental and physical baggage. Originally a small-town girl, I’ve lived in a big city most of my life. Whenever I daydream about returning to nature as Thoreau did, I remember that I would miss the trappings of civilization: libraries, concerts, museums, supermarkets, central heating, and -above all- indoor plumbing! However, I take his words about the process of living to heart:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear. I wanted to live deep and suck out the marrow of life.”

I’ve come to realize that whereas Thoreau went to the woods to contemplate his life, I go to my computer keyboard every day to write these essays and in so doing think about the meaning of life and become more conscious of each fleeting, precious minute of it.

Thoreau said, “My life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel.” That is how I want to live!