There is a natural instinct, I suppose, when you experience something wonderful, to want others to feel the same. “You’ve gotta taste this,” we say. “You’ve got to see this!” And I enjoy sharing things from around the world. But these are the obvious things. The guaranteed positive response. The Eiffel Tower, example. The Vatican. I feel blessed to have stood beside the Colosseum. Floated in Venice. But it’s not a surprise really. I expect people to like these photos.
Winter in Minneapolis. Not the expected destination for travel. But there is beauty. And I see it. Maybe it’s all just a reflection of the people I’m with, but the light!!!! The beautiful light of this city. One that I claim. This is something! I shared the image with my French family. When she replied, in French, how beautiful she thought the light was, it made me feel special. Not just because I took the photo. But that she could see it too. We were a little more connected. Sharing this truth.
It’s why I share the stories of the places I love, but even more so, the people. When I wrote this poem about my mother, The Truth about you, I did it because sometimes I just can’t imagine the incredible luck, the pure blessing, of having such a mother, and I just want everyone to know. To see it. To see her. So pardon my repeats, as I keep spreading the news. The joy. The love I have for my mom, my city. This world.
The light is coming in from the window. I hope when you see it this morning, you will know, it’s for you too!
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.
I can feel her eye roll all the way from heaven as I sit in the hotel breakfast lounge. Not for me, of course. She would never have allowed me to go out into a public area dressed like that. She led by example. Hair, make-up, clothes — even when at their most casual — impeccable. And I wanted to be just like her.
When I was old enough, she got me my own starter kit for make-up. Most likely they were the free gifts from her purchases. She wanted me to learn with my own products. And not to mess up hers. This was clear from my earliest of memories. If I wanted to dunk my cookie, she gave me my own cup of coffee. And so it was with make-up. With clothes. I could admire her shoes, but never walk around in them. Because these things were special. They meant something. She took pride in herself. To be tall in stature was good, to be tall in self-worth was priceless.
And so we dressed for the occasion. Each day was just that. Whether we were toasting, or just going to the lobby for toast. I finished my morning coffee, not in judgement, but in thanks. I stand tall. Every day. My mother still sees to that.
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.
We never had a big rainy season in autumn. We often moved from summer to a short, but spectacular wave of reds, oranges and yellows in the trees. Sometimes it seemed that the anxious snow was daring the leaves to fall so it could follow suit. So a foggy, rainy day seemed rather special to me.
I stood by the mailboxes across from the end of our driveway, just at the top of the hill. Blanketed in white. Not warm. Not cold. Just hovering. First I saw the lights. Then the golden yellow of the school bus as it released its air brakes. Although the bus driver/law enforcement tech school student didn’t seem surprised that I stepped out of the low hanging cloud, I still felt dreamy. I plopped down immediately in the front seat by the door so I could get the best view. I knew it would be the most foggy at the bottom of the hill. At Norton’s. I wanted to be the first to see which one of the five girls would appear like magic out of the white. I guessed by height, as I could only make out a silhouette. Was it Shari? Or Lynn? I could see the movement of long hair. I went with Shari. The brakes gasped. The door opened. And she stepped out of the dream. Wet hair flinging. It was Shari. I refrained from clapping, but I smiled out loud.
When I stepped outside to open the morning shutters, I could feel the air around me. It took me a minute. My first thought was I hope it doesn’t rain. I made my way around the house. By the time I reached the front door I could feel it. “It was dreamy, wasn’t it?” my heart asked my brain. “Yes,” I said, stepping out of the fog, and into my smile.
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.
We took the bus from the roller rink to city park. Our sweaty legs were the only things grounding us to this world and the green pleather bus seats. We hovered between the exaltation of this finale to the fifth grade, and the silent wishing that this day would never end.
We jumped on picnic tables and rolled in the promise of summer grass. Our teachers started a fire and passed around graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey chocolate bars. Some of the boys lunged with the toasting skewers, fighting off the time. Then blackened their marshmallows in the fire. The girls roasted theirs to a delicate brown. The hot marshmallow melted the chocolate sandwiched between the graham crackers. We all shook our heads in agreement to the name — s’more! For that’s all we wanted — more!
Perhaps it was the crash of the sugar high that silenced us on the bus ride back to school, but I think it was more than that. The open windowed breezes blew through t-shirts and pony tails, as our heads rested on classmates’ shoulders. Maybe we knew how special this day was. How exotic to catch yourself in transition. The magic of this moment, no longer a fifth grader, not yet in junior high…just here, together, joyfully sweated in our exhaustive friendships of youth. I mean we used everything. We spared nothing. We gave each other every laugh. Every tear and fear. We faced every open window. Together. Knowing we had it all. Knowing there would be more.
