It never occurred to me to have a lemonade stand. I don’t remember that anyone did when I lived on VanDyke Road. There were garage sales – sure. My grandma loved those. She loved chance. The possibility of finding a treasure. She ordered from Publisher’s Clearing House – which would explain that one year for Christmas when I received a pair of red lace women’s undergarments (I was maybe seven.) She walked the streets of “Crazy Days” – purchasing anything in a brown paper “grab bag.” This is where I got the idea to have my own “Crazy Days.” I had a few old broken toys to put in school lunch sacks. (This will tell you how well we did when my grandma purchased similar grab bags at the Ben Franklin.) I priced them at 10 cents and a quarter. Kathy and Renee Norton combined their allowances and each bought one. I was sitting on our front steps when they came walking back to our house, heads hung low. Mrs. Norton told them to get their money back. “Oh, Grandma,” I thought. Of course I gave them their money back. We never spoke of it again. I suppose that was the real treasure. I guess we were making “lemonade” all along.
I don’t make many videos. I don’t really have the equipment, or the desire. I’m much more comfortable with a keypad or a brush. But yesterday I received a response to a video I posted a few years ago, called “I leaned on you today.” It shows the images of my series from “A shape of love.” I don’t know how she found the video. It certainly isn’t at the top of any search lists (or even on one). To prove once again, we are given what we need, she found it, and said it helped her. (She is in the hospital suffering from depression and anxiety.)
I told her the story of one of the images — my Aunt Kay, who recently passed away. Is she up there directing video traffic? Maybe. I don’t know how we are given the tools to survive, but somehow we are given them, if we look. If we look – choose to see – I guess that’s the key. And it’s not easy, I know. But I tell her, I tell you, somehow, find the strength, the will, to just look up…. Maybe you’ll see me, or my “never say no to a hurricane” Aunt Kay, or a sea of people just like you, reaching out, leaning in.
I wrote a poem – my grandparent’s story – it begins:
She was a beauty like he’d never seen,
Elsie turned his head with a smile,
When Rueben looked back
He knew for sure
That she’d be in his heart for a while.
“I’m such a stubborn man, Elsie,
I’m stubborn as a mule.”
She said, “I love you just the same.”
He said, “Then I hear you love a fool.”
And he fell for her as only fools can.
The story of Rueben and Elsie began.
Yesterday I walked into our yard — maybe not in the best of moods. I saw a sea of dandelions. “Stupid dandel -“ I couldn’t finish. It was another yellow that took my breath away. A yellow tulip. My favorite. It had popped up in the middle of our yard. Almost daring me to notice it amid the other yellow. And I did. We normally get a row or two of orangeish-red tulips in a different part of our garden, but here it was, yellow, as if the universe knew I loved a yellow tulip, knew I needed one. (Even believers sometimes like to see it first hand). Now, some might say, “Oh, that’s rubbish to believe such a thing – to believe it grew for you.” (Rubbish — apparently the nay-sayers in my head are from a 1960’s play in England). But it’s not rubbish – not to me. It’s my favorite flower. My favorite tulip. And it arrived just when I needed it. And oh, how I believe in the magic of it all. So, no, it’s not rubbish. And yes, I am proud to be as gloriously foolish as my grandfather, and I fell for her, this tulip, as only fools can… this is the magic of how my day began.
We have a dessert here called Café gourmand. It varies from restaurant to restaurant, but usually consists of an espresso and a small selection of tiny little delicacies. Perhaps a Crème brûlée, fondant au chocolat, tart, or a biscuit. It is so satisfying, so delicious, so delightful, proving once again, it takes so little.
I had just gotten my first job. For Christmas each employee got a box of fancy chocolates and nuts. I didn’t have the money to indulge in something like that. Nor did I have the money to give such fancy gifts. I enjoyed the beautiful packaging for just a moment, then sent it off to my grandmother for her Christmas gift. She sent a note back in the mail. I knew it was from her immediately, without looking at the return address. I recognized her handwriting. (Proof of something so much bigger.) She thanked me for the gift, and said, “I will only share these with a select group of people. And when you come to visit, I will share them with you, and then you will know how special you are.”
I had spent nothing, and got everything in return. Let’s do the small things for each other — offering petite tastes of kindness, joy and love. So filling. So delicious. So delightful!
My mother had just begun piano lessons. Only a little girl. I don’t know how many lessons she had, but not many, and it was in these few moments that this piano teacher (and I loosely use the word teacher, because clearly she was not, as you will see in a second), it was this awful woman that said, not to my grandparents (which would have been bad enough) no, she said it to my mother, this sweet little hopeful fingered girl, she told her, “You’re wasting your parents’ money.” I’m still aghast! What a soul crushing thing to say. Now, my mother may have never become a concert pianist, but we’ll never know. And it was only for her to decide. But she didn’t get that chance. Then.
Most of our children of the world will not become professional athletes, professional singers, or dancers, or painters. But we aren’t raising “professionals,” we are raising humans. Humans with thoughts and hopes and dreams and souls. And it takes a long time to build a soul, filling it with music and movement and kindness and possibilities. And we should never be defined by money (I guess that’s what we are basing the word professional on). We can still be dancers, even if we make our living at the bank. We can be singers if we sing. Painters if we paint. And we get to decide.
It took a long time, but she got there, my mother…After all the tears and questions she realized that only she could decide if her heart was disposable or not…and it wasn’t. It was bruised and possibly even broken at times, but the amazing organ that it was, is, it kept beating, keeping time to her own true rhythm, the beat that would soothe her, save her, and play once again, the lovely heart song that only she could create.
Practice makes perfect. I guess we heard that in school – though we rarely saw evidence of it. I practiced my clarinet. I missed notes. Often. So did Brenda, beside me. Even Jan, who sat first chair. But oh, how we played! And when our parents stood for us at the end of the spring concert, it was, as they say, perfection.
