Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 34
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
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Princeton Personality by Jean Stratton

FOND FRIENDSHIP: “We have a wonderful friendship. We take one day at a time, and look forward to enjoying our communication and outings together for as long as it can be.” Joanna (Jo) Lewis (left) and Virginia Lockwood enjoy spending time together as best friends, despite 61 years difference in age.

Virginia Lockwood and Joanna Lewis Enjoy Friendship and Happy Times Together

“The lark rises unattended
And sings her diary over;
The tortoise gives evidence
Of hurrying;
The leopard, that wild-grass stalker,
Waits for his herd —
Everybody wants that song,
That shell,
That coat.
All their owners want is the next meal.”

Virginia Lockwood smiles as she reads from her poem “Cross Purposes.”

“I like that first line,” she says. “I enjoy reading my poetry.”

Mrs. Lockwood’s friend and companion Joanna (Jo) Lewis listens appreciatively, adding, “I think Virginia creates wonderful images. You can close your eyes and envision that image in your mind.”

Mrs. Lockwood has been writing poetry for well over 50 years, and her work has been described by some as reminiscent of that of Emily Dickinson, in its way of “transforming the domestic into the poetic.” Her poem, “The Plum” is an example.

“I reached to pick up a spot of light, a sun-
Gleam in the fringes of my bedside table cover.
No luck, the light refused to be captured —
Like time, it eludes grasping.
The two slip like satin ribbons through my fingers —
An eerie business.
What is as long as two minutes in the dentist’s chair?
What is so short as a fifty-year marriage!
I’m tired of grappling with immutables.
A gentle mist covers all beginnings —
Which escape into the fog of Was.
The now is all that matters.
Driven to the dew on the spider’s web,
To the crumbs the ant enjoys for breakfast,
I am astounded by the sunset light on boats
At anchor, satisfied by a purple plum at 2 p.m.”

Hint of Maine

Born and brought up in Portland, Maine, Mrs. Lockwood is the daughter of Philip and Gladys Chapman. “I loved growing up in Maine,” she recalls. “It was a very happy childhood. We still have our Maine home ‘Wildwood’ today.”

Mrs. Lockwood, who still retains a hint of Maine in her speech, graduated from Wellesley College in 1931. She met her husband, William Lockwood, Sr., in Cambridge, Mass. when he was getting an advanced degree at Harvard. “I liked him right away — I really took to him,” she reports.

They married in the early 1930s, and lived in New York City. Mrs. Lockwood taught at the Dalton School in Manhattan, and Mr. Lockwood commuted to Washington, D.C. for his job in the State Department.

In 1941, the Lockwoods moved to Princeton, and she has lived here ever since. During World War II, Mr. Lockwood served with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) in China. After the war, he joined the Princeton University faculty, and taught politics and international affairs. He was instrumental in developing the East Asian Studies Department and also the Woodrow Wilson School, and was assistant director there.

“I liked Princeton right away,” says Mrs. Lockwood. “It was a small town then, a university town. We made a lot of friends, and I joined some writing groups. There was a lot going on at the university. We were friends with a lot of other faculty members. It was all very lively, and Princeton is still a special place for me.

“I also liked to go to McCarter and enjoyed the plays. I loved the fact that all the plays came here. McCarter got quite a reputation.”

Special House

The Lockwoods traveled abroad, especially to Japan and India. “We traveled a lot, and I loved it,” she says. “Then, we’d spend every summer in Maine at ‘Wildwood.’” She celebrated that special house in her poem, “Now What (to Wildwood).”

“Any drawer you pull open spills the past —
Dolls in tissue paper dresses,
Graduated sizes of horseshoe crabs,
Early attempts at knitting,
Bits of cloth pulled to fluff by mother mice.
The blue bucket is full of tennis balls.
This is a house of childhoods by the seashore,
A house of kites and building blocks,
Of blueberry muffins, crayons, and shell collections.
The stairs to the bedrooms are steep,
The handrails worn smooth.
Yet there are Vermeer moments, such as
‘Woman Stooping to Change Cat’s Water Dish.’
The same light strikes us all.”

The mother of three children, William Lockwood, Jr., Stephen, and Julia, Mrs. Lockwood still managed to find time to teach at Miss Fine’s School for many years, and eventually for her poetry. “I just started writing it,” she recalls, “Mostly when I was alone or sometimes when I traveled with my husband.”

Her poetry has been published in various literary journals, including the Kelsey Review and the U.S. 1 special summer fiction issue (prose, poetry, and plays). In addition, the family published two books of her poetry in honor of her 80th and 90th birthdays. She has also had readings at the Princeton University Store, the Princeton Arts Council, and Barnes & Noble.

Awash in Poetry

Now approaching her 99th birthday on September 15, Mrs. Lockwood has not written poetry in the last few years, but she continues to read voraciously, notes her son William Lockwood, Jr., who is Director of Special Programming at McCarter Theatre Center. “She always has two or three books going at once. She loves Alexander McCall Smith, and Garrison Keiler’s Collected Poetry — she is awash in books of poetry.”

