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.
She hadn’t told me anything deep, dark, or hidden. It wasn’t a designated secure place. Neither church, nor Switzerland. But for some reason, on the return bus trip from an out of town volleyball game, I felt safe. In this back seat, looking straight ahead. Knees pushed against the seat in front of us, I told my friend, as I had told no other contemporary, my secret.
This friend listened. Without judgement or questions. Braced, as if I were passing her the ball. I could feel the words spank off from my overworked forearms. She took the ball. What a relief to pass it on.
We had Judy Blumed our way through Junior High, but when I asked, on this yellow-orange school bus, “Are you there, it’s me…” she listened. No solutions offered. Just release.
I don’t know who we played that day after school. I don’t know if we won or lost. But never had I felt more a part of something. I had a real teammate. We didn’t speak of it again. We didn’t need to.
It’s not necessary to me that she remembers. I won’t forget. I had such a friend.
It was just after recess. Even on the coldest of days, we were always sweaty. We hung our coats back on the pegs. Mrs. Erickson stood at the front of our third grade class. She had a stack of papers in her hand. She told us to sit and take out our No.2 pencils. She gave a handful to the front person of each desk row. We passed the sheets back to the person behind us, along with our comments and guesses of what was to come. Each pass was like a short game of “whisper around the world.”
I held the horizontal lined paper between my fingers. It seemed all good things started with paper at Washington Elementary. The paper was lined, but not just single lines. Groups of three. Two solids middled by a dotted line. I was certain they were little highways. I would turn out to be right.
She used a three pronged chalk to make the same lines on the blackboard and began our cursive journey. She had the most beautiful penmanship I had ever seen. Upper and lower cases flowed along the paper highway, and we were off! We had already learned to read. Mrs. Bergstrom saw to that. But this, she said, was how we would communicate. It would be part of our identity. I opened the windows of my imaginary car. The wind blew through my hair and hand and I began to write. My name. My address. Sentences. Tiny trips at first, and then I was out on the open road. Faster. Longer. Free!
In the tenth grade, they taught us “behind the wheel,” in Driver’s Ed. But it was Mrs. Erickson who first gave us the keys.
In the “wee, small hours” of the night, when thoughts can get so big, I have a practice to calm them down. She has been gone for so many years, my grandma, but she continues to walk me through those uncertain hours. And it could be for anything really, tiny chaotic thoughts, or grand concerns — she’s there, unworried (as she always seemed), as I recite the poem of her life. It’s a long poem, as is her legacy, but it usually only takes the first line or two, and I am saved…
“She was a beauty like he’d never seen,
When Rueben looked back
He knew for sure
That she’d be in his heart for a while.”
These words are the hands that held my mother’s, and my mother’s hands that held mine.
I have a weird little pinky finger. I will need a small procedure to fix it. The condition is apparently genetic. He asked if I remembered my mother’s hands. My heart’s response, of course, was to say I’m still holding it, and my grandma’s too… but certainly I remembered no imperfections. How could I? Their beauty will forever be unmatched.
Maybe it’s all the imperfections that make us beautiful. Or how we use them. I only know this for sure — they held, they gave, they touched. Beauties, that I’ll ever see…
As paintings sell, our entryway changes. But not the welcome.
When I came back from my first visit to France, it was to let go of my apartment, and a majority of my things. But being my mother’s daughter, I still visited one of my favorite stores – Anthropologie. The first thing that caught my eye, other than the reflection of myself in a new dress, was a box of large letters. It struck me that I was in the process of melding my name with another. Orsolini and Hills. OH! How fitting that these two letters would describe our new life together. OH, what a surprise to have even met! OH, what delight! OH, my goodness I’m moving to another country! OH, how I will miss my mother! OH, I am in love! OH, I’m doing this!
These letters hang proudly on our front door. LIfe continues to surprise and delight. And certainly, from time to time, they symbolize a hanging heart, an empathetic “oh, understand….” And always, I am welcomed in.
We hung the new painting together. And maybe it’s ironic, or just that all is as it should be — either way, the recently sold painting is going back to my old neighborhood in Minnesota — OH!
I suppose we all have different destinations. I used to walk down Hopkins Crossroad and take a left onto Minnetonka Blvd. The obvious attraction to many was the bright red roof of the Dairy Queen. But not for me.
It was no accident, I suppose, that there was usually a Dairy Queen next to the softball fields of my youth. In dusted and grass stained uniforms, with skinned knees and sweat matted hair, all the young girls gathered behind cones, and cups. Celebrated or commisserated with frozen cream. Intolerant, being a word well above my reading level, I just knew I would get sick. (After two very unsuccessful attempts.) Sometimes I opted for the Mister Misty – the DQ’s version of shaved ice – but mostly I just went without.
I could have felt sorry for myself. My mother didn’t allow that. “Look around,” she said, on her way back to work, “You have a banana seat bike and a beautiful summer day, figure it out…” So I rode. I rode that bike to lakes. To swingsets. To ballfields. And neighbors. The North End. Parks. On gravel and hills. In cemeteries. Empty school yards. To the public library. Ben Franklin. Hugo’s field. I saw everything. I pedaled the paths and when the paths got too thick, I dropped my bike and walked. And walked some more. As I wore the flowers from my banana seat, and the soles from my bumper tennis shoes, without my knowledge or permission, I was indeed figuring it out.
I still think of it as my superpower — seeing beyond the obvious red roof. During my Minnetonka stay, I saw it almost every day, the weeping willow just before the DQ. One autumn, after dancing with it for an entire summer, I came home and gave thanks on the canvas. For the willow. The road. My mother. The love of the dance.
