She called me by my mother’s name in the grocery store. Just three letters — Ivy. And the tears flowed. She caught herself quickly, and threw in a “Jodi.” “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings…” She hugged me so tightly, trying to collect the water, build a dam. But I wasn’t hurt. I assured her as our coats meshed together. Groceries on the floor. It wasn’t a mistake, but a connection. What a gift to still be so close. So intertwined.
There are a million things I want to “get over” in this world. Loving is not one of them.
I suppose I have always been a feeler. Deeply. Wearing my Cardinal t-shirt this morning, I remember the teams. Not the individual games. Barely the competition. What I remember is crying in the locker room with the other teenage girls. I can’t say for sure what it meant for them, but for me, it was not about losing the game, but ending the season. Because with the season’s end, would I still be a Cardinal? Would I still be a part of it all? Decades later, in black and red, I can say that I am. We make the choices. Endings do not have to mean separations, nor exclusions. We decide. With hearts, hands and voices, how to stay connected.
And so it is with all whom we love. Miles between and breaths removed cannot take it away. We decide. Do you understand? Feel what you feel. Without fear or reservation. Fling your groceries to the floor and arms wide open. This is what will call you. What will hold you. What will save you.
I am a Cardinal. I am my mother’s daughter. Love continues to call my name.
It won’t make the visitor’s guide, but Duluth, for me, is famous for two things. It is home to one of the largest speeches I ever gave, and it ended my mother’s self-imposed waffle ban.
I felt like I was paying attention when I booked the event, but for some reason, I had it in my head that it was for a group of 50 people. I asked my mother to come along. No one could sell my after-speech merchandise like my mother. They gave us a lovely room overlooking Lake Superior. We changed our clothes and met the director at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC). She opened the door to the largest room I had ever seen — Beyoncé big. Without speaking, I made eye contact with my mom. “It’s a little big, isn’t it?” I said, still assuming the 50 guests. “Oh, no,” she replied, it will easily seat the 700.” I could no longer look at my mom. 700? It wasn’t like I was limiting myself, but I had always thought of myself as an intimate speaker, a story teller. This would be a leap. I would have to break out of my small shell and lead this group. My mom knew. She knew everything. “50, 700, so what,” she said. “You can totally do this!” She was always on my side. She sat in the front row, and I led them. With words and heart and flinging arms, a little singing, and stage racing…I had them, all 700. And it was glorious — for me, Superior!
We woke to smell of baking the next morning. What was that delicious scent? We went down to breakfast. Still intoxicated by yesterday’s accomplishment, we were starving. Waffles. That glorious smell was waffles. You have to know the back story to know why this is significant. When my father had left decades earlier, he took with him the waffle iron. My mother was the only one who liked waffles. Of all the blows to ego and heart and soul and mind, this was the easiest one to fight, and so began the great waffle ban. Neither of us would eat them. This included any syrup enriched breakfasts such as pancakes, but the waffles were the banner of the banning.
Sometimes we choose to grow. Sometimes growth is thrust upon us. We were not the people we used to be. None of us. There were no more limits but the ones we placed on ourselves. We had chosen life. Joy! Chance! We were proud of our story. Ready to tell it! Ready to live it! We ate those waffles, and never spoke of the ban again.
It’s not lost on me as I see the lift bridge of Duluth today. Rising up, letting things pass. I suppose we all have to do this. Life is as sweet as you make it!
It was a time when you waited for things. Like television specials, or happiness.
Even before I knew he was one of us, I loved Charles Schulz. All the Peanuts characters. They were only on tv a few times a year. The Valentine’s Special — in which Charlie Brown says, “I know nobody likes me. I don’t know why we need a holiday to prove it.” It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. And of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas. And maybe it was so special because you had to wait for it. And plan for it. Watch it when it aired. We had no recording devices. And maybe it was because you knew all of your friends were glued in front of their tvs at the same time. Feeling the same Charlie Browniest!
My mother’s favorite was Peppermint Patty. She saw her skate on one episode and liked it. My mom didn’t know how to ice skate, but she knew how to imagine. And she imagined herself twirling around that ice. Gliding. Free. Delicate. Joyful. I suppose this was one of her best qualities. One of the best gifts she gave to me. To imagine the good. Believe in it. Wait for it. Even on the slowest of dark Sunday evenings, when the seven o’clock air time dragged its feet. Even when the saddest of days seemed like they would never end, she whispered in my ear, “One day, it’s all going to be so happy, and the speed of it…we will need those skates, just to keep up with all the joy.”
I can’t tell you the day, nor the time. But it did happen. Maybe joy has a way of sneaking in, if you leave the door open. And it did. And without my knowledge or permission, it Peppermint Patties all around, joyfully whirling and twirling and gliding about.
