the art of being my mother

Centered on the living room wall when I was growing up was a drawing that tore at me. It was of a woman, clearly weary, her head in one hand looking off to her left, a sleeping child draped over the other arm.

Not sure what was going  on here, but it was clearly important.
Not sure what was going on here, but it was clearly important.

While I now see the beauty in this art, as a child I believed my mother identified with it because of her own weariness with her lot in life, namely, me, and I felt a great deal of guilt over what I’d done to her.

We didn’t get along, my mother and me, until after my stepfather died when I was 28. By her own admission, her focus then changed from wife to mother.  It took us years to work through all the barriers. Issues remain today, but they aren’t the structure of our relationship.

I see her getting older and I’m constantly mindful of the fact she’s only a few years away from the age her parents were when they died. She’s on a fixed income and can barely afford her own needs month to month, yet she still jumps at the chance to give to me.

That’s what moms do, I guess, at least it’s what my mom does. I resisted it inside myself until I realized how important it was to her. I turn around and send her money when I can to help her in any small way.

A few years ago I went through terrible times, and it left its mark on me long after that. I was so deep in the pain of it myself I didn’t fully realize what my mom went through each day, wondering what I was undergoing and imagining the worst.

I need to keep to myself what is mine to know.

I hold back on telling her everything because it is too difficult to express. I don’t know that she should know all the details. I need to keep to myself what is mine to know.

Perhaps she did identify with the woman in that drawing, for reasons I’ll never really know. As one of the few pieces of art she’s kept through the years, it seemingly has meant something to her. Just as I don’t fully involve her in my experience, certainly she hasn’t fully involved me in hers.

I told her once, in a moment of reflection, what it had made me feel, and she simply said, “Really? I never knew.” Then smiled a little. “I always loved that picture.”

Caturday Memories

Today I want to remember all the kitties from my past.

I don’t have pictures of all of them, nor is it likely I’ll remember all their names. But Hugo, Petunia, Whittier, Salem, Gabriel, Cassie, Darren, Whitney, Montero, Carter and of course, Paco, you made my life better just by being there in the morning. Even if being there meant you were pestering me for food.

Granted, the quality of many of these pictures is pretty poor, either due to age or because they’re Polaroids (or both). But you get an idea of how blessed I’ve been.

Caturday Memories.


 

Too Cool for School

 
It’s hard to find something that comes pre-printed with the name “Belinda.” But when I was 14, a t-shirt shop in Eastridge Mall would add your name to just about anything it sold — and that was quite a selection.

me-june-1974This shirt had five little chickies on it, tumbling, standing, waving (but not waving the finger, that was a different t-shirt). I loved it. The hat, I believe, belonged to my brother, and on the night after my junior high graduation, either he or my sister snapped this uncharacteristic shot of me.

Look at those shorts. Good grief. I believe the poster in the background had the poem “Desiderata” printed on it — or something similar. I’m not certain, but it’s quite likely “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was airing on the TV as the picture was taken.

But the best part of this picture? The shag carpeting, in various shades of orange and red. I remember raking that carpet.

Names

Any Good Book

When I was young, I would hurt sometimes so badly I would panic, then hide in my room, wrapped up tight in protective clothing, deep beneath the covers. I fled the pain I could not bear by burying myself in the stories told in multitudes of books.

Some stories so deeply resonated with me I read them over and over, and I realize now these tales provided a solution to the same loneliness and isolation I was feeling. It was fiction, of course, and I couldn’t follow the same path my erstwhile heroine would, so I lost myself in fantasy.

It was a lonely life, but a safe one.

Today I still like to lose myself in novels, but it isn’t the same. Life has taught me certain realities, and one of them is that rarely do events follow in a logical progression as they do in storytelling. Nor do problems resolve them in a straightforward manner.

Yet if the books don’t provide some sort of conclusion, I’m frustrated.  I still want to end with resolution. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but it should be a logical one. The story should be told.

I cannot flee my pain, but I can find respite from it in certain escapes, and I look for particular qualities in those methods of safety.

Read any good books lately?


Photo courtesy of Pixabay


Flee

The Only Thing Exterminated Here is the Death Penalty 

In my last job, we weren’t allowed to kill the bugs.

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At the Inn at Bella Vista, this little one is safe.

Okay, it’s a bed & breakfast, so they had an exterminator come out on a regular basis for the comfort of their guests, but if a wasp flew into the dining room, you called Bill. He’d show up with the bug jar, capture the wasp and set it free.

Which is all well and good, but in my house, you take out the Raid.

