Tuesday, December 27, 2011
My Mother the Artist
As I've mentioned before both of my parents were frustrated artists, the other day as I was washing my dishes and dancing to the Black Keys(they have become the soundtrack to my life)I thought about my mother. We would watch American Bandstand every single week and dance to it. Perhaps it was her way to make her soul a little less tortured or maybe it just brought her joy or maybe she just wanted to bring me joy. She would tell me about the days when she was young and she would listen to Johnny Mathis real low at night in her bed because when she was young things were quite a bit different. She liked the Rolling Stones because they were a dirtier version of the Beatles right down to their teeth(yes that is a an actual remembrance). Not many kids my age had a mother like that, but then again not every mother treated their kids like the sun rose and the moon set on them, which she did for both my brother Anthony and myself. If we had an interest she was interested. If we had something to say she listened to it. We were her entire world .
She was a voracious reader, she had us reading adult books at a very young age. I read Portnoy's Complaint when I was 11 or 12, didn't really understand it but I read it. She loved romance novels and when I was a kid so did I. I used to bring them to school because school was another one of those landmines and I could escape, I had a friend Glenn who used to tease me about my romance novels in the 9th grade. Nicely tease which back then was a rarity. My dad knew someone who got paperback books with the front covers ripped off and there were always romance novels to read and probably that is where Portnoy's Complaint came from. Looking back I guess my mom realized reading is fundamental to a well functioning brain and it doesn't really matter what you are reading as long as you read and comprehend.
She was the president of the local VFW Auxiliary. Every year they had a Voice of Democracy contest for the high school seniors for scholarship money and every year she made sure I wrote one even in the 3rd or 4th grade. She was often so proud of my results.
She helped me with my grade school art projects. She'd help me make my teepees and dioramas,it was a wonderful help except for the time we made my plaster of paris volcano from plaster. Now I can see the humor in that in the 6th grade not so much.
We went to the drive in movies a lot. When I was about 10, my parents took us to see The Graduate and Carnal Knowledge. The Graduate is a beautiful artistic movie and Carnal Knowledge well, as I was pretending to sleep in the hatchback of our 67 dodge charger,I heard her say I thought it was Cardinal Knowledge a movie about the Pope(I kid you not). We saw Mary Poppins and Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang(which was referred to in later years as something I will not repeat).
As far as my artistic childhood, she used to bring us to Nationals which was an early day version of Walmart and seat us at the snack bar(where everyone watched over us) and give us money to spend however we wanted. I would spend my money on yarn, embroidery thread, books and music. And another perk is everytime I enter a store with a snack bar I wax nostalgic about the smell of grilled cheese. She allowed me to try and teach her how to knit which was a study of frustration for both herself and me. She never did learn but always managed to find just a little extra money for yarn or embroidery thread or a kit of some sort so that was ok.
As far as her artistry, she was a painter and a crafter. Painting was her first love and she used to paint clowns with tears coming from their eyes and say they reminded her of me and probably not just a few people but anybody who really knows me throughout my life knows it's spot on. I'm either laughing or crying or doing both at the same time. She used to send in those matchbook covers and dream of an art school education, alas it was not meant to be. She also made beaded fruit, shrink wrap ornaments, toilet tissue flowers, etc.
In the end, I read the classics in my 30's when I was a stay at home mom. I would read every book by Steinbeck, Hemingway, Walden Pond, etc. Read the great poets such as Robert Frost and I believe to this day I am traveling that road not often traveled. Listen to Classical music to meditate and Andrea Bocelli to embroider, knowing that I don't understand Italian and will never go to Italy. I came to appreciate the art of the masters and the beauty of all art, no matter how ugly. As I know we can often learn more about the human condition from ugly art then beautiful.
This beautiful soul did not even graduate from high school(humorous story about that too but that one will stay hidden) but she was the smartest, most artistically loving person I will ever know. My son often reminds me of her, he has many of the same traits that made her so wonderful to me. Most of all she taught me how to love everything, even the imperfections of the humans we live with.
To all the mothers out there the education system can only do so much and even less today then back then, so find your children's interests and nurture them even in unconventional ways. And realize that even when a loved one is gone they leave you with so much in your heart and your soul, you just have to find it which can be so darn hard.
I started this blog post with a different idea, but I think I'm happy I was able to pay tribute to the wonderful person who knew everything that was important to me, taught me what is really important for everyone, and who left such an indelible mark that it has taken me half my life to get over her loss.