Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lake Christie

When I was 6 or 7 I went up to Lake Christie in Michigan with my grandma, Nana.  Her favorite sister, my Great Aunt Jo was up at the lake every summer with her daughter Virginia and my older cousins from Chicago.  Their cabin at the lake was the same one my mother went to as a teenager.  Mom and her sister would periodically go ‘back east’ with Nana from California to visit their cousins in Chicago and Michigan.  To the end of her life she fondly remembered her trips to the lake and was always plotting one last visit.  When we lived in Ohio, we went there several times, as well as up to Minnesota to see my Dad’s folks and south to Tennessee to visit the Stanley kinfolk – we were well situated for seeing grandparents on both sides.  In the fall of 1957, my folks relocated to California once more and visits became less frequent.    In 1956, Mom was pregnant with twins due to be born in early August, in 1957, she was juggling three infants in diapers and whichever the year, was happy to have Nana take me away to the lake.  My Grandma and I were roommates in our home in Columbus and needed no arm twisting to hit the road together on an adventure.  I am pretty sure Nana drove us, I vaguely recall her commenting on place names and which road to turn on – so I don’t think we took a bus.  I wish I could remember the car ride better, I think we drove straight through. It was almost a 300 mi trip and manageable in a day - albeit a long one.   I also cannot recall whether my brother went with us – of course I was pretty self-absorbed and pretty young then.  I remember my folks coming up later on - perhaps bringing him then with the babies. I get confused about which trip was when and have only a few unmarked photos as reference points.  I know that Mom had the twins in 1956, and that we went up to Minnesota that summer while she was very pregnant and that I had my birthday at Shady point, ( which is another tale) so I am thinking this was not the same year. – it’s all too hazy now, suffice it to say there were many visits to lakes and relatives while we lived in Ohio as well as a trip or two down to Florida (again another tale).    Our route to Aunt Jo’s lake took us through Battle Creek Michigan, that mystical place where my brother and I sent our accumulated cereal box tops in order to redeem fabulous prizes displayed on the packages. It was a disappointingly normal looking sleepy little Midwestern town.  There were no gaudy warehouses brimming with unredeemed frogmen, patches, magic viewers, submarines and gyroscopes - only grocery stores and gas stations like everywhere else.  I could cross Battle Creek Michigan off of my life-list of destination cities.  We drove on through fields of corn on tiny country lanes– a strange sight to me since we rarely left the city limits of Columbus.  As we approached the turn for Aunt Jo’s – I was astounded by how on earth Nana knew which unmarked back road was the right one.   The air smelt green, the countryside silent - but for the distant sound of an occasional passing truck and the constant buzzing of insects.  Then suddenly, past a few trees, we saw the lake.  The cornfields reached right up to the backside of their property and we would wander through them on occasion picking their miniature young ears, nibbling bits off of the tiny cobs in imitation of those cartoon chipmunks ‘Chip and Dale’.  The lake had a dock and boats and minnow buckets and all those things mucky and interesting to a landlubber.  Cousin Harry (two years older than I - which was WAY older when you are little) was always going out in the rowboat to catch turtles and explore amongst the rushes and cattails - it was kid heaven for a nature enthusiast.  My older cousins would tell us little ones ghost stories up in the communal sleeping quarters.  I especially remember one about ‘bloody bones’ who lived in their dark basement and crept up step by step to ‘get us’ – we shrieked with panic and hid under our covers - then begged to hear it again.  Being budding teenagers, they had movie magazines and stacks of 45’s in their recreation room. The Everly brothers, Buddy Holly, shoo-bop and rock in roll continuously spinning on the turntable.  I, who had memorized the lyrics of ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ singing to my record player at home was suddenly in the world of big kids and tried hard to love the music that no longer revolved around candy and hippity hopping down bunny trails.  It was a strange new land which both intrigued and scared my youthful mind.  I was relieved to escape the teen’s hangout and wander over to the docks and watch the minnows circling in the bucket or poke at the snapping turtle to make him bite my stick.  Growing up looked way too complicated, and the songs that described adolescence were so filled with sorrow and emotional complications that I was happy to drift back into the main house and help my grandma and her sister make carnations out of facial tissue, tying them and fluffing them and then dipping the ends into a dish of food coloring to give them raspberry edges.  When you are little, you need that sort of simple repetitive activity – the older kid’s world was just too complex.  Nana and Aunt Jo and I made hundreds of paper carnations – I can’t remember what for, either for leis or to cover an aircraft carrier – who cared!   It was fun busy work that my little hands could master. 
I recall one evening we all went into town because the older kids were dying to see the new Elvis Presley movie Love MeTender.  They shrieked periodically throughout the tedious movie, their reactions providing more entertainment than what was on the screen - at least in those days they had a cartoon first.

