The first time I saw Andrew Wyeth’s art was in the 1970s. Immediately I was drawn to the sepia tones in his paintings, the tones created by a mixture which included raw eggs. His work looks more like photography than the stroke of a brush. At the time Monet was my favorite artist and other than Picasso’s and Pollock’s abstract art, no artist’s work could be more distant from Monet’s than Andrew Wyeth. No pastel colors, no blurred imaging for Wyeth, bare, broken and battered was what he depicted in his paintings and for me his art captured something about America. His paintings say something about the stoic nature of Americans who work close to the land.
I came to know many of his paintings and his “Distant Thunder” became my favorite. It depicts a woman lying on her back in tall grass, the trees just beyond her titling ever so slightly, as trees do just before a summer afternoon rain storm on a humid day. A few feet away from her, her dog sits quietly in the tall grass gazing in her direction. Of course, thunder cannot be painted, but the title is enough encouragement to imagine that she is hearing a rumbling of thunder in the distance but it’s not close enough yet to make her stir.
Critics were split on Wyeth’s work. While they were praising the realism of Andy Warhol’s work, they were suggesting Wyeth’s paintings gave realism a bad name. Regardless, Wyeth’s work became extremely popular with middle class Americans. Perhaps it was seen as an alternative to the abstract art that was getting critical attention at the time. The abstract work of Sidney Pollock sat on one side of the continuum while realists like Wyeth and Norman Rockwell sat at the other.
Andrew Wyeth was not a bohemian and he was a patriot. While many other popular artists at the time were active in liberal politics, Wyeth was voting for Nixon and Reagan. In an interesting twist, as a result of his more conservative political views, which were contrary to the views of the liberal art establishment, Wyeth was perceived by many in America’s middle class as a free-thinker, adding to his popularity.
Andrew Wyeth’s father was famed illustrator, Nowell Convers Wyeth who, in the early part of the 20th Century, earned his fame and fortune by creating the illustrations for such books as The Last of the Mohicans, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and perhaps most famously, Peter Pan. Although it has been speculated that Andrew Wyeth’s realist leanings are a direct result of being raised in the household of a successful illustrator, one of the most interesting cubist paintings I have ever seen is a huge painting hanging in the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, painted by Andrew Wyeth’s father, the illustrator. It appears all styles of painting were explored by the Wyeths. Nowell Wyeth died in 1945 with a four year old grandson when their car stalled on a railroad track and was hit by a train. Andrew’s son, Jamie, is also a successful painter.
During the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Andrew Wyeth’s work was displayed in every major museum in the United States. The prices for his paintings grew to $100,000 in 1962. In the 1980’s Japanese collectors paid more than $1 million for a Wyeth painting. Which makes perfect sense to me since Japanese art is clean, pure and simple.
In 1986 sex and scandal rocked Andrew Wyeth’s world. That year a publisher paid $6 million for 240 Wyeth paintings that no one knew about. They were all paintings of a woman, nude and clothed named Helga Testorf. She was a mother of 4, a German immigrant and a housemaid to Wyeth’s sister. The married Wyeth had been painting Helga in a room in a neighbor’s house for more than a decade. His wife, who was also his business manager, knew nothing of the “Helga Paintings.” Helga ended up on the covers of Time and Newsweek Magazines and the National Gallery of Art in Washington rushed to put together a show of the “Helga Paintings” in 1987, although it was extremely rare for the National Gallery to sponsor a display of the works of a living artist. Eventually Mr. Andrews, the publisher who originally purchased the “Helga Paintings” sold them to a Japanese collector for $45 million.
Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep at his home in Chadds Ford, PA on January 19, 2009 at the ripe old age of 91. Till the end his work was criticized but Wyeth was not deterred. “I’m not going to let them disrupt my old age,” he said.
I have posted some of my favorite Andrew Wyeth paintings in the “Photos” section of the Red Geraniums website for those of you who might be interested. The photos of the paintings begin on page 5.
My dad loved Kate Smith. No, Kate Smith, was not my mom’s maiden name or the name of the girl that got away. For those of you too young to remember, she was a large round singer with a big voice who was popular during the 1940s and 1950s. She sang a rousing version of “God Bless America” which I adopted as my own and whenever we sang that song in grammar school I suspect my teachers never really understood why the normally quiet little girl sang “God Bless America” at the top of her lungs.
