Our neighborhood during the time of COVID19

A small tribute

For months and months prior to the eruption of the SARS-CoV-2 in China, right here in my hometown so far away, life felt off. Nothing was particularly negative, other than our dire American politics, yet I felt a malaise hanging over the world. And, it was with these manifestations: fires in Australia; polar ice melting at tremendous speed; continual war with refugees fleeing to any port of safety; dire hunger and poverty exploding in Venezuela, on and on. Yet, here I sat in my tiny space where all was well. Unease hung in the air around me. I could not help wait for the other “shoe to drop.” It did. COVID19.

Today, at the rise of this pandemic, I remain sitting in my tiny space, but I venture out, too. The malaise has dissipated; the unease is gone. There is something to be said for meeting your foe whether it is the tangible or intangible. And, I am not alone. My neighborhood is responding with generosity and love in the myriad ways of mixed generations with their talents and inventiveness.

Shared below are a few expressions of caring. I urge you to look to your neighbors, whether suburban, city or rural and count the many ways that caring is demonstrated by others.

Impromptu concert
A windy day for lost toys
Friday-distancing Happy Hours, painted rainbows, Teddy Bear hugs, treasured figs, Flowers from faith, and sweet cats both real and painted, and cookie recipe!

Wallpaper design: a story

Florence Broadhurst, Her secret & extraordinary lives

Growing up in a working class home during the late 1950s and early 1960s, wallpaper was all the rage. My sister and I retain a fondness for this inexpensive, decorative touch, even though we may employ less of it as we age. But, decades ago, we loved to pour through books and books of wallpaper designs when there were retail stores that specialized in this home accent, long ago.

This Australian woman born in 1899 seems to have been imbued, at birth, with a drive to create, unlike anyone I have ever read about. Beginning as a young girl, she created multiple, imaginative lives seemingly from nothing. With her family background rooted in the Australian cattle “wilderness called Mungy Station,” she became known across Europe and America as a stage presence singing and dancing with drag queens in the early 1920s to a Bond Street couturier known as Madame Pellier, along with a British accent.

It is the wallpaper designs interspersed throughout this handsomely produced book, that move the story forward. Her last reinvention as a high-end wallpaper designer gives her life the gravitas and accolades deserved as their intricacies are explained with care and detail by O’Neill. The patterns are stunning. For an artist, this is where the story lies – her creativity, her formidable personality to promote and believe in her art form. Yet, her ending is as tragic as any mythological figure diminish does not diminish her contribution.


O’Neill, Helen.  Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret & Extraordinary Lives.  Chronicle Books, 2006. Print.
Dedicated to my sister, Sandy, who just loves wallpaper!

One family secret

Berthe

My mother-in-law kept loneliness close to her.

Born in New York City in 1924, it was only after her death three decades ago, at that age between what we consider middle and old – the one which has no name – this fact came to light for our family:

She was not an only child.

As we were told. As we believed.

A road trip to a New Jersey family grave site, and our pouring through its hand written archives revealed this: her mother gave birth to Celine in 1922. The girl died two years later.

I drifted away from those musty volumes with my thoughts spinning, with an ache in my heart. This one fact – one turn of fate – illuminated the life of this woman, Berthe. It offered a dimension to this woman who had a far-reaching impact upon, not only my marriage, but my self during our time together.

She loved to see me with my sisters. She loved tradition, our family, and was devoted to her husband. Yet, she carried this lost sisterhood despite these loves and devotions. She carried this loss alone.

My dear mother-in-law,

I wish I had known of your deprivation. We could have shared words and stories, I could have held your hand in mine and you could have sighed, perhaps even cried a bit.

Now, all I can do is this for you: create small art, and carry the quiet ache, from time to time.

T.H.

Yes. My mother-in-law kept loneliness close to her.


Berthe is sorely missed by her remaining family, every year since her death. This year she would have been 95.

I Hate To Leave This Beautiful Place

A Memoir by Howard Norman

This book was given to me two years ago from a student. It has sat unobtrusively on my shelf because of the cover. A cover which conveys melancholy. Melancholy by nature, I was hesitant, even fearful, in taking on a new author’s experiences similar in nature. Time was needed for a slow acquaintanceship with Mr. Norman.

However, steeped in sadness about the state of the world in this month and this year it seemed appropriate. I wonder if this only makes sense to me, dear reader?

Set in the mid-1960s with a beginning that is both familiar and almost endearing – a bookmobile, the apothecary (see, drug store) with soda fountain, I was lulled immediately into a sense of kinship with the author. His subsequent memories through the years in the narrative dispelled this feeling. All too soon I became the outsider looking in. The outsider wondering how on earth this young man, this married man, this father and husband, managed to get through his life with so much of himself intact.

His is a life that meanders; conscious direction seems to be an afterthought. From Grand Rapids to the Arctic to Halifax to Washington, D.C. he careens, geographically; so too do the events that affect his trajectory from the humorous to the mundane to the tragic. The overlapping of these parallel paths is the story. His story.

A whole world of detours, unbridled perplexities, degrading sorrows, and exacting joys can befall a person in a single season, not to mention a lifetime.

p.85

It was only at the end where I almost – almost – closed the book. Some tragedies are too heart wrenching. Living life is not for the timid. And while no pretensions, no hubris comes through with Norman, he is not timid. I am grateful for his courage.

