Things to Remember

Apparently I am sucked into the Throwback Thursday vortex, for amid my housework wanderings I stumbled across some dish-drying towels that brought a flood of memories over me. The first thing that came to mind was curiosity about whether there are many others who grew up using tea-towels like these made of flour sacking material and hand-embroidered, often with a small posy or aphorism in the corner, and usually by Mom or some older relative, at least until we ourselves were conscripted for the task.

My mother enjoyed embroidery as a relaxation mode as well as art form, and the last batch of dish towels that I know of her having made were a series of line drawings of local native flora, based (with the author’s permission) on a book of lovely little watercolors of the same plants and flowers. I chose one representing a favorite alpine blossom, even though the creamy white blooms were guaranteed to fade quickly against the pale fabric, and the outline of them remains faintly visible even after many years of hard use. That’s a perfect representation, in its way, of how my memory works. I began to reminisce, seeing this embroidery, on the alpine plants that have always signaled peace and freedom to me as I day-hiked on the flanks of Mt. Rainier. So I meandered over to search online for native alpine plants of the northwest, and as soon as I began looking at the images I was struck with an infusion of the very scent of those hikes, a spicy, earthy, fresh and herbal blend of tree resins—cedar, pine, alpine fir—and sun-baked earth, lightly perfumed flowers, crushed needles and fallen leaves underfoot, the brisk dash of elevated air. What a lot of fine things to be contained, in addition to the treasury of love and family history, within my mama’s embroidered dish drying cloth.Photo: Mama's Embroidery

You might think I’d’ve inherited an embroidery gene, because in addition to my mom’s fine handiwork, I grew up seeing and using Grandma’s embroidered towels and pillowcases and enjoyed them, too. I did not, and since I had these two sources readily available, I didn’t mourn the gap in my skill set. I could always go to one or the other of them and find some new kitchen linens in a time of need.

My father’s mother never got so inventive as to design her own embroideries based on book illustrations like Mom’s were, but Grandma chose for her projects the resource of hand-me-down and found patterns, most of them quite out of date already (hence the ease of her collecting them), and almost all of them much quirkier and tackier than her normally refined taste would have allowed. These were, however, mainly destined to be given to charity or sold for the proceeds that would go to the charity in their stead, so she had no attachment or agenda for showing them at home. I, on the other hand, bought a few not only out of any little do-gooder intentions but because the sheer silliness of some of the designs so delighted me.

This one, for example, that was my inspiration for joining now in the Throwback Thursday brigade, was highly amusing to me in its ridiculously fantastic subject, its period style, and its girly goofiness. I couldn’t resist it. I found no other Days of the Week as companions, so I can only imagine what happened on those days, but it was enough to find this towel that could simultaneously remind me of my grandmother and my youth and make me laugh, all while getting my dishes dried.Photo: Throwback Thursday

Fashions change, and with them, the decor and even tools that fill our lives and homes. Yesterday’s dish towels are probably more often machine-made of some high-tech sort of microfiber or super-absorbent bamboo fiber blend with an artful printed-on design in the proper Pantone colors of the year. But do they do a more artful job, as well, of wiping dishes dry after washing? Can they strain soup broth into crystal clarity? Do they make perfect wraps for ice packs when a sore neck or bruised arm is in want of one? No better than the old standbys of my youth, I imagine. Old as I am, I come from good stock that valued something a bit quaint and very handmade, and if it managed to accomplish the task and carry memories for decades at the same time, why, I suspect I’ll do well to try to be a human imitation of it myself.

From the Highest Towers

Digital illustration from a watercolor: Summer Stained GlassRinging In

Every time I hear them, I remember that first morning,

That moment in a narrow street when brightly, without warning,

The bells loosened their tongues to sing and raised their clarion voices

In that wild hymnody of joy at which my heart rejoices,

And now, wherever I may be, whatever is the weather

Or the occasion driving me, those voices joined together

Stop me, and make me raise my eyes while all the bells are ringing,

And search the gladness of the skies where Carillon is singing.Digital illustration from a watercolor: Springtime Stained Glass

Sweets for the Sweet (& All Others, Too)

digital illustration

Remember this…

Long-Awaited Benison

The sweetest sound the human ear has heard
Was not a waterfall or splashing brook
To thirsty thoughts; nor thirsty mind, a book
Read out; nor singer’s voice, nor whistling bird

In spring’s cool song; it wasn’t kittens’ purr
Or baby’s comfortably cooing charms
When resting safely in his mother’s arms
—Though it might then seem wildly sweet to her

It wasn’t the “I love you” of romance,
Nor was the sweetest sound of clinking gold,
—Though to its owner, that cannot grow old—
But rather, barring mystic happenstance,

The miracle of sound most truly sweet
Was Mama’s voice announcing, “Come and eat!”