In the early 1950s our first TV arrived in my family’s living room. The TV frame was a large square box that stood about four feet tall. Inside the TV frame were large oblong bulbs and multi-colored wires. The TV screen was small and square with round corners and was probably no more than 15 inches by 15 inches. It was a red letter day for me when our TV was delivered and I remember running home from school in anticipation of watching the Kate Smith Show and not wanting to miss her singing the show’s opening number, “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain.”
That was the beginning of a lifelong love affair between me and the TV. As I grew up, the programs I ran home from school to see grew up with me. The most popular was The Mickey Mouse Club … M I C … KEY … MOUSE … kids in the neighborhood began to wear “Mickey ears” and sport Tee and sweatshirts with the club’s logo. All my little girlfriends and I wanted to be Annette and we argued over who was cuter, Spin or Marty, the two teenage boy characters in a serial story on “The Club. “
The sun and I woke up about the same time on Saturday mornings. I would creep down the stairs, not wanting to wake anyone so that I could have the TV all to myself. Still creeping, I’d quietly open the back door and collect the coconut covered donuts left by the bakery deliveryman, creep back to the living room, turn on the TV knob trying to avoid the loud click it would make, sit down in front of the screen while quietly opening the box of donuts, and watch the TV pattern until programming began.
What followed were hours and hours of classic TV: The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Sky King, and Hopalong Cassidy, all in black and white.
On Sunday nights my siblings and I washed our hair, took a bath and jumped into fresh pjs just in time to watch the Ed Sullivan Show. My whole family would sit together in the living room and watch Ed Sullivan introduce such diverse entertainers as Eddie Fisher, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Elvis Presley, Mario Lanza and our favorite reoccurring entertainer, ventriloquist Senor Wences … It’s alright? It’s alright. If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching Senor Wences perform, look him up on YouTube, you’ll find many of his classic skits there.
I have very vivid memories of mom and dad snuggled up on the couch and the four of us kids sprawled across the living floor as we watched Ozzie and Harriet, Lassie, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Perry Mason and Gunsmoke.
When Dick Clark’s American Bandstand first appeared on TV my friends and I were pre-teens and rushed home from school together to sit in a circle around the TV. We sang all the hit songs, whether we knew the words or not, and hopped up to do the stroll and copy dance steps when the spirit moved us. We had long, heated discussions about whether the blonde guy with the DA haircut was a better dancer than the dark haired guy wearing the loafers and which couples were really dating or just faking it for TV.
A few years later Dick Clark had a Saturday night TV show. Fabian, Bobby Darin, Pat Boone, Frankie Avalon and many more of my teenage crushes performed. Many Saturday nights I stood at the kitchen sink drying dinner dishes (my family chore) with my neck stretched toward the doorway so I could catch a glimpse of my favorite heartthrob singing on that show.
At some point my family moved up to a color TV and as I grew through my teenage years the focus of my life changed from being at home with my family to being away from home with my friends and the time I spent watching TV dwindled down.
In rereading this story it sounds like I spent a lot of time in front of the TV when I was a kid, but not really. My friends and I loved to play outside and my Mom was always scooting us out the door if she felt we were spending too much time in front of the TV. I suppose the TV was to my generation what the radio was to the generation before us and the computer and video games are to today’s generation. Wonder what wonderful invention is waiting right there in the future to entertain generations to come.
The cabin was quiet when Mary Beth woke up the next day. It was well after lunch time but she wasn’t particularly hungry. She was glad Ann wasn’t there. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the gentle movement of the ship and wondered how her life had suddenly turned into a soap opera.
"I have to talk with her, set some boundaries, otherwise this trip will turn into a nightmare for me," she thought. “I don’t care if she wants to sleep with the whole damned crew, as long as she doesn’t do it in front of me.”
Mary Beth didn't want to get up. She pulled the warm quilt up to her chin and was tempted to just roll over onto the soft pillows and go back to sleep. Instead she forced herself out of bed and into the shower. She formulated some thoughts for the conversation with Ann and felt better knowing she was prepared.
