Walking with Edgar Degas

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I was asked to take a walk with Degas and what would I say? I would say, Good Morning. Good Afternoon and Good Evening according to the time of day. My head would be pounding and sweat would be roaring inside my shirt. My heart would not slow down and my blood would be pounding under the stress. My eyes would temporarily blur and I would be asking myself about what pill I should have taken before the walk to lessen the pain of needing to be on target.

I needn’t have worried. Edgar was the quintessential French gentleman.

He talked about the environment in which we walked and then, knowing instinctively what I would have asked if I hadn’t swallowed nervously, producing horrendous coughing, he asked me why I thought he painted so many dancers and so many ballerina paintings? I told him I think he totally adored the beauty and grace of the dance, the elegance of the dancing positions, and the beauty held in the dancing body. He smiled and nodded. I told him I was a dancer, a little ballerina, but my boobs got to big and I looked top heavy and ready to fall over with each step I took. Soon thereafter, I was told to pursue another form of expression. He chuckled and chuckled.

On we walked. I told him I couldn’t draw a straight line if I wanted to and he told me that all he did was draw straight lines for half of his life until he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. He said he finally found the dynamics of his capacity upon moving back to France.

I asked a question finally. Said I, ‘How would you describe how you come upon a subject to paint?” He said, “What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing more to say.”

We moved along to a salon where some of his paintings were on display showing his different periods and styles. I asked him what he thought as he stood here viewing his work and he answered with a smile and a couple of pats on my back.

I am awake now.

 

ALL MY MOTHER’S CHILDREN (published)

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There on top of a pile of photos from sixty years ago, I found a small photo featuring my mother’s three children. In the photo, we are climbing on monumental stones in Yosemite National Park. I’m a head taller than Taylor who is two heads taller than Stuart. However, this story is not about her three children, but about my mother and her many other children, as you shall see.

I have many fond remembrances of my mother. She loved cheese, and was a very calm and quiet person. She was a very good friend and neighbor and learned to drive a car later in life. She was president of several organizations, after learning to overcome paralyzing shyness earlier in her life. She prepared only the freshest of foods and disliked fish. She fiercely loved her children and would go to the ends of the earth for them. What I did not know about my mother was what I will call her secret life. A life that was lived parallel to ours.

We also had another woman living in our home for 28 years. She was my parent’s housekeeper, Lula. Having someone perform all of the household duties gave my mother a lot of freedom during the daytime hours. My father usually arrived home at exactly 5:30 p.m., and our mother was always waiting for him, dressed to the nines. For many years, I never really could get a grasp of what my mother did with her free time. Whenever we went somewhere together, so many people would greet her and show their love to her. They would gush and smile while blessing her, thanking her and hugging her. I never fully understood what my mother did to deserve all of this love, but I knew that she must be doing something of vast importance.

I wanted to know more about where my mother went and what she did, so one day I made a fake excuse of being at death’s door and stayed home from school. When my mother slipped out the side door, I slipped out right after her. I had to rush because since she did not drive in the earlier years, she had become a speed walker. At first, I followed her to the poultry market on the corner of State and California. As I watched through the window, she was given some sort of paper, and then read back the information to the man behind the counter. He nodded to her in agreement and off she went again. She did not slow down for anything or anyone, even speeding across busy streets. I nearly lost her a few times, but eventually enabled myself to speed along almost as fast as my jaunty mother. She slowed down to read the paper that she had received at the poultry market, and then made a turn into a building that housed several families. She disappeared into one of the doors and did not come back out. I waited as long as I could but finally became bored and headed back home to the comfort of my own bed, since I was supposedly sick.

During those days, it was not common for a child to question the comings and goings of their parents so I never had the nerve to ask my mother what it was that she was doing during her many daytime outings. But every now and then, throughout the years, my curiosity would again get the best of me. At those times I would pull my fake sickness act and again follow my mother. The story was always the same. She would return to the poultry market, receive a piece of paper and off she’d go, again with me in hot pursuit. And each time, she would repeat her disappearing act at a different location. I started to suspect that she was a spy for the FBI. And if she were a spy, then I’d have one of my own dreams realized in my mother.