I’ve Forgotten Your Face, but I can’t Look You Up in the Pictorial Directory, Because I’ve Forgotten Your Name, Too

I won’t deny that the memory diminution that comes with aging is a pain in the neck, if not regions well south thereof, but it’s particularly annoying when that faculty was fairly faint and whimsical from the beginning.photoI seem to have always had a mind less like the proverbial steel trap and much more decidedly iffy—more like, say, a somewhat loosely constructed sieve. It’s pretty good at catching and holding on to big chunky things: that air can be walked through but concrete walls cannot, or that elephants are large and mosquitoes are much smaller yet probably more dangerous in general. But so much slips right on through where I had hoped to store it that sometimes I think it’s a miracle I managed to remember to wear clothes when leaving the house, or to use deodorant rather than shoe polish under my arms. Not that shiny taupe underarms wouldn’t be a wonderfully glamorous fashion statement on anyone.

Perhaps it’s a contributor to my innovative and playful artistic soul, this having a mind so ill equipped to deal with quotidian and purposeful information in useful ways. When I can so seldom remember anyone’s name, let alone his birthday, or what appointments I made with which doctor, let alone what the dates were, it forces me to do some clever detective work and further develop my problem-solving skills, so maybe that’s just nature’s way of keeping me on my toes. In any event, I hope no one takes too much offense for too long that I keep asking them to repeat their names and hope that they’ll drop some hints about the context in which I am supposed to know them, when I think it’s a major feat of memory and deductive reasoning on my part to have realized that I might know them at all.

It truly isn’t that I don’t care; I simply find that getting a memory and keeping it where it can eventually be retrieved intact are not necessarily related, nor are they either one fully functional facilities in my would-be Taj Mahal of a memory palace. Of course, it’s hard enough to try building a memory palace if I forget what one is, or that I meant to try it, too. Apparently the elephants-who-never-forget have long since sashayed out of the place without me.

As If She were Our Blood

 

text + photo montagetext + photo montage

Regaining My Memory

photoAntique Finishes

The lovely grain of quartersawn oak

With age’s silk patina glows

And hints of many-storied lives

And past events nobody knows;

The ghosts and gossips of days gone

Are whispered in the cupboards’ glassed

Door fronts; the table’s curving legs

Bespeak its long, mysterious past;

In the looking-glass, the passage

Of the hours and years is blurred

By antiquity’s sweet singing

All the stories ever heard,

By the voices of the missing,

Of the dead departed wealth

That once filled these halls with magic,

Now reached only late, by stealth.

If antiquity should call me,

Siren-like, to take a look,

Once more in my soul I’ll draw it

From the pages of a book . . .photo

Foodie Tuesday: Birthday Dessert (and Boy, Wouldn’t This Taste Great with Some Chocolate Ice Cream!)

He’s a wacky fella, my dad. One of his finest features has always been his excellent and distinctive sense of humor, and there was never any question that having a father who’s delightfully silly is one of the finest advantages a kid could have in her upbringing. No surprise that, with Mom being the sort of hospitality genius that everyone loves and Dad providing much of the comic relief in that hospitable package, our household was always a popular place among the friends and classmates of all of their children. Both were also compassionate and reasonable and practical parents, and I don’t have to tell you what a rarity that is in general, so our home was a kind of hangout-central among the school-kid cognoscenti.

