Funny thing about that weather. Yesterday on the half-past five morning first dog walk of the day the weather was clear-skied, star-studded crisp and thirty-three degrees. Then again, at the morning nine o’clock second dog walk of the day, it was sunny, cloudless and crispy cold at a staggering twenty-four degrees.
My Reader impatiently asks, Where’s the funny part?
I could not tell the difference, I answer.
My Reader sighs. Then tell me about that BIRD IN A BOWL.
Oh…weather or not…I wouldn’t give that a lot of thought. How about I just stay in touch…
No, she never wanted to be a burlesque dancer. What she wanted and only because he asked was a china teacup and saucer preferably English and old, blue or orange or both. Her immediate vision was that it was to be similar to the small collection they once had. The collection he took with him when he left. When he left her.
The bits and pieces of English china had been assembled, bought and bartered over their years spent abroad. Not an expensive collection mind you, it was primarily mixed and matched, the odd and the old, sets or single pieces found during weekend and holiday jaunts, boot sales or charity shops. Think more a collected celebration of pattern and colour diversity. It wasn’t the amassing of. It was more the building of and the layering on. Not so much a collection but a relationship of the past and present and hopeful tomorrow. She knew that. It was exceptionally clear. He took it all with him when he left. When he left her.
She never wanted to be a burlesque dancer but since he was going back there…to that place where the collection became more than…and since he asked can I bring you something and without hesitation she answered a teacup and saucer, he did. He brought her a gift of one teacup and one saucer. She realized, but not for the first time, it wasn’t the same for him. That gift. Her gifts.
Grandmother’s house was always dark. That’s what I recall anyway. The heavy drapes were always pulled shut which swathed the living room in darkness. The living room became an unmistakable cave when you entered through the front door. Grandmother’s house was always dark, but it also always smelled of blackberry jam. The scent was pungent. It was as if there was a permanent kettle of boiling blackberry jam on the cooker.
Grandmother’s house may have always been dark but it always smelled delicious.
The only time we ever visited that dark house was when The Mother needed her, The Grandmother, to watch The Sisters: Older Sister, Middle Sister, and me The Little Sister. I guess you might say that our visit was more than that, visits, since they were always based on The Mother’s need for a b-r-e-a-k. We were a rambunctious lot of girlie energy and early onset spitefulness. I could tell our numerous visits, didn’t really sit well with Grandmother because, as I recall, Grandmother didn’t really like little children and…we were somewhat little: nine, seven and five. Come to think of it I don’t think Grandmother liked Grandfather very much either, but I’d rather we didn’t get into Grandmother’s proclivities for her disdain of little children and/or humanity in general. Not now.
Actually, there were four of us but I’m hard-pressed to count the Younger Brother at all because he was liked and muchly loved (being the only boy and obviously the heir-apparent to the family name) by everyone in the family even the extended ones except us, The Sisters. I’m pretty sure that was normal behavior for us, Sisters, at our ages but it still wasn’t right, or possibly fair. Most likely, as I recall, Younger Brother was picked on, harassed, badgered, tormented, bullied and made fun of. Constantly. Constantly. I’ve said it twice in a row. I remember constantly. You would probably like to know that The Younger Brother turned out all right in spite of all that menacing from The Sisters. Honestly? I’m surprised.
About that jam. Grandmother did have blackberry vines in her back garden. The Sisters were never allowed to play in Grandmother’s garden. Ever. Instead, we played on the pavement in front of Grandmother’s house…and on the railroad tracks that ran right by her house. The Sisters could only go in to the garden for two reasons: to watch Grandmother walk up and down the cherished berry vine-aisles counting berries (like a general in full dress uniform during inspection) and/or help Grandmother harvest her berry crop that eventually and obviously filled the jam pot that sat on the cooker permanently boiling jam. Or, so it seemed. Funny isn’t it? I don’t recollect ever eating that jam…the finished product…that blackberry jam although I’m sure we all did. Most likely on breakfast toast or in peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Most likely.