The mice were saved, too, whenever possible. One such soul, Rodney, kept coming back, even though Bill would capture him in one of those humane traps and take him far into the woods in back. I’m not sure how he knew it was Rodney every time, but they developed a bond of sorts.

Sorry, Walter, little Rodney can’t play today.

I couldn’t help myself. I offered to bring over my cat, Walter, for a play date with Rodney. That suggestion was met with a wounded look from Bill.

Despite my jokes, I respect Bill’s philosophy. It comes as a direct result of his time serving as a Marine in Vietnam and a police officer in Little Rock in the 70s. He’s seen enough killing and death.

He tells stories of his time on the force, but never as a Marine in combat. Something true of many, if not most, servicemen and women. What they witnessed, and took part in, during war is not something they want to remember or repeat, in words or actions.

Instead, some, like Bill, try to make sense of what happened by protecting all innocents. Bless the beasts and the children, as they used to say. A phrase born of a country at war. Where are the protest songs today?

We become the people we are today in part by our response or reaction to what happened yesterday. Ideally, it is a response, a chosen way of thinking and being. But what happens when you are thrown into a situation for which you are never prepared, then asked to live with the resulting emotions? The guilt, the shame of an inexplicable experience may result in burying your thoughts and beliefs about what happened. You lose a part of yourself.

There is hope.

Believe in yourself, the person you know yourself to be in spite of the thoughts that hammer at your brain. Seek out the support of others. Never give up in your search for better.

This life is far from perfect. But it is what we’re given for a time, so never give in to the worst. Let the better part of life win.


Image Credit: (bee and flower)courtesy of Pixabay; (hand and butterfly) © Bigstock.com

In My Little Town

I spent most of my growing-up years in the Bay Area of California, in a suburb of San Jose I won’t name for reasons you’ll note shortly. During the time I lived there, it was an eclectic little tourist town. It was also a place where respect was taught — in my high school — and practiced.

When I was a sophomore in high school, the girl who sat next me and the boy who sat behind her in my geometry class worked at a local Mexican restaurant, well-renowned in the area. One night, this 16-year-old girl found herself waiting on a man who looked vaguely familiar. Not vaguely. He looked like — he was — Robert Redford.

This was 1976, and this was what Bob looked like around that time, in case you’re too young to remember.

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Robert Redford in “The Great Gatsby” (1974)

Damn. Both of my classmates got his autograph, she as his waitress and he as the bus boy, and they were smart enough to let their manager know, too. They were also gracious enough not to say anything to anyone else. Mr. Redford was eating with his family, and they respected his privacy.

Today, I doubt it would happen that way. That quaint little town has turned into a new money hell hole, and people are very status-driven. Someone sees a celebrity, they likely scream it out.

lake-vasonaMy freshman English teacher had noted that unlike most of the towns and cities in the area, generations of families grew up and stayed in my little town. He’d taught the children and now grandchildren of his early students, in significant numbers. It was a pretty place, with a town square and tranquil parks. The high school had the only nighttime football field in our league, which made home games very popular.

I’m speaking in very nostalgic terms here. It wasn’t all glory growing up there. Numerous girls in my high school class, including some I was very close to, were sexually assaulted on or near the school grounds. More than one notorious serial killer had lived in the area during the time my family was there.

But if we can’t have sweet memories of our growing up years, and for me it has sometimes been hard to find them, it is harder to find the good in our world today. So I am thankful for the town I grew up in, as it was then, as it remains in my heart and mind.

Hold Me Closer, Tiny Sleeper

 

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Montero and my mom, August 2000

Mighty Montero came home with me when he was only six weeks old, intended to be a buddy for Paco. Some people thought I picked the name “Montero” to “match” the name Paco, but the Latin nature of both names is sheer coincidence. I’d just finished a scarf with one of my then-favorite yarns, Montera by Classic Elite. ‘Tero was a boy, so I changed the name to suit.

I found him at the local Cat Clinic, and knew immediately he was meant to be mine. They warned me he was a “little whippersnapper,” and he was all of that, but it was an endearing quality. Well, usually it was. When he got older, if he was angry at you, he’d slap you. Hard. It would leave a little red mark.

As a kitten he always strutted with his tail held high, like a flag. Always, that is, when humans were around. If he thought we couldn’t see him, he let down his guard — and his tail — to play or roll on the carpet.

Montero ended up being my mom’s cat (well, judging from the above picture, he started out that way) because as adults, he and Paco didn’t get along so well. Still, he would let me know he loved me too, in his own special way.

