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.
I was watching a German creator who recently moved to Los Angeles, California. She was lonesome. Missing her friends. She walked around the streets and picked up odd objects. From the ground. Abandoned buildings. Seemingly useless stuff, but she could see something beautiful. She made a light that turned on by an automatic switch, notifying her of the German time between 9am and 9pm — the time she could safely call up a friend in Germany. Her best friend. To hear the sound of her voice. I love this idea. This simple reminder. A light to stay connected.
Because that’s everything, isn’t it? Just to be connected to the ones you love.
I search the house. Photographs and spare parts. Metal. Wood. Scraps. I know I can make anything. My heart smiles and tells my brain, “I’ve got this.” The flame that lights my mother’s memory is shining brightly. There’s only one thing I need to know — what time is it in heaven?
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.
There were no smartphones to capture the moment. Only real film. Real cameras. No google to tag the time and place. We relied on the story. Packaged it deeply into our hearts and brains. Told it again and again to keep it alive.
I came across the photo of my mother on her hands and knees, in her bra and short pants, all smiles, ironing her blouse on the carpeted condo floor. That’s Hilton Head, South Carolina. I can’t see out any window. There are no discernable markers. But I know the story.
It was my first real vacation from my first real job. We packed our non-rolling suitcases and put them in my GPS-less car. We drove from the Minnesota winter to the beaches of South Carolina.
Having only real film to document our journey, decisions had to be made. It wasn’t like it is today with digital. No, there was a real cost to each photo, so I had to be frugal with my image choices. With all the beauty that surrounded us, the sand and sun, blues skies and flowers, you may be surprised that I used precious film to capture the moment of my mother ironing her blouse on the condo floor. But this WAS the story. The one I wanted to remember. Because I knew the landscape could and would change through the years, but it was our relationship, this was the most important thing of all.
I can still feel the heaving of laughter in my belly. Struggling so to keep the camera still, and focus on the image. It wasn’t really “funny,” — it was just the release of so much joy. This freedom to be ourselves, to be our best selves. So much joy, all we could do was laugh.
I know I took some pictures on the beach. I’ve misplaced them through the years. They weren’t that valuable. I saved what was important.
You won’t find ironed blouses in the Hilton Head brochures, but in my heart, the laughter, the joy, the real story lives on and on.
They say that paper has a memory. Meaning, if you fold it, the crease remains. Perhaps the same is true of the heart.
The limb I found myself wobbling upon yesterday was a bit more unstable than usual, so I gathered in my heart and took it to the paper. It always welcomes me. And even with all of its security, it still challenges me. Dares me to create. To learn. To grow. To find the beauty even in this moment of uncertainty.
I didn’t plan the portrait, I just started to paint. As she came to life, I knew what she needed to wear. My mother would have loved this ruffled blouse. How it gently gathered around the neck and framed the face. She was the queen of white ruffles, my mother. Such a delicate beauty.
And there it was — found — the uncertain beauty of the moment.
My heart is not broken. But it will be forever creased. Remembering and saving all the love. And it is here, in the beautiful folds, that I have the courage to move from limb to limb. To dare the lift of love, ruffle my feathers from heart to face, and let myself fly.
In Greek mythology, Antaeus had super strength whenever he was grounded. Touching the Earth (his mother), his strength was always renewed. In combat, even if thrown to the ground, he was invincible. It was Heracles who discovered the source of his strength and, lifting him up from Earth, crushed him to death.
I always wanted to do the sleepover. But when the sun began to set, when it was time to go to bed, the battle began. It didn’t matter if it was a best friend’s house, or even in the beginning at my grandma’s house, I just wanted to go home. And home was with my mother, the source of my power. 763-5809 was the life line that grounded me. Making the call, without question, she dropped what she was doing and came to pick me up.
I suppose some would call that spoiled. I call it loved. You might think, oh she’ll never learn if she isn’t forced to do it. On the contrary. I would come to learn because of it. Secure in this love, I was able to go beyond my wild imagination. And not just physically. But emotionally. Artistically. I had the strength to dare in it all. To brave my heart and soul. To live. To love.
There are a million things, people, that try to pull us away from what we know. What we believe in. Sometimes it can even be our own silly worries that try to rip us away from the very thing that gives us strength. And I can see it. Feel it. When my feet begin to lift off the ground. When defeat feels imminent… I return to the story. I write it again and again. The love is always there. Will always be there. Invincible. And I am forever strong.
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.