When my mother decided to get her driver’s license, my father surprised her with a little dark gray ladylike car. She practiced and practiced. She had an obsession with proper hand signals and for months, wherever she went, she could be seen with the driving manual tucked away under her arm just in case she had a spare moment to study. After awhile, she became very confident behind the wheel of her car and passed her driving test with flying colors. I had a sinking feeling inside knowing that I could never follow my mother again once she drove off in her car. There was something more to her life than what we all knew, and her eyes showed it. Her self-confidence started to shine and she was becoming a very special person with many admirable qualities. She was often the center of attention wherever we went and everybody treated her with much love and respect.

One night after my mother started driving her car, she called to say that she would be late and to ‘go ahead without me for dinner’. After that night, more calls started coming with the same message. She started receiving regular telephone calls and would jot down an address and take off in her car without letting us know where she was going.

I vowed to myself that when I was old enough to get my driver’s license, the first thing I’d do would be to follow my mother and see what it was that she was doing when she got the addresses and disappeared. Well, I finally did get my driver’s license. Occasionally, I’d borrow my dad’s spare car and follow my mother. But as usual, I never saw more than her arrival at various residential destinations. And every time, she would do things in the same sequence. She would take her bag from the back seat, disappear into a residential building or home, and not come out for hours. My impatience would always get the best of me and I’d drive off without being able to uncover her secret.

My brothers had no idea that our mother had a parallel life. My father was seemingly unaware of whatever his own wife was doing. When I asked him if he knew where our mother had gone he would answer, “She has a household and children to attend to.” I respected his answer and did not ask again. Life progressed and I ended up moving from our small southeastern town to the west coast of California. There I finished my degrees and settled down with a job, family, home and friends.

Our mother died on August 24, 2009, during the early morning hours. Our family decided on a small graveside service since our family is small and there were very few of my parent’s friends still alive. On the day we buried my mother next to my father, there were over a thousand people lining the burial site. It was astonishing to see this large crowd of people who had all turned out to remember my mother one last time. I thought maybe they had the wrong site. But no, in fact, they were indeed there for my mother. Before the service began I made it a point to connect with as many of them as I could. Through several conversations with some of the mourners, it was made clear to me what my mother had been doing for all those many years. Her secret was that she had been a midwife. She had been very well suited for this position and had all the skills and abilities to perform these duties. From what I learned, she loved her work and had a very sympathetic disposition for all of the women in labor that she dealt with. She was a quiet person and had a very calming effect during such high anxiety situations. It is still astonishing to me that my mother was a midwife. A midwife!

All of the people at her graveside had become very connected to my mother throughout the years. They had all become her extended family through the work that she had done for them. When it came time for the eulogies, many of them had their own stories to tell about when and how my mother had helped them to have a healthy pregnancy and a natural childbirth experience. Many of the children delivered by my mother, now of varying ages, were also there to pay their last respects at her funeral. All of these wonderful people were there to help send her on her way to the almighty.

It took me a bit of time to process the fact that my mother had performed so many amazing miracles without the knowledge of either her family or her friends. I question how she was able to do so much work without any of us ever knowing. She has become elevated to supernatural status in my mind. Alas, I often wonder why did she keep it a secret? Did she know that my father would have put an immediate end to it? Did she think that her children might not understand? Did she want something that she could do just for herself? Perhaps my mother knew that she was on the right path and had the approval of God, as well as the love and cherish of the many connected souls that she dealt with. May the power of holiness and the spirit of the almighty carry my mother to her just reward.

THE RED DRESS FROM ANOTHER TIME AND PLACE

This red dress was displayed in front of an antique store somewhere in the middle of America. I wish to heaven I could remember where, and perhaps by the time I finish this memory, I will.  The store had placed an empty chair next to the dress (not shown in the picture). I was tired and while the other people in the group busied themselves with the inside of the store, I sat in the chair next to the red dress.