Montero watching Law & Order sm
Montero was a big fan of “Law & Order.”

He died a few years ago at the age of twelve due to multiple health problems. We still miss him, but thankfully, have pictures like this to remind us of the special time we had with him.

Tiny

Christmas in August

One of the delightful aspects of moving is coming across items long hidden and much beloved. Years ago I made this miniature Christmas scene, and as long as my cats are playful, it will remain in its box. Those tiny pieces are toys to my kitties, and there’s no place (in my current home at least) where it would be safe from inquiring paws.

Christmas Miniature Scene
This scene was inspired by a similar piece my mom made when I was a child. She still has hers, and still adds to it from time to time. As I do to mine.

I’ve collected miniatures since I was a child, although admittedly in recent years my collection has remained boxed up. I haven’t added to it lately either. I have plans for more  scenes similar to this one, but again, with cats it’s hard to display anything. A shadow box would work for some things, but not everything. It might work for one idea I have though… hmmm….

Seeing this scene again, each piece with its own memory and special meaning, was a gift to me today. A gift I hope I’m able to display this holiday season. Happy things should be shared.


Miniature

you’re my hero, Charlie Brown

In my life, Snoopy, Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the gang never, ever went away.

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Give me anything Peanuts — a gift that’s sure to be appreciated!

I’ve literally been a fan my entire life. My mom tells me my favorite toy when I was six months old was a Lucy doll. That vain and loud-mouthed girl rarely failed to make me laugh, and still gets me through the blues today.

Throughout my growing up years, I frequently spent my precious few dollars on the latest Peanuts book. Early on I giggled at Lucy, sitting on Schroeder’s front steps, saying, “It’s amazing how stupid you can be when you’re in love.”

Today, I have a t-shirt with that very picture. More than once I’ve worn it while shopping at Walmart and some poor young checkout girl sighs and says, “that’s so true.” Some things will never change.

Hence the beauty of Charles Schulz’ wonderful characters. They are universal and timeless. So many of the comic strips aren’t laugh-out-loud funny, and yet, they are, because they hit at the heart of who we are, our dreams and vulnerabilities, our best and worst selves, all wrapped up in the innocence of a group of kids from a past era.

A friend of mine can’t bear to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” because of the rejection, but I love it for Linus’ simple reading from the Gospel of Luke and the children joining together in the end to celebrate Charlie Brown’s poor little tree.

Somehow Charlie Brown never was a truly sad character to me. He had Linus, Sally and Peppermint Patty, among others, and Snoopy needed him, not just for the food, but for the love.

I was wearing one of my favorite Peanuts’ t-shirts while shopping not long ago, and the store manager told me he’d been a fan all of his life, too. In fact, when he was a child, he watched the Charlie Brown Valentine’s Day special and felt so sorry for Charlie Brown, he sent him a valentine. In return, Charles Schulz sent him an original hand-drawn picture of Snoopy.

Wow. He still has it, and I told to keep it, it’s worth something. You couldn’t pay me enough for something like that, I’d treasure it all my days.

I treasure everything Peanuts I own, as small as my collection has become. I cherish that band of earnest characters plowing their way through the world and making it all work.

I’m glad I live in a world where the Peanuts gang just keeps hanging out.

And for those of you wondering about the new movie, here’s a review by a trusted fellow blogger & Peanuts fan:

The Peanuts Movie — Good Grief, You’re in 3-D Charlie Brown — A Review

 

waterloo, oh, I needed you

vinyl-records-isolated-on-white_f1ZNpkvd lrTalk about guilty pleasures. I was certain I was going to hell.

Back in the 70s, I was deeply involved in an evangelical church that told me virtually any pop or rock group that didn’t sing praises to God was of the devil. And the group ABBA, well, that was a name for the Lord, not a group of singing sinners.

But, how could I not be captivated by their bouncy, upbeat music? Their enthusiasm for what they were doing, and those godawful outfits?

Years later I was working in Europe and found myself trapped one Saturday morning in a hotel on the outskirts of the city of Alkmaar, the Netherlands. This hotel could have been on an island for all of its lack of access to anything, and I didn’t have a car. I was stuck while waiting for a ride to the train station.

So I turned the TV to the only station of any remote interest, MTV Europe, where they had a three-hour marathon of ABBA’s greatest hits, that is, any song that boasted a video. There aren’t as many as you might think. Within 45 minutes I was ready to scream. For some reason I had no books, no magazines, nothing, and this was long before laptops, smart phones or anything else I could have used for diversion.

