Monthly Archives: February 2019

Sunday Morning Miscellany

Standard

This morning in my journal, I continued an on-going conversation with myself about life, and meaning, and joy. This is a topic I have always struggled with, and possibly wasted far too much time worrying over. Henry David Thoreau wrote “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and, as a young adult reading those words, I felt that desperation, and knew I wanted more.

I want my life to be significant. That has been what has driven my actions for as long as I can remember. I chose men “with issues” time and time again, for the idea that I, with love and attention, could “fix” them. I loved being a mother of young children for many reasons, but the feeling that I was doing something truly important and meaningful was strongest. The teaching profession was attractive to me, for the opportunity to make a positive difference.

Any job I’ve held, no matter how menial, I have tried to perform with enthusiasm and care. As a waitress, I worked to make dining out the best experience that I could. In fact, in every customer-service position I’ve held, I consider kindness, concern and a cheerful smile as much a part of the job as knowledge of goods or materials.

Books, and reading, have been a constant source of security and enrichment. Writing has allowed me an outlet for ideas when I had no voice. Art enhances my life in a thousand ways. I was drawn to all of these things, I’m sure, because they caused me to be noticed. I was one small child in a large, noisy family. Shy and nervous, there was little beyond my bad temper to cause me to stand out.

Except that I loved books. Even before I could read, I loved handling them, fascinated by the letters and the feel of the pages. I can remember rearranging the encyclopedias on the three shelves they occupied, frustrated that no matter how much I changed their order, there were still the same number of books. How could that be? I took to reading quickly, and was good at it.

And I liked to write. Maybe all readers do. An appreciation of how others told stories and expressed ideas caused me to want to do the same. I wrote letters, kept diaries, and penned long, angst-filled poems and essays to vent my anger or frustration. My mother would harness me to help the younger children with reports and papers. She’d often say, “Cindy, you should write a book about our crazy family!”

I wonder how many artists were drawn to that profession simply because early development of motor skills allowed them to color inside the lines a bit earlier than their peers. I remember getting accolades for “good coloring” in kindergarten! That grew into an early love of drawing. Because it brought me attention, I devoted lots of time to it. And so, became good at it.

On days when I feel frustrated and unappreciated in my job or in my life in general, I look to reading and writing and art to save me. Though I may have been drawn to those things, first, as a way to be noticed, they have grown to be an important part of who I am. That’s where I find significance.

Catching Up, Slowing Down

Standard
My House, February 2019

Catching up, in my life, usually involves rushing around in twelve directions at once, working my way through lists of projects, chores, aspirations and dreams. On any given day (that is not already committed with meetings, appointments and work at the hardware store), I’ll sit, over my morning coffee, with a mental menu of possibilities.

Shall I give the house a really thorough cleaning, to make it easier to start on the rest of the list tomorrow? Or perhaps I should jump right in to any number of other tasks, that would only mess up a clean house, anyway. Or, I could say to hell with household agendas for now, and concentrate on the studio, where at least a hundred new or “in-progress” undertakings await.

I could sit here at the computer, and continue working my way through my writing “assignments,” so that I have a few blog posts written ahead. That would help to prevent me from missing a scheduled post, as I did last Sunday. Or, I could make bread, and get a pot of soup simmering on the stove. Or concentrate on my badly neglected exercise program…or even just take a long walk. Or a long bath…with a good book.

Too often, by the time I run through all possibilities, offering judgement (“too lazy” “self-indulgent” “already so far behind…”) on each choice, I am pulled in so many directions, it’s almost impossible to act. I do one of two things: I run, like a madwoman, through the house, trying to do everything simultaneously…or I do nothing. Because it’s all too overwhelming.

I asked a question the other day, in my morning journal writing:

“Why am I always so disappointed in myself?”

I’ve been thinking about it. Why do I constantly feel that I’m falling short? I’m working my way through a third self-help book since the first of the year. Why this never-ending struggle for improvement? Whose standards am I basing my judgement on? And should I just go easier on myself?

My response has been to try to relax my expectations. To slow down a little. Just to see if that makes a difference, not only in what gets done, but in whether those tasks become more enjoyable activities. There is a quote from the Talmud that I love:

“Life is so short, we must move very slowly.”

Good advice! So, right now for me, it’s one thing at a time, and no disaster will be called if something doesn’t get finished. And I’ll see how that goes.

The Four-Letter Word

Standard

Love.

That’s the four-letter word I’m addressing today. It is Valentine’s Day, after all.