My husband and I went to see the Charles Schulz exhibit in St. Paul yesterday. And there I was, sitting in the everything that was possible. No abandonings. Holding my mother’s peppermint hand, believing still, in the patience and joy of living color.
It was a cathedral I had to fill, my first solo show in France. I laughed as I made one canvas larger than the next, because it had been all I had prayed for — space.
I used to paint in my small apartment’s bathroom in Minneapolis. It was the only place that I could spill and clean. The seating was built in. Small canvases were easy. Large ones I could balance on my legs, the towel bar and the edge of the tub. I guess I hadn’t been all that specific in my prayers. I didn’t know the answer would come with a move to another country, but there I was, in the south of France, covered in paint, love, and “well, this is what you asked for…” so I filled the space with my story. Canvas by canvas.
Perhaps it is the most open I have ever been. And maybe that’s what love gives you — space. And I don’t just mean romantic love (which does help a great deal!) but also love for yourself, love for the chances that life offers, love for the answers that come as a complete surprise.
I have it now, in home and country and studio, but I still pray for it daily, for my heart That I will find the space for all those trying to share their stories, their talents, their imperfections, their lives. May I be open to them all.
One of the best lessons I learned as an artist was not in the creation, but in the white space. Whether it is on the canvas, or the wall around it, there has to be space for the eye to rest. The white space. To see the art, to really be able to feel it, there must be space around it, so it can breathe, it can live. When it all becomes too cluttered, then nothing can really be seen. Not even the best of art.
I suppose it’s the same with living.
There are a million books written about it. Grief. It only recently occurred to me — looking at my grandfather’s portrait. I’m living in that white space. Missing my mother. (My grandpa and grandma too.) But it made me feel better, seeing it this way. It’s all part of the big picture. This white space — this emptiness — it shows us the real beauty of life. And it’s not separate from the art of living, it’s a necessity. So I feel it. And I know that I’m lucky. What a privilege to be a part of these glorious lives. To rest in the space beside them. Knowing that we are all a part of the same work. We are together. Always.
I only mention it because maybe you are missing someone. Maybe you are resting in this space. And maybe, for a moment, you too can see the beauty of it all — the endless art of this living…
If Herberger’s was ever low on pantyhose, there was a distinct possibility that my mom just restocked her drawers.
She was always prepared. Had she been a scout, and they offered a fashion badge, her sash would have been decorated immediately. Eagle status. Not only did she have the right pair for every outfit, and any future outfit, she kept them in pristine condition. After wearing and washing, she folded them back into their original packaging and filed them neatly, easily visible by color, into her pantyhose drawer. On days when the world just didn’t make sense, I, we, could look to that drawer and find hope.
Sure, it may sound silly. And it probably was. But so what. It brought her joy. It brings me joy. Still. When I see the advertisements to “Shop Small,” this holiday season, I think of her drawer. I think of all the little things she gave to me.
I think we can all get caught up in the “it has to be bigger, grander, more expensive,” to mean something. But, I suppose, it’s always the little things. With gifts. In life. In love. It’s the small things that we will carry. That will fill us for our entire lives.
I bought a pair of green pantyhose two days ago. They match perfectly with my green dress. I wore them yesterday, with all of my mother’s pride. And I saved the packaging. My heart is filled with small mercies.
I suppose it all takes time. To see the ordinary. And to appreciate it. Those of you that follow me here, have come, I hope, to know my grandparents, my mother, my schoolmates, and teachers. Some might say “just plain folks.” And that’s probably true. But maybe that’s the real beauty of it all. To find the spectacular in farmers, housewives and receptionists. To see the extraordinary in the daily living.
And in seeing them, it helps me see myself. Helps me find the gratitude of the day given. Of the toast for breakfast. The smell of coffee. The hand that reaches out for mine.
I am reading the book, “Love, Kurt (The Vonnegut Love Letters). I have this book, only because I have a special friend. Last year, together with our husbands, we went to Stillwater, MN. My friend and I stood in the bookstore as if before the Christmas morning tree. So many gifts in front of us, we had a hard time deciding. We each settled on our present. I loved her choice as much as mine. This year, she gave her book to me. Those simple words don’t seem to give it enough meaning, but I will tell you that it fills my heart. It brings me back to a laughter filled day on brisk streets and slow choices. It, for me too, is a love letter.
In the book, Kurt Vonnegut writes with his young pen, to his young wife, “Angel, will you stick by me if it goes backwards and downwards? Holy smokes, Angel: what if I turn out to be just plain folks?” Tears fill my eyes. I imagine we’ve all had the worries. Will I be special enough to be loved?