As The Little Sister I didn’t get a bedroom or a bed i.e., a proper bed with mattress and soft downy pillow, to sleep in at night during our…visits. The sleeping arrangements were doled-out based upon age. Doled-out isn’t the correct term because it makes it appear Grandmother’s house was a mansion of many bedrooms. It wasn’t. There were two bedrooms: one for Grandmother and Grandfather (which must have held all the family secrets including that jam recipe because The Sisters were never allowed in that room) (ever), and the spare room which was always given to Older Sister and Middle Sister who always argued over which side of the bed, the right or the left, they wanted to sleep on. In my Little Sister mind they should never have argued. Really. Know why? Because my bed room was the entire living room and my bed was two chairs pushed together…seat to seat. It made a nice flat yet soft-upholstered surface on which to make a bed. Of sorts.
This arrangement, my living-room-bed-room-with-two-chairs-pushed-together-seat-to-seat was really all right except, if you remember what I said before…Grandmother’s living room was dark. A cave during the day, and pitch-black scary at night. Was I afraid? Well? Yes. Yes, I was afraid. At the same time, however, it couldn’t have been more perfect even though scary with all the dark furniture looming shadows, and even darker corners where Grandmother kept the night-monsters. I knew she had to have night-monsters. I was sure of it.
Here’s what I really remember: the living room was right next to the dining room, which was right off the kitchen. That’s where the blackberry jam scent kept being reborn in my five-year old mind. It was blackberry jam, after all. Dark with the scent of safe…and secure.
“…The sound of silence. Background noises no longer there… painful spaces of time… Other sounds eventually fill the empty space…”
Other sounds do eventually fill the empty spaces that once filled a home that played the daily tune of “BEWARE OF THE DOG”… whether a big bark threat or not. He spoke openly about moving on after the loss of his cherished dog, Opus. They were emotionally difficult words to read (The Empty Nest), having been there myself. Necessary words, however, if one is as Barney remarked, to embrace the present by saying “Life does and will go on.”
What happens, though, when the sound of silence becomes deafening? I’ve come to realize that possibly, just possibly, there is no sound better than dog-tag music… especially if your ears and heart yearn to fill the empty void two years in the making. It was just as Barney said, life really does go on. It just takes time and perhaps a wee bit of good fortune.
Was it a chance occurrence that I happened on to a canine rescue website; that happened to show a bonded pair who were no longer available; that prompted the question “What exactly are you looking for…?” It was asked. I answered. And then I heard, “We have just what you want!”
No longer a simple song that has broken the deafening silence of a mended heart, but dog-tag music…a symphony of sound once more.
Normally, I’ve been reluctant to besiege My Reader with facts, that particular part of my art researching profession that requires accuracy closely bordering the edge of boredom. However, just this once and feeling safe in the “historical fact” arena because I’ve taken liberal liberties with wording and comments…the curious art researcher and enquiring mind bubbled over and had me dancing in the Aisle of Show and Tell. Let us begin and plow through this somewhat fractured-fiction together. I have, of course, left out the boring bits.
Leave it to King Offa of Mercia to reference the city of Bexelei, East Sussex, England in a charter granted in 772 AD. Such a long time ago, and such a kidder King Offa…he meant the entire area from what is now Hastings, East Sussex, England, to as far as he could see and beyond. Which as we all know was all the land he couldn’t see and then some…, which happens to include the city we know today as Bexhill.
1066 AD Bexhill was destroyed by pesky Normans in their conquest to rule all they could see and all the land they couldn’t see which commonly included…everything. A definite sign of the time: more is always better.
1086 AD King William I gave away Bexhill and surrounds to Robert, Count of Eu which included his heirs and, all the hares that surrounded the surrounds. Yes, I’m sure.
There ensued an enormous wadge of time when begetting and begetting took place (both heirs and hares) until 1561 AD when the honourable Queen Elizabeth I gave Bexhill to her good friend and confidant Sir Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset. This kept the Sackville Earl and Duke heirs (and hares) quite busy until the mid-19th Century.
1804 brought King George III’s German Legion troops to Bexhill to fight any French invaders linked with Napoleon and any French hares (or heirs) wanting to rule…yes…everything and everywhere.