Everything looked gray outside the porthole but it didn't appear to be raining. Too tired to run, she decided a walk in fresh air would clear her head. She dressed slowly, first pulling on a pair of black slacks and then fastening the pearl buttons on her white angora cardigan. Slipping into a pair of black flats she left the cabin feeling confident she could find the door to the Boat Deck without a problem.
The door was relatively easy to find, but not easy to open. Even pushing against the metal door with her shoulder didn’t budge it. Deciding it was locked she went looking for help and found a crew member just around the next corner. Very graciously, with a hint of a smile on his face, he explained the door was not locked, that the wind blowing across the ocean was keeping it closed. “Really?” she said to the guy. Walking away she didn’t know whether to be impressed by Mother Nature or terrified by her. “Definitely not going for a walk on the deck today,” she said to herself.
It was 2:30 in the afternoon and now she was starving. Lunch was no longer being served and dinner was 5 ½ hours away. She grabbed a candy bar at the store near the Midships Lobby, stopped by the library, borrowed a Jane Austin novel (what else would she read as she sailed toward England) and settled into her quiet little nook in the Queen’s Room. The room was empty except for a few couples playing Bridge on a folding table.
Although she couldn’t feel a discernible difference in the ship’s movement, looking out the large picture windows she saw the ocean waves appear in the window, then disappear, appear in the window, then disappear. Deciding to stop looking before her stomach flipped, she unwrapped the candy bar, then opened Mansfield Park and began to read.
She read only a few pages when she heard, “Are you OK?” Looking up she saw David standing over her, still dressed in his uniform with a towel flung over one shoulder. He looked tired. “I didn’t expect to see you at breakfast,” he said, “but when you didn’t come to lunch I got a little worried."
Smiling up at him she said, “You are such a sweet guy," and she wondered how she would have gotten through the last 24 hours without him. "I was exhausted David and just couldn't wake up." "I can probably get you a sandwich from the kitchen if you're hungry,' he offered. Looking down at his uniform he said “I just got off work.” “I could tell by that towel on your shoulder,” she teased. Smiling he flipped the towel onto the nearest chair. "Thank you, but I have this wonderful candy bar that I am eating for lunch." she joked. "That's not a proper meal," he replied.
“Here,” she said pointing to the chair next to her, “sit down for a few minutes.” Sheepishly he looked around, “the crew is supposed to leave the passenger decks when they’re done working” he said. Surprised, Mary Beth said “Oh? But I’ve seen crew members talking with passengers in the lounge after dinner.” “That’s the officers,” he said with a look of disdain, “me and the mates are crew.” Understanding the distinction, she told him she didn’t want to get him in trouble and thanked him for checking in on her. He glanced at his watch and to Mary Beth’s surprise, sat down anyway. She was beginning to notice that this young man had a very independent streak.
From the beginning they were very comfortable with each other, they had a connection of sorts, a mutual understanding, and their minds were in sync. Mary Beth would never describe it as chemistry because that had a romantic connotation and he was a 21 year old kid which left romance totally out of the question.
Unlike some of her other male friends who were guarded and distant, David was confident and forthcoming. He answered all of her questions without hesitation. As soon as he completed his mandatory education requirements, he left home at 16 and started working on ships. He had worked at sea ever since. He mentioned offhandedly that his second ship actually sank. At Mary Beth's insistence he gave her more details about the ordeal including that he and 17 other crew members were the last people taken off the ship and were standing in the lobby with water to their knees when they were rescued.
When he talked about his baby son he seemed awestruck. Still a bit surprised. She suspected because he traveled so much David had not spent a lot of time with his son. He described how he had been on a world cruise when his son was born and the cruise company flew him home from Hawaii. He talked about growing up with his son’s “mum,” and said he sends most of his paychecks home to her, keeping just a small amount in his own pocket.
David wanted to know everything about Mary Beth. He leaned forward when she spoke, as though he wanted to be sure to catch every word. He looked puzzled when she told him she lived alone, and he asked her the same question a few different times in a few different ways. He was curious about her friends, what she did for a living, if she liked her job.
He asked her to tell him again how she ended up traveling with Ann and he didn’t even try to hide how amused he was by the story. He told her he understood why she didn't want to stay in her cabin last night but also told her she shouldn't walk around the ship by herself at night. "I know," she agreed, "I'm going to deal with this," and then told him what she planned to say to Ann. "I'd be more forceful," he said, but she reminded him she was going to have to spend the next 2 1/2 weeks with that woman so they had to come to an understanding.