Silence with nothing to fill the time was worse, so for three hours, I watched and listened to Sweden’s pride and joy. There were perhaps seven songs, played in an eternal loop.

As a result, for years, I couldn’t listen to ABBA. But this week I was perusing You Tube and found they’re back for me, a celebrated guilty pleasure. To commemorate the occasion, here’s one of their signature songs.

Photo Credit: (record albums) GraphicStock.com

sometimes light as snow, sometimes dark as hell

Ah, snowfall.

It’s coming soon for many of you. I may get some too, but it’s a little different here. I won’t experience anything like what surrounded me during a situation I once thought of as the most embarrassing moment of my life, a story I knew better than to tell. Until now.

It was my first significant snowstorm

since moving to Minnesota, and light, powdery snow was piled high all around. Stir crazy and not particularly savvy about wintery road conditions, I bundled up and blithely took a walk a few blocks down to the grocery store.

Not a good idea.

Sidewalks were snowed over, so on my way back, rather than walking on the street, I chose an obviously safer route across the parking lot and down a hill. Obvious, that is, to a lifelong Californian.

What I foolishly didn’t calculate

was the three feet of snow now jutting out from the side of that hill. As I plowed through the fresh powder on the ground, suddenly the earth gave out under me and I dropped five feet straight down.

Damn. What to do now.

I waited until I was pretty sure all current traffic at that stop light had passed before working my way out. Then, with as much dignity as I could muster, (which is to say, not a whole lot) I proceeded home.

Fortunately, I was new to the area, not to mention bundled up and resembling a cookie jar, so likely no one recognized me.

Seriously,

that’s my most embarrassing moment? OF COURSE NOT. Comical, perhaps, and a good mental laugh-inducing picture, but I’ve lived through a lot worse since then.

But you won’t hear about those moments from me. It’s taken me decades to tell this story, and it’s more funny than embarrassing. No doubt you’ve lived through one or two of your own, and I’m always up for a good laugh.

Some of the other moments, well, best to lay those memories to rest.

Which makes me wonder how many really painful memories others have that they wisely don’t tell, except that sharing them might make the rest of us fools feel a little less lonesome? I’m talking those times we behave outside of our own character, seemingly controlled by demons unknown to us.

If that resonates with you, those demons, if it wrenches your heart, then you know what I mean, the divide within yourself.

picture of me I’m not promoting a soul-wrenching, innermost-self baring session for anyone with anyone except on your own terms in your own time. You need to guard your heart.

But every once in awhile, I’d like someone to say the words, whatever they are, that would tell me the anguish of my most humiliating moments isn’t mine alone. Maybe each of us, most of us, or even just some of us, go through the same thing at times in our lives.

If you know those words, let me know.

back to school

This week the children in my area go back to school.

Of course that brings back memories of my own school days. Kindergarten, when we all had bird stickers to identify the cubby where we hung up our jackets and placed our lunch boxes. (My bird was a Baltimore Oriole.) Lunch boxes, perhaps with Barbie or Mickey Mouse, their thermoses and the way they smelled. The daily peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.

first grade
Me in first grade.

First grade and learning to read. “See Tag. See Tag Run. Run, Tag, Run.” I already knew how to read and zipped through that book in a flash. My teacher didn’t know what to do with me. It remained that way all through grade school.

Second grade, we’d moved cross-country, so a new school. Sixth grade, another new school. High school, going from our small K-8 to the very large school “in town.” College, first a community college, then away in the dorms, then at a local university at night while I worked full-time.

I miss it and I don’t. I miss the special day of shopping with my mom when I was in grade school, picking out patterns for dresses she’d make, choosing the new shoes I’d have to break in. When I was in college, seeing the syllabus and believing this semester everything would be done on time, the books read, the tests prepared for, the papers written, no last minute panic.

Yes. I have those dreams where I didn’t go to school all semester and now it’s finals. More often, I have dreams that no matter how hard I try, I cannot succeed in college. At some point in my sleepy state I stop getting frustrated and say, “why am I doing this? I already have a degree.”

(Probably a good thing I have no training in psychology or I’d be analyzing myself into a frenzy trying to figure that one out. The broad meaning might be clear to experts, but the application in my life would probably elude me.)

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© Alex Workman – Lightstock

I still like learning. I like being challenged. I take online courses, both credit and non-credit, whenever I can. I’d like to brush up on my French, or more practically, learn Spanish.

If I lived closer to my mom, I’d take her shopping for some new shoes and go to lunch like we used to when I was little. Those outings meant a lot to her, and a trip like that would do my heart some good.