by Laura Sillerman | bio

I got to know Ginger Andrews some time in 2002. I read about her first collection of poems, “An Honest Answer,” and then read and fell in love with the volume itself.

Describing “An Honest Answer,” one reviewer wrote that it “upholds the complexity, repetitiveness, predictability and unpredictability of family life.” Her second and most recent collection is “Hurricane Sisters.”

If you follow this link, you will learn that Ginger is considered a literary descendant of William Carlos Williams. You will also read that she cleans houses for a living and teaches Sunday school.

She’s read her work on “A Prairie Home Companion,” and Garrison Keillor has read her poems on “The Writer’s Almanac” (here’s one).

I wrote Ginger a short fan letter, and we’ve been friends who have not met ever since. Yesterday, a day that could fairly be described as rotten, a battered box arrived from North Bend, Ore. Inside was a lap quilt that Ginger had made for me. I took it to a quiet place and wept.

Sixty years old, living in what can only be called luxury in Manhattan, I received the work of Ginger’s hands. A self-admitted clean freak, Ginger was felled by ringworm all over her body and was weakened by it to the point where her always thin frame is now what she describes as “puny.”

Work she did after she got home, bone tired from cleaning houses with her sisters, one of whom has to wait for her condition to worsen before her inadequate health insurance will kick in for surgery.

This quilt was made after Ginger finished cooking and cleaning up after dinner for her beloved Mike who works in the mill. After helping her daughter-in-law — a mother who had a bad accident and who was out of work for a while, too. After making a quilt for her son and helping her mother-in-law, and people at the church and — well, who knows how many other people.

For me, this quilt is an honest answer to the question: Who cares that there’s a woman inside me — a woman who is separate from all that is attached to me. The answer is someone who has more to do and more to cope with than anyone I know.

Who cares about the person inside each of us who responds to literature, or a beautiful leaf fallen on the pavement, or the way the rain looks in the morning before anyone else is up? Chances are it’s someone who doesn’t ask anything from us. If we are lucky, that person is near enough that we can do something with or for her.

Or, if we are really lucky, we’ve once written to a stranger who touched us in some way and across every mile that counts as our shared country. Something gets stitched together until one day you realize it is big enough to be a comfort to you both.

This is being written to encourage us all to do something from the heart today. It may be just the touch someone else needs, or it may grow to be the blanket of kindness that comes back, one day when you really need it, to comfort you.

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  • Ginger Andrews November 5, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Dearest Laura, thank you, first of all, for the chicken soup — the best I’ve ever tasted! — and thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to send a scrap of a homemade gift across the miles to someone who probably has many lovely things. You remind me to not become weary in doing good. Sometimes I wish I never had to clean another house, cook another meal, etc. I’m very human, and in my own mind, quite lazy. (My sisters would tell you that I whine too much.) Your praise embarrasses me, but not enough to not say thank you. You are an awesome friend who always seems to know when I need your gift of words.
    We are just two women. Pen Pals. Poets, who care about others, about what we do here, in our time.
    Love & Blessings,

  • Penny Alper Boyd November 5, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Great news. A new book of poetry by Ginger Andrews. The concept of interdependence really came alive for me in her first book, An Honest Answer. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
    While Andrews’ stories can seem distant to most of us, her familiar voice is easy to transpose. It elicits not only our admiration and compassion for her, our motivation to do more, to be more genuine, but the recognition of just how much humanity truly exists in our own personal lives, which is so easy to take for granted.
    I have given An Honest Answer to friends and family in different walks, stages, and conditions of life (poetry lovers and avoiders alike). Andrews’ autobiographical poems changed us, albeit in very individual ways, and inspired dialogues that otherwise would not have taken place.
    Through her 20/20 perception and poetic precision, her wit, and her refusal to compromise, I think Andrews fades the judgmental lines that we allow to keep us apart. I can’t wait to read (and share) Hurricane Sisters. Thank you, Laura, for bringing this new work to our attention.

  • Dr. Pat Allen November 5, 2007 at 1:22 am

    Jackie is 71 years old and works full time. She is from the Midwest originally and gradually worked her way via Chicago to New York City. She is brilliant, cultured and incredibly kind.
    I spoke to her tonight about her recent emergency gall bladder surgery. Everything went perfectly once she was in a room and the surgical team did everything like a Swiss watch. In and out with major surgery for gall bladder removal in one day. What a miracle.
    But Jackie was really unhappy. While she was waiting in the emergency room of this hospital, she noticed that a woman from Russia who lived in Brooklyn was in terrible discomfort and both her legs were black. The woman told Jackie that she had been waiting for three hours at this point and several other patients had been taken in to the main emergency room for evaluation even though she had arrived before them. Jackie explained to the woman that there was a system in emergency rooms to treat the sickest first.
    Jackie, however, was concerned about this woman and spoke to the triage nurse about her length of stay in the waiting room, her poor command of the English language and her severe discomfort. The nurse promised to expedite her evaluation, but added that Raisa had been called in over an hour before and had not responded. Jackie pointed out that the nurse garbled the pronunciation of Raisa’s last name, thus rendering it unrecognizable. More hours passed and Jackie was taken in for evaluation, then her new acquaintance, Raisa, was brought in as well.
    Jackie’s surgical team completed her evaluation quickly and began the plans for removal of her acutely diseased gall bladder. Raisa, in the meantime, had not even been given a hospital gown. Jackie called a young resident over and told him that she was concerned that this woman could have an acute and severe problem. “Could it be gangrene?” she asked. It must be something dreadful because this elderly woman came all the way from Brooklyn leaving an elderly and unwell husband and the four orphaned grandchildren she cared for full time to be treated at a big teaching hospital. Jackie’s former husband was a surgeon and she did know a thing or two about timely evaluation of acute medical problems.
    The resident recognized that this was not a woman to fool around with. He arranged for an evaluation that took place quickly. But Jackie was amazed to learn two hours later that Raisa had been sent home in the middle of the night to Brooklyn with a diagnosis of an infection and a prescription for antibiotics.
    After she arrived home, less than 24 hours later, Jackie called the emergency department to check up on Raisa. She reached a thoughtful and organized nurse who listened carefully to the story and gave Jackie her word that she would personally find out who was monitoring Raisa’s care and make sure that she would be appropriately cared for. The nurse accepted responsibility for the lack of timely care and assured Jackie that Raisa would not fall between the cracks of emergency evaluation and delayed clinic care.
    Jackie is writing a letter to the emergency room director with thoughtful suggestions about the way that patients with poor comprehension of English could be better served. She has a list and will persistently follow through until she knows that Raisa — who seemed to matter so little to anyone — gets the care she deserves.
    Random acts of kindness performed during a time of Jackie’s own personal anxiety. It is amazing what a difference one person can make. One act at a time.

  • naomi dagen bloom November 3, 2007 at 9:00 am

    oh, laura, many thanks for a gentle reminder i needed today–and every day. your quilt, ginger’s quilt can warm us all.

  • Faith Childs November 2, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Ginger Andrews’ generosity prompts one to reorder one’s priorities by relegating trivial matters to the margins, to try to practice humility, and to abandon hubris.
    The example of her life makes me want to read her work and share it with others. Hers will be the books I will talk about and give to others as this year ends.

  • Anne Rachel November 1, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    Laura, what a touching and poignant entry. Your sharing has definitely “encouraged” me to try to do something from the heart, not only today but, every day.