There was only one tree in my grandma’s yard with sour apples. They were my mom’s favorite. Little green apples, with a sour so big, it almost bit you back. A sour that squeezed through your squinted right eye, then into your clenched jaw bone. And rummaged down the back of your throat.
What I loved most about them was that my grandma always had a brown paper sack filled to the top, with “Ivy” written in black permanent marker. I loved that she knew her daughter.
It was with that same care that my mother packed my school lunch. A little brown paper bag. Every day, since the second day of first grade. On my first day that year, the lunch lady made me eat a pickle. A pickle!!!! Worse than any green sour… Both of my eyes squeezed shut. In horror. In prayer. That this horrible thing would be forced down my throat.
As silly as it sounds, for me it was traumatic. And what I loved most about it, was the fact my mom never made fun of me. She knew me. She always let me eat grandma’s sweet apples. She packed my lunch every day. I saw my name. In black permanent marker. And I was loved. I was saved.
You just can’t pencil it in. This life. You have to really see people. Know them. Accept them. Love them. Love them with full, broad, permanent strokes. That is a love that never fades.
We often met in St. Cloud. It was half way for both of us. Just an hour for each. We tried on clothes. Praised our figures. Three-way laughed in mirrors. Had lunch slowly. Splurging with a glass of wine, while going over what we did or didn’t buy. Then lattes at Caribou or Barnes and Noble. And if the season provided, off we went to Walgreens to get the candy of choice, like Jelly Bird Eggs this time of year.
Loosened, comforted, caffeinated, she headed north and I headed south. It was less than half an hour before I called her at the designated mark on the freeway. Pleasureland. I think they sold motorhomes. I just liked the name. When she picked up her cell phone, I got to say, “I’ve reached Pleasureland.” “I’m still lonesome,” she said. “Me too.” Then I could hear her reach inside the sack of candy. It was glorious how love made sweet and sad the same.
We lived through it all on that route. I wrote my first book in that car, on that journey. We lived through breakups and family members passing. Weddings. Events to plan for. Outfits to buy for them. We laughed and cried on that freeway. Gathering all of our experiences. And it all got simply blended into love.
I navigate through the laughter and tears now. But daily I hear the call. She’s telling me, “I’ve reached Pleasureland.” My heart, all glorious with love, I reply, “I’m still lonesome.” She replies, “Have a jelly bean.”
It really came down to the color. They all seemed to roll beautifully — these new suitcases in the store. I tested many. Each one. Each brand. All glided across the polished floor. I picked one, sure that my next trip would be so much easier.
I removed the tags. Filled it. Full. Struggled over the rug. Through the door. Down the stairs. Hallway. Trunk. Airport. It didn’t seem all that easy. I labored with the weight.
What seems so incredibly obvious, has taken me decades to learn. And maybe I should say understand, because to be honest, I’m still learning it. I still struggle with, “But I need it…I can’t leave it behind…” Even more importantly, I need to learn it – for my head, my heart. How glorious it would be to roll around this world, unburdened by the weight of it all. All those conversations playing over and over in my head. The weight of worry and what ifs. The weight of well, they should have, and why can’t they… and why didn’t I… I’m learning to lighten the load. I don’t want to be crushed by this passage of time. Day by day. I want to let go, and enjoy the journey.
It’s all kind of funny, when you think about it — this baggage. We have the power to choose. It can’t follow us on its own. It has to be dragged. I smile at this morning’s sun…empty handed.
I often tell the story of the first time Dominique went with my mom and I to Herberger’s. Upon entering the back door, it started — the meet and greet. There’s Jessica from shoes. Hi Jessica! Sue in bras. “The last one fits great!” Oh there’s Carol. “Thanks for the boxes!” “This is the manager,” my mom pointed out. “Oh, hi Claudia — we’ll need to pre-order the Clinique.” Dominique seemed dazed and confused. He whispered in my ear, “I don’t understand?” What? I said – it all seeming so normal. “Is your mom the mayor?” He asked. “Of Herberger’s,” I said, “Yes!”
Some of my best memories are in dressing rooms. Whether it was me, or a complete stranger (of course only upon their urging), my mother was there to help. She would stand just behind your shoulder. Look with you in the three way mirror. And with your very best interests at heart, she would say, “I think we can do better.” And then she was with you – to the very end – from rack to mirror and back again. Until it was just right. No abandonings. Only truth. Only support. Until it was completely beautiful.
I have been told that these sweet memories will someday turn from pain to comfort, and then to complete joy. And I believe it. I have to believe it because I’ve seen it from every angle. This three-way reflection of truth, support and beauty.
I look in this morning’s mirror and smile because I can hear it…I can hear her… “We can do better. We will do better.” She is with me. And it is beautiful!
I would often receive pictures of men cut out from the Banana Republic catalog with a note, “He’s on order. Feel free to call him dad.”
I knew my mother’s handwriting. I knew her sense of humor.
I can’t stop smiling as I read through her journals.
July 9th, 1992
“I’m still celebrating my birthday. My philosophy is to live life to the fullest. Don’t just taste or sample it – devour it and have a second helping. Love a lot and laugh a lot. (And since I have not done much loving of late — I’m laughing a lot!!!) I hope before I finish this book I’ll be doing both! Just keep reading.”
While painting a series of portraits in France, I knew exactly what to do with the man in the hat. I made a copy and sent it to my mother. “Sorry for the delay. Your order is on its way.”