He asked why her marriage ended. Kicking her shoes off and curling her feet under her, she told him it wasn’t so much that she and her husband changed after they got married, the problem was they were so young when they married that it took a few years living together before they realized they didn’t have very much in common. He asked how old they were when they married and she felt awkward telling him they were both 21.
He seemed shocked when, in response to his question, she said she didn’t think she wanted to have children. “You don’t like children?” he said incredulously. “Love them,” she replied, “I have nieces and nephews I would give up my life for, I just don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to have one of my own.”
Casually he looked at his watch and stood up. “I’ve got to go, we've been talking for over an hour," he said. "I was hoping to take a nap and I have a few things to take care of before I go back to work. The mates are going to think I jumped overboard.” “I’m sorry,” Mary Beth said, “you must be exhausted, seems like I’m always imposing on you.” With a very sober expression on his face he looked in her eyes and said, “You’re not imposing on me, this is where I wanted to be." Sitting there looking up at that handsome, thoughtful, man, Mary Beth thought she heard the very wise woman who lives inside of her whisper, "be careful here."
Before he left he quickly explained that there were three crew pubs below. Mates in his pub were from the Liverpool/Manchester area. The other pubs were for crew members from other districts in England. Usually the pubs don't mix and sometimes when they do there are fights, and some of those fights could be dangerous. There was one place where everyone went and they were all on their best behavior. It was called the "disco." Female crew members went there too so there was dancing as well as singing. "Me and my mates are going to the disco tonight. Would you come with us? It will be fun. “And,” he added with a big grin, “your mate is going with William so you won’t be the only girl there.”
Feeling confident that David would watch out for her and confident that he could take care of himself and her if there was a problem, Mary Beth said, “Sure, sounds like fun.” “Me and my mates will come by and get you around 11.” “OK, see you then," she replied watching him walk away.
She lingered over the book and read a few chapters. She wasn't much for confrontation and recognized that she was stalling, not wanting to go back to the cabin and have that inevitable conversation with Ann. When high tea was served at 4 o'clock she looked for the Colorado couple but they weren't there and she ended up having a somewhat boring chat with an Englishman who made furniture.
Ann was waiting when she returned to the cabin. Before Mary Beth could speak, Ann apologized for her behavior. "I'm sorry to have put you in that position last night," she said. "David was very angry at me this morning at breakfast." Ignoring the last comment, Mary Beth told Ann if she was going to spend the night with a man she could not bring him back to their suite. "I don't know what it is," Ann said, "maybe it's being so far away from home, maybe it's being on this ship, or a combination of both. I never do this back home." Putting her hand up, Mary Beth said "Please Ann, you do not owe me an explanation, we're both adults. I just have to watch out for my safety and I cannot be walking around this ship all night." "You're absolutely right," Ann agreed. "I have plans to spend the night with William, but we won't be here." Mary Beth rolled her eyes and went to take another shower.
She wore her short, empire waisted, beige charmeuse dress with spaghetti straps and beige 2 inch pumps to dinner. She always felt great when she wore that dress and got lots of compliments. Roast Duck was their dinner of choice. The wine, the roast vegetables en croute and the milk chocolate moose were amazing, the duck not so much. Mary Beth had never had roast duck before and found she didn't care for it. It was too greasy for her taste.
At 10 o'clock Ann excused herself and went off to meet William. Peter, one of the dinner companions, suggested they all go to the casino for a nightcap. Mary Beth agreed since she had an hour before her friends came by to collect her but Alan and John begged off, saying they both had a long day and were tired.
Mary Beth and Peter decided to have that nightcap together. The casino was a long, narrow and rather dark room, smaller than she expected, with lots of recessed lighting, mirrors and loud throbbing music. It was crowded, but Peter found a small table near the bar where they sat and ordered cocktails.
Peter was a distinguished looking and attractive man in his 60s. He was always cordial and friendly and she knew from their dinner conversations that he was married and had grown children. Alan told her that Peter literally lived in a castle that had been handed down through generations. A half hour into their conversation Peter startled Mary Beth by invited her to join him in his suite. "I am so not cut out for this," Mary Beth thought. "Thank you for the invitation” was her polite response, "but I am meeting friends shortly." He smiled and said he understood. Five minutes later she thanked him for the drink and left him standing by their table.
