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Elegy for Rita Sizemore Riddle

1941-2006. Mother, wife, poet, teacher, friend.

I want to remember Rita’s cherubic cheeks and ready grin, her love of Shakespeare and Hardee’s, and her always open door. But most of all, I want to hold onto her blue eyes that sparkled with recognition and mischief, that checked to see if I caught her latest witticism, then focused back on the word at hand.

The word at hand was often a poem, one of hers or mine or a friend’s. She knew a poem’s strength rose from deep emotion called up by the right word. She helped with many of my poems, sharpening the knife, paring away the skin to get at the sweet fruit and the black seed. I tried to respond with the same skill and love.

Rita made an art of loving people. She connected with students more deeply than most teachers because she offered a way to open doors, a way to open their hearts to their own powerful words. Many of her students stayed connected to her for years after they walked out her classroom door.

And though I never was in one of her classes, I too studied under her, walked through doors she helped me see. She took me along with her to my first gathering of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, and thus gave me a group of friends equally in love with turning the doorknob of each word.

But there was often something just beyond reach with Rita. My northern ear couldn’t always catch her speedy southern tongue, or I was too young to understand an allusion. And that’s how our lives often are, just beyond the connection point, just out of reach.
When those moments happened between us, she’d sit back, reflect, then make a joke, the twinkling eye seeing beyond our differences, the door of friendship always open.

Jim Minick

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