Grandpa

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10178097_10203713602828359_4070256170263586973_nAnastacio Taylor, circa 1960 The Taylors,  back row: Marvene, Toni, Joe, Bobby. Front row–Felix, Martha, Cordi

About a month ago, I posted this photograph of my grandpa, Anastacio Taylor on a Facebook group I follow, Forgotten Southern Colorado.  I was surprised at all the likes and comments that popped up.  Some of the comments were about the car and the buildings in the background, but many were about memories of my grandfather and my aunts and uncles.  The photo is still generating comments and distant cousins and old family friends have reached out.  I am not sure why I am so surprised.  Photographs are powerful catalysts.  My grandfather died in 1984, and even though I was only fifteen years old, my memories of him are strong.

My grandfather spent the latter part of life in Antonito, Colorado.  Antonito is a blink of a town close to the New Mexican border.  I spent many, many weekends of my childhood there.  Every couple of weeks, Dad would pack a squeaky styrofoam cooler with sodas and cantelope and head over the “pass” to see his dad.  Sometimes we’d all go with him, but sometimes it would just be me.  I could’ve been a poster child for daddy’s girl, so if my dad was going somewhere, so was I.  It was always pretty much the same trip; we’d leave right after school on Friday.  I’d read my library book in the back of the car and we’d stop on the top of Le Veta pass and drink water from the fountain and pull up to grandpa’s before dark set in.  Grandpa would always be waiting on his chair on the front porch.  As soon as the car turned the corner, he’d be out of his seat and into his one bedroom apartment, to call my aunts and uncles and say, “Felique aqui.”   Grandpa didn’t really speak much English.  He’d already be done and coming down the sidewalk before we were all out of the car.  We all got hugs and kisses and he’d be heading off to Kelloff’s, a block or so away.  Kevin and I would usually go with him, happy to be out of the car.  He would generally give us each a dollar and insist on buying us candy.  We always picked the penny candy, instead of a chocolate bar, because that’s how we were raised.  By the time we got back to his place, the apartment would already be filling up with our cousins and aunts and uncles.  Grandpa would start the cooking.  I don’t know how we all fit into that apartment, sometimes there would be more than twenty people by the time the chili and fried potatoes where on the table.  We’d crowd around the table and pile on the couches and chairs.  Every surface was stuffed with photographs and rosaries and statues of saints and gifts and souvenirs from everyone’s travels.  I always looked for the things we brought grandpa—a silver and abalone trout we got in Mexico, and ship made out of seashells we brought him from California, a blanket that I had helped mom pick out of the Sears Christmas catalog.  I have that blanket now.  Mom gave it to me when I got my first apartment.  It is wrapped in plastic in the garage because I don’t want it covered in dog hair, but I have been thinking about it lately.  Maybe I should get it and bring it in the house and use it when I’m up late at night writing my blog, or working on my novel.

A lot of those weekends in Antonito, I’d go off with one of my cousins to play and ride bikes, but sometimes I’d stay at Grandpa’s and go fishing with him and my dad on the Rio Grande.  I remember Grandpa telling Kevin and me to watch out for rattlesnakes and watching him kill one with his cane at the river’s edge.  Another time, he told my dad and  me that he’d just be up the river a bit.  It seemed like Dad and I walked for hours to catch up to him.  I remember, my dad throwing me up on his shoulders when my legs got tired.  When we finally caught up to Grandpa, he was fishing by boulders that had crawdads in the mud.  I was terrified of them.  I thought they were going to pinch me.  Grandpa said they could be eaten and he scooped them up and held them out, so I could see that they weren’t really scary.  I don’t remember if we ate the crawdads.  If my mom had anything to do with it, we didn’t.  She’d cook the fish, the venison, and the rabbit, but she drew the line at somethings.  Just because my dad or grandpa or brother could catch it, didn’t mean we were eating it.  Mom would also spend those weekends cleaning out Grandpa’s refrigerator.  She’d tell him that he was going to poison himself.  He’d even try to argue back with her in English.  He never won though.  We always left the house with his refrigerator gleaming and clear of mold.  Grandpa would walk us down to the car and wave until we were around the corner.