Unwilling to divulge too much (I – who talk about myself here week after week, year after year – dare to say), I intend to write only about the first men I loved.

First, my father. Though I learned, as I got older, to watch out for his unpredictable moods and rapidly changing temperament, when I was very young, I loved my father without reservation. The quality of the air seemed to change when “Daddy” came into a room, suddenly sparked with energy. My mother’s mood brightened; her voice held a hint of laughter.

We small children waited for him to come home from work, and squealed with giddy delight when he walked through the door. We ran to him, grabbed his long legs and held on, never knowing what would happen next.

Sometimes he’d take big, lumbering steps on into the kitchen to give my mother a kiss, pretending he didn’t know that several young ones were clinging to his lower extremities. Sometimes he’d grab us up in one big bundle, and tickle us before he let us get away.

If he asked, “Has your Mama been picking on you?” we giggled knowing what was coming next. “Shall I give her a spanking for you?” was the next question, and we could barely contain our hysteria at the idea. He’d continue this line of conversation, most of us squealing, “No!” to save our mother, maybe one daring child nodding “yes” just to keep the game alive. Finally, my mother would raise an eyebrow, and say, “Bob, don’t you dare!” That ended that.

He might grab one child up onto his shoulders for a romp around the kitchen, or toss one of us over his shoulder to carry us “like a sack of potatoes.” When he finally took to his chair at the head of the table, we’d all been jostled and teased enough to let him have a rest. He usually kept at least one little one on his lap.

My second love was my Grandpa Ted, my mother’s father, who lived next door. I don’t remember ever a cross word from that man. Only love. And I adored him in return. “I’m gonna give you a pop right in the kisser,” he’d grin, before planting a kiss on both cheeks. Though he was in my life for only my first six years, I can still clearly remember the way it felt to hold his hand as he walked with me, and the rough scratch of his whiskers.

In the first and second grade, I had a crush on William Malcolm. He was perfectly groomed, quiet and polite. He liked me too, as evidenced by a Valentine’s Day card he sent to my house. I don’t know how much he cared, because the sentiment was unreadable. In fact, my parents were impressed that the postal service deciphered the writing on the envelope in order to deliver it!

About that time, television and movies started to influence my love life. First Tommy Sands, who starred in Babes in Toyland grabbed my attention. Next, Edd Byrnes, who played Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip. Troy Donahue, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, and several other cute young men piqued my interest.

Then, Bonanza came on the air, with Ben Cartwright and his three grown sons, on the Ponderosa Ranch. I loved every one of those Cartwrights, each so different, each special in their own way. Ben was handsome, with his white hair and dark brows, wise and protective. Adam was the smart one; Hoss was a gentle giant. My favorite, though, was Little Joe.

Played by Michael Landon, Little Joe Cartwright was often funny, mischievous, sometimes naive…and so, so cute! I couldn’t get enough of him! I never missed an episode of Bananza. I eventually regretted my love for Joe Cartwright, though.

When the Beatles made their first stage appearance in the United States, it was on the Ed Sullivan Show…which just happened to run at the same time as Bonanza, on a different station. My sister Brenda, being one year older and a mile more intelligent in the ways of the world, knew it was something we didn’t want to miss. I begged to differ.

In fact, I remember throwing a major screaming fit, insisting on my right to choose the programming that night. My mother relented; I won the argument. That night, we watched the drama unfold on the Ponderosa Ranch. By the time I made it to school on the bus the following Monday, listening all the way to every other child raving about the Beatles, I knew I’d made a mistake. Adding to my regret, by the end of the week, I realized the really true love of my young life was Beatle, Paul McCartney!

Cabbage

Standard

Cabbage makes rare appearances on my table. Every now and then, in the summertime, a cabbage salad sounds just right. In the winter, diced cabbage will enrich a broth. Once in a while, a sauteed wedge of cabbage, flavored with a little soy sauce will serve as the vegetable for my dinner. Cabbage is cheap, stores well, and has a reasonably mild flavor, but it’s not my favorite.

I love the cousins: Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and Swiss chard. They seem to have a little more personality than cabbage. It could be just because it was so often on our table when I was growing up, I’ve come to think of cabbage as ordinary.

I can remember at least three variations of cabbage salad that made regular appearances on our table. Dad’s coleslaw was finely grated cabbage and carrots doctored with mayonnaise and a little vinegar. Mom’s coleslaw was thinly shredded cabbage and a little grated carrot in a dressing of Miracle Whip thinned with milk. My favorite, though, was the salad Mom made with roughly chopped cabbage, slices of sweet onion, and diced tomatoes. It was dressed with a mayonnaise, milk and sugar combination.