I closed my eyes and felt the sounds of the present melting away giving rise to differing sounds with different tones and noise levels. I was drifting. I felt myself transform in dissolving ways. My mind took on a multitude of tumbling images and finally rested on a scene, which I was not only observing but a participant.   I was walking with someone and in a few moments that someone came into full view.  He was handsome. He was my intimate friend.  We were walking to visit a party at a home where our family had gathered. The home was freshly painted, with fresh fumes wafting and the entryway trees provided shade. I was very happy to be showing off the dress I made for the special party. It fit me perfectly and made me feel comfortable and well.  I recollected that I waited for months to get just the right color and texture cloth for this special dress.

The festivities were in full swing. People were waving; children came running to greet us and hugged us both tightly. Music was playing and the sounds were floating away. Just in those last moments of my reverie, I opened my eyes because someone was calling me into the present.  I know this was a contact, a very strong contact from the past.  I wish there were more recollections to tell, but honestly it was just a snippet in time.

Oh, I can hear you readers on the other end.  This lady is cracked in the head.  I want you to know that I am not, but I do believe that there are pockets of time that are trapped  and when coaxed burst into the present only momentarily. Do I get these bursts often, no, actually I am not lucky enough to get them often. Now that I have lost a good portion of readers, this is for you who are still reading.

When visiting in Poland, my ancestors somewhere in Warsaw contacted me. They followed me to the border of Poland and Russia. They blew wind through my hair, they whispered in my ear, they nudged me in various directions, they told me they were happy I came to visit, they told me to taste the amber I wanted to buy and I did. It had an acrid taste allowing me to know it was real. I tasted others after that encounter and when there was no acrid taste I knew those pieces of amber to be fake.  I wish life were all that easy.  Just taste and know it to be a fake.

A number of years ago, on a hot and humid night with all of the windows in the house open, I was sitting in the living room. Mists and puffs came floating by, which were stuffed with sounds from an old radio show. The announcer, in his rich full- bodied voice was announcing the next program. I was too shocked and a bit too terrified to remember if I made out any of the words that would identify the program. I chalked it off to the fact that it was one of those bubbles of trapped time that exploded in my living room.

I have enjoyed my otherworldly encounters and I hope I have more in the future. I also hope you will share some of yours. We are not alone.

Hattie McKay

I have decided to volunteer at a rehabilitation center and everyday, when I enter The Oak Hills, I see my future self strapped to the bed, being pumped and sucked, poked, jabbed, turned, swabbed and looking for someone to tell my story to, someone who would listen it. I approached several agents with the idea of telling the stories of the patients in The Oak Hills, and they felt that it was too depressing. Yes, in fact, more depressing than they and I ever realized, but equally uplifting, a side they did not see. My thought was and still is, that if you become depressed at knowing the possible, probable future, perhaps your present will brighten and you will seize the moment to live it fully.

One day, I spotted a woman whose wheel chair was placed in front of the double doors leading off to a sun filled patio.   I peeked in on her, she sat up in the chair and I could tell she was deciding what to do with the attention.  I smiled and told her that I would like to tell her story and she said, “You can tell my story, you can tell it in twenty breaths.”

“ What if it takes more?” I said.

“If it is more, then, we will have to deal with it,” she said.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“ Hattie McKay,” she said.

“ You’re looking good, Hattie McKay.” I said.

“ You’re looking good, too,” she said.

Hattie McKay was a little woman with strong hands and arms. Her face showed deep lines of age and hard work. She strained to remember and was always polite and answered a question with a completely formed sentence with a nice little pleasantry added on the end. One day when we were talking she winked at me and motioned for me to come close as if she had a secret to tell that would shake the earth. More

Written for an Essay Contest: Fiction

All MY MOTHER’S CHILDREN

There on the top of a pile of old pictures from sixty years past, is a small photo that features my mother’s three children. We are walking through piles of stones in Yosemite National Park. I am a head taller than Taylor who is two heads taller than Stuart. What has become of my mother’s children is not what this story is about. It is about my mother and about her other children.