I would always sit in the front row. I loved my English LIterature courses. I wanted to be a part of it all. My hand shot up before my mouth even knew what was going to come out. “You’ll think of something, ” my fingers encouraged as they waved in the air. It wasn’t about assuming I was right. Not about proving my point. I just wanted to be involved. To be among the words. Part of the discourse.
I sat slunched in my chair. Sweating. Sick. My roommate had told me to stay in bed, but I didn’t want to miss out. Within the hour, my mom was on her way to pick me up from college and bring me back home for an emergency appendectomy. When Dr. Merickel gave the diagnosis of acute appendicitis, I smiled. He asked why I was smiling. “You said it was cute.” We hear what we want to hear.
I went back to school two days later, a little lighter, but no less enthusiastic. All that learning prepared me for what was to come. Not in the way you might think. I didn’t learn any foreign languages. So when I moved to France, arms at my side, I feared the conversation. Even the most simple were acute! Trapped inside an introduction, I heard my brother-in-law introduce me as his belle-sœur, I beamed. I heard the word belle and thought “pretty.” And the word soeur meaning “sister.” It turns out that belle-sœur means sister-in-law. But once again, in this need to belong, to be a part of the conversation, I heard what I needed to hear.
I don’t always get it right. I don’t think it’s always necessary. What we do have to be is brave. Curious. Willing to open our hearts and get involved. Be a part of it all. When I raise my hand today, it’s to wave you in. Welcome to my conversation. I’m glad you’re here.
I can’t say it was the most comfortable lap, my grandfather’s. If you wanted something soft, you went to my grandma. Her lap was pillowed with sugary treats, and as soft as the toasted marshmallows she loved to eat from Jerry’s Jack and Jill grocery store. You could easily get lost in her folds of love. So what was it that my grandfather had? First of all, I rarely saw him seated. He was skinny. The farm saw to that. He smelled of earth and pipe tobacco. And just where my head would reach, between his chest and shoulders, were the hooks and buttons of his overall straps. The real comfort came, I suppose, straight from the heart. To be let in, this was the magic. To be offered these rare moments of respite. Between the field and the plate wiped clean with a sheet of bread. To be given the time, when time was currency. This was pure love. Perhaps it’s not visible to the naked eye, but I know the button imprint remains on my cheek, and somewhere deep in my heart.
People often ask me, “Do you come from a long line of artists?” My first thought is the quote from Vincent Van Gogh — “There is nothing more artistic than to love people.” My grandmother’s quilts still keep me warm across the sea. The portraits I painted of my grandfather keep me safe. Protected. My mother’s blouses wrap me in a love that will never die. I was loved. I am loved. Still. I walk daily within this gallery given. So, YES! The answer is always yes! I come from a long line of artists. Today, in my most humble of ways, on canvas and paper, I attempt to pass on the line. To pass on the love.
The first set of paper dolls I received was for my 7th birthday from Wendy Schoeneck. My mother had always taught me to smile when receiving a gift. I didn’t know why she had made such a point of it. I suppose up until then, I had always been thrilled with my presents. Wendy was smiling so intently, watching me tear the wrapping paper. So pleased with what was about to be revealed. I scraped the yellowed Scotch tape from the last reluctant piece, only to reveal, to my horror, Buffy and Jody paper dolls. Not only had they spelled my name wrong, but Jody was the boy. I glanced up at my mother. I knew she knew. I guess her constant reminders paid off, because I forced a smile in Wendy’s direction. She couldn’t seem to tell that it was more pain than gratitude.
We played music. Pinned the tail on the donkey. Dropped the clothespins in the bottle. Passed around the presents. Laughed and held sweaty hands in circles. All had been forgotten and forgiven.
One of my presents was a Winnie the Pooh giant story book. We all started to sing the Pooh song, when one of the girls noticed that Winne the Pooh could quickly and easily be translated to Wendy the Pooh. Others joined in. Some giggled. But not Wendy. I knew she felt bad. I opened the box of paper dolls and my mom got out the scissors. We cut out the clothes and quickly forgot about both Poohs. It was a good gift after all. Wendy was smiling. My mom was smiling. And so was I, for real this time.
Sometimes it’s hard to see life’s gifts. They often come ill-wrapped at unwelcomed times. But even the hardest day is kind enough to pass. Find the good. It’s out there.
I suppose everything is about context. It’s not like I’d normally be afraid of a pony. (I’ve even painted them.) But yesterday, when I looked up from the path to turn the corner and almost ran into one, I must say it was alarming. And he wasn’t alone. There was a donkey. A llama. Many sheep. Rams. Other ponies. I don’t know who was in charge of this gang by the river. There were no other humans in sight. Neither the sheep, nor the donkey seemed to care that I was there, but what I can only assume as the lead pony, looked at me like I was the suspicious one.
After taking pictures, I kept walking. The whole path seemed different. I felt disoriented. This path, that I could normally navigate in my sleep, suddenly felt completely strange. Had that always been there? What about this? Did I miss my turn?
I started to take inventory. I knew this rock. This tiny bridge. To walk up the slope on the left side. The smell of these trees. The purple flowers growing out of the concrete fence. I knew this path.
Life can throw you the strangest curves. And you can’t prepare for everything. And sometimes each step can become unfamiliar. When it happens, it may sound silly, but I always take my own inventory. Am I safe? Yes. Am I loved? Yes. Do I have to be afraid? No. I step aside from the wayward pony, smile, and keep walking.