Boiled dinner made regular appearances during harvest season. Pig hocks or a picnic ham would be the foundation, rounded out with potatoes, onions, carrots and cabbage from out garden. In the winter, we always had several large heads of cabbage in cold storage, and a big crock of sauerkraut fermenting somewhere. Jars of sauerkraut that my mother had canned shared shelf space with stewed tomatoes and other vegetables. They would be pulled out to cook with ribs, kielbasa, or a pork roast.

A couple years ago, when I was visiting family downstate, two sisters and I went to a Farmer’s Market. It was the perfect time of year for finding lots of treasures. Everything seemed plentiful and cheap. We bought a head of cabbage about the size of a bushel basket. I think it cost less than five dollars!

I was staying at my sister Brenda’s house, so she and I started incorporating that cabbage into meals. Shredded and sauteed, topped with cooked chicken pieces and shredded cheddar cheese. Diced and allowed to cook with burgers in the large frying pan. Cut in wedges and cooked with carrots as an accompaniment to meat cooked on the grill.

Everything tasted good. It didn’t seem overly repetitive. We didn’t get sick of the flavor, and were pretty proud of ourselves for working our way through that giant vegetable. The house though, noticeable only when you left and came in again, had picked up the distinct smell of cabbage over those few days!

Kindergarten

Standard

I attended kindergarten at Clover School, a charming orange brick building with a large, fenced in playground. It was a one-room school house, not far from our home. From our driveway, turn left, and go the short distance to the end of Hunt Road. Turn left onto Lake Nepessing Road, and take it to the end. There, right across the big road that was M-21, but used a different name, was Clover School.

When my mother attended classes there, the lessons went all the way through eighth grade. She often walked to school. When I was in kindergarten, that seemed like a long and dangerous walk, along the narrow shoulder of the road, and over the railroad tracks. Walking to school was never expected of me.

By the time I went to Clover School, it accommodated classes for only kindergarten, first and second grade. My father drove us to school every morning, in his big light blue work truck. One day his friend Topper, wanting to have a conversation with Dad, rode with us, standing on the step outside the truck, and holding on to the open window. Probably he got inside, when I got out; I don’t remember.

I was dropped off first; Brenda rode all the way to town with Dad, to be dropped off at Bishop Kelly School, where we all attended the first through the eighth grade. One day, Dad forgot to drop me off. When we realized what had happened, Brenda and I clutched each other’s hands, but didn’t say a word. It was both scary and exciting. When he realized his mistake, Dad laughed and joked with us about his forgetfulness, and turned the truck around to take me back.

When it happened again, we thought it had gone over well the first time, and looked at it as an adventure. Again, we stayed silent. That day, when Dad realized he had passed my school, he scolded us for not speaking up. We never let it happen again.

Mrs. Carey was the teacher at Clover School. We sat at long tables arranged in rows, probably divided by grade. We did a lot of coloring, which I was very good at. That’s about the extent of my kindergarten memories!

What’s In Front of Me

Standard

I may have written about this topic before, when I was paging through the book, Old Friend from Far Away, that I am now working through in a more organized fashion. So, if I’m sitting at the same desk that I was sitting at the last time I wrote about this, if in fact I ever did, this may sound familiar. It won’t be the first time I’ve repeated myself, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Directly in front of me, hanging just above my computer screen, is a small, framed etching by David Bigelow. It shows a pig strapped into an elaborate pair of wings, about to step off the edge of a cliff. The title is “Moment of Truth.” I got to know the artist and his work many years ago, when he was the featured artist at my gallery in Lapeer, Michigan. This piece always seems to speak to me, and reminds me not to be afraid to take a chance. It always hangs where I can see it every day. A photo of my Mom is tucked into the frame’s edge.

Beneath that picture, leaning against the back wall of my little cubby, and visible only when the laptop is closed, is a photograph by Jason Loam. It depicts a wall heavily adorned with graffiti. One spray-painted message that is easy to read says “Welcome to Hell!”

To the left is a small watercolor painting by Mary Blocksma. One year while living on the water, Mary painted the view out her window every single day. Each one shows a sliver of sandy beach, water, and sky. Each one is completely unique and special. The one I own was painted on my birthday.