I laughed the first time I saw them in the exotic aisle of the grocery store here in France. Hershey Bars. Exotic! And then I was transported in time and place. Tasting this magical day of so long ago, so far away. And in that moment, I thought, they got it right. What could be more magical than this? More exotic?
I stood silent. Catching myself in the between. Hovering in this space of brand new and brand familiar. My imaginary pony tail brushed across my face and I smiled.
I will give everything. And humbly shake my head in the agreement, “S’more!”
It was only an hour each weekday. After school. I’d get off the bus at around 3:30pm and wait. Two picture windows faced our driveway. Some days, I could be distracted by The Brady Bunch, but the majority of those 60 minutes before my mom came home from work was spent waiting against those windows.
They taught us at Washington Elementary not to touch the glass windows that lined our classroom, because it was the janitor who would have to clean the windows dailly. And we didn’t want to make his job harder, did we? But seeing how it was my job to clean the windows at home each Thursday afternoon with newspaper and Windex, I wasn’t that concerned. I fogged the glass with my breath. Drew smiley faces. Smeared them away. Blew again. Then sad faces. Erased and blew. Challenged myself to tic-tac-toe. Continuously smearing cheek and fingers across the glass. Waiting. And waiting.
The gravel road always gave sufficient warning. The sound of the tires popping at 4:37pm would tell me that my mom was about to arrive. I’d hoist my top above my waist and wipe the window. Race to the garage entry. Fling the door. And I was saved.
She never mentioned it — the streaked glass. But of course she must have known. It wasn’t like my t-shirt wipe gave a proper cleaning. But that’s who she was — the person who allowed me to be me. Never made fun of my silly antics. She saw me. And loved me.
I smiled each Thursday afternoon as I took last week’s Echo and wiped it across the pane. It sparkled clean along with my heart. A fresh start. All waiting’s worries were washed away.
I see it now. So clearly. I thought she was saving me, daily, and she did, but even more importantly, she gave me the ability to save myself. A gift I continue to use. I smile out my morning window, and I am saved.
She wasn’t a screamer, nor a fighter. I suppose I get that from her. But I know that my mother got stressed. And somehow it had to get out.
I wasn’t yet of driving age. We had a blue Chevy Malibu station wagon. It wasn’t built for speed. Not known for its quick pickup. The light blue remained unblurred, but for those special moments when out of traffic’s way, safely buckled in, she would wink at me, slam her Herberger shoed right foot onto the gas pedal, roaring the engine! We could only squeal tightly along with the tires. We released our breath and she, her foot off the gas. “I just had to get the soot out,” she said. And we laughed. Louder than any engine’s roar.
It took awhile, but I would come to realize it wasn’t to release the “soot” from the car, but from our very spirits. Life can clog you down. And somehow, you have to release it. Laughter seemed to be our favorite route!
I can’t Malibu myself out of today’s stress. But I have found my own ways. On the gravel path. In shades of blue on the canvas. Sometimes, just word by word on the page, hoping they take you along for the ride, sometimes with a laugh, sometimes with a tear, sometimes both. The sun is coming up, hop in, my friends, let’s get the soot out!
We were best friends in the second and third grade. Too young to know that it’s hard for three. My grandma would warn me of this years later when skating with my two cousins, but it came too late for Jan, Shari and me.
We did everything together — not that our everything consisted of that much, but it felt like more than enough to equate to BFFs! It was mostly Chinese jump rope. Sleep overs. Giggling. Soon to be illegal clicky-clackers that my grandma brought to us from Florida. Birthdays. Bedrooms. Pinky swears. American jump rope. A lot of, well, just jumping – from bicycles and jungle gyms. From car doors into freshly mown grass. From the pages of Archie comics. Maybe we should have seen the warnings — it was always Betty and Veronica. Never Midge. Never three.
I don’t remember the date. Nor the reason. My mom dropped me off at Shari’s house. There was no Jan. Something about a phone call. A fight. Tears. “Never again,” she said to me. How easy it was to say never at 7 years old. Within minutes the first surprise would be exceeded by the second. If there was no three, she explained, there would be no two. She had decided for all of us. I sat at the end of her driveway and waited the long two hours for my mother to pick me up. I thought of the last time we jumped rope together. Having no idea that when I was singing, “Vote, vote, vote for Shari…knock, knock, Jodi at the door, she’s a better woman she can do the wibble wobble, so we don’t need Shari anymore…” that it would be the last time.
I suppose the “last time” always comes too soon. I could not foresee living this lesson again and again. But I would. I have. I will. Again.
Some days I miss my mom so much, the weight of that driveway’s end seems unbearable. But I wave as I pass by her picture. Put on one of her blouses. Recall a memory of a trip. Jumping from store to store. See her dancing the wibble wobble. And I smile. The wait is never long. She continues to “pick me up.”