The quaint English custom of inheriting an entire area of a country which included even the pastry shops which I’m quite fond of, but I digress…left Bexhill in 1865 in the hands of the lovely Elizabeth Sackville and her husband the 5th Earl De La War due to a shortage of other heirs, but not hares.
My Reader has advised me to skip years of boring facts because of the several yawns and snores emitted from the back rows, so I’ll just jump to the here and now:
The De La War’s played a huge part in the development and modernization of Bexhill, and in the city building planning scheme evident even today. Having been duly anointed, by King Edward VII as an Incorporated Borough in 1901, the city became a posh seafront resort destination for the gentry of London and surrounding areas. Years and years of begatters and begetters, who had the station and finery to partake and parade did so. More is good. Money is even better.
The Central Parade seafront, which included the Marina Court, was built between 1903-1907 to the designs of Durwood Brown and other creative architects. Buildings were constructed in the MOGHUL INDIAN style: structures with distinctive ornate domes; corner turrets; and decorative arches. Exotic onion roofs with decorative chimneys shouted seaside character unlike the popular Georgian architectural building styles of neighbouring Brighton to the east, and Eastbourne to the west.
Imagine My Reader and I taking great delight in discovering these wonderful artifices on a day trip from St. Leonards-on-Sea to Bexhill.
The day couldn’t have been darker, colder, more foreboding or windier. What did we expect? It was, after all, the East Sussex seacoast in early spring; a perfect day to get out of the cottage and explore the neighbourhood in spite of the dreadful weather. Right. The residential hill behind the train station looked straightforward, and looked straight up. It was straight up…an all-out straightforward looking and straight-up hill climbing climb. We started. Up. It’s what you do on holiday, on a Sunday, in dreadful weather.
We walked uphill for over an hour on steep inclined street after street lined with aged and weather-depleted pastel painted mid-century mansions that breathed cracked stucco, ruined or missing exterior embellishments, slate roofs, and crumbling red-tiled chimney pots. Definite signs this was once an active seaport village and lovely coastal resort was evident, but now was a tired but true mistress of an English seacoast.
The weather, darker and windier than the hour before was the deciding factor to begin the cold and soon to be wet journey back to town for an early afternoon coffee…but not just yet. There was just the one uphill corner to reach, navigate the street intersected roundabout before the steady, knee pounding, toe scrunching downhill journey. Besides that…we were lost. Hadn’t a clue which was the right down-direction to get us back to our now desperately needed warm café and hot, white coffee.
At the top now. Just there. See? Standing before us… please pardon the expression…like jewels in the crown untouched by wind, rain or beastly weather of any kind or season; a row of painted, artisan-bursting with colour neighbourhood shops.
We’ll be dining in the kitchen…surrounded with the savory aromas of a holiday meal all day in preparation. The reclaimed, battered and bruised farm table is covered with a treasured cloth sprinkled with rose images that mirror a Renaissance floral still-life. It is etched with faint stains from many meals now past, and creased permanently from years of being tucked away in the drawer used only for special occasions. Yes, this would be one of those occasions in the making.
Just for you.
Flatware. China. Wine glass. In place. Crackers on the platter waiting for the cheese to arrive.
Oven roasted, butter-basted breast of chicken. Baked skin-on potatoes and brussel sprouts. Par-boiled parsnips.
Flakey pastry, sugar-crusted currant and toasted pecan wee pies, sitting in a puddle of Chantilly cream. (Make that two for me, please.)
And…the one festive fig.
Light the candles.
Pour the wine.