Above that painting hangs a small wind chime. The wind never catches it there. I have to run my hand across it to get the sound. I don’t remember, often enough, to do that.

Beside the chimes, on the side wall to my left, is a wall calendar. This year it is a largish one that was a Christmas gift from my sister, Cheryl. It is black and white, with delicate designs and sweet verses for each month.

On the wall to my right I hung a weathered pallet that I found and carried home from the beach. It is tiny, as pallets go, only about twenty inches square, and less than five inches deep. It makes a perfect shelf for holding my jars of pencils, pens and markers.

On the desktop, my laptop computer sits dead center. On the left there is a long narrow basket filled with miscellaneous clutter. In front of that is a water glass, and a cork coaster where my coffee cup usually sits.

To the right there are three framed photographs: my Mom and Dad, on the Beaver Island ferry dock, taken in the year that they met; a group shot of my brothers and sisters, the nine of us that made it to adulthood, when we were all still here; and my two adult daughters, both a little tipsy, if I remember correctly, and smiling into the camera. A sweetgrass braid is draped over one of the frames.

On top of that, on this little desk, there is one ceramic candle holder, one glass jar filled with kibble for the dogs, two narrow books and a few pieces of paper. That’s it! When I sit here at my desk, that is what’s in front of me!

The First Time I Was Afraid

Standard

Natalie Goldberg asks, “When was the first time you were afraid?” It seems like an odd question. I remember being afraid when I was quite young, but was that the first time? Probably not. It’s only the first that I remember.

I was told that when I was a baby, my sister Brenda, one year older than me, tried to tip me out of the bouncy chair that was suspended in the doorway. It probably scared me, but I have no memory of it. Mostly, I was probably afraid that she didn’t like me, as I’ve wanted her approval all of my life. Either way, I don’t remember.

I was likely frightened when I was two years old, and my mother went into the hospital to have another baby. I would’ve been too young to understand much beyond the fact that my mama, who was always there, was not home. I’m sure the world was strange and frightening when she came home from the hospital with an infant…that was very demanding of her time and attention. I don’t remember it, though.

Likewise, I have no memory of going to the Detroit Zoo as a small child. I know it happened, because someone brought a movie camera along. I have seen the giraffes, antelope and exotic birds on the resulting film. It had an impact on me, I’m sure, but I don’t remember it.

The reason that I know the zoo made a big impression is because I remember having a nightmare…about being trampled by elephants. I know my parents both showed up at my bedside. I remember being patted and hugged, and told that everything was okay. “There are no elephants here,” my mother said. That is my earliest memory of being afraid.

Dishes

Standard

I do dishes every single day. It’s not much. There’s usually a bowl and spoon from the yogurt, fruit and granola I had for breakfast. a rectangular glass dish with its plastic lid that held whatever leftovers I packed for my workday lunch, and whatever dishes I dirtied in preparing and serving dinner. Plus my thermos. It hardly seems worth it.

That kind of thinking, though, is what caused me to fall into the dreadful habit of not doing dishes every day. It wasn’t like when I was feeding a family of four, when the day’s dishes were substantial enough to justify a sink-ful of hot soapy water and line on the chore chart. It certainly wasn’t like mealtime in the large household where I grew up, when dishes had to be done after every single meal.

It was only me. Me who, living alone, liked to adhere to the “one-pan, one-plate” rule for meal preparation. Hardly any mess at all. That attitude led me, for many shameful years, to stack my dishes by the sink and let them wait. Until there were enough to warrant running the water and taking the time. “Small families with dishwashers do the same thing,” I told myself, “Nobody runs a whole dishwasher cycle with only a half-dozen dishes!”

Two days worth of dishes were still not much. Not enough to worry about. Three? Four? There came a tipping point, in this scenario, when the stack of dishes changed from being “Not enough to bother with,” to “Overwhelming.” So, often, the first thing I had to tackle on my day off was a big mound of dishes. One week’s worth.

By that time, food had hardened onto plates. Every aspect was more difficult. What should have been a simple chore was now a big job. Definitely now necessitating lots of sudsy hot water, and an hour standing at the sink. In that mind set, it was now – finally – worth my time and energy.

This is the manner I tended to look at most aspects of housework. The dust would continue to accumulate; the bed needed to be made every day. No job was ever just finished; it was only done for the moment. And that did not satisfy me. I’m not sure what caused the shift in perspective, but now I never go to bed with dishes in the sink. And now, even knowing that they’ll need to be done again tomorrow, it gives me great satisfaction to have the dishes done.