Gaithersburg woman captures images in poetry
County senior discovers new identity as author
Working in the office of New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Takoma Park for six years inspired Eleanor Cunningham to write poetry.
Instead of taking pictures to remember the children and teachers, she captured their images in words.
In a poem titled "This Place," Cunningham wrote:
"I love this place
Where children of all nations
Are learning to appreciate
And have fun in their likeness."
The titles of the poems convey her range of emotions from "I Can't Forget" about those in the world who are hungry to "To Anthony, My Summertime Friend," about a little boy she tutored one summer.
The poem ends:
"I did not know I'd find such joy
The day I met that bright-eyed boy
How could I teach this handsome lad?
I tried, and what a summertime we had!"
Anthony's family moved away the following year and Cunningham never heard from him again.
"I wish I knew where he is now," she said.
In December, at the urging of friends, Cunningham, 87, printed 25 copies of her poems at a local printing and copy shop and sent them to friends and family. At their urging, she then printed additional copies of "Portraits in Poetry."
Eileen McGuckian, former director of Peerless Rockville, was chief among those urging Cunningham to publish her poems. She met Cunningham when the historic preservation group bought the Montrose School in 1980.
Cunningham, her twin sister and other siblings had attended the one-room school. She wrote a poem in 1980 for the school's reopening.
"She thinks about things, realizes there's something she has to say and writes a poem about it," McGuckian said.
In the years before McGuckian's mother died, she and Cunningham became friends. Cunningham wrote poems about their friendship.
"I absolutely cried the first time I saw the book, even though I had seen the poems before," McGuckian said. "[It] just brings back very fond memories of my mother and the friendship they shared."
Cunningham stopped writing poetry when she retired in 1986, after 20 years as a secretary in county schools, six of them at New Hampshire Estates. After she retired, her husband, Floyd, continued to work, so she busied herself as a volunteer for nonprofit organization Gaithersburg Help, continued to teach Sunday school and got a secretarial job. Her children, Floyd, Diane and Janice, were grown and on their own by then.
Nine years ago Cunningham wrote a book based on letters her mother had written as a missionary teacher in the South in 1920. She had no idea her mother had spent a year teaching black children until she found the letters after her mother's death. The self-published book, "Miss Apple: Letters of a Maine teacher in Kentucky," is available through Amazon.com.
Since moving into an apartment in Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg in 2003, Cunningham has been even busier with exercise classes, college classes, movies, programs and doctors' visits. She continues to teach Sunday school at the Gaithersburg Church of the Nazarene.
"There's just a lot of things to do here," she said.
If you go
-April 16 at 7:30 p.m. the Parkview Building on the Asbury Methodist Village Campus in Gaithersburg
-May 31 at 1 p.m. Holiday Park Senior Center in Wheaton
For copies of "Portraits in Poetry," write to Cunningham at ewcunningham@
aol.com. The cost is $8.