NOTE: Most all of the images I use for my watercolour inspirations arephotographs I’ve personally taken. “Dinner with James”, however, was a personal photograph of James he shared with me, and was used with his permission. Well-known East Sussex, Seaford photographerJames Taylor of jdphotgraphy.co.ukand Ihave collaborated before on another project OUR BENCH. Many thanks and smiles to James as I’ve not only borrowed his image this time (again with permission) but his kitchen, as well. [It seems, James…you are having company for dinner…..! R]
Call them what you will: new year’s resolutions, personal goals, self-improvements, better behaviors or realistic wishful thinking. My Reader has already made a new and improved list of resolutions for the 2015 new year. This IS a new beginning. I’ve read My Reader’s list. It is impressive. No! It is better than impressive it is awesome. My Reader may just may be, by the end of this year, a perfect human being. Or close to perfect. Remarkable. Yes? No…I didn’t think so either. A crock more like.
Me? I’ll settle for something more practical. Comfortable. Attainable. I’m calling my list secrets only because if I tell you about them I know they won’t go any further than between you and me. Us. Just us. Right?
We all have them. Pesky secrets. Things about ourselves we’d rather not share. Occurrences we’d rather not make public. But…to bare one’s soul, to whisper in more than one ear, to finally shout to the world-at-large from the highest hill-top where wild flowers sway back-and-forth-back-and-forth in gentle breezes can be an exercise in personal freedom. Or something like that.
My secrets are really quite simple. Thoughts I’ve never shared. Things I’d like to do…not like a stupid bucket list or anything like that. I mean how stupid is writing a list on the side of a bucket? Also, writing down words I don’t say out loud because I find them distasteful…but not swear words. Let’s be clear. I swear. A lot. Especially when I do something really stupid. Like I said…I swear a lot. Let me give you an example and this is a good one because I’ve always wanted to write this down….
“Sheesh…who just farted?”
Oh, I feel so….freedomized! My Reader says as usual I’m digressing and need to get to the point, which is:
My Secrets for now this moment this beginning of newness in time as we know it to be…now…and not in any particular order:
Sometimes things just get away from you. The day. Time. The weather. A swear word (or words) that is or are supposed to be silent but end up being out-loud swear word(s). Really LOUD out-loud swear word(s). Don’t you just hate that when it happens? Occasionally I do, but most of the time not so much.
The day started out fine. I had a plan and it should have gone this way, and you’ve probably guessed by now…it went that way. In case you’re wondering yes, it was a bad day for hair, too. My Reader is looking for an explanation and I don’t think I have one…other than I thought drawing corn cobs was a good idea.
At first it was curiosity and wondering about a word. Then mental machinations and mindless wanderings took the high road and soon profound curiosity became a fever-pitched research obsession.
It was all about a word, and the word was G-R-E-A-T-N-E-S-S.
A good word GREATNESS. A great word.
Greatness (n.): from the adjective GREAT to describe: A great distance; a great while; a great achievement. Or, used as an adverb to modify an adjective: One of the greats; greatly missed; you are great, I am great, we are all great.
And that’s the question: greatness? Huh?
I’m waiting for the TEDWeWantYouToTalk people to call me because I think I’m on to something. Something great…
Hans Eysenck’s book, Genius: The Natural History of Creativity (‘95) points out that a personality trait called “…psychoticism…chief among those [whose] cognitive features is a tendency to over-inclusiveness, i.e., an inclination not to limit one’s association to relevant ideas, memories, images, etc….” Does that just not describe someone you know? Someone who walks a bit off-kilter with a hitch and a bump? Who sees the other side of the moon on a clear day? The creative person. The bravest person you know, e.g.,
Van Gogh Cassatt Hockney Hopper
Eliot Wilde Twain Thurber
Joplin Bernstein Haydn Handel
Leibovitz Toedtemeier Rauschenberg Siskind
…and perhaps the person whose mirrored reflection you, you and you might already see?
Another title, The Arrival of the Fittest: How The Great Become Great (2009) by noted author Bill Dorris, argues the point that those who obtain greatness are credited with solving a “problem”…in a field of study or perhaps a societal malaise such as Woody Guthrie providing a voice for the outcasts of the Great Depression. Well, maybe. We must then ask the bigger question: What is it all about? Do individuals (or societies) know that the underlying order of life [with] additional hard work…may determine the outcome of purpose and design, great or not, due to choices presented and ultimately made? Then there’s this: Do we find and/or define greatness as a destination or a destiny?
