A Poem for Glenda Goldwater, the Late Grande Dame of the Portland Art World

Emilee Geist

In September, Glenda Goldwater—art lover, Hillsboro Hops fan, late-stage tattoo aficionado and Old Portland icon—died at age 87. In the wake of her passing, reporter Daniel Forbes spent hours on the phone with several friends who knew her well, and composed a researched poem in her honor.  “You Just Realize […]

In September, Glenda Goldwater—art lover, Hillsboro Hops fan, late-stage tattoo aficionado and Old Portland icon—died at age 87. In the wake of her passing, reporter Daniel Forbes spent hours on the phone with several friends who knew her well, and composed a researched poem in her honor. 

“You Just Realize You’ve Got to Evolve”: An Ode to Glenda Goldwater

The tale of a woman beyond time’s reach
Who rode your basic MLS degree to a stretch in Europe
and a life amidst the bright lights of California.
Ignoring Age, she defied its sovereignty
Tall, willowly, erect, an unused cane dangling on her arm as she chatted
The bus home at midnight, humming what the orchestra’d played
Don blinkers to the hurdles and sail on, sail on.

Twasn’t always thus, her childhood thorny
She and Mom less than salubrious. And turn aside, please,
from the presumed torments inflicted on a 6-foot teenager.

Off not soon enough to the halls of U-Dub
And happy there, Mom in the rear-view mirror
For Glenda tarried in Seattle for a Masters in Library Stuff
An MLS, not the expected Mrs.-degree, Sputnik yet to fly

And soon a continent ‘tween her and home.
Now get this: the Big Apple proved too crabbed. Besides, Europe beckoned
the Grand Adventure. Foreign languages, towns, culture – the whole nine.
How else a West-Coast girl drive a Citroen?
Slinging books for the U.S. Army, yup, a hated blue uniform her ticket
White gloves required riding the bus among Germans, representing
Though she didn’t have to salute, for that might have broken poor Glenda’s arm.

The librarianship not the best, but Europe at her feet
The Army OK too, sorta, replete with rules – and soldiers!
Though beware the “Geographical Bachelors,” those with wives at home.
Best of all close to France, her true love.

Sara, Glenda, Janice & Ginny on Thanksgiving weekend’s night train to Paris
Bags tossed in the hostel door and scurry to the museum, cafe, opera – one, two, three.
At the 3-star La Tour D’Argent Glenda ordered for the four in sketchy French
Asked what they were about to eat: “Well, I’m not quite sure, but I know it’ll be good.”
And so it was, the pressed duck brought to their table before hitting the pot
The most Ginny had ever spent on a meal: a whopping 12 bucks
Four American girls playing haut monde.

Gourmand and racial justice pioneer back in ’59, Glenda’s beau a Black soldier.
And so off to a Saturday-night movie on a Cold War Army base
The couple to hold hands in the dark like anyone else
Greeted by an uproar and lucky there wasn’t a fight
Date thus too much and you’d get transferred – happened to a friend
(Who stuck her thumb in their eye by marrying the G.I. and raising great kids.)
Going to the movies with a Black man in 1959, folks still lynched for less
Glenda got dressed-down by her boss come Monday
It smarted still, sixty years on.

Movies aside, a friend said, “She was unique, forthright, knew her own mind.
She didn’t think of herself as courageous, but I guess she was.”

Germany not France – and a few too many Germans
She wrangled a transfer to Verdun and oh what jakes
Including her beloved bright red Citroen Deux Chevaux
France’s answer to the Volkswagen Bug
Two glorious years consuming everything French
and fighting the Army for money for books
Boyfriends we can assume, details unknown.

But, ultimately, an expatriate Glenda was not
Especially not with the Army shipping her Citroen home
Not France, regrettably, but still, Baghdad-by-the-Bay
San Francisco, 1965, her MLS again the ticket.

Soon-ish, our Hero turning 35 and thinking it time
She married hubby Number One, the gent a surprise
An odd match, I’m told, no slouch, a good looking Southern boy.
Her friends offer mixed reviews and talk of fun
But still, a bit too much of this, or too little of that
Hard to know, quizzing reticent librarians
Whatever the cause, Glenda showed him the door five years on
And didn’t look back.

