The Small lie

11/07/2017

Grey2

a study in greys with gouache – TH

The vaulted ceiling is heavy with plaster and ornamentation. Chandeliers of weathered brass and milk-glass are unsettling to eyes raised upward; covert glances look for angels. My slight, seven-year old frame carries the full length of the mandatory, green, wool uniform, dense with the weight of uncharted heavenly canopies. Feet tread lightly against the cold tile floors to muffle echoes. Afraid to disturb the gods. Reverence is assumed, but it is reluctance.

The dark walnut doorway is designed to meld into the walls lined with bas-relief stages of the Crucifixion. Suffering and sacrifice. I accept this story, but, it is the art that arouses my curiosity. Already, I am firm in my own world view. Sin, the black mark on the milk bottle of countless catechism does not enter the ideology of the young. It has no place. Not here.

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Quiet visits

25/03/2017

garage3Some visits are quiet ones. The day is routine. Walking in any weather. Walking along the streets of a small town or the wide alleyways behind historic homes where even the garage curtains speak of a gentility. Big plates of pasta balanced on the laps of the three sisters, sitting on chairs and sofas. We are tucked in snugly on this chilly night. Mystery hour. It is about relationships. It is a slow story. One that takes time and nuance. So too, with my sisters and me. It is about relationship. Slowly moving through decades, through years of upheaval and years of the steady, almost imperceptible changes in each of us. It is a quiet visit. It is a visit that is full.

I return home, here, with sunny skies and warm breezes. Shy windflowers at my garden gate wave their greetings, faces filled with light. I am filled with thoughts of family as my key unlocks all that is before me.windflowers3.jpg

Sharp intervals

17/03/2017

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Sharp Intervals 

Assaulted by tone

The guise of caring Read the rest of this entry »

Five pints for $5.00!  Unpacking my sack from the local co-op, my husband asks (somewhat annoyed as he disdains raspberries and those petite seeds), “What are you going to do with ALL those?”  Defensively, and rather arrogantly I reply, “Make a cake.” Please note: In my life, I have NEVER made a raspberry cake.bake1

I am eternally grateful to live in the age of internet (Thank you, Al Gore.) as my immediate instinct is to google “raspberry cake recipe” before I am found out to the duplicitous baker that I am. As a librarian (who is not duplicitous) I know enough to go beyond the first page, and it is on one of the subsequent lists of hits that I find one to my liking by Elaine McCardle for “Almond Raspberry Cake.”

Today, this very day, is baking day since the husband – disparager of all things raspberry – is working on his 1963 Porsche 356c carburetor which should occupy him for some time. Translation: I have the kitchen (and the house!) to myself for a few hours. Arranging the ingredients in the Dewey Decimal order on the counter, in librarian fashion, I realize something vitally important is missing – my Motown music!  Again, grateful to Al Gore, I set the Roku for Pandora and I blast the sounds of Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Jimmy Ruffin, and Detroit musicians ad nauseum (oh, how I miss my high-school dances!), and begin to mix this and that with a soulful beat.

cake

Suddenly, it hits me!  It really is summer…I am home having one heck of a good time in the middle of the morning with raspberries and Motown.

small tribute

22/03/2016

Mother's dishesSetting the table for Sunday dinners, Christmas, or Easter – the big family holidays – was always a celebratory task for this girl with pigtails. Under my mother’s supervision, together we would enter her world of fine china and etched glassware. Guarded behind the glass doors of her ornate china closet, these were thrown open on the special occasion or Catholic feast days.  Gently I lay each dish in its proper place with its proper placement. Always, the roses greeting the guest. Looking at each piece – a crescent of gentian blue forget-me-knots embracing pale pink roses bursting forth – infused me a shiver of joy and pride. Each piece became a mirror of the next, until the table was a field filled with wildflowers. Throughout the years from girlhood to adolescence, I never grew tired of this ritual. Processing around the table, dish in hand – each one an invitation – I knew in my heart that these objects held more than a meal. They held my family together.