Write it. Record it. Memorize it — this soundtrack of laughter with the ones you love. Nothing is lighter than joy. Carry it with you.
We were both surprised to see how excited he was for the carnival. Charles is at least 6’ tall, but only 14. His voice changed before his heart. He wanted to go on the rides. The city of Aix doesn’t have room to house giant rides for the Christmas fair. They are mostly for toddlers. Tiny airplanes. Little horses. We could see he was disappointed. Sometimes, you just want to be small.
Some might say I’m too big to miss my mom. But nobody told my heart. So I eagerly await in the blinking light of the Christmas tree, for a miracle twice my size. A miracle of joy. A miracle of peace — one that passes all understanding. I still want to ride the tiny airplanes. The tiny horses. To feel the magic of the season — the magic of being small.
You can see it in a painting. In a poem. When it’s just trying too hard. Overworked. Exhausted. It sucks the beauty right out of it.
I called her Grandma Lois. We weren’t related, but for the love of painting. She was hovering in her eighties. Still brush in hand. I offered my youth. She offered her experience. Our palettes combined. She told me the hardest thing for her had always been learning when to stop. To look at what she had painted and say, this is good – what I’ve created – it’s enough. To learn, and create again — that was the real beauty, she said. We smiled. Painted. Connected.
On canvas, I have learned this. It’s harder in real life. There are some people with whom you think, if I just tried a little harder, maybe if I was just a little brighter, better — if I was just more beautiful, inside and out, maybe they would see me. All overmixed paint turns to brown. Some people just won’t see you. And you have to walk away. Step aside and say, what I offered, it was enough.
Surround yourself with those who can see it. Can see you. In the purest, most simple strokes. Wow – to sit in that beauty – that beauty of being. Knowing your all, their all, is more than enough. Not gasping, just breathing. This, I think, is the art of loving, of living. This is good. This is beautiful.
I called it “the plant.” I’ve always believed if it’s special, you give it a name. Sure, it did house my car at night, but in the daytime, it was pure magic. I hung canvas on the walls and created a world, created a life. Lit by the glorious sun, and Christmas lights in the back, this was my sanctuary. It was always open — for creativity, for anyone to visit. And all who did visit the plant, were free to fling a brush of paint — to fling a brush in celebration, in frustration, whatever was needed. Because, like the song says, “Love made sweet and sad the same.” And that’s what we did, you see, made it all into the beauty of living, right there, by name, painted on the walls of my garage, on the walls of my heart.
If we are open, we will get to feel it all — everything between sweet and sad. We have to feel it all. And oh, how it matters – this beauty of living color — all of whom are let inside. In my heart, love will always have a name.
It was common knowledge on the playground of Washington Elementary that if you skinned your knee, the immediate solution was just to blow on it. Because the monkey bars, swings, jungle gym, all rested on paved ground, this was an everyday occurance. And it was your truest friends who, when the scraped area was just out of reach, took over the duties, and eased the sting with this balm, barely more than air.
I want you to know that I felt that yesterday, as you commented again and again with words of love for my mother.. Each letter, each phrase, relieving the pain of my skinned heart.
We made it through recess together. Limping, hand in sweaty hand, we went back to the classroom with the love and knowledge gained on this sometimes battlefield. It’s comforting to know we can still do that for each other. Thank you, my friends, from the bottom, top and middle, of my ever-healing heart.
Yesterday I was watching a short video on Youtube. I clicked on it because it was a beautiful, elderly woman, in her eighties, painting portraits. She was wearing a lovely scarf and skirt and smiling, with eyes and mouth. And it had the most interesting title – “All cats are black.” She had one of those voices that immediately drew you in. She began, “I’m just going to say it, I wanted to be beautiful…that’s all I wanted, there, I said it.” She went on to explain that she wanted to be beautiful because then she thought maybe her mother would love her. And, oh, how she wanted, needed to be loved. Just a mere baby, she was sent off to boarding school. On a visit home, still a baby, she was in the back seat of their car, driving home at night. She said to her mother, “I think I might look pretty in this light.” Her mother replied, “All cats are black at night, I suppose.” I will pause here to let you catch your breath. I know I needed to. What a horrible thing to say! My heart broke for her. Just a string of eight words. A string of eight words that slipped so easily off of her tongue. Slipped so easily off her tongue and (you might think I will say “broke her daughter’s heart) weighted on her daughter’s heart. I say weighted, because broke would be too simple. Broke means maybe you can fix it. Repair it. But weighted. Weighted is constant. A continuous burden. And she carried this burden for 65 years. A string of words for 65 years. Finally, through life, and living, and constantly searching for beauty, through painting portraits, she started to see it in others. See the beauty, even in herself. And she let it go. She let it go…. What a relief to save yourself. And she did. I suppose this is what first caught my eye – this was her beauty!
There are so many things I could say here. About how lucky I was to have a mother that always made me feel beautiful. Who still does. What a glorious gift. I could offer the warnings of how hurtful words can be. How we have to choose them so wisely. How easily we can hurt others. I could speak of the need to always be searching for and recognizing beauty in ourselves and others. I could speak of forgiveness, for that is really all forgiveness is, just letting go. Maybe it all comes down to weight. Each day a decision has to be made, perhaps moment after moment in each day, deciding to be the person who lifts, or the person who brings down. Wings or weights. As one who has seen the height and depth of each side, please, please let me be the wings, let us be the wings. Let’s choose to be kind, and fly!