At a vigorous 87, Nina Freedlander Gibans tends to her memories with the grace of a master gardener.
“Memory is everything at this age,” says Nina, a Judson Park resident who for decades has been a relevant and respected voice on the Cleveland cultural scene. “At this point in life, there’s not much future thinking. But we all have memories – not just of our work, but of what was important to us, what we think life is all about. To the extent we ignore the importance of memory, we are impoverished. But by sharing those memories, we not only find a way to connect with our peers, we find a source of joy.”
Nina graciously shares that joy, and some inevitable sorrows, in her newly released book of poetry, “In the Garden of Old Age” (ATBOSH Media Ltd.). With photography by Clevelander Abby Star, the tome is Nina’s ninth published book. Featuring more than 50 poems – many written in 2018 as part of a Tupelo Press project that found her crafting 30 poems in 30 days – the 79-page paperback is filled with personal reflections that mirror Nina’s rich life as a wife, friend, educator, author and self-identified “cultural consultant.”
And it must be said: If any Clevelander has reflections worth sharing, it would be Nina, whose accomplishments include launching the Cleveland Area Arts Council; contributing a quarter-century of service to ARTneo, formerly the Cleveland Artists Foundation; producing the documentary, University Circle: Creating a Sense of Place, which aired repeatedly on public television in 2014; and accepting a 2009 Martha Joseph Prize, a Cleveland Arts Prize special citation for distinguished service to the arts community.
While her work as a poet has always been a priority, Nina suspects that her prose and her civic engagement have tended to overshadow her poems. “This book has been a chance to put my poetry into context with my other projects,” she says. “I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity.”
The fact that cerebral palsy has been Nina’s lifelong companion has done nothing but sharpen her resolve. “I really never gave much thought to what I couldn’t do,” she says. “The important thing, I always thought, was to find what you can do – instead of dwelling on what you can’t – and make something out of that.”
Today, in her airy two-room suite at Ambler Court, one of Judson Park’s assisted living neighborhoods, Nina continues to maintain a heroic pace, chairing or co-chairing several arts-and-programming related committees and maintaining her strong ties with a broad cross-section of friends, family and colleagues from both in- and outside of her Judson community.
She reflects upon a number of these connections in “The Garden of Old Age,” including the pleasures of sharing conversations, ice cream and newspapers around the dining table with her friends at Judson. “We are a real group,” she says. “We talk, we connect, and we find something outside ourselves that is important.”
The poems also reflect Nina’s deep love of nature, a theme that is beautifully captured in Star’s evocative photographs, many of them taken at Shaker Lakes.
As for new writing projects, Nina has several in the works, including one based on the love letters sent to her by her late husband, Jim, with whom she enjoyed 63 years of marriage.
Her energy, she says, arises from a simple source. “It’s about gratitude and attitude,” Nina says with a smile. “It makes me happy to keep on doing what I can. The reward isn’t what other people think about it; the reward is in the creative process itself.”
“The Garden of Old Age” ($19.99) is available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.