Bruce Gillett, a Marietta neurologist, married his sweetheart of 47 years March 20, 1966. The couple has two children, Brent, 42, and Brian, 39. Dale Pomerance Gillett was diagnosed with breast cancer. Seventeen years later, in 2010, she lost her battle against the disease.
Bruce admits that after losing his wife he was terribly depressed. He joined a bereavement group, and part of the group was journaling. "I had a lot of feelings of sadness inside of me and things just flowed," he explained. The eventual result was a beautifully crafted love story in the form of poetry, Quarter-Peeled Oranges.
Through poetry Bruce channelled his feelings and began to heal. "At first it was a collection of emotions," Bruce said, "and then I thought of times when Dale and I were together, things in our life together. We spent a lot of our time hiking outdoors, and some poems are about places we hiked, the sun, flowers and trees. We both loved nature."
The first poem that Bruce wrote is called "Amaranth," named after a plant that is said to be everlasting. "I titled it this because I always wanted Dale to be with me, and I tied that to her shampoo. She liked to use Aveda," he explained. "After a while I went to shampoo my hair, and I started to use hers. The container was half empty; and for about five months, I kept looking at it, and then I decided to write about what I felt."
Bruce's poetry evolved into a memoir of his life with Dale, with each poem recalling a place in time, beginning with the couple’s first date.
Bruce met Dale on a blind date when she was a 17-year-old senior in high school. "I got her at the door, and I was just smitten from that moment on," Bruce said.
At an art exhibition in 2010, Bruce met Bill Needs, a Marietta vocational rehabilitation counselor. The two began to talk, and Bill agreed to provide the illustrations for the book.
"The poetry is very moving," Bill said. "Bruce has a couple ideas and how he puts them together is amazing. As he reads the verses, concrete images come to my mind." This statement is made visible when looking at the book. The drawings done by Bill have the same detail and startling beauty as the words Bruce crafted beside them.
"One of the things that first impressed me when I met Bruce was the depth and how many different stories he had in one poem," Bill noted.
"There are a lot of different ways to look at the poems," Bruce added. "They can strike you in different ways. People can relate to the book, and they can think of it as a beautiful depiction of Dale and how we love each other. Now Dale and her strength live on."
It is the imagery that Bruce creates, about nature, his feelings, the color of Dale's dress, the way light moves or the feel of her kiss, that makes these poems wrap around you and transport you into your own dreams and memories. It is the love and strength conveyed through the book's words and illustrations that make Quarter-Peeled Oranges an exquisite and inspirational find.
"'I Danced with You' is a journey of a dream," Bruce explained. He had, "a marvelous dream of dancing with Dale near the sea and having a great time. It was beautiful, and it felt real. She was wearing a lime-green dress," he said. However, Dolly, his cat, started pawing at him to wakeup. "I was really sad when I did because I was in a great dream."
"One of the poems ('Nana's Blanket') is about a blanket in there," Bruce pointed to a bedroom down the hall. "Some of the poems are about things in here that were around her. One thing the granddaughters do when they come over is to run in there and get that blanket and wrap it tightly around themselves. That's where this poem started," he explained.
Bruce also remembers how he and Dale took oranges on picnics. Dale would take her nail and run it down the side from the stem to the bottom, and the peel would come apart. "It's a silly thing, but it's a remembrance of things and how she did them," Bruce explained the title shared by his book and one of his poems.
Quarter-Peeled Oranges has been an adventure for both Bruce and Bill. "I've only been doing this (drawing) for three years," Bill said. "I never wrote a poem before in my life," Bruce added.
"This project was pretty neat," Bill continued. "We really fed off each other in a lot of respects. I could really relate, and when I heard his poems images came to me."
"I kind of think of this journey as a canoe taken down a white water river, not knowing what I'm doing but it makes it down," Bruce explained with a smile.
Quarter-Peeled Oranges is published by Southern Lion Books, and all proceeds from its sale benefit the Greater Atlanta Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Gillett has raised more than $7,000 for Komen Atlanta with the sale of Quarter-Peeled Oranges. More than 500 copies have been sold.
Quarter-Peeled Oranges is available for purchase through Southern Lion Books. It is also available in-store at DuPre’s Antique Market, at Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw and at Barnes & Noble stores.
Bruce Gillett and Bill Needs will be at the Marietta Wine Market to sign copies of the book on Wednesday at 5 p.m. during the market’s weekly wine tasting. A $10 charity donation is suggested to participate in the tasting.