I went to volleyball practice, daily during the season. We never won a championship. But win or lose, legs stuck to the fake green leather seats of the bus, we sang, “We are the champions!”
I paint in my sketch book every day. I practice. Try new techniques. It doesn’t make me a perfect painter. (I’m not even sure what that would mean.) But it does make me perfectly happy. I feel like I make progress. I feel like I get better. And maybe that’s what the saying should have been all along. Practice makes better.
I have not missed a day writing this blog, not for 365 days. One solid year. That’s a practice. In the play “Rent,” there is a song, “Seasons of love.” In it they sing, “Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes.
How do you measure, measure a year?” I have measured mine in paint strokes, and softball fields, summer vacations and childhood friends. Measured in tears and coffee cups, and hammers and nails, and libraries. In planes and croissants, and hugs, and laughter. Measured in each word I send out to you. Measured in each word you send back to me – and I am better because of it.
The sun is up. I’ve had my croissant with the one I love. Good morning, my beautifully imperfect world! Let’s get to practicing!
Things were laid out pretty clearly. Summer vacation from school was three months. I had one bicycle to ride to town. Softball games were twice a week. In each game you got up to bat 3 to four times. You knew the amount of opportunities, and you had to make the most of them.
It’s not so clear as you get older. You don’t know, “will I go here again?”, “will I see them again?”, “will I feel this way again?” The opportunity you’ve been waiting for, may come only once. And as I think about it, I suppose they don’t really “come” at all – these opportunities. We have to make them. Find them. Create them. Invent them. And that sounds frightening at first, but if you’re not “waiting” — if, in fact you are creating it, then you probably won’t miss it. And I don’t want to miss a thing. This moment. This day. This feeling. I want it all.
I was maybe only 10 or 11 years old. It was the one softball game my brother came to see me. I was so nervous. I wanted him to be proud of me. I got up to the plate. Rhonda Steen was pitching. I hated her (only as a pitcher – as a girl, she was delightful.) She was impossible to hit. Why, on this one time, this one visit, did it have to be her? My sweaty palms clutched the aluminum bat. My knees shook. Strike one. I didn’t move. Strike two. I didn’t move. I looked back through the screen fence at my brother. She let go of the ball. I watched in slow motion as it rose above me, behind me, right in the zone. Strike three. I slunk back to the dugout. It was a terrible feeling. And really, up until this point, quite unfamiliar. I was a good hitter. Usually a home run every game. But nervous, worried, this time, this opportunity, I didn’t take my shot. He didn’t have to tell me, “Better to go down swinging,” but he did. I already knew. I never wanted to feel that way again.
Challenges arise every day. New country. New language. New family. Of course I’m still nervous. I still get worried. Scared. But I’m swinging. With all my might, I’m swinging!
I thought the bottle was magic. It worked every time. If I was scared, carrying the random worry from the darkness that any night can bring, my mother would put me in my pajamas, brush my hair, then wash it with Johnson’s Baby shampoo. No more tears it said, right on the label. And it was right. Hair dry, tucked safely into bed, I was no longer afraid, or scared, or worried. I was saved. No more tears. Pure magic.
Years later, I realized it wasn’t the shampoo, but my mother. It wasn’t magic, but love. (But maybe that’s what love is – pure magic – that will always save us.)
In the shower today, I was feeling a bit anxious about the world. Covid. War. So much to be worried about. I washed my hair. Dried it. Went to my studio, walking past the words that I placed there intentionally. “The answer is still, and again, love.” I need to see them. Remind myself that I have been loved. I am still loved. I have so much love to give. Cheeks dry, above a large grin, I begin to create. Whatever you do today, do it with all the magic that love can bring. And we will be saved.
It was a big responsibility to get us safely to and from school. They seemed so old, these young men that were usually our bus drivers — law enforcement students at the Tech School in town. Maybe it was the uniform they kept on after class. So authoritative in their beige and brown. They felt like “sirs” when really they were probably 19? Maybe 20?
I think of them today because of the changing weather. This promise of summer vacation in the air. This need to open windows and doors. To be a part of this air, so fresh, so new! Almost wild (in the best kind of way.) I, we, started feeling it at six years old. Let loose from the doors of Washington Elementary, onto the big buses. We opened windows and let our hair blow against the streak of yellow that lumbered down the street. Contained only by the glance in the giant mirror of the one driving the bus. Holding the back of the seat in front of you for leverage. One leg in the aisle – braced to race out the door when reaching your stop. Then the “almost sir” would move the big silver handle. Door open. Freedom!
What an amazing gift to be given. And we’ve always had it. Today, and every day, I give thanks for each window, each door, and those who flung them open!
I had no helmet. No pads. Just an impatient brother, a hill, and a generic used bicycle. He gave me a push. Yelled “Pedal!” Half way down the hill I flew off. Landed knuckle first. I still have the scars.
One of my favorite quotes is from the book, “All the Pretty Horses,” by Cormac McCarthy. After falling off the horse repeatedly, the lead actor is asked, “Don’t you ride?” He replied, “I was ridin’ when I fell off…” That’s how I learned to ride a bicycle. Perhaps that’s how we learn to do everything.
If only bravery were accumulative. But it doesn’t seem to be. For me, I have to summon the courage each time. For each new thing. Every day. I imagine we all do. If we want to really live. Hearts as fragile as pears, we have to summon the courage each day to say, “I’m here!” Summon the courage to laugh and cry. To ask for help. To love. And we will get cut and bruised, on hands and hearts and egos, but Oh, the ride! The glorious ride! And we are ridin! Even when we fall. I have to believe – always worth it!