Mother to daughter, this tradition became my world, too.  Unpacked from the brown cardboard boxes, her wedding dishes came to live in our rough, cherry cupboard – a $40 purchase from a stall at the Women’s Farmer Market. My husband and I, living far from home, began our own tradition of family dinners with dear friends and neighbors.

The wooden doors have been closed on this part of my history for some time now. The children are grown with their individual sensibilities – roses not among them. The dishes are still and silent, stacked – albeit lovingly – at the bottom of our windowless cupboard. Sentinels.  Waiting.

This year I find myself able to accept that my future and that of my children belong only to each one. Once again, I wrap each piece and fill the cardboard boxes.  They are my past, and I am letting go – releasing the objects, but keeping their love. They are ready to go elsewhere, to live another life. A new family with new traditions to grace the table of strangers.  Fresh eyes to see the beauty in the bouquets of roses and forget-me-knots. Kind hearts to infuse love into what was once, a long time ago, my mother’s best china.

Subtle message

04/02/2016

Chrisgiftstmas. My son gives me new color pencils, ink and pens, paper of all sorts. Bright reds, blues. Shades of hopeful greens.

Upstairs, I rearranged my studio, yet again, trying to become inspired. I begin with the pencil. All browns, blacks, grays, yellows on antiseptic white paper. Hard angles. Sparse landscape. Graphite scrapes against the grain.

The school year. Entrenched. A library fills with books and laptops. Worksheets and critical thinking. All is drawn clinically. Shelves ordered and neat. Lines between the personal and professional.

Approached. Asked. Asked to teach one art class.

Tonight is for the green pencil.

The universe speaks to me where it can find me.  My son. Its voice.

An autumn day. Sugar maple yellows and reds are firecrackers exploding against the blue sky. Cool air calls for a scarf wrapped loosely around the neck, against a heavy, cable-knit sweater. A never-ending carpet of dogwood and oak leaves muffle footfalls leading from our house, today. Loading boxes in the car. Returns. Years shared, packed with haste and anger.

It has been a “summer into fall season” of heartache for our household. Not sorrow as with death, but the dull heartache from reminders of loss both past and recent. Driving down the neighborhood streets, tears fill the eyes unexpectedly. Absence of objects associated with love and friendships. Voids shout at the eye. Autumn is the season that honors loss. Blossoms die. Trees stand in their solitude, grey and skeletal. Animals begin to burrow into the deep, lining their dens for warmth while their bodies armor themselves for stillness. Slow. Patient. Warm.

Birthday boy

Tonight is for family. Small. Quiet. Intimate. We are honoring a birthday. We are reclaiming one that was fraught with pain and hurt. We are owning it tonight for our son, a night that could have well been his birthday if he had not been so anxious to join us twenty-six years ago. We will share a home cooked meal – a simple one the color of autumn – carrot soup. We will have cake and gifts. Candles will be lit. We will affirm – no matter what happens in a week, a year, or in life – our family remains steadfast.

photo of Takoma Junction

image from The Silver Spring Voice online article, “Nostalgic wall mural obliterated” written by Diana Kohn, August 7, 2014.

A dear neighbor and friend, Faith, has written a wonderful poem about the street & small town in which we live. Her words are remarkable in the way that they capture so directly, the feelings and images about the changes we both are witness to during the past thirty or more years. She has graciously given me permission to share with you.


There Goes the Neighborhood

I
Up the hill at the top of my street, High’s Dairy Store
Sold ice cream cones for fifteen cents,
Until too many break-ins brought an end to that, and they moved on.
TJ’s minimart came next to fill that space
With candy, soda, milk, TP and strange assorted canned goods no one bought,
Unless they had to.
Still when unexpected snow closed every other store in town,
Bu had milk and bread to sell and lottery tickets, too. Now he’s moved out
Like the juvenile delinquents living just across from me.
I don’t miss the cop cars or the sound of “firecrackers” at the druggy’s house, when
Terrified, the toddler and her granny ran for help
Into the street at night.

