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Lebanon Octogenarian and Longtime Volunteer Self-Publishes Poetry Collection

Elizabeth Abbott at her apartment in Rogers House in Lebanon on Nov. 16. Abbott, 88, was a volunteer in the area prison systems for many years, raised four children and has recently written a book of poems on aging, family and perspective. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Elizabeth Abbott at her apartment in Rogers House in Lebanon on Nov. 16. Abbott, 88, was a volunteer in the area prison systems for many years, raised four children and has recently written a book of poems on aging, family and perspective. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

Lebanon — But for a small pile of letters and paperwork on her kitchen table, Rogers House resident Elizabeth “Betty” Abbott’s one-bedroom apartment is perfectly tidy, not a dish in the sink, not a picture askew. From her cozy armchair, Abbott points to the pile to explain why, at age 86, she self-published a book of original poetry.

“See what a mess I’ve got here?” asked Abbott, now 88. “If I die, and the kids come in here, they’d throw that away. It wouldn’t mean anything to them.”

That’s not true of her book, Windows to Waltzing Words, she said in an interview earlier this fall. “They won’t throw that away.”

And besides, she mused, what’s the use of writing if no one sees it? “It’s no good to me if somebody can’t read it.”

Writing and editing 225 poems is a daunting task, but for the goal-driven Abbott, it seems right in character.

A Norwich native, she left high school after marrying at age 18. Decades later, the mother of four went back to school, earning her diploma at Lebanon College at age 40. Abbott, whose professional career was in medical records and research, later realized that she had a calling to work with inmates. To make sure she was up to the task, she returned to school, completing a bachelor’s degree in human services at age 62.

A consummate organizer, her resume includes starting a food pantry and free blood-pressure clinic in Pike, N.H. In 1990, she and her late husband, Dick, helped start a popular life skills program for inmates in Grafton County Jail. The couple taught in prisons across Vermont and New Hampshire and volunteered with Kairos, a Christian prison outreach program. After moving to Rogers House, a senior housing development, she served as program chairwoman and secretary of the building association.

When her husband became sick with bladder cancer a few years ago, she scaled back her volunteer work. Abbott, who suffers from severe arthritis, uses a walker to get around and no longer drives. But she’s still active within the building, making posters to publicize Rogers House events and designing get-well cards for residents who are hospitalized. Lately, she’s turned her self-taught computer skills to writing, an old hobby.

“I’ve been writing forever,” said Abbott, a member of West Lebanon Congregational Church.

She writes a poem for the monthly church newsletter and penned a short history of the church. Her stories have appeared in various church publications. One story features the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem as the main character; another was written from the point of view of a fly on the table at the Last Supper.

“I have crazy ideas,” she said, laughing.

Her new book of homespun poems covers universal themes, such as family, faith and aging. Many, like My Purpose, are autobiographical.

In the poem, a concise and practical look at her work, Abbott wrote that she may not be able to change the world in grand ways, but could “seed faith and worth.”

I can recognize my limits and

the small credits I deserve.

My mission won’t save the world,

but, my bit I will serve.

The book is available online, and she’s sold about 100 copies so far.

“Having a large family helps,” she quipped.

Abbott, who is currently working on some stories for her five great-great-grandchildren, said she’s not sure what her next big project will be. She has “a lot more poems,” probably enough for another book, but she’s not making any promises.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said.

In any case, she’s not ready to put down her pen.

“One of my poems in there says, ‘God’s not through with me yet,’ ” Abbott said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do.”