Since today is the anniversary of the birth of that Hardest Working Dad in Showbiz, I am drawn to reminisce on the many years of service that my father has given as the resident chief goofus in our family.photoThat in itself is gift enough, but his life of service has always been so much broader and deeper than mere lightheartedness. As a pastor, as Chairman of the Board of Regents for a university, as bishop, and as president of a hospital board, among many other roles he’s filled in his life’s work, Dad has never taken his labors lightly, even when the best tool he had for doing any or all of these jobs may have most often been the humor he brought to the table. He’s just never been one for sitting around and letting the world rush on around him.

photoI wish I could say that I inherited a tenth of his sense of humor, let alone a hundredth of his ambition and work ethic. Instead, I guess I should thank him once again on his birthday for not only being a dandy dad but also helping to fill the requirements of the universe in these services where I may have left some gaping gaps. So thanks, Dad, from the bottom of my full heart, and may you have not only a very happy birthday but all the warmth and laughter that can be wrung out of many more years. Oh, and cake. And, since you clearly are your father’s son when it comes to all of the characteristics noted above and we all know Grandpa would have felt the cake was best completed with some, have your cake with a couple of sizable scoops of chocolate ice cream.

photo

Okay, this one’s not ice cream, but it’s chocolate dessert and it’s homemade. And it tastes pretty great, if you ask me. (1 ripe avocado, 1 ripe banana, 1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and honey to taste, all blended together until the pudding is smooth.)

Fishing Expeditions

digitally painted monotype

I *know* I came in here for something . . .

Even those not in my Age Group (i.e., old) have had that irritating experience of going into a room and having no clue on arrival what they intended to do once there. I just have it more often than most. I’ve had it more often than most since (ironically) before I can remember. Thank you, short attention span and daydreaming obsession. But I’m kind of used to it, even if it’s still a little frustrating in the moment. I just have to go on lengthy mental fishing expeditions to try to recapture those slippery thoughts that had swum on through, not stopping quite long enough to satisfy the need of the occasion.

Surely I have mentioned here more than once that I have made many an artwork with fish as topic or, often, as random interjection. The piece above followed my work on a series of icon-like works, so it started out as yet another saint-with-a-halo sort of thing, but then these fish came jumping into the frame and suddenly the whole storyline veered off in a completely different direction. So I guess it could be said to be a perfect self-portrait in that way. Then again, maybe it’s still a good metaphor for a so-called Saint, since from what I’ve read and heard and been told, very few of them ended up doing ‘what they came into the room to do’ in life, but rather got knocked off course and went on other tangents.

That’s reassuring in its way, but it doesn’t fix my problem of forgetfulness or lack of focus, now, does it. There’s certainly no surprise in our forgetting a thing or two over the course of a lifetime. The batik-like little image below (with fish as its subject, in another shocking development) is not only a picture of a sort of trademark type of tale but also has my characteristic style of line, textures, and composition. But darned if I can recollect when, where or for what purpose I made the piece. I would not have known I had made it if it weren’t for finding the photo of it when it was hanging on the office wall of a company for whom I made a salmon-centric exhibition because they had a facilities grand-opening celebration in which they wanted to emphasize their commitment to saving the native Washington salmon runs not protected by similar companies’ practices. Oh, yeah–that was why and when I made the work. What happened to it later is another question, though the company did end up buying a handful of the shown works to keep in their buildings after the exhibition, so maybe it still lives there. But clearly, I’m not the one to ask. I just don’t remember stuff like that. I get a thought; it shoots off into deeper waters.

Hmmm, what was it I was talking to you about? Oh, well, maybe I’ll come back to it later. Maybe . . .

digital painting

I'll be thinking of you . . .

A Bit of Illumination

photoAll it should take is a small glimpse of the undesirable alternatives to remind me, if I’m ever so forgetful, of how fortunate I am.

This morning I had many such reminders on the Sunday commute. It’s been very rainy, a generally fine thing given its kindly relief of and recovery from last year’s drought, but of course never quite so gentle to travelers on the road. As we leave fairly early Sunday mornings to head south, and last night was the semi-annual celebration of tiresome Spring clock-changing, it was utterly dark when we got underway. Unfortunately, and quite predictably really, the first substantial appearance of light before us was not dawn (a grey and undifferentiated one, to be sure) but a veritable wall of red taillights as we came upon the first roadblock. It turned out to be a literal one: a five-car smashup that closed the entire freeway for nearly twenty minutes yet after our arrival on the scene until we were all able to squeeze past it and all of its companion emergency vehicles on the shoulder of the road and restart our journey.