Daughter says her greatness comes from the passion and pleasure that being a fibre artist gives her, with or without affirmation from the professional community she subscribes to. She says, “I believe in me. I just do it.” Greatness comes from acceptance.
Long-time friend Jim: “Greatness I will leave to others. I am content to do my thing and raise my kids to find greatness in their lives. That will be my legacy.” Greatness comes from reorganizing energy, emotional fulfillment, meaning.
I just know the TEDWeWantYouToTalk people are going to call me and I will be prepared to deliver the goods: the greatness of goods that comes from believing. In ourselves. Individually. Collectively. You, you and you…and me.
“Some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it. …
It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience, whether you are the spectator in the gallery or you are listening to the voice of the world’s greatest soprano.
Not everyone can be the artist.
There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see.” ― Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
Which brings me full circle to yesterday’s quote, which continues to ring true in finding courage, and in finding one’s own individual greatness…
“If you know something well, you can always paint it,
Not to bore you with details but the menu was southern comfort through and through: thin sliced smoked ham, Vermont maple syrup laced with baked beans; collard greens infused with pepper bacon; wine and more wine; peach pie laden with birthday candles and what else? Real Southern Comfort.
War stories recounted years of coloured escapades kept secret and retold only amongst this small circle of precious friends. Birthday presents opened with no preservation of wrappings in mind then quickly shoved to dark recesses too embarrassing to share. A futile gesture.
Jokes bawdy and irreverent.
Tears of hilarious joy fell copiously down cheeks and into smiles.
How many times at a sit-down can you sing that happy birthday song?
Do you ever find it difficult to put into words…words that capture the event…that do justice to every sensory, audible and emotion felt? Can you convey, really convey what happened? Can you describe the experience as whole and not just parts of the whole? Can you adequately describe what the mind imprinted, and what now has become a mere block of time with memory images?
Then the words come. Not from inside you but from inside somewhere, someone else. The words are…perfect.
Lyrics to ONE DAY LIKE THIS* by Elbow
Throw those curtains wide
One day like this a year would see me right
Throw those curtains wide
One day like this a year would see me right for life
Rock Hunting on Brancaster Beach
Our Bench Filled Up!
Binham Priory Cemetary
Sandringham Estate Chapel
There is no more food left in England.
Of course! Fish & Chips
Afternoon Cream Tea
No more. We ate it all….!
The Full Monty English Breakfast
Benched at Paddington Station
Poppy Line Steam Train Sheringham to Holt
James and Raye on Our Bench
Our Bench…photo by James
Our Bench with view of Seven Sisters, Seaford
Benched with Penny & Stephen
Benched at Houghton Hall
Benched with Keith & Rosie
James shared his view.
James and Raye
One day back from England found me sitting in the hair salon chair telling the stylist about the holiday just taken with good friends, meeting new friends, food eaten, places seen. After all was said and done, both story and hair trim, the stylist turned and asked, “Sounds as if you should still be in England…when are you moving back?”
Maybe one day just like this…
*ONE DAY LIKE THIS Credit: Songwriters: G.Garvey/C. Potter? M. Potter/P Turner/R. Jupp
Many thanks to James who not only delivered a print of his I purchased to our Seaford Hill House Bed & Breakfast, but spent the entire next day with us. We climbed over stiles, and walked through sheep pastures. James then took us to OUR BENCH, had a photo taking marathon, and then showed us his beautiful view of the Seven Sisters white chalk cliffs in Seaford. Thank you, J. Always, R. The link to his professional website is HERE.
What can you write about…a bench? Whywould youwrite about a bench?
It is something you sit on.
It comes in all shapes, sizes, and materials.
You can sit on a bench alone.
With a friend.
With many friends. Old and young.
With strangers. Old or young.
Benches can be found…anywhere.
In likely places.
In unlikely places.
In surprising places.
Benches relieve tired bodies after long walks.
Benches give moments to view the view.
Benches evoke memories of words spoken…
And sometimes words left unsaid for silent reasons.
This bench reminds me of home.
The England home I left behind.