I knew that my mother loved cheese, was a good friend and neighbor and learned to drive a car later in life. I knew that she was president of several organizations, after overcoming paralyzing shyness. She prepared only the freshest foods and never served fish. I knew that she fiercely loved her children and would go to the ends of the earth for them. What I didn’t know about my mother was what I will call her secret life. The life she lived parallel to ours. More

Today’s Bits and Pieces: My Friend Becky Baker, Butler, Bradley, soon to be Boyle at Ross Dress for Less

Before Becky left for New York, she had a conference with her gardener. She told him she needed certain things done and especially some work in the rose garden. He listens intently, and then started. “Miss Becky, I want you to come with me to Bakersfield.” (Hotter than a burnt frittata in those parts, by the way) “I want you to come and have wine on my patio and we can look out at the ocean. (There is no ocean for 100 or more miles. Bakersfield is smack dab in the middle of California) You can marry me. I want you marry me.”

Becky said she turned ashen because this little gentleman is 36 years old and is just a puppy in her mind’s eye. She had to go over this encounter in her mind before responding. She finally answered back, “But you wanted my daughter two years ago, haven’t you found someone else? “ No Miss, I waiting for you.” Your daughter is married and you not anymore.” At least this puppy waited until the body had time to settle.

Becky said, “ I know he is too young and not in my way of life, but I am so flattered.” I said, “Don’t be, he wants ANYONE to marry him because he needs to become a citizen. “Oh, I didn’t think of
that, oh boo hoo, I thought he liked me. “He does, but he will marry a telephone pole if it will give him American citizenship.”

So there you have it, cookie. Hope you are having fun in New York.

Today’s Bits and Pieces: My Friend Becky Baker, Butler, Bradley, soon to be Boyle at Ross Dress for Less

Becky is on the plane to New York. It took off an hour ago. She called last night to thank me for the tour of Ross Dress For Less. You see, Becky is a Nordstrom’s, Bloomies, shopper. When they opened Bloomingdales in Los Angeles, I am not kidding you; Becky got a special pass and was # 1 in the door on opening day.

The day we went to Ross, she was wearing one of her charming outfits from, yes, you know where. I am not saying anything against high end shopping, I do it myself, but I do both high and low. Becky had never before stepped into the low end, well, not this low. Not low to me, by the way, I think it is intriguing, exploratory and well suited to any pocketbook. I digress.

I had plans to meet Becky at the front door of the store. She said she would be waiting outside the door in the parking. I told her it was too hot, to go inside and start shopping. I arrived two minutes late and I spotted Becky in the petite section, she says not because she is thin, but because she is short.. She and I had gathered the 8 things you are permitted in the dressing rooms. We started to go over, so I taught her to put them in a cart just outside of the dressing rooms and then, when you have exhausted your 8 try on’s, you can go out to your cart and get the rest. She was so worried about leaving things in the cart for fear someone would take her hard earned choices. I assured her there was a strict code of honor in this store and not to worry that anyone will take anything from her basket.

We got into the dressing room and Becky began to examine each item with a fine-toothed comb. I suggested she start trying on the clothes. Each item was scrutinized. Finally after a number of try on’s later, she stated that the clothes must be seconds and something was wrong with them. I said, “They have to be marked seconds and I don’t see any markings on these items.” “Well,” she said, “Look they are so lopsided on me. Look one shoulder is up and the other is down. Look they go up on one side and down on the other.” After studying the look, I started to laugh. “Hey,” Beck.” I laughed, “It is not the clothes it is you. You are up on one shoulder and lumpy on one side and you stoop over a little bit so the clothes are up in the back and down in the front quite naturally. You’ve got a little belly there, so you have to get pants that fit over the belly ball and will naturally have a little more material in other places.” She looked at the clothes a second time and laughed, too. After all the trying on and the discussions about each garment, I had had it with her. I said, “Buy them all.” For $5.99 and $6.99, you don’t even have to wash them. Just dump them. Never, I am way too practical. But it got Beck going and she bought her summer wardrobe for $70.00, just a tiny speck over the price of her fancy T-shirt from you know where. Teaching Becky about $5.99 and $6.99 shirts and $7.99- $10.99 pants that look really GREAT was a lot of fun for her and for me, too. Remember, if the clothes do not fit exactly right check out the manikin you are dressing. Also, remember if the price is too good to believe, get one size bigger. It is just a little rule and a good one.

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