II
Last week they razed a 1920s bungalow a few doors down:
A huge construction’s going up that fills the whole damn lot.
A house like mine was gutted, then expanded in all six directions.
The meatloaf special and the diner serving it are gone, but we have tofu, sushi at our eight cafes.
Sunday a farmer’s market fills the square and every week some kind of festival is celebrated there.
We’ve got a House and Garden Tour, even a poet laureate.
Are these the signs of gentrification?
There’s still some quirkiness about us, but so much has changed.
Some people say we’re moving on. Others say, “We have arrived”–
No longer Tacky Park or Berkeley East, we’re now a destination.

III
Up the hill at the top of my street you can do hot yoga, then undo it all next door
At Springmill Bakery, opened yesterday–“You want a double latte with your cupcake?”–
Exactly where High’s Dairy store once stood.

Faith Bueltmann Stern 2015

Patience

25/05/2015

photograph

During the past two years – especially during the summer months when I am at home and able to “do art” – I find myself stymied. It is so much easier to continue with my current “work. ” My adult life is now at a balance – equal number of years as an artist to that of a librarian. Oftentimes, I find myself preparing for a project only to look at the supplies without inspiration, or love. Not long ago I found myself ruthlessly ridding the supplies -untethering myself from the burden. Gone are the pastels. Gone are the acrylic paints. Gone are the hand cut stencils. Gone is all the papermaking paraphernalia – press, vats, dyes, molds and deckle. Given away with love.

I am no longer living life as an artist.

There was a time – the halcyon days of raising children – when it was my life. I awoke thinking about it. I spent the days working on art. Pondering life and art, in the quiet moments. In the afternoons or Sunday mornings, my children created art with my supplies laid before them on the floor of the studio, or outside on our porch. My husband built papermaking presses, pedestals for stone cutting, borrowed trucks to haul large equipment to and fro throughout the various studios shared with others. The artistic life created a center for me, and enveloped those I loved, which nurtured the art work.  A beautiful circle.

I look at these years lived “in the world”  – in the library world – as a gentle interlude.  Aging brings an ache – the ache to live as an artist again. I know in my bones that it will return for it has been resting these many years – new pencils and pens will be bought. There will be other colours and fresh paints. Patience, I tell myself.

Be patient.

An indirect benefit of being a teacher is the summer. The two and a half months beckon you. Sleeping late. Trips to places far and near, otherwise neglected. Late evenings sitting on the porch listening to the evening chirps of insects.

Yet themagnolia blosson fall, winter, and spring months are not so generous. Evenings and weekends are spent designing lessons and presentations, reading materials that (perhaps) do not fill your soul, and finally, the onerous grading. This is such a weekend.

The temperature varies this weekend between 60s and 80s F. Sunny with breezes. Birds are busy looking for mates. Daffodils and magnolia blossoms are past, one last gasp, blooms stretched wide and open. Tulips, the redbud trees, and periwinkle are in full glory. I cannot resist. I am addicted to plunging my hands into the earth.

Toward the beginning of evening, I decide to re-arrange a small area of the yard, It is barren and has been waiting patiently for months. The shovel in my hand is a weapon. I ruthlessly plunge it deep into the soft earth, insensitive to root and stones. Hitting hard, I place my full weight with force, turning the ground over and over. Stopping for a breath, I notice the shells. Crusted. White. Broken. Oyster shells.flower pot with shells

Long ago -a century ago – this house owned different people. A family who sustained themselves through work with a delivery service (by horse), a garden for food, and chickens. These shells are reminders of their presence. This family experienced births and deaths in this house. The children ran around this very yard, albeit smaller now. The wife tended home and hearth, caring for the chickens by including oyster shells in their diet for the calcium needed to strengthen egg shells.

What is it that lasts in our lifetime? What lives on and is woven into the fabric of others’ lives, perhaps even unknown to them?

Grades. These are lessons learned. More than a subject. It is about deadlines, instructions, allocating time, and honesty. My hope for my students is experience these “facts” as the lesson. Facts that will help them to live well when I am long gone.

woman in front of chicken coopAnd, as far as the shells -in a gently, sloping area of the garden I plant flowers –  in remembrance of this family who lived, prayed, loved, and died here. What else can I do?

The shells ask only this of me.


Historic Takoma Park, Inc. Images of America: Takoma Park.  Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011. Print

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