Walking back to change into more casual clothes she wondered if she and Ann were the only single women on this ship. It was like the freakin Love Boat.
Yesterday I spent a considerable amount of time typing a blog. I was just about ready to publish it when I hit the cancel button instead and lost the whole thing. It was probably just as well because I’ve been suffering with a miserable head cold for the past 6 days and my head has felt like it has been stuffed with cotton balls.
The blog was about Gabrielle Giffords. I felt bad after reading in the news that she was resigning her congressional seat, at least for now. I suspect her resignation was inevitable considering what I’ve read about her medical issues. I don’t know much about her politics or if I would vote for her if she made it to the national political scene, but her personal strength is impressive as she struggles to keep her head above water.
Her husband, Mark Kelly, has impressed me also. Aside from being an astronaut, his dedication to, and support of, his wife has been noteworthy. It appears he has been at her side constantly, except for the time he spent circling the earth. His affection for her is so obvious and genuine it makes me think that even with everything that has happened to her, she is blessed.
When I read she was resigning, I went searching for a blog I wrote for another site the day after she was shot. When I found it, I was surprised at my focus in the blog. Here’s the blog entitled Arizona:
“We all have different degrees of emotional sensitivity. My mom used to tell me that I wore my heart on my sleeve, like that was a bad thing. I was the kid who cried when the family parakeet died. I was the kid that got her feelings hurt easily. It was always hard for me to rebound from the loss of someone I loved, whether it was family or a romance. I’m the still waters run deep gal.
For many years I imagined immaturity caused this “problem” of being “too sensitive” and actually tried to downplay that part of my personality believing someday I would “grow up” and stop being so damned sensitive. Well, guess what, that never happened. What did happen was I came to realize my sensitive nature is just a part of who I am.
Where am I going with this? The recent shootings in Arizona. Maybe it was seeing the beautiful, young face of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and hearing that a child was murdered, but I cried when I listened to the news.
I also felt really bad when I realized there have been a number of recent public shootings and this sensitive nature of mine was able to ignore them. That’s not how I want to be. I want to cry whenever there is senseless violence and innocent lives are taken. I never again want to not react to that type of violence. From now on I will read the names of the victims, give them a face. I never want to get used to the idea that violence is an expected part of this world.”
Well, at some point during the past year I stopped reading the names of the victims of senseless violence, I don’t know why, but I intend to start again because names make them real, real people like you and me. The next time Gabrielle Giffords is in the news, and I hope it’s because she is running for office again, I am going to read these blogs again and see how I’m doing.
As a small memoriam to those people who were murdered at the same time Gabrielle was shot, here are their names:
· Christina-Taylor Green, 9 years old. Christina was born on 9/11/01 and was one of the children who appear in the book “Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11.”
· Dorothy “Dot” Morris, 76 years old. Dot was a retired secretary and her husband, George, was wounded in the shooting
· John Roll, 63 years old. John was chief judge of the US District Court for Arizona, named to the bench by President George H. W. Bush in 1991.
· Phyllis Schneck, 79 years old. Phyllis was a homemaker.
· Dorwan Stoddard, 76 years old. Dorwan was a retired construction worker and died from a gunshot wound to the head. Dorwan’s wife, Mary, was wounded.
· Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman, 30 years old. Gabe was the community outreach director for Rep. Giffords and has the dubious distinction of being the first Congressional staffer killed in the line of duty.
Thirteen other people were wounded by gunfire that day. Another person was injured also, but not by gunfire. Gabrielle and two other members of her staff were among the surviving gunshot victims.
How often during your lifetime have you heard the expression live in the moment, don’t look back or forward, live in this moment. I have heard it hundreds, if not thousands of times. Yet it wasn’t until this morning that I began to truly understand.
While driving to work I was thinking about a situation that happened a while back. It did not have a good ending and like a scab over a wound, I have been going back and picking at it for months, not allowing it to heal properly. This morning while driving down a pretty tree lined country road, the morning sun beaming down from the cloudless blue sky, I realized my thoughts were focused back on that issue again and that I was riding through a picture-perfect morning and missing the whole thing.
