Poetry
4:18 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

One Oar: A Journey with Alzheimer's

Kalamazoo poet Marie Bahlke reading from One Oar in the WMUK studio
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK
Hear the full interview with poet Marie Bahlke

Kalamazoo resident Marie Bahlke started writing poetry in her 70s and she just celebrated her 94th 

birthday. Her book One Oar follows her husband's life from the time he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease until Bahlke is left a widow.

Bahlke says her husband didn’t like the fact that she was writing because he felt it took her even further from him. But Bahlke was encouraged to take time for herself by her husband’s doctor. She says she’s never regretted it, writing was like therapy for her in that difficult time.

Bahlke says, since writing the book, relatives and friends of people with Alzheimer’s disease have reached out to her. Though she wrote the poems for herself, she says she’s glad that they touch others too. 

Marriage 

Bahlke says she and her husband were married right after World War II ended and had a baby almost immediately—though not earlier than they were supposed to. While Bahlke was pregnant they moved into student housing at the University of Minnesota, where her husband worked to finish up his graduate degree.

Bahlke says they had no running water. Her husband had to carry cream cans full of water across the road every day. Bahlke says they had their daughter, Susie, nine months and three days after they were married. It was a tough time.

“How our marriage lasted, I don’t know,” says Bahlke.

Now Bahlke has three children. After her husband got his doctorate, the family moved to Kalamazoo.

Sundays with Charlie Chaplin

Bahlke met Charlie Chaplin through a friend of her roommate who worked for the McGregor Recording Company. Every Sunday, men played tennis at the Chaplin’s place.

At that time, Chaplin’s wife Una had just had her first baby. Una once took Bahlke and the rest of the women folk up to see the nursery and her sweater collection. Bahlke says there must have been 100 sweaters there.

Unfortunately, Bahlke has since lost at least one of the pictures she took with Charlie Chaplin. 

Radio Career and WWII

Bahlke worked with radio stations on election nights to make a little bit of money while she was in college. After college, she worked at radio stations in Duluth and Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Bahlke says she got to do everything at the small station in Eau Claire.

“I was on the air, I wrote commercials—I did everything—talked to people at the station," she says. "It was remarkable.”

Bahlke says she even had a cooking show on the radio. Bahlke says she met her husband through the station sports announcer there, but she didn’t come back in contact with him until after the war was over. Her husband fought in WWII for four years.

Bahlke also worked for a radio station in Pasadena, California before moving on to other careers.