A&E Latest

Good medicine and Mother’s Day — a book, a poem

Good medicine and Mother’s Day — a book, a poem

All of us, to one extent or another, make our way through a world of unexamined phenomena. 

It’s a complex world, and we generally glide through it without thinking too much of its parts and machinery. We all carry mini-computers in our pockets, but ask us to explain how we can look at the screen of our phone and read a newspaper from New Delhi, and the best most of us can do is shrug.

Ask us how a commercial airliner gets off the ground and flies through the air — the average weight of a Boeing 737, fully loaded and fueled, runs to about 175,000 pounds — and there’s that shrug again.

Most of us know just as little about the very bodies we inhabit. How many chambers make up the human heart? What’s the function of the pancreas? Why do we have two intestines? Where’s the pituitary gland located? Most of us studied human anatomy in a high school health or biology class, or perhaps at college, but what we remember is fragmentary. Again, the shrug.

The same ignorance holds true for diseases. We hear of osteoarthritis, lymphomas, Crohn’s disease and even diabetes, but unless we know someone with these ailments, suffer them ourselves or are in the medical professions, we likely have no real idea of their cause, symptoms or treatment.

Which is where the “Family Health Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Reference Guide to Home Health” (Lorenz Books, 2023, 256 pages) comes to the rescue.

Related Items

Here two skilled general practitioners, Dr. Peter Fermie and Dr. Stephen Shepherd, clearly explain the workings of the human body and the diseases that afflict it. With hundreds of illustrations and helpful sidebars, the “Family Health Encyclopedia” is a compendium of information on everything from how the endocrine system functions to treatment of the common cold. In addition, there are special sections on the topics of children’s health, caring for the terminally ill and complementary therapies to traditional medicine, like homeopathy and acupuncture.

Some might argue that such the internet has made such a guide unnecessary, that we can find all of these ailments, their prevention and treatment, and when to seek medical help, on our laptops or phones. That’s true, but only to a degree, for in this one resource is an invaluable big-picture guide to health which if necessary can kick off further research into some topic online.

In their “Introduction,” the authors write, “The more you understand about health and illness, the better you will be able to help both yourself and those closest to you — and nothing can ever be more rewarding than helping loved ones in potentially difficult situations. The aim of this book is to make that task just a little bit easier.”

In this case, that aim is right on target. Two thumbs up for the “Family Health Encyclopedia.”


Now, changing directions entirely, here’s a poem with some bits of humor for Mother’s Day, “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate. One prefatory note: The French novelist mentioned in the second stanza is Marcel Proust, author of “In Search of Lost Time;” the pastry that kick-started his memory was a madeleine.  

The other day I was ricocheting slowly

off the blue walls of this room,

moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,

from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,

when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary

where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.


No cookie nibbled by a French novelist

could send one into the past more suddenly —

a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp

by a deep Adirondack lake

learning how to braid long thin plastic strips

into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.


I had never seen anyone use a lanyard

or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,

but that did not keep me from crossing

strand over strand again and again

until I had made a boxy

red and white lanyard for my mother.


She gave me life and milk from her breasts,

and I gave her a lanyard.

She nursed me in many a sick room,

lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,

laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,

and then led me out into the airy light


and taught me to walk and swim,

and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.

Here are thousands of meals, she said,

and here is clothing and a good education.

And here is your lanyard, I replied,

which I made with a little help from a counselor.


Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,

strong legs, bones and teeth,

and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,

and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.

And here, I wish to say to her now,

is a smaller gift — not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,

but the rueful admission that when she took

the two-tone lanyard from my hand,

I was as sure as a boy could be

that this useless, worthless thing I wove

out of boredom would be enough to make us even. 

End-note: the poet employs the ancient rhetorical device of apophasis, that courtroom trick when an attorney slips a subject into the discussion by denying it. The poem’s message isn’t really about the lanyard, but that we can never repay our mothers.

And here I must disagree. If you were blessed with a good mother, you can repay her by living out the virtues and code of conduct she taught you as a child. If your mom was negligent or abusive, you can take her as your negative example, seek a better way and pay for her mistakes by bringing some good to the world.

We all had a mother. At the very least, we can be grateful that she made us a part of this three-ring circus we call Planet Earth.

So, Happy Mother’s Day to all of us!

(Jeff Minick reviews books and has written four of his own: two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.