Mrs. Lockwood lives alone — her husband having died in 1978 — and although her health is remarkably good, she does need help with some of the details of daily living.

Jo Lewis came into her life in 2005, and the two have developed a strong and lasting friendship.

“My mom’s friends Sandra Persichetti and Marcy Crimmins got us together,” reports Ms. Lewis, who has worked as an education instructional aide in elementary schools for the past 11 years. “Bill was looking for someone to be a companion for his mother. I came on a Sunday afternoon four years ago, and we hit it off right away.

“I had worked with other older people, but this was different. It’s been wonderful having Virginia in my life. I’ve always enjoyed the company of older people. My relationship with my two grandmothers — one American, one British — was incredible. I’ve always been patient, and I like to be with older people. They have a history, and I feel I can learn from them.”

Ms. Lewis spends three hours three days a week with Mrs. Lockwood, and during their time together, they are involved in many activities — from painting and reading to attending summer concerts at the Princeton Shopping Center, visiting Thomas Sweet for chocolate ice cream, P.J’s. for blueberry pancakes with syrup (“Virginia definitely has a sweet tooth,” points out Ms. Lewis), or just sitting in the front yard enjoying the neighborhood scene.

Rocks and Seashells

“We like doing arts and crafts together,” adds Ms. Lewis. “Virginia loves to draw. She’s very visual, and is a wonderful artist. The new thing for us this year is Play-Doh. It’s fun and great hand therapy. We can also put it on construction paper and make pictures or write our names.

“Virginia also loves to collect rocks and sea shells. I have brought her some from the Long Island beaches, and we have written a story together about the sea shells. We like to create stories together.”

“I am especially interested in anything to do with the earth,” adds Mrs. Lockwood. “The rocks are so smooth, different sizes, and one is heart-shaped. Just beautiful. I also love flowers and trees.”

Mrs. Lockwood and Ms. Lewis enjoy excursions to the library plaza, where they sit and observe the comings and goings of passers-by. At times they will sample sushi from the nearby Ichiban restaurant, and when she is out, Mrs. Lockwood always wears one of her favorite hats. She takes her wheelchair for occasions like this, but in her house, she is able to move about with the aid of a walker.

“I love talking to Virginia,” says Ms. Lewis. “We talk about everything, including current events. During the time of the election, we discussed the significance of an African-American running for President. I asked Virginia, when she was my age, if she could have imagined this, with the history of African-Americans in our society.

“Also, Virginia was a young girl during World War I. We have talked about that and World War II. We like to talk about American history and our own family history. I am really in awe of Virginia. She teaches me every day — about life, about being patient. She’ll help me with certain situations in my life. We’ll talk about different ideas on life and death. She has a wonderful viewpoint about life. A wisdom of having been in all these different eras. She has so much experience — I love taking it all in. She has an incredible array of wonderful ideas. Virginia is an extraordinary person.”

Exceptionally Positive

The introduction of Ms. Lewis into Mrs. Lockwood’s life has been exceptionally positive, and as Mr. Lockwood points out: “An essential element with elderly people who live alone is contact with others and socialization. Connection with others, conversation, journeys outside. The mental stimulation is so important. My mother and Jo do puzzles, have art projects, and games. All this is very essential to keep my mom active. The more stimulation, the better.”

Adds Sandra Persichetti, Executive Director of Princeton Community Housing: “Joanna is the daughter of a dear friend of mine, and I have known her for many years. She is one of the most thoughtful and helpful people I know. She has a special way with the children in her care, but I have never seen such a close and symbiotic relationship between two people as between Jo and Virginia. I recently met Virginia for the first time as Jo was showing her a video of beach scenes that she made and knew Virginia would appreciate.

“You could tell by the look on Virginia’s face that, in her mind, she was at the beach with Jo while watching this video. The two of them have done many artistic crafts together, written poetry, and ‘held court’ on Jefferson Road. When you see them together, the age difference disappears, and you see two loving friends enjoying each other’s company. What an example for the rest of us.”

“I just so enjoy having Jo come,” says Mrs. Lockwood. “I look forward to it all the time. One of the things I like to do with Jo is to eat out. I was never too much for cooking, but I liked to eat, and I always liked good food. Having grown up in Maine, I love lobster.”

When asked the inevitable question about her longevity, she replies with a quip: “Just luck! I will add, though, that I’ve lived a normal life; I believe in moderation, and patience is important.”

When one considers that William Howard Taft was President when Mrs. Lockwood was born, and that she has seen 18 different Presidents in her lifetime, not to mention the invention of radio, television, computers, cell phones, and the phenomenon of men on the moon, it has been an extraordinary span of time. Looking at it another way, it has all been in the blink of an eye.

As she points out in one of her later poems, “Twins”:

“I am old all over.
I wear a coat of Somewhat Slow,
And wind a scarf of Slightly Bent
Around my neck when winds blow.
A thin veil of Indistinct
Curtains sight and sound.
My feet are shod with Caution—
They creep across the ground.
But there’s a second person
Twinned inside of me,
Dancing and turning cartwheels
That no one can see.”

It is nice to think that Ms. Lewis has seen glimpses of that “second person”.

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