The poetry of life, love, volunteering

"Spirit over body. Mind over matter. Thoughts start. The wheels start

turning."

Corona del Mar's Rebecca "Bebee" Rodheim, 90, has written short

poetry incessantly since growing up in Memphis, Tenn. And though

she'll be 91 later this month and doesn't wield the firsthand Boy

Scout and Girl Scout den-mother leadership she used to, she's turned

back the clock to preach wisdom and inspiration through the words of

her youth. She wrote the bulk of her poetry in the 1930s.

The passionate words in Rodheim's poetry are nearly as pulverizing

as the grip in her handshake.

"It tells a lot about your character, how you shake hands," she

said.

Her words fluctuate through peaks and valleys, her voice

punctuating when she finds a word that just flows right.

Her earlier work was her favorite, a happy-go-lucky girl's

perception of love and love lost, time and timelessness, family and

femininity.

"Then never mind tomorrow, 'Tis today you must endow, With all

that's true and noble, And the time for this is now!"

The tone changed drastically, however, through each of four rough

marriages and her battle with cancer. But Rodheim, a true survivor,

is past all of that now. She said she still writes every day and

occasionally participates in charitable walks as long as 5

kilometers.

She's also begun a monthly poetry group, which begins meeting on

Aug 13 from 10 to 11 a.m. at Oasis Senior Center in Corona del Mar.

The Daily Pilot's Jeff Benson sat down with Rodheim and listened

to her recite some of her best work.

Where do you get the inspiration for your poetry?

I write short poems on seniors helping seniors and about

volunteering.

People will come to me and say, "Will you write something for me?"

And I'll say "Suuuure." All I need is a title, but when I get one it

strikes a chord. I tell people that I don't know what I'm going to

say, it just comes. People say it's a gift.

I had cancer years ago, so there was something to write about

besides romance and love. The greeting cards aren't very good. When I

was in the hospital, patients wouldn't know how to speak to those

coming in to see them, and likewise, the visitors wouldn't know what

to say to the patients.

I guess it's the people on the inside looking out and the people

on the outside looking in.

What kinds of things do you do with that gift?

They ask me to read my poems at meetings. I went to Bible class

here and the pastor wanted me to read. I'm Jewish and not baptized. I

can't read unless I'm baptized.

I put four books [of material] in ["My Heart to Yours"]. I sell

them for $15, and I've already sold 24 of them to people living here

and friends.

Where did you go to school?

I graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 1982, and they gave me a

$100 award for being the oldest senior to graduate.

Why did you go back?

I'd already graduated from [Orange Coast College], and my children

later went to Cal State Fullerton. I chose Fullerton because my

children were going there.

I took a "Death and Dying" class in gerontology, and there was a

girl who started crying. I went over to her and comforted her during

the lesson, and afterward, the professor thanked me and told me she

wished she'd have done that. I put myself in the student's place and

the teacher's too.

But I got a bachelor's of science degree in human services.

What did you do as a career?

I was an office worker for many years, but that's all meaningless.

People don't need to know about that. I volunteer now.

Describe your volunteer efforts.

My son, Ralph, said rather than tell people all the titles I've

held, I should just speak from experience. [Rodheim breaks into

another poem] "Volunteer to help where needed. Volunteering brings

sunshine, replacing rain in your home ... It'll bring more happiness

in your life."

Here [at Seaview Lutheran Plaza apartments], I volunteer by making

the coffee, I shop for seniors, and I bring them their prescriptions.

You said you've divorced four times, yet much of your work still

entails the theme of love. Why is that?

I learn something from each new relationship. I don't go for old

men. I like them to be vital. In my fourth marriage, my husband was

15 years younger than me. That's where I got my experiences.

Two of them divorced me, and I divorced two. So I guess we're

even.

Love helps me get through the bad times and I haven't given up. My

daughter in Arizona is introducing me to someone who writes. I talk

to anybody. I'm waiting in line.

"Love does not want you turned inside out, only head over heels."

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