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.
The walk of temptation was extraordinary for a five year old. My mom parked the Chevy Impala in front of Ben Franklin that Saturday morning. I could already see the candy through the double glass doors. My impatient feet jittered up and down next to the parking meter as she rummaged through the bottom of her purse for a quarter. I rolled my eyes as she pushed aside Kleenex and breath mints. “C’mon,” I would never say out loud, but released through the clenching and unclenching of my chubby fingers. The coin dropped and the red flag moved aside. We were free. I raced past the front cashier and stood in front of the penny candy. If I saw it today, with grown-up eyes, the square plastic bins stacked on an end cap, might not seem so magical, but then, oh, then, it was glorious! It was Tinkerbell’s wand waving over a colorful rainbow of sugar. I could feel my chin drop. “Wait!” I said as she led me down the aisle. “Can’t we just get a little bit..just one color even…just a piece of red…” “Next time,” she said, “We have better things to do.” Better things, I grumbled underneath my breath. Impossible, I thought. And dragged my bumper tennis shoes along. The aisle became stacked with toys. Beautiful, plastic covered toys! Yes, I thought. These must be the better things. I began to touch everything. I wanted it all. Or anything! Something pink and shiny! Please, I begged, perhaps out loud, or just with heart-reaching urgency. I felt her hand on my shoulder again. “Better…” she promised. It couldn’t possibly be, I thought. Yet, she had never lied to me. But here, in the center aisle of the Ben Franklin, I must admit, I had my doubts. We walked through the back door. A large pillared building stood in front of us. I began to near the grass, but she pulled me to the sidewalk. “You need to see all of it,” she said. We stood in front. The Alexandria Public Library. It was beautiful, but what was inside? “Books,” she said. “They give them to you. With just your name.” I could only breathe the word, “OHHHHH…” We walked up the stairs and opened the doors. “It smells like words,” I said. She smiled and led me down the stairs to the children’s section. I could barely move. Every spine, every cover, called to me. “Take your time,” she said. Each letter tugged at my sleeve until my arms were filled. I signed (printed) my name on the small mildewed card. My heart beat sugared from the inside. “Do you want me to help you carry them?” I shook my head no and carefully maneuvered myself and the precious cargo down the stairs. I started walking up the sidewalk. “Don’t you want to cut through?” she asked, pointing at Ben Franklin. “No,” I said, “this is better.” We walked the long way to the car. Books in hand, I held the keys to the kingdom.
They say if you have a song stuck in your head, the best thing to do is to see it through — sing it all the way to the end. Maybe it’s the same with the heart.
I first heard this song on Tik Tok — E penso a te — (I think of you.) A young man is singing with his grandmother. This was enough to warm my heart, but the music, the lyrics, the harmony that only heart related people can produce, this was pure magic. And it stuck. It played again and again within me. And I let it play. Before I fell to sleep. When I woke up. When I went to the studio to paint, the grandmother arrived on my paper. Note by note. Stroke by stroke.
I write of my own grandmother. My mother. Daily. Their music lives within me. I tell their stories like the lyrics to my favorite song. And I let it play. Again and again. Because, just as recommended, I am going to see it through, think of them, love them, all the way to the end.
According to the song, we were not yet even “puppies,” but each morning around 8:15 — just after being dropped off of the school bus at Washington Elementary, and just before Miss Green began our 5th grade class — we sang alongside the turntable with Donny Osmond, “And they called it puppy love
Just because we’re in our teens…”
Of course we weren’t in our teens, but even just having a record player, we felt old enough to experience all the emotions. The closest we actually got to boys was playing four square on the playground. We rotated through the boxes, never touching, hovering somewhere between wanting to beat them and wanting to be liked. I suppose we thought the answers would come in the next song. But none of us actually had the money to buy a new 45 at Carlson’s Music Center, so we sang it again and again, “
Someone, help me, help me, help me please. Is the answer up above? How can I, oh how can I tell them,this is not a puppy love.”We began to lean on Mr. Iverson, our music teacher. Each week he gathered us together to learn a new song — new meaning new to us, but certainly old, perhaps older than our parents. We were desperate for new. “Please please please,” we begged, “let us sing something from the radio.” Our hands shot up straight in the air when he asked for suggestions. “Seasons in the sun” was the overwhelming response. They played it constantly on KDWB, the radio station that intermittantly came in from Minneapolis. Unfamiliar with the lyrics, he said he would play the record and decide. He placed it on the turntable and immediatlely his face turned. None of us had heard the actual verses. We were all just mesmorized by the chorus — “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun…” Unfortunately, the majority of the song was about dying. Somehow we had missed that. He scratched the record racing to get the needle out of the groove. I guess we were all in such a hurry to become older, at least puppies, that we missed it.
And that’s the gift, isn’t it? I’m always surprised as summer turns into fall. It happens year after year, and I’m still hovering between the bus ride and when class actually begins. Luxuriating in the 15 minutes of unsupervised freedom. Still ready to believe. To become. To begin again.
