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Words left behind: Upper St. Clair mother's poetry about home and family survives her

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

By Lori Humphreys

Some memorials are carved in stone, some set to music, some written, some in deeds remembered. "A Moment in Time," a collection of Pearl Simmons' poems, is a memorial to the words and deeds of this Upper St. Clair woman, who died unexpectedly of a streptococcal infection a year ago at age 42.

Cathy Schuster, a longtime friend of the late Pearl Simmons, holds a copy of the collection of Simmons' poetry called "A Moment in Time" for which Schuster did the illustrations. (John Heller, Post-Gazette)

The poems trumpet the worth of motherhood and parenting, a conviction that Simmons lived personally and professionally as an employee of the Positive Parenting Program of Children's Hospital.

Her husband, Reid, said the poetry captures her personality and interest, and reflects her whimsical side.

It is a memorial that exists because so many people loved Simmons, a wife, mother and friend. It proclaims the power of friendship and community.

Fifty-nine local individuals, families and organizations donated $9,000 to publish the book, which will be sold by the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation to support its Positive Parenting Program.

"Our Beth El Synagogue Sisterhood met in September, a month after she died, and we said, 'Let's publish her poems.' They capture her conviction and commitment," Johanna Nadler said.

Simmons' collection of 17 poems will resonate with moms. It is poignant, wry and reassuring.

"Motherhood is a fleeting instant when professions don't matter./ The benefits are boundless -- a living legacy," are lines from the title poem.

"But What Do You Do All Day?" combines humor with a catalog of a mother's daily tasks: "So you gave up your job. You're home without pay/ But what do you do with yourself all day?"

Cathy Schuster, a longtime friend, drew the pen-and-ink illustrations, which are reminiscent of the style of Lois Lenski, a children's author and illustrator of the 1950s. Jennifer Zieserl designed the format and cover. Lainey Becker wrote the introduction.

Schuster of Mt. Lebanon, who has degrees in art and social work, views the book from the perspective of artist and therapist.

"My motivation was to do something in memory of Pearl and help all of us to work through our grief," she said. "I also wanted to give something to her husband, Reid, and their children, Noah, Rachel and Joshua. In years to come they will be able to show this book to their children and tell them about their grandmother."

Perhaps their deepest comfort will come from Simmons' own words in "The Piano" -- "We cannot slow down the passage of time, yet we can savor our memories while fulfilling our dreams for tomorrow."

"A Moment in Time" can be purchased from the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation for $10. Organizations can charge $14 if using the book as a fund-raiser. It is also available at many local bookstores.

For information, contact Carol Ashby at 412-692-7217 or e-mail at

Lori Humphreys is a freelance writer.

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