But as much as I dislike sitting still in traffic on the road, I spent the time not just watching the taillights ahead–at least, when engines were turned back on–for any sign of movement but also contemplating how much I appreciated not being just those few minutes earlier when we’d likely have been caught in the midst of the pileup, and all the more so when we saw those crumpled cars and trucks, the flashing emergency lights, the officials in their uniforms scurrying to aid and comfort those still on the scene, and the debris strewn across three lanes and more. It was no surprise to see remnants of at least two more accidents, these not blocking traffic on our side of the freeway but also evidently serious enough to require tow trucks, aid cars and police, before we got to our destination. At every point, a good chance to send up silent wishes for the welfare of all who suffered or served at those points of departure from the planned sojourn of the day.

My little forays for annual medical updates in the last couple of weeks were another fine mnemonic, if I needed one, for how blessed my life is. There I sit, potentially fidgety as I wait for an appointment that, like many, is delayed by overbooking and under-staffing, no matter how well the good folk at my doctor’s office generally try to plan, and look around at people who are obviously less well and far more needy than I am and think, my life is so easy. And I came out of all of it with pretty cheering news.

I was most acutely aware of this, as I said the other day, because while I was just getting a pretty basic exam and gentle inquisition updating my physician’s information about my habits, health and happiness, my mother was lying on an operating table with her spine sliced open for nearly seven hours while her surgeons worked to correct and stabilize her spine. I am incredibly glad to tell you that the preliminary reports following her surgery are good: her doctors are satisfied that they did all of the good things they could do for her (including returning yet a bit more of the five or so inches of height she’d lost over the last several years of her back’s deterioration), and despite the inevitably terrible post-surgical pain, she actually stood upright a mere twenty-four hours after the operation. At that, the second surgery in two weeks, which in my estimation is the equivalent of her being run over by the same freight train twice in a row. The road ahead to full recovery, whatever that will be, is bound to be long and arduous–but it appears to be an open road, and one she is alive and able to take, after some years of wondering whether anything good lay ahead.

Mom is a much tougher character than most people would ever guess.

And once more, I am humbled to look at all that she’s been through and think how glad I am that I have never suffered like that, and that I have a doctor who, when I told him that Mama was ‘under the knife’ for spine repairs at the moment of my simple wellness exam with him, had no hesitation in saying that yes, maybe at 51 and with a mother in that situation, I should get his referral for a bone density check now. To know that my own struggles, whatever they seem to be in the moment, are tiny and petty in the relative scheme of things and that I am very happy to live in such a brightly illuminated place of grace and good hope.photo

Thank you all for your kind thoughts and words about Mom’s health progress. I know she will appreciate it immensely when she’s well enough to sit up comfortably surfing a blog–or doing pretty much anything besides just working on healing. For now, it’s a comfort to the rest of us, and a perfect reminder that I have a great life.

Musica Mnemonica

photoI Keyboard Position

(For HH & JDH)

I went to hear a singer sing his due

Recital and to learn to love his voice,

Yet on the instant knew I had no choice

But watch th’ accompanist and think of you,

For when they came onstage a dream began

As German art-songs sung up from a deep

Chasm of voice that ought to haunt my sleep,

My heart was drawn instead to that tall man

Curled over the piano in that soft,

Sprung posture that in you I used to know,

When you assumed it, meant that you would go

Anon, and play your listeners aloft

To dazzling heights of ecstasy and free-

Fall back with us to depths of bronze despair

Because your fluid playing pulled us there,

And art, remembered now, that let me see

That this man taught those notes to you, each one,

And from his posture, know you were his son.photo collage

II Nocturne

(For JDH)

You always play the Evensong or toll

The close of Compline on that rank of keys

That lets the darkness in at night and sees

No morning come again where dawn should roll

Its banner out, because your day is past,

Untimely so, and others left behind

Whose love for you through music was refined,

And evening services to hold us fast

Within your arms; now elders play the songs

As you’d have done if time had let you play

A lifetime–even just another day–

With melody to right the thousand wrongs

That took you from our midst, that stopped the tune,

Left only other hands to tend the notes,

And threw you like a star among the motes

Before you could play in another June.

Now summers come no more, nor daylight’s dawn,

Though through the night your music lingers on.photo