A sincere thank you to my student at St. Alban’s School for expanding my universe with this author’s writing. You know who you are!

Norman, Howard. I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2013. Print.

Small trips & Hope

Visiting the Eastern Shore of Maryland & more

One cold and blustery morning in early November, the hub and I packed our warm jackets, some snacks, then headed out on the road for Easton, Maryland to the Waterfowl Festival. Please. Understand. I did not grow up in a rural area, so any trip like this is a peek into my husband’s childhood. Yes, even after all these decades together I am still amazed by his roots and his knowledge of a bucolic life.

Gotta love those dogs!

A scenic drive led us through the quaint areas of this historic town. After paying our somewhat substantive entry fee, we walked among the streets, and in and out of tents, getting a feel for the area. Taking a bus to several other venues smacked of a senior citizen outing, but we were game! Exhibits of guns, rods, hunting and fishing gear unsettled me a bit, but the addition of the retriever demonstrations softened my apprehensiveness. It was also good to know that many of the proceeds for events were slated for the Chesapeake conservation funding. In fact I met a quiet, but smart young man who, representing the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point Laboratory, gave me a detailed explanation on chemistry, toxicology and the effects on local aquatic life. It was astounding, to say the least. Yes, I will go on a summer tour of their facility!

Needless to say, it was prospect of seeing art that truly nudged me, emotionally, for this unusual destination. There was a plethora for artists from all over the U.S. and North America working in a variety of media and formats. George Raab’s art, an award winning printmaker (Ontario, Canada) left me breathless. His landscape, Catalpa, made my heart ache. The longing persists, as some images imprint themselves upon one’s soul.

Tomsowl
Sculptor, Tom Ahern

The spouse’s particular interest in decoys, both contemporary and antique, not only evoked interest but presented a most serendipitous event. Squirreled away among dozens of vendors was a gentlemen, Tom Ahern (Bethlehem, PA) who works and lives where I was born and raised. Following a brief “hello” and chat, we discovered that we had more in common – “Was I related to “Snookie?” Lo and behold! I was. My uncle Snookie was his high-school athletic coach many, many decades past. I promised to visit his studio during one of my hometown visits. And, I will.

I love these small trips with my husband. Sharing lives, works, and landscapes that are so integral to others opens my narrow view of the world. Sharing words and smiles.

Whether with a spouse or stranger, sharing itself, is the solid foundation for hope.


black and white newspaper clipping of a man

Dedicated to my Uncle John “Snookie” Hudak, the eldest and most elusive uncle.

What drives the art?

Patience and creativity

Returning to life as an artist is a challenge after twenty years immersed in a left-brain career as a librarian – organizing, cataloging and instructional designing.  Nothing demonstrates this more than the past two months working on a seemingly simple artist’s book.

Prior to my life as a librarian, I was a working artist for twenty years with roots in calligraphy. This form is the foundation for everything I learned about art subsequently. Knowing the quality of work of which I am capable by looking back through the boxes and folders of my art projects, and then, looking at my current work, left me sorely demoralized. This is true, even with calligraphy, my first love.

So, I turn to writing prose and bookmaking, additional loves in the artistic life. My intention (please note this noun!) to create an artist’s book with my prose at the central point is a turning point. Designing the format and attempting to carry out the all the skills needed, demonstrates how far I have meandered my previous life. Nothing was meeting my standards. This went on for more than a month. Over and over, re-thinking, re-designing, re-hashing imagery…until, one morning, I collected all the debris and threw it into an envelope to shelve.

What was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t this working? I was on my third attempt with this “simple book.”

May I suggest that you read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

 

Cover art

Finally, after re-reading one chapter of the above title, it hit me. I was working with the left-brain. Intention. In my process to create, it was all linear – get from Point A to my Point B .

So, I cleared everything off my desk. Created a big open space. And played. Ran my hands over the handmade papers until I found those that felt right. Moved around the pieces of photographs like a jigsaw puzzle until they fell into place visually.

Continuing along this path for the next two weeks, the book I had never imagined began to form. Yes, there were times I was afraid to “be intentional” not wanting to subvert a new beginning. Each decision, intuitive or deliberate, was met with patience. I put the work aside and came back to it another day; played with it for an hour and then, went for a walk.

To continue to encourage my ability to create step-by-step, piece-by-piece with respect and composure is my task for this season – this month as we enter into the time of hunkering down for winter. If I can allow myself this time, spring will be a joy.


AS I AGE: free verse

As I age, I would like to sit across from my mother at the kitchen table, the one with the red and white enamel top the table where she rolled out her dough for Christmas baking, year after year; where she set our hot meals before us every day – except Sunday.

I would like to talk with her, mother to daughter, about our families, our marriages, and her grandsons. I would like to know my enigmatic father, her spouse, through her eyes and with her heart. To hear tales of my sisters as toddler, her girls. These sisters I love and who were born years before me.

There is so much I ache to know, but mostly it is this: to have my mother close by me again with her smile and scowl in equal measures, the sound of her voice surrounding me. Simply to be in her presence; to share our lives as women do.

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