I suppose it was at the beginning of each school year that I began waiting for Christmas. Ticking off the markers. The autumn sports on fields or in bleachers. The Halloween candy counted, saved, stretched until Thanksgiving. The first snowfall. Cars and snowballs pushed through the white, making tracks to Christmas. The forever that it seemed to take, now looks like a blur. Maybe my head rested in waitful agony during the math class that explained “time plus time equals speed” — but it’s oh, so clear now.
It seems too many of us have missed the lessons.
Today, all I want is candy corn, and for time to slow down. If I found such a sack of delicious treats, I would pull them out kernel by kernel. I would eat the white tip. Then the orange, then the sweet yellow. The yellow is my favorite of all. You will never be able to convince me that each color tastes the same. Not for me. But if I found this sweet candy, I wouldn’t rush the yellow. I would give thanks for the white. Praise the vibrant orange. And pause, twirling the golden tip in my fingers. Sweet yellow. As sweet as Christmas morning. Time held in my hand.
I’m learning the lessons. Still and again. Trying to enjoy the minutes. The hours. The day. Not waiting for “someday”. Our “someday” is now.
I don’t think it makes me a serial killer just because I like my dishtowel to hang neatly. (They seemed to imply this in the movie Sleeping with the Enemy.)
I suppose I could have gone either way. My grandma’s kitchen was always, well, I’ll say it, a mess. Dishes piled head high. Pots still on the stove. My mother liked a clean sink. The dishrag hung alone over the faucet, testing the humidity level of her apartment. It was a good day for her if she woke to a dry rag in an empty sink.
It’s funny what brings us comfort. An ironed dish towel hanging neatly in the kitchen is enough to start my day off right. And it doesn’t mean I love my grandma any less, I just know what works for me.
There was a tiny plaque by my grandma’s stove. Above the picture of a very pregnant woman it read, “I should have danced all night.” Perhaps my mother took that advice to heart. She never taught me how to cook, but she did teach me how to dance. Her kitchen recipes included “Slow, quick-quick. Slow, quick-quick. 1-2-3, 1-2-3. A heel and a toe and a polka step.” And so we danced in that clean kitchen, never disrupted by a boiling pot.
I suppose there’s a little of both of them in my French kitchen. I know my grandma is watching as I boil the fruit from our trees to make jam. And it is my mother’s hand that gives me the slight nudge to change direction as she dances me through my clean kitchen.
When my son-in-law washes his hands and leaves the towels in a heap, I don’t really want to kill him. But I would like to tell him a story. Of a chubby woman laughing, a tall woman dancing, both leading me in love.
It’s a crazy world. We all have to find our own joyful way. Do what works for you. (And don’t forget to wash your hands.)
My shipping department.
There is an empty space where the painting hung. It sold yesterday, Lake Agnes. My first thought, of course, was of joy, but my second thought was of Herberger’s. More specifically, the Herberger’s store that used to be in Alexandria, Minnesota.
My mom, served as the unofficial ambassador. She knew every clerk. Every shopper. For her, and a majority of the town, Herberger’s was not just retail, but social.
Carol worked in the shipping department, right next to the office. My mom would see her when she went to pay her bill. They became friends. It was only after a few conversations that my mom was retrieving empty cardboard boxes to bring to me to use for shipping artwork. I was shipping daily to stores and galleries, so my box bill would have been a fortune. They had a need to recycle — it worked out well for everyone. My mom would fill the back of her hatchbacked Ford Focus and drive them to me in Minneapolis. We then took the time for coffee, wine and shopping. By Sunday evening her car was filled with bags from Anthropologie or Sundance or Macy’s, and the joyful cycle continued.
Of course nothing was the exact size. I became an expert at creating boxes. I could score and trim and shrink wrap and tape with the best of them. It might sound odd to say, but I was proud of it. Still am.
Yesterday I went to the garage and found two scraps (I use the term with affection) of cardboard, and a large amount of bubble wrap. The cardboard was from some garden tool that Dominique ordered, and the bubble wrap from a guitar that was given as a gift to the kids. They weren’t dirty, but still I vacuumed and wiped each piece sparkling clean. I wrapped it with precision. The box is square and strong. The painting is, and will be safe.
I smile as it sits beside me. Knowingly part of my story. Even as I live a country away, and Herberger’s is long closed, I know what, who, helped get me here.
The world is changing. Artificial intelligence is nipping at our heels. People are contemplating if it will take over the arts. I don’t think so. I certainly hope not. Sure, I suppose it’s possible to create the painting. But what you can’t manufacture is the story. The lives involved in one piece of art. Carol folding boxes. The Herberger’s store manager helping my mom load the car. My mom. Her love and support. Telling all who would listen. It fills me still.
This painting that I sell today is of Lake Agnes. One of the first lakes I knew in my hometown. It will ship from France and travel to Arkansas, carrying the stories of those who first lifted me.
We never make the journey alone.