THAT’S when I finally understood. What happened a year ago or a minute ago is over, or as my son would say, it’s done. Which isn’t to say, pleasant memories shouldn’t be revisited, but there’s no reason to dwell on unpleasant, or embarrassing, or unsolvable situations from the past. Learn as much as possible from what happens to us, our experiences will be with us forever, but it’s better to just release them and let them be there, than to keep reliving them because while we’re doing that we are opting out of our life, missing the now by dwelling on the past.
As for the future, of course we all have to take care of the details of our lives, we all have dreams and plans but there comes a time when we have done all the planning and all the preparation and now we wait. It’s the while we are waiting part that is important. What we do while we are waiting. We have to be sure we live our lives while we are waiting. Not spend every waking moment anticipating.
John Lennon was right when he sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” It’s not the getting from A to B; it’s all the steps along the way that are important.
So I will take my newly realized understanding and resist the urge to dwell on unpleasant events from the past. When I find myself slipping back, I will take a look around me and see what’s going on at that moment in my life.
Whatever time of the day or night you are reading this, I hope it's a good moment for you.
When I was writing the blog about Friday the 13th the other day, the Knights Templar showed up in my research. They played a big part in the Crusades which reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago about the Crusaders.
At the time I was working for a Jewish congregation in Albany. My boss was the Rabbi. A group of congregants were standing near my desk and talking about the Crusaders in a somewhat negative way. Well, I was always taught they were the good guys, even the sports teams at my high school were called the Crusaders, and so I spoke up and asked why they felt that way. My wonderful Rabbi happened to be walking by. He stopped and turned to me and in his most understanding way asked me who I thought the Crusaders were fighting in Jerusalem. I looked at him and repeated verbatim what I had been taught as a child … the Crusaders were fighting the Moors. He just lifted his eyebrows and smiled.
That night I went home and did some research to find out who the hell the Moors were. Turns out that term has been used to describe black Africans, Arabs and Muslims and some scholars believe that the term “Moors” has no real ethnic value.
Most of us were raised in a bubble. I was raised in a Catholic bubble: a Catholic household, a Catholic grammar school and a Catholic high school. It was almost culture shock for me when I started my first job and began working with people who were not white Catholics. I’m not suggesting that everything I learned in the first 18 years of my life was irrelevant, just that life has forced me to review much of what I was taught as a child and I have changed my thinking accordingly.
Yet while there are certainly major issues that I have reevaluated, I wonder how many smaller beliefs I carry with me from my childhood that I have never had a reason to rethink … like who the Crusaders were fighting.
Today is Friday the 13th. Many people have been raised to keep their heads down on this day, believing that the possibility of bad things happening in their lives increases on Friday the 13th. I was born on Friday the 13th so I’ve never bought into that notion, yet, I was curious about the idea and did some research.
There is a word that describes the fear of Friday the 13th, it’s friggatriskaidekaphobia. Broken down it goes like this: Frigga, the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named and triskaidekaphobia which means fear of the number 13. The first time this word appeared in print was in 1953. There is no written evidence of a Friday the 13th superstition before the 19th century and it was rarely mentioned before the 20th century, but there are theories about how Friday the 13th got such a bad reputation.
The number 12 is considered the number of completeness in numerology, for example, 12 months of the year, 12 hours of the clock, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles. This makes the number 13 irregular, defying that completeness.
Some believe the superstition comes from the Last Supper or a Norse myth that having 13 people at a table will result in the death of one of the diners.
As far back as the 14th century, Friday has been considered an unlucky day to start a journey or new project.
The Christian religions believe Jesus was crucified on a Friday.
The Knights Templar, the most famous western Christian military order for two centuries during the Middle Ages, an order that was so powerful that it was exempt from obedience to local laws and all authority except that of the Pope, were slaughtered by the church after they fell out of grace; slaughtered on Friday the 13th.
Perhaps the real origin of the superstition was a popular book entitled, “Friday the Thirteenth” that was published in 1907 about an investment broker that creates the superstition in order to cause a panic on Wall Street.
Who knows how the folklore started? I was surprised to learn there is no one deep-dark reason for the superstition. There seem to be a number of theories, many of them related to religion. There has always been a strong link between religion and superstition ... but that’s a blog for another day.