Becoming a San Francisco Library Big Cheese
Organizing Bloomsday readings of Ulysses
And helming the Sunset branch, an Italianate palazzo
built fancy with Carnegie money, archways abounding.
Glenda the Library’s public face on occasion, an art director’s dream.

One hopes Life owes us all one great love.
Enter a tall, funny, good-looking older guy
Dr. Alan Goldwater, a shrink, who bestowed a topsy-turvy name
that, loving curve balls, Glenda Todd embraced
“Well, people know it, anyway, that name.”
The sort of man able to make friends of other women’s husbands,
Alan introduced her to the love of dogs, then cats
In fact, a fellow enthusiast of everything on tap:
Art, travel, theater, fine-dinning
The candles yours or some table-cloth joint’s.

Many happy years till Parkinson’s dire call
When Glenda became all the caretaker Alan could hope
Till, riding to commence his day, his program’s van crashed
Throwing him from his wheelchair to hit his head and so….
Glenda inconsolable.

After 35 years, Frisco lost its sheen.
But, two marriages and a bountiful career
All her many pursuits and then some –
don’t forget the glittering dinner parties –
Glenda had found herself there, not that she was ever lost.

A big fish casting her shadow here, Portlanders claim her as our own
Though she arrived a grieving widow, 65, her prior life rich
Sorry, but her 20 years in Portland were a jazzy, snazzy, spicy epilogue
Catching not her second, but a fifth wind.

Still, Portland’s where her collecting blossomed
This retired civil servant’s art on the installment plan
A check for fifty bucks arriving every month till done.
Her buys a smidge too artsy-krafty, she said
Till she settled under a few galleries’ wings.
And the walls of her nifty 5-room crib on a busy Southeast street
Started groaning with paintings, posters, sculpture and assemblage
a melange, plucked by an exacting eye.
She even shepherded a favorite into the art museum
where she held down one of several volunteer gigs.

Sidelined with a broken wrist, she worried about the museum
“They depend on me,” she fretted. And I bet they did.

(A conundrum this: the fate of her fabulous art collection.
Someone – gallery, benefactor, fellow collector – should
talk to Sam Muller and ensure it’s not scattered to the four winds.)

Her volunteering meshed with the 30 charities she mailed checks:
animal, environmental, political, artistic.
And the 20 publications that hit her mailbox
Glenda demanding the Sunday Times from her hospital bed.

Sumptuous dinner parties, the food to a fare-thee-well
The wine flowing, conversation rolling, the nights grew long.
Glenda a bit creaky exiting the kitchen with a platter
By the time Wife and I rated an invite
Yet still delicious and all without a hitch.

Oh, the joy of getting Glenda giggling once she knew you,
once her cultured airs were cast aside.
Post-service coffee, the church this agnostic didn’t check her brains at the door,
You could get her going. Then, suddenly – enough foolishness
Peering through grande-dame glasses, she’d throw down a gauntlet from the Left.

For PRIDE’s sake, Warhol revisited, Glenda an icon on parade
emblazoned on acolytes’ chests.
Sniffing at casual Friday taking over the week
Yet, more substance than style, this stylish lady
“Impeach the bastard!” indeed.

She still so marvelous kinda blew our minds, Chronos skewed.
Just another girl at the gallery, glass in hand, age 84.
Why not an old-lady fashion model?
Her first tattoo at 78, soon graduating to double-hand ink
Political, Francophile, fey, risque – this last tatoo private
The others shown with glee.
A tough cookie staring down Time, giving Age the slip
Ask the pair of muggers she pepper-sprayed.

Still, the Plague unmoored her, as it has us all,
this most eclectic connoisseur.
No art shows or theater? No symphony?
No chatting with young admirers on the bus?
No baseball to attend – for she loved that too.
What, quarantine Glenda? Might as well cancel Christmas!
And so, having gone there and back again,
This adroit orchestrator of Life took her leave.

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