Wednesday, September 14, 2022

"Labyrinth" published in YCN Sept. '22

by Janet Sobczyk, 2022

This summer a quiet call beckoned 
not through sound waves and ear canals 
but thought waves that ebb and flow 
returned to mind again and again 
took shape, grasped my hand 
led to parents’ hometown 
a familiar place 
I hadn’t seen in years. 

Almost forgot the way 
scenic route with small towns 
strung along the highway 
missed the billboard declaring 
“Welcome to Norfolk, NE 
home of Johnny Carson!” 
didn’t stop by his museum 
instead drove through city parks. 

Recalled taking turns to climb timidly (no- bravely!) 
up tall ladders to slide down hot metal 
flying on black-seated swings 
holding tightly to the chains 
trying not to kick a hapless child 
then jumping off and landing, mostly on feet, laughing 
all replaced by now with colorful, safe, plastic 
designed to attract children… where are they? 

Drove past grandparents’ houses 
updated, freshly painted 
wisps of memories teased each window pane 
mind’s eyes pressed with cupped hands to the glass 
watching Grandma baking 
little me licking a spoon 
or spinning in a swivel rocker 
to induce dizziness and giggles. 

Drove to the cemetery 
drawn to the spot, walked 
through dry brown grass in need of rain 
to touch parents’ name plates once again 
gaze at uncle’s headstone 
knowing I’m in the generation to go next 
and younger brother has already gone… 
wishing I’d invited my sisters to come along.

Drove to the convent 
across the street from my parents’ old house 
which still has flowers by the porch 
but a different bench upon it 
used to walk the dog with Mom 
from house to convent grounds, strolling 
past rose garden, bubbling fountain, stately trees 
and The Labyrinth. 

Not a maze, no dead ends 
path circles around 
comes to the center 
then leads back the same way 
no getting lost, no need to think 
just focus with prayer 
releasing one’s cares 
reaching the center and resting there. 

A shady place to sit 
inhale peace 
watch bunnies play nearby 
fill up with hope 
rekindle a purpose 
then retrace the path 
leading out into the world 
and take home a new view. 

Reluctant to leave 
drove home in welcome rain 
not knowing when (or if) I’ll return 
but certain it will be waiting 
even if its brick paths 
should overgrow with weeds and grass 
will still entice weary ones 
to make their way to its center.

The entrance

View from the center

In the convent garden... a flower as tall as me!

This poem is dedicated to Sr. Celine and Sr. Hilda, with gratitude for their hospitality at the Immaculata Monastery and Spirituality Center in Norfolk, Nebraska.

Note: my photos weren't published, but I wanted to share them here.

"Uprooted" published in YCN Aug. '22


by Janet Sobczyk, 2022

 Last summer’s geranium survived the winter
 inside near sunny window 
 pink petals delightful
 before bleak snow-gray scene
 separated by glass from the cold
 never dormant, kept blooming.

 At season’s change
 geranium placed on porch
 to breathe fresh air
 feel soft spring rains
 blossoms bigger than ever
 happy to be outside.

 Summer storms brought high winds
 blew pot over, dirt outpoured, roots exposed
 stems and leaves lying helpless
 petals pummeled 
 gentle hands repotted it, hopeful
 and geranium survived, then thrived!

 Another sudden storm brought hail
 uprooted again
 shredded its leaves
 sad, gentle hands set it aright
 barely daring to hope
 and geranium survived, thrived, bloomed again!

 As do we
 upset and flattened by life’s storms
 getting a hand up
 carrying on, time after time
 bearing scars but
 still able to bloom.

 Dedicated to Peter Sobczyk, my son and survivor of many storms.

"Inspiring Interlude" published in YCN Nov. '21

 Inspiring Interlude
by Janet Sobczyk, 2021

 An overnight stay just a half hour away
 close to home but felt good to roam
 a small town with a main street to walk down
 blue and white signs marked its historic times
 an artistic metal fence with sculpted events
 modern buildings mixed with old ones well fixed
 new library and fire house, trucks waiting stationary
 a bar and grill where Husker fans were thrilled.

 After we dined on prime rib and pie it was time
 to enjoy the reason we came, a grand dame
 standing proud on a corner lot, the perfect spot
 to oversee the town’s affairs and be
 a respite for tourists and family to stay a bit.

 Her 4th generation lavished rejuvenation
 saving the best, restoring the rest
 providing gentle care to guests who come unaware
 it’s like sleeping in a museum, keeping
 safe under a quilt dreaming of when she was built
 and how, long ago, they endured freezing cold
 and beastly heat, sheltered by her walls.

 The magnitude of their fortitude makes me feel small
 with our reliance on electricity and technology
 our need for phones, instead they honed
 skills long gone, secrets to survival beyond
 our comprehension, not understanding their apprehension
 about making it through the winter, baking
 the scent of meals and woodstove smoke into her bones.

 New smells helped us wake, tried not to be late
 for a delicious breakfast, listening to others’ ambitious
 plans for the day, when we just wanted to stay
 conversing about the past, gratitude to hosts dispersing.


 While cars were packed, on the balcony I sat
 mesmerized by birds, without a word
 contemplating their oasis, so many places
 ‘round a small pond with feeders for eaters
 tiny and shy, sparrows quick to fly
 at the smallest sound, not earthbound
 flit to a fence, appreciating providence.

 Later as we drove on by I thought, so should I. 

With gratitude to Gordon and Linda Mueller, owners of the Oft B and B in Bennington, NE.

Note: my photos weren't published in YCN, but I wanted to share them here.