As I stare at this hazy old photo of me with a twig and cousin Harry in the rowboat – we both look so little, yet we were allowed to wander our end of the lake, taught early to be careful of various dangers, looked after by lenient grandmas who gave us far more latitude than our parents. My Grandmother was about the same age I am now when she and I went up to the lake. I can understand her eagerness to visit her sister and have time to chat and just be together, remembering their past while enjoying the present with a new young generation.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Stick in the Mud

I watched our neighbors leave this morning, the moving van had loaded their belongings a few days ago and they remained to clean up and attend to last few things before closing a chapter in their lives. They lived next door for two or three years, while going to grad school, like so many in this town - including Mike and I. We had neighborly conversations over the fence without much more socializing beyond me leaving them tomatoes and zucchini in the summers and sidewalk chats on our way inside our respective homes. Winter and summer they would stand on their back porch for a smoke – respectful of their landlord’s ban on indoor tobacco use. On the weekends, they would sit on the steps talking to their relatives on cell phones. Iowa City had grown on the young woman and she was reluctant to leave, but her guy had landed a job in Chicago so they would be transitioning to city life. They will miss this town and will likely return to visit and wonder what their life would have been like if they had stayed on. Mike and I opted to remain. Our coming here was a move away from our homes on the west coast and - as Mike put it - really when ‘our’ life had begun - not our childhood growing up at home or close by - but a separate life far away and of our own making. We no longer went 'home' for holidays - were were already there. Our steps were tentative and cautious, we are toe-dippers - not ready to fling ourselves headlong into unknown waters - but testing, testing, wading in, looking back at the shore a few times, all the while edging our way out into deeper waters. This is our adventure and if we seem sedentary, it is because we are wrapped up in our lives. We miss our home shore, our distant and departed loved ones, but we are contented with our choice. My Mom called me a ‘stick in the mud’, because I wasn’t on the move, didn’t have her restless nature, her WANDERLUST. But I am as much a product of my Dad as of her, with his need to work and build. Dad wasn’t a traveler, though his work took him far away at times. He didn’t need a change of outward scenery, because the land inside was always on the move. My path too leads inward, its destination whatever project is at hand. My friends are busy going here and there, they ask me what my plans are for the summer – meaning where am I going and what I will be doing. They eye me piteously when I smile and say I will be here, working and weeding my garden, drawing and reading books and walking around my neighborhood. Yes, I am a stick in the mud; my journey hidden from view, invisibly stretching far below the surface.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bunny Trails

Easter is a week away and so Bunnies are on my mind. Our garden in Iowa is home to wild rabbits passing through or taking up residence. In the early years, when we had feisty outdoor cats, they would harass rabbits on a daily basis, catching their babies to torture and kill and I would try to rescue them but to no avail. Now our cats are soft indoor animals and critters outside roam free. One of the rabbits became ‘our’ rabbit. While a youth, he was attacked by something and one of his rear legs was badly broken. We expected him to be picked off quickly due to his infirmity, but he managed to keep surviving in the wild, hopping through our yard, one leg dangling. After a few months, we started rooting for him - admiring his survival skills - enjoying having a bunny of our own without the upkeep. He survived the winter bigger and healthier than before, traversing our garden on his three good legs. Eventually we no longer saw him, but still found ourselves looking for him every day.
My family had multiple encounters with bunnies over the years, beginning with three baby bunnies that Mom got it into her head to give my little sisters one Easter. I had a friend in school who was in 4-H and had baby bunnies to give away. They were black eared Australian rabbits (-who really cared about the breed – they were Easter BUNNIES!!!) My friend checkedtheir rear ends and assured us that they were all the same sex so there would be no undesirable consequences. There was much squealing and joyousness for the first week. Then continual searches for wayward critters that had somehow ‘got loose’, we followed trails of bunny poops up and down the hallway to determine their destinations. It wasn’t long before they were ensconced in a nice hutch built by dad and located behind the rumpus room, out sight - out of sound - out of smell. Interestingly enough, there were soon more baby bunnies -the ‘same sexed’ parents seemed capable of breeding no matter what combinations we put them in. We were overwhelmed by the nuisance of continual birthing combined with no destination for the produce, since we didn’t eat them. So eventually they disappeared as many undesirable pets do when they have worn out their welcome. Later on Mom tried ducks thinking they would eat the bugs in our swimming pool, they did and in their place left duck ‘floaters’…..our dog loved chasing them around the back yard, they didn’t last long - soon travelling off to happy duckland. Mom was a sucker for the pet longings of her kids, we had lizards, rats, hamsters, fish, cats, dogs, horses, almost a goat, ducks and of course numerous rabbits. Later on - since we had the hutch already - a younger sister finagled getting ONE rabbit, a very big albino named ’Flower’. We all had unpleasant encounters with him. He often got loose at night running at large with his pink eyes glowing evilly in the darkness and making a harrumph gruuuummmph noise as he hopped in our direction. I worked nights as a waitress during his time at our home and had to be quick to get across the backyard to the pool house where I slept, lest Flower catch up with me. I should have kicked him, but was too much of a pacifist in those days. He would squirt us at will especially when feeding him and I confess that I occasionally turned the hose on him in retaliation. No matter how hard we try, we can’t quite wipe the memory of Flower off.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Faire goes on

