You never know when memories of life will take on new meaning and perhaps shift into deeper understanding of yourself – or someone else. I have just finished reading Sunrise Sister’s recent post about an obscure artist – Orren Mixer. It is a story about art and her mother – who happens to also be my mother.
Art and my mother. Somehow the two pieces do not seem to fit, yet after reading SS’s post, I am filled with an overwhelming sadness and grief. Perhaps it is in the lack of understanding I have for my mother (who died in May, 2004) or possibly I understand in this moment more than I ever have before. I seem to feel the deeper sadness of my mother and renewed compassion. She never showed her sadness through tears. It was disguised in her perfect appearance, her critical nature and her adamant statements about good & bad, right and wrong. Was she covering a broken heart? Vanquished dreams? I have often wondered who stamped the joy out of her. Her mother? Her mother’s mother? Her children?
As I think of those women, I see scraps of fabric. Pieces of quilts and remnants of cloth cut from McCall’s patterns. I have a flash of thought. Did I pick up my love of art from these women - women who never spoke the word art with anything but scorn? For years I knew I wanted to quilt – needed to quilt even. Sunbonnet Sue –the little girl with the hidden face - called to me. Could I relate to her? I have never made my own Sunbonnet Sue, but when I began to quilt I found something that had been missing deep inside. I was passionate about it and spent hours on end precisely cutting squares and piecing them together. I love the feel of the fabric between my fingers and arranging colors like the rainbow. No one taught me how to do that. It came from an instinctive place inside.
Ah, but my mother taught me how to sew. One of my favorite places at my grandmother’s house was underneath her old pedal sewing machine. I felt safe there. I have fond memories of Mother sewing for me. Lovingly piecing together multiple patterns to create the dress of our vision. Was this her craft? Her art? Did she come alive when she created? (I am sorry to say I don't recall that joy about her.) If she was joyful, why did she stop? Why the staunch refusal to support any career for her children that was not practical? Rumor had it, our mother wanted to be an English teacher, but she married the day she graduated high school and began a family shortly thereafter. I considered a degree in Fashion Merchandising, but ultimately graduated in accounting, pushing aside a dulled vision of anything more creative.
I have been told I have a strong sense of style. I don’t know from where it came. No one taught me. I have a good eye with a camera. No one taught or encouraged that either. I am a decent writer even though the art was nearly pounded out of me with demands for perfect sentence structure and footnotes to reference “real” writer’s work. So, I wonder who pounded the art out of my mother. Because as I read my sister’s post, I know it was there. I’m not even sure my mother knew it was there. 'Fabric Arts' was not in vogue in her lifetime. It was simply sewing – something often done out of necessity. Does necessity take the fun or beauty out of our craft(s)? If my writing becomes work will I love it less?
The stakes are low as I post a few words here on a blog; and they are very high, because writing brings me joy. My soul is at stake here. My life breath depends on doing what I am called to do. So what was my mother called to do? Perhaps it was to raise three brilliant children. I wonder though if a little piece of her didn’t die somewhere along the way. Was there a spark inside her that needed air and instead got suffocated? We weren’t raised to appreciate art, but there are traces of it all throughout our lives. Tiny little seeds planted somewhere along the way, sprouting now in the children she inadvertently raised to be artists. Along with those seeds comes my hope for growing compassion and understanding of a woman who was an artist in her very own way.
You never know when a memory of your life will take on new meaning.
my mother and sister
"reading at an early age" - me