August 5, 2009

MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Nancy Briskay Cornell Lipsius



Nancy Briskay Cornell Lipsius

With the permission of Nancy Briskay Cornell Lipsius’s children, my siblings, I am adding a category to my weblog:, My mother wrote most of the pieces I will post while she attended the University of Maine—graduating when she was in her seventh decade of life.

I am honored to have you come to know my mother through her writings. I am also honored to have my mother introduce herself in the first three posts, MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY, DECADES, and ASSESSMENT. Following these posts, I will begin posting her other writings, including her poetry.

In my once-upon-a-time life I danced to the music of gentle lapping of the waves on the shore (photo at ), raucous cries of seagulls, (photo at ) lonely blasts of the fog horn, wind caressing the crown of tall pines, the whistle of the Yankee Flyer train.

Happiness was a warm slice of fresh-baked bread slathered with creamy butter, sometimes liberally sprinkled with brown sugar. It was “digging to China,” making snow forts, swimming under water, throwing jelly fish at each other, climbing and exploring rocks, nestling down in Dad’s big chair with a book and a large red apple. It was lessons in charcoal drawing.

Love was my fifth grade teacher. She had been to Egypt. She created longings to see, to learn, to find the other side. Love was my best friend Lillian—we shared “everything,” made up a new language, we were as Siamese twins, attached at the heart.

There were impossible dreams—of dancing like Ginger Rogers (photo at ), singing like Jeanette McDonald, being enfolded in the arms of Nelson Eddy. Music was beautiful then, simple and clear, with rounded tones.

The sharps and flats of my life created a cacophony of rebellion—against “What will people think,” “Nice girls aren’t boy crazy,” “Refined girls don’t go out after dark,” “Don’t associate with this person, that person because he/she is black, Irish, Polish, Italian—and they’re dirty,” “Don’t wear shorts downtown.” The rounded tones balancing off the discord were ballet dancing, swing music, Lillian, my grandmother (photo at ) who understood everyone and everything, dreams of floating across the ballroom floor like Ginger Rogers, singing like Jeannette McDonald, dancing in Swan Lake.

Excerpts from another autobiography version written by my mother:

I have danced to the tune of the ocean’s roar, the lapping of the waves on the shore, the cry of the seagull, the distant sound of the foghorn, the passing train’s whistle, the wind whistling around the house and whispering through the branches of the tall pines.

There is art in my inner being struggling to find its way out.

There is a child in me afraid to come out.

I love people, animals, traveling.

I laugh a lot. And seldom cry.

Where am I going? Will I recognize what I am seeking when I find it?


     This is my last journal entry and I can’t think of anything more to write.

     I have run dry.

     I don’t like anything I have written very much. Maybe if my penmanship were better I’d feel better about it. Who knows?

My mother died at Bangor Hospital, Maine, on January 3, 1998. (mother’s legacy: A MOTHER’S FINAL RETALIATION). Did she find where she was going? Did she recognize what she was seeking if she found it?


CANDIED VIOLETS: Remembering My Mother on Her Birthday

IN SEARCH OF THE ARABELLA: A Story of Two Boats (Nancy’s mother was probably on this boat)

Reflections on motherhood



  1. Quote: I don’t like anything I have written very much. Maybe if my penmanship were better I’d feel better about it. Who knows?

    I wonder if it was the writing, or the life she wrote about that she didn’t like very much? She made me sit for hours working on my penmanship.

    Comment by Jane Driver — August 8, 2009 @ 12:27 pm | Reply

  2. And did she make you hold your pen and paper the way she directed? Paper on table with its bottom parallel with the bottom edge of the desk? and you hands “just so” on the pen? I still write with my paper slanted!

    Comment by carolyncholland — August 8, 2009 @ 2:01 pm | Reply

  3. The pieces Mom wrote were done when she was taking a writing course at Canisius College in Buffalo. She was in her early 60’s at the time. Some of the pieces she began re-writing after she retired and moved to Maine, but not many of them.

    Comment by Cynthia Lipsius — August 17, 2009 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  4. Sister Cynthia, Thanks for your comment. I was unaware that our Mother took a writing course at Canisius College. I thought most of her writings were done when she went to college in Maine. Carolyn

    Comment by carolyncholland — August 20, 2009 @ 1:38 am | Reply

  5. Dear Carolyn,

    Thank your for sharing your family treasures, Decades: An Autobiographical Sketch, memories of your mother. I remember when penmenship counted for a letter grade. I remember when script was a required skill. Now, cursive is barely taught after the third grade.

    I have two friends with whom I still correspond with by post(snailmail). Sad to say our writing, or penmenship has waned…mostly due to age…or our hectic lives…the excuse varies among us. It will be a sad day when we no longer write because I treasure the letters. I have kept most of them and they are dear to my heart.

    Again, thank you for sharing your family treasures.

    Peggy Jo

    Comment by Peggy Jo — September 8, 2009 @ 3:59 am | Reply

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