As I mentioned before, at that time I was waitressing at Bob’s Big Boy - usually with 5-1AM shift. I managed to trade and snag most of those weekends in May off - by working the Friday night before, so I was usually pooped on Saturday’s and often napped for awhile in the back of the booth. The commute was 50 Miles each way from my home to the Faire. Fortunately for me, it only took place during the weekends from 10AM to 6PM, so traffic wasn’t terrible - besides in those days the freeways were nothing like now. The preparation - designing and building the booth, making the woodcuts for it, was really the fun part for me. Once it was all up and going I lost interest in ‘manning’ the booth, selling my stuff, or being at the Faire all day. Luckily for me, my sisters and their friends loved the whole festive scene and were eager and willing salespeople. I kept busy (and entertained) by doing sketches of the Faire – creating more inventory for my booth. My space was between another printmaker who had a little etching press in his stand and some restaurant people who sold either hot barley or cold gazpacho soups –their bets covered whatever the weather. They had a young son who, tiring of his parents gig, hung out with us. I showed him how to cut and print blocks and his grateful folks kept us in free soup for the duration of the faire. The weekends in that month of May provided entertaining amusement for everyone and a unique experience to have under my belt. After that, I was reluctant to do a lot of art fairs, sticking to shorter venues that were closer to home and eventually just sending things to galleries and letting them do the selling – freeing me up to focus my time and energy on just making art. I took in enough money during the Faire to cover most of my expenses – my parents and sisters chipping in on food and gas. Ludy and Jeanne came out to visit while it was on and were there for a day as documented in old photos. Brian - a guy I was dating during that period - loyally showed up as he did at all my gigs, he wore his Lawrence of Arabia-style traditional headdress - wish I had a photo of that.

Here it is forty years later and I find myself in a bit of a flux again. Ageing brings with it a regrouping of energy and attitudes. One of my biggest galleries closed its doors a year ago and I find myself breathing a sigh of relief - yet missing their calls for pieces and projects. It’s as though I do better work when working for someone else – when prodded a bit. I have always been self motivated and industrious, it’s not that, but there is a certain ‘oomph’, an extra effort I seem to throw in when someone else depends on me. So I am sitting back for a bit, taking advantage of this hiatus and not moving with the same zest or zeal. I’m being a bit more selective with time and energy, my eye on changing goals.
Enjoying this warm bed of inertia, I roll over and hit the snooze button and buy myself a little more down-time.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Agoura Rennaissance Faire 1972

Looking over the weekly newsletters and updates sent by the Faire organizers, I am impressed with their thoroughness – which is what made for their tremendous success at the venue. It was a kind of Hippie Disneyland where you could go dressed as Snow White or Mickey Mouse and be part of the park. Costumed revelers wandered the grounds turkey legs in hand ‘pritheeing’ and ‘forsoothing’, wearing the 60’s garb that already had medieval overtones, strumming lutes and blowing on flutes. Every weekend I tossed off my Big Boy apron and hat and donned a laced up vest, long skirt and bonnet created by my sister Chris - my medieval toga were just another work uniform to me. I carved out image after image onto wooden blocks during the week - teaching my ‘staff’ how to print them with wooden spoons. The booth was a yurt-like structure with billowing colored lining material attached to the framework for shade and a ‘festive’ look. Southern California was hot and dry day most of the year, so there was no need for weatherproofing against rainstorms like here in the Midwest where I live now. The Faire was situated on the grounds of the old Paramount Ranch movie set, where cowboys and Indians had chased each other on horseback since silent film days. You parked along a highway and walked over a hill into the locale - thus keeping all the nasty twentieth century vehicles out of view. My first day on the site I took in a load of two by fours and a few friends to help me dig and plant the essential center post – connecting it to a circle of smaller posts fanning out from it so that it was self supporting – all those years of building forts as a kid had paid off. We used brightly colored lining material for the roof sections and the walls -with one wall built out of plywood (disguised of course) to hang framed art on. I scrounged much of the lumber and other materials using old pallets and whatever other scrap wood I could find - keeping expenses down to a minimum. Chris even remembers us driving around the canyons collecting dried twigs to weave together for a rustic ‘wattle’ look on one side. Gunny sacks tacked on the other side of cross timbered railings easily created cheap walls. My wares - being paper - were strung on lines every which way like festive banners. We were ready for business.
Mom (wearing inappropriate sunglasses) and me in my booth