My lovely and cherished friends.
Who remind me,
Yes, I can
Come home again.
The above water colour is my interpretation of a photograph I saw onhttp://jdtphotography.co.uk/2012/05/30/found-on-all-great-coastal-paths/. Please click on the provided link to see James original photograph. James and I corresponded for several weeks prior to this posting. Even with an eight-hour time difference between our two homes, his East Sussex, England..mine Portland, Oregon we found common ground in publishing my work based on his photograph of a bench…which we now refer to as…”Our Bench.” It is with his permission that I am able to publish my artistic water colour rendering of his original photograph.
Accreditation: All effort has been made between James,jdtphotography.co.uk and myself to meet all copyright laws and honour his professionalism. Please click on the provided link to visit his website and view all his work. My admiration for hisview of the view is understated and…endless.
I’ve got a confession to make: I’m in love with Lyle Lovett. I’m fairly comfortable making this declaration out loud in writing because the only person who reads JOTS is on holiday. (I do so hope My Reader remembers to bring me a present.)
You must realize by now that Lyle and I have a long distance relationship. Very long distance. He lives in another state. I live here. He’s on stage somewhere. I’m still here. It’s not the distance that gets in the way. It’s the fact that we’ve never met. My Reader says that could be a problem. Could be…
There’s probably not much I don’t like about Lyle. I love his hair and the way it curls straight up. I’m not sure if that’s natural…straight curls…but it looks like he’s always in a good mood because his hair is so…tall. I imagine walking into a room and Lyle saying “Oh, I’m so happy to see you’re still here!” but his hair says it first. Tall hair. Hair that shouts genuine surprise at seeing someone in love with you. A good thing. (Please, don’t tell My Reader I said that.)
I like the way he stands. Straight and tall. Like his hair. Tee-shirts. White tees under button-down collar shirts. I like how he wears them. I just like how he wears.
I like the way he shows up in movies. Out of the blue. Through a door. Around a pick-up truck. There he is. Like a gift.
Speaking of gifts. Lyle’s words spoken in melody and sound are my undoing. It’s his gift of thought. I told you I loved him. Now you know why.
I don’t have a pick-up truck but I do have a front door. He hasn’t shown up.
The telephone would have exploded had he not answered it. The Stepfather knew who it was. His mother. She never minced words. She demanded and commanded. The Old Man was getting old. No, he was already old. He was getting older. There was debt. The Stepfather had to come help or they’d lose the farm. Acres and acres of farm land. Lost. You have to move she said.
This might have been the way it happened. I don’t know for sure. I was five. Maybe six. I don’t remember moving but I remember what we left: a pretty house with rooms that had doors; carpeting; a furnace and an air conditioner; sidewalks for endless hours of roller skating and bicycle riding and blocks and blocks of neighbourhood with lawns and gardens. And plumbing.
The shack had none of these. The Mother needed to sheep-dip all the walls before we moved in There were wood boards for floors that gave-way when you walked on them. The only door was on the bathroom. Bedrooms were separated by doorway curtains The Mother made. Hung with nails above the door. For privacy. I remember it not working well. For privacy. The sink water drained into an open ditch that ran along side the house. I don’t know where the toilet water went.
The Stepfather had the old broken tractor repaired, and bought another one. He retired, Joey, the Belgian plow horse The Grandfather used when cultivating and planting the fields. Hours and hours, acres and acres of walking and working. The Stepfather retired The Old Man, too. The Grandfather was now relegated to fixing broken crates and straightening nails. He fixed broken shovels, weeding hoes, sharpened all the field knives and cleaned up after Joey, and always ate lunch with the Mexican migrant workers who had worked for him for years and years. Sometimes twenty years. Like Joey.
What we gave up was replaced with acres and acres of dirt that The Sisters, The Brother and I played in. Hours and hours. Running from field to field. Exploring. We went barefoot. We were filthy, dusty-dirty a lot. We swam in the farm’s irrigation ditches on hot days. We ate vegetables The Grandfather and The Stepfather grew in the fields, and with Grandfather’s help we rode horses.