"Little Janet" published in YCN Oct. '21

"Little Janet"

by Janet Sobczyk, 2021

 I came to live in Omaha on my own when I was 20 and soon found a job at a retail jewelry store. The older co-workers made me feel like I had joined a work-family instead of just a group of co-workers. They helped me feel safer in this “big city.” 

 Working retail often means long hours every weekend with a day off during the week. I managed quick trips to Norfolk to visit my parents about once per month. The first holiday that I couldn’t make it home, one of the sales staff invited me to join her family. She was a single mom raising two sons and the meal would be at her parents’ house. Just the four of them. Perfect! I’m a bit introverted, so small groups help me feel less awkward.

 Her parents were welcoming and funny, and served delicious comfort food. Her sons soon dubbed me “Little Janet.” She explained that they knew another Janet who babysat for them and was larger than me, and they began calling her “Big Janet.” I hoped not to her face!

 At the time I was very slim but have always struggled with a distorted view of my size. With two older, slim sisters I saw myself as the chubby one, even if photos of the three of us revealed I wasn’t. So it was a relief to be dubbed the little one.

 Fast forward through almost 40 years, different jobs, and raising five kids of my own. My tendency to enjoy comfort food had added many pounds. The memory of the nickname, “Little Janet” mocked me, and I wondered if I would always be overweight and tired like my dear Grandma Rose.

 I had hope from the example of my mother, though, who had gone through the same struggle, and in her grandma years lost the extra weight. I wanted the same for myself as a new grandma. I didn’t want to be too tired to enjoy precious time with my grand-daughter.

 That was my motivation last February to begin a journey with a weight loss clinic that my doctor approved. Now I feel much lighter and happier. The journey isn’t over but I enjoy shopping for clothes in a smaller size and not cringing when I look in the mirror.

 Recently I was called a new name that made me smile. A crew of workers was removing our storm-damaged roof and debris lay on the ground. My little dog needed out so I carried her, tip-toeing out the front door and across the grass to avoid nails and shingles. As I set her down on the sidewalk to begin our walk I heard one of the crew call to a worker on the ground. In Spanish he told his pal to clear the path for the “abuelita.” Two things struck me about that sentence: the respect/ concern in his voice, and that he called me a “little grandma.” It made my day!

Janet with new grand-daughter Eleanor, Sept. 2022

A Quiet Walk published in YCN Aug. '21

 A Quiet Walk 

by Janet Sobczyk, 2021

 Step outdoors into an early small-town summer morn
 Old concrete sidewalk merges to brick street
 Patchy yards grow next to well-manicured lawns
 Renovated Victorians stand stately among ranch homes
 Whimsical outdoor art dots the lush landscaping.

 Squirrels plant walnuts and rabbits enjoy garden greens
 Robins snatch worms and bees examine zinnias
 A bicyclist speeds by, slowing at the red sign to look both ways and glide past
 A gray-haired gent putters around yard as wife reads on the porch 
 No breeze disturbs the moment, birdsong fills the air.

 Rounding the block my temporary “home” comes into view 
 Up four steps, upon welcoming porch 
 The smell of bacon wafts through screened door 
 Made not by me, but for me… a rare role-reversal 
 Hospitality and quiet, the perfect combo for renewal. 

Dedicated to Karen and Mark Baker who make the Bakers B&B in Blair, NE, a wonderful retreat.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

"Summer Reading" poem published in YCN


The table on my deck is a perfect reading spot
sun filters softly through familiar trees
birds twitter, chirp, coo
I settle in and sigh
allow the words to transport my mind. 

A temperate breeze drops a thin vine onto open book
helps the potted plant take a peek
at what’s holding my intent gaze on this page
startled I gently finger the tender young growth, move it aside
then pause to enjoy the sweet mint fragrance clinging onto fingertips. 

The familiar scent takes me back to Grandma’s house
to the mint patch along the side of her paint-peeling old house
it stretched out, growing along the gravel driveway
I’d inhale the scent, then pick through rocks to find white ones
use ‘em like chalk on the concrete walk.

The image elicits a smile
and a twinge of pain at childhood days long gone
then the vine returns
quivers with the slightest movement of air
creeps onto my page again… comforting.

Monday, June 7, 2021

"School Year Flashbacks" published in June YCN


It’s done 
the relief is real 
summer beckons… but 
before leaving the school year behind 
flashbacks scroll across my mind, a photo gallery: 

Glowing smiles of grads as they remove masks to pose 

Proud families gathered and hugs all around 

Prom held outside, beneath a cloudy sky, twinkle lights and magic holding back rain 

Green shirts on St. Pat’s with snacks and Zoom bingo 

Pink and red valentines, the giggles and blushes of young crushes 

A snowball throwing contest, lined up, arms ready, powdery ammo flies far

Trimming classroom trees with handmade d├ęcor, wearing gaudy sweaters 

A turkey feast done differently, classrooms apart, but still delicious 

Halloween costumes with Covid masks 

Walking in autumn air, circling the parking lot for much-needed mask breaks

Labor Day weekend, the first respite for exhausted (already!) teachers and students 

Practicing new rules, cleaning, taking temps, learning how far apart 6 feet should be 

First day jitters amplified by pandemic fears 

It’s done 
this challenging school year is over at last 
looking back, so proud of everyone 
reaching across miles to remote learners, sharing smiles 
facing fears, changing plans, tackling new technology 
being there for each other through sadness and joy 
doing more than we knew we could and looking back… 
it was all for the good! 

This poem is dedicated to the students, teachers, and staff of Madonna School in Omaha, who made it through the whole 2020-21 school year in-person with a remote learning option. The photo above was taken by Janet at the Madonna School prom, of her daughter with date.

Click here to view this month's issue of Your Country Neighbor.