1972 in flux

After graduating from UCLA at the end of summer quarter, I worked at a few different odd jobs and was basically out of sorts, a BA in art history was not ‘useful’ for any particular job. I lived at home with little money and was reluctant to pursue further study in art history as its only end seemed to be college teaching and I was not eager to jump back into that pond. In early fall a placement agency found me a job at a local printing company doing odd jobs - mostly paste-up. I grew to hate it, it was a very small business and I made no friends there - the only other employee being a Chinese press operator who spoke no English. I used to go home for lunch since it was only a few minutes away. I grew so upset with my situation that at one point I was in tears and decided to just quit. It was seemingly hopeless—then I came up with an idea of taking a solo car trip, hooking up with college friends and relatives who were spread across the country. I had a VW which I filled with painting supplies and clothing, a pillow and blanket, and Styrofoam cooler and with a few funds scratched together took off the beginning of November not returning to CA until late December. I returned to the holiday hub-bub of a large festive family and continued to avoid reality well into January. I shifted around looking for jobs –finding temporary work at a flower shop for a few, weeks prior to Valentine’s Day. The smell of cut flowers all day long and my wrinkly fingers constantly wet from soaking blooms will stay with me forever - now each time I enter a florist, the smells conjure up that happy time. Sitting at the taco stand across the street from the shop, I mulled over job prospects with the other girls and I decided to try waitressing – an entry level job with no requirements. I worked at Bob’s Big Boy for about a year – spending my free time swimming, visiting college friends, driving down to Oceanside to my parent’s beach house, making art and applying to Graduate schools. Oh yes, and for the month of May, running a booth on the weekends at the Agoura Renaissance Faire.
I was persuaded to apply for a booth by my sister and our cousin both of whom were heavily into the medieval J R Tolkien stuff- I was not a fan of the Hobbit, nor of prancing around in medieval garb - though I had embroidered my jeans a few years before and did like Renaissance art, Shakespeare, and all things Tudor. They applied and got me to send one in also – (hoping for a booth- which meant more of their friends and them could get into the faire for free and have a hangout there). Applying to the Renaissance Faire was an entertaining diversion after sending applications and slides off to universities. In my proposal, I laid it on thick - giving them exactly what they were looking for. I did get OK’ed for a booth and since Chris and Anne hadn’t - they signed on as ‘workers’. The application process must have been in March because the first meeting for staking out the perimeters of the booths was April 3.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Last Leg - El Paso to LA

Here is the last drawing in my sketchbook -
looking West on Interstate 10, 45 miles east of El Paso.
Flipping through the pages, I find notations about sketches and paintings I meant to do for the new friends met along the way, but of course I was 22 and once home, life got in the way of good intentions.
I had spent the night at Sul Ross State in Alpine, Texas. A quiet restful evening, everyone was immersed in studying for finals and finishing up term papers. I remember camping out in the TV room to keep out of their way. I was on my way to pick up little sister Nancy (15 years old then) who arranged to ride along on the tail end of the trip. She arrived right on time, air travel being a snap in those days. We parked and walked around for a bit - I think we may have crossed the border to Juarez, but maybe not. I was now in ‘big sister mode’ and watching out for more than just me. Suddenly I had RESPONSIBILITIES once more and because of that, the trip was basically over. We stayed at a little motel in Denton, Texas and awoke the next morning to a dusting of snow – Nancy had never seen snow in the desert, so that was a treat for her. Travelling on through Las Cruces we made a bee line for Tombstone, which I knew she’d like as much as I had. As luck would have it we encountered authentic looking cowboys strolling the streets and realized that they were filming that day – double plus! From there we headed up towards Phoenix where we planned to eat steak dinners at the famous Pinnacle Pete’s restaurant that my Mom had recommended. It was a huge place decorated with neckties hanging from the rafters – refusing to have his supper club be a 'fancy eatin’ place', the owner insisted on cutting off the tie of anyone hoity-toity enough to dress up for dinner at his establishment. My Mom had taken my young cousin there dressed in his Sunday best, wide eyed he held back his tears and struggled to keep his cool as they snipped off his only tie. We stuffed ourselves and returned to our dingy motel – our budgetary trade-off for good eatin’ - but it did have COLOR TV – the only requirement Nancy insisted on.
The final leg back to LA was uneventful, the desert whizzed past us as we listened to a new comedy act Cheech and Chong doing their Santa Claus routine on the car radio. Home and Christmas glowed in the distance. About the only other thing my sister recalls from that trip was the Budman stickers I had put on my car in Louisiana – I didn’t much like the beer, but loved the stickers.