Grandmothers

Recently, in an online Zoom class, the discussion went to “What’s a good story you’d like to share about your relationship with one of your grandfathers?”

I came up with zilch! Good stories about either one of my grandfathers’ relationship to me were non-existent. This wasn’t the first time where I felt a longing for a grandfather (remember Heidi and her grandfather in the Swiss Alps). My Irish grandfather on my father’s side was an alcoholic for most of his life. I have a sad image of him slumped in an old upholstered chair staring out the window from the second story of his house in Bernal Heights. I remember someone saying that he had only six teeth left, his hair was white and sparse and he had nothing to say to a little girl. The other Grandfather, the Italian one, would slip out of the house rather quickly when my parents arrived with their nine children in tow. He had a beautiful garden out back in the open fields of Mountain View and I only remember being allowed to go out there a few times. He wore a beat up hat and overalls. I understand that he was an accountant and wore a suit during the work week.

However, I do have memories of my grandmothers. The Irish/German Grandmother on my father’s side was diabetic. She tucked boxes of chocolate in drawers, cabinets, under beds. One week she would come to visit and her legs would be swollen with fluids; the next week, she twirled her skirt and ta-da, skinny legs. She once gave me a pink and purple feather duster. I guess she knew that I was one of the little serfs in my parent’s house. That’s how I thought of us at times, like a feudal system. We, the children, the serfs, had to do the work to keep the kingdom thriving. I have other memories of her, Lou short for Louise.

My Italian Grandmother Anna was born in Palermo and she was brought to America with her brother and parents when she was six months old…Ellis Island. She is the one I witnessed into her old age…she lived to be ninety-one years old. As a girl, I didn’t feel either favored or disfavored by her. When she pronounced my given name of CHRISTINE, it sounded stern to my ears. I was usually Chrissie. She was an authoritarian figure, the matriarch. I got the impression that my grandfather was the submissive one. She was groomed by her mother to be an opera singer. She did sing in some of the churches in San Francisco. The family had moved from the east coast to the west coast. Those stories are sketchy.

One year, I bought a cassette recorder. Two of my brothers and I thought it would be a good idea to interview Grandma especially in regards to our Italian lineage. She was in her late eighties at the time. I have those tapes to this day and have made copies for family members. When we showed up on her doorstep, her greeting would sound so weak…”I have nothing to say really. I live the life of a recluse.” By the end of the conversation, her voice had regained the old strength and she was once again the final authority on everything, the matriarch that we remembered.

My grandparents, I can only guess at what life stories, traumas and dreams they did not disclose that affect me and the future generations in this lineage?

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So do you have stories of your relationship with your grandparents? How do you preserve them or pass them on?

A Scene

Landscape drawing and painting is a whole other territory, no pun intended.  It is one area where I’ve only started to scratch the surface of what there is to know and put into practice.  There I was, on the McCloud River one sunny day.  The elephant ear plants, the rocks crowding the scene, the greenish color of the water–how on earth does an artist begin to capture this?

In a sense, making art is all about impression.  What is the feeling I get when I see this sight in nature?  How do I want to show a river, contained yet in motion?  So I play…with form, light, shadow, image, movement, whimsy.  And while it looks nothing like the original setting, it has an energy about it that I appreciate.

I framed this painting and it sat in a gift shop for at least one year.  Then, they gave it back to me as it hadn’t sold.  I stashed it…until a couple of months ago.

But WAIT!  It wasn’t done!

It went from this…to this.  I named her River Goddess.  When I put this piece in a members only art exhibit at a local gallery, it sold within one week!  I knew that she would sell.  A man, a lawyer, who’d never visited the gallery before purchased the painting.  He was on a tour of the gallery with his rotary club.

Any artist’s journey with a painting is a distinct experience.  It is a tender relationship. Something unique is brought forth through you.  It’s an honor to share in the creative process.  I really do believe that it’s accessible to everyone.

What are your thoughts…how do you invoke your creativity?

My Mother’s Hands

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This mixed media piece was to be my entry in an upcoming art show.

It was also a challenge to myself to integrate poetry with paint.  In some way, it was a homage to my mother’s life.  The photo is of her at age seventeen.  She was a beauty.  My mother died in 2011 at age 91.  From my perspective, her life had been a long, hard road. I’ve written so much about her, about our relationship, about her relationship with my father.

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One of the layers of this painting is a poem, My Mother’s Hands.   After writing the poem  on the canvas, I remember feeling vulnerable.  I was revealing her story to an audience who might not understand the battered wife syndrome.

The poem begins:

I wonder if a palm reader back then would have foretold
–a long life
–an unloving marriage
–an abusive spouse…

…and then I smudged some of the words with gesso and paint.

In the last three years of their lives, my parents were in a care home, a house in a neighborhood with eight elderly residents.  Another sister and I alternated visiting them during the week.  Two other sisters orchestrated their care from afar.  The brothers remained aloof until the very end as they didn’t feel at ease with our father.

In her later years, my mother’s hands were contorted with arthritis.   Her fingers had trouble gripping a spoon and then navigating it to her mouth.  But she had lost so many of her abilities that I didn’t want to help her too much.  I watched as the spoon wobbled towards her mouth.  Her mouth like a quivering bird anticipating food.

My father in the background would say “These are not the golden years.”  I could see that.

One sunny day, we were sitting outdoors under fruit-laden orange trees.  My mother said “I wonder where we go from here.”

“What do you mean, Mom?” I asked.

“After we die.” she said.

“I thought you believed in heaven,” I said, trying to offer comforting words.

My father said “There’s nothing.”

“Dad,” I said, “I thought you had a dream of heaven.  You said it was beautiful.”

My father said, “It was lonely.  I was the only one there.”

In slow motion, my mother reached for my hand and held it–an unfamiliar gesture.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  I’m sure thoughts of my mother weave through my mind on any given day.  For one reason or another.

I wonder what she’d be thinking about the state of the world today.  She once asked me to write her story…I’m not sure which one…the one of the devoted wife who stood by her husband no matter what abuse.  Or the possible woman who hid herself away and didn’t have an opportunity to blossom.

Duck Whimsy

I love this painting even today.  It touches me in a way that I don’t expect.  The original image was in a nature magazine.  I portray it in my own whimsical style.  The black and white of the duck, the furry duckling going for a ride, the shadow on the water and the background of total colorful whimsy–I find them entrancing…and fun.

When you enter into a painting, when you are so engaged that everything else in your life and the world falls away, if only for a few moments, you are in the creative vein.  What a special timeless place to dwell.  What a gift.  This is something artists and writers share and understand deeply.  Everyone has the ability to enter, but not everyone does.  It saddens me to hear someone say that they don’t have a creative bone in their body.  I know otherwise.  I truly do.  Many of us over the course of our lives stand on the precipice of our own creative vein.  But we don’t take the leap.  Why not?  “I’m not an artist,” is the refrain.  Or, “I’m not good at that.”  I disagree.

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If you dare to take my dare…find a magazine with images.  Choose one that you like.  Start with something easy.  Trace over the image a few times.  Get a sense of what it feels like to trace this particular image.  Then, draw the image on a piece of paper, in a notebook, whatever you have.  Draw it today, draw it tomorrow, draw it everyday for one or two weeks.  Notice the lines in the image.  See if you can spot shapes.  Notice the lines and shapes in relation to one another.  Let your hand practice drawing what you see.  For it is in showing up and practicing that we get good at something.  Don’t strive for perfection.  Let it be your perspective, the way that only you see it, that guides your hand.

Engage with it and notice where you go.

Stay safe and healthy.