It’s these memories, of course, that give me that comfort. That give me the yes. My heart is packed full of the love from these glorious and plain folks. And I have loved them. Love them still. And I am one. Proud to be living with these extraordinary people. It is plain to see, they, we, are more than enough to be loved.
It’s ironic, I suppose, that she was singing, “If I could turn back time…” — this Cher hologram or avatar (or holographic avatar, I don’t know…) in my dream early this morning. We were shopping in a large department store. Tired of her following, her singing, or both, Dominique grabbed her imaginary face and kissed it. “That should keep her quiet,” he said. But it only seemed to make her angry. Maybe not so much, Cher, but the Roomba-like machine that was giving her life. It began following us around the store. Sirens blaring. We couldn’t escape. It’s hard to stop the passing of time.
Sometimes I think of how strange it would be to try and explain this all to my grandmother. I don’t mean the dream, but the iPad that I’m typing on. The phones that follow us everywhere. The cameras and clocks attached that are always with us. At the farm, the only thing that told time was the bird that popped out hourly from the coo-coo clock in the living room. And oh how she would have guffawed at the notion of taking her picture while she baked in kitchen. If Paul Harvey was on, it was noon — we didn’t need a clock in her car. She knew everyone in town. This was her social network.
Obviously I love technology. I use it daily. I’m not sure I could find my way without GPS. But I don’t think that in moving forward, we have to leave everything behind. Human contact will forever be the all. The everything.
We are going to go to the mall today. Even the Apple Store. And I’m excited. My grandma never wanted to go to the mall. But oh how my mother did! And OH the times we had. Because times do change. And that can be beautiful! Today, I will go with Dominique. And the experience will be new. We are forever changing. Time, no matter what Cher sings, cannot be turned back. But it can be carried with us. Nothing is lighter than joy. Keep it close beside you. Within you, as we all make our way.
We never had a lack of things to judge each other by, and Central Junior High made sure that we never ran out. Of course there was the usual hierarchy of those in advanced courses. The grading system. The hands raised in class. The sulking heads in the back of the room. But then they sent us to gym class. They timed us around tracks and arm-flexed hangs. They measured and weighed us. Tested us through units of gymnastics and every ball game. With no self-esteem to spare, they sent us to the pool once a week. It would have been enough to be on display in our one piece suits and skin-capped heads in front of the other 20 or so girls, but the pool was adjacent to the lunch room, separated only by glass windows. Like the theatre view in an operating room, the 9th grade boys eating cafeteria pizza had a thirty minute view. We longed for the “eyes on your own paper” rule of law.
I suppose the greatest gift was the lack of time. The allotted 5 minutes to shower, dress, and speed walk (no running allowed) with wet hair flinging down the halls, to math, or English, or Social studies, didn’t allow much time for scrutiny. It’s only as I’m typing this that I realize there was really no need for the social studies class, we were living it, from beginning to ending bell.
I only mention it, because I use the skill they gave us, almost daily. I can get trapped in the moment of self-awareness. How do I look? How do I appear? Am I being judged? But really, nothing has changed since junior high. I don’t have the time to worry about what everyone else is doing…so certainly others don’t either. (And if you do have the time for judgement, maybe it’s time to switch course. Quickly. Down another hallway.)
There is so much to learn. I hope I continue. I’m sure I stumble on my way to daily social studies. But then I see you, my friends, my fellows, my human contacts, all trying to make our way, and I smile.
The assignment was on perspective. Maybe it was because it was my first time away from home at university. Maybe it was because my eyes were always filtered through my heart. Because I needed my world to get bigger, broader, more open, I saw the perspective in reverse and drew it. Instead of everything narrowing to a point, looking down the long hallway of the campus dorm, I was the point. Everything at the end of the hall got bigger. The other 18 year olds in class laughed as they displayed their drawings, one replicating the other. The teacher smiled. She gave me an “A.”
We were watching videos with friends last night, showing them tours of Aix en Provence. They were so excited. Ooohing and aaaahing over our ordinary. This is the street, next to the statue of the king, where I buy paint. The church where we laid Dominique’s mother to rest. Cezanne’s house. The place for the best pastries. Where I bought earrings. The fish market. The view of the Sainte Victoire. As their excitement grew, our ordinary felt spectacular again. Perspective.
It’s so easy to get stuck. To lose sight of the glorious things all around you. Trying to force everything to make sense — bring it all to a point. I learn the lesson again and again. To open my eyes. Open my heart. Change my view.
I guess that’s what real friends do — Oooh and aaah you into falling in love with your own life again. They are the point that opens all perspective.