As one of many, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I didn’t get a lot of alone time with my Grandpa, but he bought me my first watch.  I remember going to K-mart with him.  He was all dressed up in his bolo tie, and his church going hat, and his fancy cane, the one with the carvings and colors, and we went to the jewelry counter and I picked out a watch with a red leather strap.  At one point my grandfather was sick and he came to stay at our house in Canon City for two months.  I have always been an early morning person and so was he.  We’d both be up by five.   He’d usually sit on the couch with his rosary, or maybe out by the birdbath in the yard and I’d get the morning paper and sit at the dining room table with my yogurt and Ann Landers and the comic strips.  We didn’t talk much, but we didn’t need to.  We had our morning rituals, but enjoyed each other’s company.  It was one of those mornings, that I saw my grandfather’s tattoo in it’s entirety.  On his forearm, he had Jesus on the crucifix.  My grandpa was a modest man and always had on long sleeved, button up shirts. I’d seen glimpses of the tattoo, if his sleeves were rolled up, and the tattoo fascinated me.  One morning, he was rolling up his sleeve at the table, and I asked him if I could see the tattoo.  He pushed up his sleeve to his elbow and held out his arm.  I knew that faith meant a lot to my Grandpa and that tattoo symbolized his beliefs.  It made an impression on me.  Grandpa was the real reason I got my first tattoo.  I chose an iris, also a symbol of hope and faith.

I am happy that the photograph of my grandpa generated so many memories for others.  Those weekends in Antonito shaped my life.  I learned about love and laughter and the power of stories around my grandpa’s crowded dining room table. It’s no secret that I’m adopted, but growing up it never mattered.  My grandpa, my aunts and uncles, my cousins never treated me as anything but theirs.  My family is my family.  Everyday, I give thanks that I’m one of the Taylors.

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Some of the Story behind the Horses

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My first word was horse, except it really was a word I made up that meant horse.  Doi-Doi’s.  My brother, Mike, is probably the only one that remembers that.   My mom really could never let it go.  I remember saying to her once, “Mom.  I’m forty-three.  I call them horses now.  My point is that I’ve always loved horses.  One of my earliest memories, is my dad picking me up out of bed when we were staying with our aunts in San Luis.  He put on my pink furry coat over my pajamas and took me out on a frosty fall morning  to the big old sky blue Ford 150 we had back in the day.  I was little enough for a car seat, but that wasn’t a thing when I was growing up, instead I stood on the seat next to him, kind of tucked behind his shoulder, with my arms around his neck.  He drove me for what seemed miles over rutted dirt roads out to see wild horses that have been between San Luis and Manassa, Colorado for four hundred years.  I’ll never forget dad standing me on the tailgate of the pickup and handing me his binoculars (he called them field glasses) so I could see the horses in the distance.  They weren’t running, but kind of milling about a stream–all colors and so graceful and beautiful.  Even though I was so little, they took my breath away.

Everyone knows what a daddy’s girl I was.  To me, he was always everything.  I sometimes try to write about him but the tears just stream down my face until I can’t even see the screen.  For some reason, it’s easier to accept mom’s death.  Maybe because I was there when she asked for the machines to be turned off.  Maybe because I got to hold her hand during her last moments.  But dad died alone.  I try not think, “what if,” but my mind goes there anyway. What if I answered the phone call when the accident happened, instead of not letting it disrupt my bike ride?  What if I got to the hospital before they took dad in for surgery?  What if I told the surgeon about dad’s low blood pressure and past history during anesthesia?  Would I have been able to help save his life?  Would I have been able to say I love you one more time?  So everyone reading this knows my truth now.  These are the questions I live with every day. Add the fact that I loved my dad more than anyone on the planet and the result is living  in this crazy place of pain that I don’t even know how to face.

