Mary McCallum


Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.

One winter afternoon I was shelving books in the library of Vermont’s high security prison with my inmate assistant Frankie, when I realized that I hadn’t seen the copy of War and Peace in weeks. It never moved because no one ever checked it out.

McCallum: Hats

Nov 15, 2013

On a recent stay in Manhattan I shared the elevator with an elderly woman going down for her morning walk. She wore an enormous hat decorated with flowers and filmy chiffon that matched her suit, and brought into the elevator a whiff of the nineteen-fifties that stirred childhood memories of Sundays past. When the doors opened she trotted off in her remarkable hat to meet the new day.

It’s my habit when walking the dog to look down more than up. That’s because there are sometimes interesting critters on the road making a kind of pilgrimage to the other side. The dog finds the flattened remains of those who didn’t quite get there and tries to roll on their desiccated corpses, while I often help a red eft newt or toad on its way.

My town of Cavendish was hit pretty hard by the fury of Tropical Storm Irene. Wind and rain roared through this small town on the Black River and turned its main artery, Route 131, into a crater the size of a football field, earning it the name Cavendish Canyon.

This month I’ve become obsessed with tap dancing - not doing it myself - yet - but watching online videos and searching for adult tap classes in Vermont that I might take with a friend who’s also obsessed with it.

It’s summer. The sultry season when passing through a sizzling asphalt parking lot makes dog lovers automatically scan rows of cars for signs of a pooch baking inside one. I wish I could report that I rarely see a pet locked in with the windows cracked, virtually trapped until its owner returns from an errand, but it happens with disturbing regularity.

My mother is always packing. But at 96 and with advancing dementia, she isn’t going anywhere. In her small room in a nursing home, she lives in a perpetual state of confusion.

It’s not unusual for me to walk in and find her in a mental tizzy with her bureau drawers emptied onto the bed and piles of possessions strewn on the floor.

“Mom,” I say. “Are you packing?” She looks at me as if I should know that of course she’s packing and why do I waste my breath asking.

McCallum: Last Words

Apr 26, 2013

I have a secret addiction that I share with a friend. We snip and save fascinating obituaries from our newspapers. Over the years, I’ve accumulated quite a thick folder of them that range from short and plain to stories rich in detail.

Each one speaks in some way to what I call a life well lived.

This spring, Caroline Kennedy's new book called Poems to Learn by Heart was published. A segment on the evening news showed her standing among excited middle school students who were being interviewed about Kennedy's volunteer work with them in appreciating and memorizing poetry. One declared that it had changed her life. Her enthusiasm brought me back to the year I ran a poetry class in Vermont's high security prison, which culminated with a reading in the facility's visiting room for inmates, special guests and the press.

McCallum: Steeples

Feb 5, 2013

(Host) In winter, Vermonters can see further across the stark landscape,noticing things that are less visible with foliage on the trees. Educator, writer and commentator Mary McCallum says it offers a better view of an architectural detail that serves as a beacon to travelers and churchgoers alike. Brunch Sampler_122612_Mary McCallum_(laughter, applause).mp3

(Host) While educator, commentator and writer Mary McCallum loves the holidays, this year she's beginning to think there may be a direct correlation between our growing appetite for material goods - and a diminishing sense of ritual.

(McCallum) This month, the two biggest holidays of the year stand as bookends on either side of us. We've left the Thanksgiving feast behind and Christmas looms large.