Didn’t we say forever? And believed it at the time. Best friends we promised in the middle of the Washington School playground, underneath the monkey bars. And then beside the swings. But forever came before we moved on to Central Junior High, and we promised again. And meant it. We raced to Social Studies and English literature, and around the block for gym, and then changed again. At Jefferson Senior High School, so close to the imagined adulthood, we vowed again. Threw our graduation caps in the air, along with our forevers.
Yesterday we went to a small village here in France. Driving the narrow streets, built long before they made cars, we winded and turned, and backed up, squeezed and turned some more. With no “rights” or “lefts,” we could only look up for direction. “Somebody’s on top of that hill,” I said. “I think it’s the Virgin Mary,” Dominique said, “a statue…” I wasn’t sure I needed that clarification, but I smiled. We parked, or probably closer to the truth is we abandoned the car.
We started climbing the cobblestone paths. Higher. Higher still. Surely we would see her soon. Above the village now. Gazing over the houses. “Where is she?” Confused, I stood beside the ancient obelisque. Then I saw her. Proudly she stood atop the hill on the opposite side of the village. Oh, she moved, I thought. Because surely it wasn’t me. I hadn’t changed direction…
We’re changing all the time. All of us. And that’s a good thing. It’s the only way we grow. The only way we gain a new perspective. Our forevers get nipped and tucked, and some even abandoned. But it doesn’t make any of them less important, less meaningful. Everything has a time. A season. And each day we have a choice of whether or not to enjoy the moment, to enjoy the view.
Take a look around today. It may not be what you thought, but it might just be amazing.
Long before ever hearing of the word “blog,” I put words to paper to keep a record of our lives. We called it writing.
For my highschool graduation, my mother gave me a small journal and a cross country train ticket to Washington State. In a class of 400 or so, I graduated 13th. To commemorate, my sister-in-law gave me 13 cans of Hi-C grape drink (my favorite at the time). My mother and I packed our non-rolling suitcases, along with the Hi-C and boarded the train.
As we rolled along the uneven tracks, often reaching 50 miles per hour, I began writing down the details of our adventure. We couldn’t afford the sleeper cars, so for more than 24 hours we watched the other passengers. I wrote down everything I saw. The man handcuffed to the federal agent (possibly just local law enforcement). The man kissing the “other” woman between cars, then returning to his seated wife and children. The older couple cutting their food so finely it could almost be described as pureed. The fielded landscape that passed so slowly outside the window allowing me to describe stalk by stalk.
I wrote it all down. We passed the journal back and forth. Laughing loudly with purple stained lips.
I still have the journal. Reading through it, one thing becomes quite clear — I stopped writing once we reached the destination. I suppose it has always been, and always will be, about the journey. These are the most precious moments.
I recently bought a booklet of handmade paper from a small French mill. Far from being filled, it has already given me hours of entertainment. It won’t be for sale. The profit comes in the daily escape. The magic as the images come to life. The stories behind their expressions. The lives revealed. The wheels of brush to paper click along at a reduced Amtrak pace, and I’m able to see everything. To feel everything, below the speed of this summer afternoon.
You can call it whatever you want. Journaling, writing, creating, blogging. However it is you fill your day. And you can do it for whatever reason you want — that is not for me to say. But if it’s purely for “likes,” for approval, the destination… you could be missing out on the most fantastic part of living.
This is the advice I give to myself — Relax. Breathe. Don’t worry. Look around. We’re all going to get there.
The sun is rising. Let the journey begin.
It wasn’t certainty, but the complete absence of the need for it. It was only a moment. Perhaps it will take even longer to explain than it lasted. But it did happen. This morning. I walked out the back door. There was no change in temperature. It felt like the world was one big room. Everything equal. I walked around the yard in my swimsuit. I can only describe the feeling as enough. I felt thin enough. Pretty enough. Clever enough. (Not because I had changed, or gotten better, it was just that everything was connected. There was no better, no worse — we all just were.) I was loved enough. Given enough. Not wanting. Nor waiting. Just being. A part of it all.
And I hope you can hear the joy, the gratitude in the word enough.
I jumped into the pool. Still the same temperature. I swam my laps in the blue that held no separation. Was it sky or water? Swimming or flying? I wasn’t sure. But it was enough. Leaving the pool, the water beaded upon my skin. Under the sun. Slowly drying. I was embraced. Framed. Just as the woman in the painting. Golden.
By the time I reached the house, it had passed.
Only to be felt in glimpses now. But those glimpses, I smile knowing, they too, will be enough. I’ll catch a flash of it, walking past her, hanging on the wall. Or maybe walking on the street. I’ll smile as she randomly strolls by, effortless, this stranger, not known by name, but by frame, both feeling, it is indeed golden — just to be — and we are enough.
I sit now within and between the labored breaths of my mother-in-law. How many more? It’s not certain. But there’s no need for it. Not now. In and out. Pausing. And there it is — the slightest smile between the gasps. A glimpse of just being. And I know it’s enough. It has been so beautifully enough.
She’s somewhere between water and sky now. Her arms, merely twigs, make a flutter. The sun is calling. She, I, we, all caught in the golden glimpse. It is more than enough.