In the winter of my Minnesota seventh grade, I took my first airplane ride to Cocoa Beach, Florida. I didn’t know what a snowbird was, and I must admit there was a small part of me that hoped they would be donned in feathers. I spotted them immediately at the gate, my grandpa still in overalls and my grandma in a flowered dress, only missing the apron.
I heard the ocean before I saw it. The sound was as big as the sight. I stood in the sand, paralyzed by one thought — that it all was real. It had taken 6 years for Mrs. Bergstrom’s globe to come to life. But there it was! All the blue that she had passed around to us. The blue that we spun with our hopeful fingers. It was right there in front of me. I turned back to my grandparent’s. They shook their heads. I took off my shoes. My pants. And ran into my first dream come true.
It didn’t take long for my lavender winter skin to turn a bright red. I slept soundly on their condo floor.
They took me to all the attractions. Cape Canaveral, the dog track, the outlet mall, and the 4:30pm dinner special. We didn’t go to the “happiest place on earth,” but to be honest, I couldn’t imagine being happier. I basked in the unexpected warmth of winter sun, and their full attention.
Returning to Central Junior High, all smiles, and one less layer of skin, all the other seventh graders, knowing I went to Florida, asked how I liked Disney World. We didn’t go, I said, to their utter shock and dismay. I had no photos. I didn’t own a camera. I had no souvenirs of Mickey or Minnie. “So what did you see?” “Snowbirds,” I said. “They’re real?” “Yes,” I smiled. It was all real. And I had everything. Still do.
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.
Bracing her hands against her knees, still looking up at the painting, smiling, joyful tears filled her eyes. I stepped closer in, wanting too, to be caught in her moment of happiness.
It isn’t often that I get to finish the sale in person. Normally it’s online, and then I ship it out. The grateful emails are nice, but nothing like being face to face. Yesterday, I got to witness her reaction. In real life. In real time. Of course the money is always nice. There is validation to the dollar amount. But to see the reaction. To know that this painting brings her and her husband home, this is priceless. This is why I keep painting.
There is an intimacy to this life, that should never be missed. When people allow you into their moments, be it tears of joy, or sorrow, go all the way in. Stand beside the raised arms or bent knees and feel the moment. It is the most precious gift we have to give. We have to receive. It takes courage, for sure, to do both, but the rewards are immeasurable.
I hope you see these words each day as doors. As windows. Come in, you and your heart sit down.
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…
She was sitting just a table away from the band. Was it a wedding? In between the ceremony and the dance? To see her sitting there at the table, my not-yet mother, early twenties, I know her. One eye on the other woman at the table. One ear on the music. Size tens slightly tapping under the table. Ready for the dance.
It wouldn’t have been “old time” dancing then. Just dancing. Surely there would have been a polka — I see the tuba. But she was good at the in betweens, my mother. Teaching me that what we had, was exactly enough. It was easy as a child to get caught up in the next of it all. Rushing through Halloween. Making a path with the candy to lead to Thanksgiving. Clear the table. Get the dishes done so we can decorate. Wrap the gifts. Shake the gifts. Unwrap them. Happy New Year! But she taught me to enjoy the middle.
We both loved to read, so she compared it all to a book. Those center pages, when you are so immersed in the story, you don’t want to stop reading, but you don’t want it to end. This was the glorious part of living. This is where I want to live. Still.
It’s still easy for me to get caught up in the what ifs and whens of it all, but then I look at the photo. And I sit in the moment just before the dance. Breathe in the music. I will be happy. Right here. Right now.
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!