Yesterday I was going through the news feed on my Facebook page and came upon a comment made by a Facebook friend. I clicked on the story. When it opened there was a photo of a woman I did not know lying in a hospital bed. After reading a few of the posts beneath the photo, it became clear the woman was in labor. About a dozen posts down the list, the mom-to-be exclaimed that her water just broke. She had posted that just 41 minutes before I read it. A few thoughts struck me at the same time.
First, here I was looking at this woman who was a perfect stranger lying in a hospital bed in labor and she had just told me that her water broke. It seemed unreal, like I was watching a TV program, yet it was reality.
Which leads me to my second thought, which is how the social networks have not only changed our way of communicating with each other, but have affected the type of information we share with the world. People can choose to give a blow-by-blow description of experiences that would have been private not that long ago, simply by using a cell phone and uploading to Facebook where the information becomes available to the world, literally.
Shortly after I joined Facebook I began having long conversations on line with a Facebook friend. A lot of banter back and forth that went on for hours. One night during one of our “conversations” another person jumped in and made a comment on what we were talking about. It shocked me that someone would actually be sitting in their home reading our conversation. It’s so easy to forget when you’re chatting on Facebook that anyone could be reading what you’re typing.
It reminds me of the “party” phone lines we had when I was a kid. Families in a neighborhood shared a common phone line. If one was adept at picking up the receiver quietly, one could listen to another family’s phone conversations. Families guarded their privacy then and were vigilant about being sure no one was listening in.
Now, myself included, people are having all kinds of conversations and sharing all kinds of information on the social networks. I cannot imagine where this might lead, what’s next?
Angelina Jolie bought Brad Pitt a California waterfall for his recent 48th birthday. Not one of those people-made serenity garden waterfalls, but a bona-fide waterfall made by Mother Nature. I am not a fan of either Jolie or Pitt. When I heard about it, my first thought was what a waste of money. My second thought was she’s not much of a philanthropist wasting that kind of money on a foolish gift, all the people she could have fed with that money. Then I read the whole story.
Brad Pitt loves architecture. A few years ago he and Angelina visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, a famous Wright home built over a waterfall in Pennsylvania in 1939, where he fell in love with the landscape and the architecture. That was her inspiration for the gift, thinking some day they will build a green home over “their” waterfall.
My perspective changed when I realized we all want to find the perfect present for the ones we love, something unique that they might not buy for themselves. I don’t know what she paid for the waterfall, but given the Grand Canyon-sized gap between her bank account and mine, perhaps it’s not excessive after all.
When I saw that Elin Nordegren, Tiger Wood’s ex, is having her $12 million, 17,000 square foot home in an exclusive section of Palm Beach, FL, demolished, a home she bought just one year ago, again I thought, EXCESS, tearing down a $12 million home on a whim. Then I read the whole story.
During the course of renovating the home, huge infestations of carpenter ants and termites were found. It was so bad that one could stick their hand through the walls in certain areas. Even the expensive window frames were so undermined by the infestations they had to be thrown out. I know she was under world-class stress when she purchased that home, but the ex-real estate agent in me has to wonder if she bothered having the house inspected by a good exterminator.
So, there’s a perfectly sound reason for demolition of the house rather than renovation. Yet, there’s something else that she did that has not been widely reported. Every fixture from that house that could be saved was donated to Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity is ecstatic about the donations. If the windows were salvageable just the windows alone would have brought in close to $30,000.
Again, my perspective changed. Regardless of how much money she had or has, Elin Nordegren was broadsided by her ex-husband’s behavior and found herself not only dealing with emotional disappointment and sadness, but having to work out the details of her children’s lives with the world watching. Like many people in similar situations, she made a quick choice that turned out badly. In her case, she has the financial resources to move forward.
As a world class jumper-to-conclusions, I learned a lesson here. What appears like excess to me may be a reasonable and necessary expense to someone else.
Have you ever heard the term, “locking season?” The first time I heard the term I was reading a book entitled, “October Light," by John Gardner. He was an excellent writer who died in a motorcycle accident in the early 1980s when he was just 49 years old.
"October Light" was a good book about an older brother and sister. He had stayed and worked the family farm his whole life, she married and left. When her husband died she was forced to move back to the farm and share the house with her brother. Most of the book is about how they struggled to find a comfortable living arrangement while dealing with unresolved issues from their childhood.
But it's not the book that I want to write about, but the term, "locking season." Locking season is that time of year when the ground freezes. As soon as I read the term I had an “ah-ha” moment because it described so well a phenomena I have been aware of my whole life. Who knew there was a name for it? It felt like I had been let in on a secret kept by those wonderful third generation farmers one often sees in rural areas, the quiet, gentle, farmers who always smile kindly as though they know all the secrets of life. They live so close to the earth and to life and death that I suspect they do know many more of life’s secrets than us city folk.
Perhaps I’m just easily amused, but late last night I went out into my backyard to let my dog outside one more time before we both went to sleep, and the ground was hard. Instantly I remembered being a kid and noticing the hard ground beneath my feet for the first time. As a child, I did not like it when the ground hardened; it meant spending more time indoors.
But last night when I stepped on the hard dirt I smiled to myself knowingly and whispered “locking season.” Knowing that simple little “secret” term made me feel somehow connected to all those wizened farmers and everyone else who notices and appreciates the change of seasons.
I have always liked Dolly Parton, even in my screaming feminist days back in the 1970s. And I use the term screaming feminist with great affection. That’s when I learned about the options that should have been easily available to women but simply were not. I learned to speak up, to point out the inequity, to insist that the powers-that-be make it right and in many ways, but not all, they did.
During that period of my life I also took a second look at what I had learned from the media and my Catholic upbringing about how and why a woman should look, act and dress a certain way. I was a young female in the 1950s and 1960s when most women saw a college education and a career as a “holding pattern” of sorts. We were taught surreptitiously, if not blatantly, that our real goal in life was to get married and raise a family. In order for that to happen, we had to stay slim, wear the right clothes and make-up, be seductive, but not overtly sexual, and be coy and not too “pushy.”
Then the women’s movement came along and suggested we had lots of options, including, but not limited to, getting married and raising children. That it wouldn’t be apocalyptic if we were 35 year old career women quite capable of supporting the lifestyle we had chosen for ourselves. That notion started to nudge the paradigm from conforming to what the media and society told us women should look like to a more personal reevaluation of our choices. Did we want to forgo the tight, short outfits and 3 inch heels that crushed our toes and made it awkward to move through our workday; did we want to take a half hour run in the morning before work rather than spend that time applying make-up, would we opt to eat more than 1000 calories a day because we enjoyed food and didn’t mind wearing clothes larger than the outfits worn by the pencil thin models on the fashion runways.
So, how does Dolly Parton fit into all this? Even though she was and still is, a walking canvas, if not a caricature of the Barbie doll version of the old notion of how a woman should look to attract a man, behind the bleach blonde hair, tight clothes, super high heels, long painted finger nails and makeup is a strong and savvy businesswoman. I learned from her that how a woman chooses to look doesn’t and shouldn’t define who she is; that all of us, women and men, have the freedom to choose the face we show to the world.
I have a friend I have known for 40 years. When he got out of college in the early 70s his dad wanted him to go to law school but he hit the road instead. For the next ten years he traveled the world jumping on fishing boats or whatever transportation he could find, carrying all his worldly belongings in a backpack. Whenever he was in town we would see each other and most of the time he looked like a derelict; shoulder length hair and a long scraggly beard.
He did go to law school eventually. I heard through the grapevine that he had gotten a job in a law firm in New York City. A few months later he called and we made plans to meet for dinner. As I sat at the bar in the upscale restaurant waiting for him, I couldn’t help but notice when one of the most handsome men I have ever seen walked through the door. He was wearing a beautifully tailored suit, shirt and tie $300 shoes and sporting a $100 haircut. He started looking around the room and waved and smiled in my direction. I assumed he was waving at someone behind me but he walked right over to me, gave me a kiss and a big hug. That handsome man that could have walked out of the pages of GQ Magazine was my scraggly friend.
When I told him I couldn’t believe how good he looked, he laughed and said, “Don’t let all of this fool you, it’s my costume that I wear to work.” It was very clear he was not invested in how he looked at all; he was still the same hippy, dippy traveler that I knew and loved. Whenever I think of the faces we choose to wear in public, I think of my friend and his “costume.”