When my parents died, I waited for them to come to me in a dream.  Not that I was sleeping much.  Shayne was going through his first full blown psychosis and he was pacing around at night, talking to himself and I was alert and tense, because I just didn’t know what to expect from him anymore.  And when I did close my eyes, I’d see images of my mom being squeezed by the compression cuffs, or dad wrapped up in white blankets, already cold and that’s not the kind of dreams I wanted.   I was afraid to sleep.  But when the dream did come, Mom and Dad were on an island and they were happy, walking on the beach, hand in hand. There were wild horses standing around in the sea foam.  And I felt peace.  That made sense to me.  Mom grew up by the ocean.  My dad loved to fish.  Maybe that’s a funny vision of heaven, but I’m not one for angels and harps.

A few months after their death, I left everything behind for a few days, Darian in her sorrow, Shayne in his insanity, the dogs, my job, the mounting medical bills, and calls from the insurance agents and lawyers and flew to the East coast to meet with my brother, Kevin.  We sat in his hotel room until late remembering our childhood and then the next day, I drove to the beach.  It was rainy and cold and the hurricane of 2015 was already on the radar.  I walked for hours on the frothy edge of the sea, letting the spray and foam soak my skin.  I watched a boy cast his line off the pier, sinking it deep in the water.  He was tiny, but strong.  I stayed long enough to learn his name–Bobby– and he showed me a blue crab in his bucket. We shared a smile and it made me think of dad.  He would have loved to fish like that.  I flew back to Colorado, renewed, ready to face the challenges again.

When I found out that I had cancer, I kept thinking that I needed to get to the beach again, get back to that place of peace one more time.  So after my surgery, but before radiation, I took the kids to Chincoteague Island in Maryland.  Wild horses roam the shores.  It’s kind of a miracle that the horses can thrive on brackish water and rough sea grass, but they do.  They are tough and resilient because that’s what it takes to survive.   Sitting in the middle of the horses on the beach, I watched the kids diving in the water.  In many ways, it’s a miracle the three of us have made it this far, intact.  As much as I miss my parents, there are things I’m glad they have missed.  And I am super grateful that my dad didn’t have to watch me face cancer.  My pain would have been a lot for him.

The big horn sheep sculpture is for my father.  It’s a tribute to the land he loved and the beauty he found in wild things. Wild horses symbolize freedom, but also limitless possibilities.  And if I learned anything from my father, it was to work hard for your dreams.  I know he wouldn’t want me to feel guilty over his death.  He died the way he would have wanted, fast and without a lot of fuss. He was brave and kind and crazy strong.  I hope one day that I’ll be strong enough to brave the pain of losing him and be able to write and talk and laugh about all my memories.  But for now he’s in my heart every moment, getting me through…

 

 

Nipple Tattoos and Other Revelations

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A long time ago, a friend of mine got a free massage as a door prize.  He gave it to me, because he wasn’t into massages.  I was trying to be a single mom to a toddler and working forty hours a week, and I was awake a lot of hours in the night wondering how I was going to juggle all my bills.  A massage was supposed to be a special treat, but I remember being a little manic out about finding someone to watch Shayne, and driving in a rainstorm to get to the massage on time and thinking the whole time, that it was supposed to be relaxing, not causing more stress.  I was all keyed up when I got on the table, but the tension just left my body as soon as the massage person touched my skin.  I think I even fell asleep.  I remember feeling like I had so much energy afterward, like I could go for a run.  That was back when I didn’t need to exercise and I felt that running was only something you should do if you were on fire  or being chased by a tiger.  And on second thought, stop, drop and roll is the preferred way to deal with flames and hiding might be a better choice against a tiger, so really there was no good reason to run.  Even as much as I enjoyed the massage experience,  I never had another massage again.  But I never forgot how it made me feel.

My problems with my arm started way before breast cancer.  They probably started the night I tripped over Darian’s pet rock and fell onto my subwoofer and dislocated my shoulder and tore my rotator cuff.  And because I don’t like doctors and didn’t want to pay for surgery, I dealt with the pain for weeks.  Then years.  When I started teaching art, my arm often ached from wedging clay or painting, but I just thought that’s how life went, so I was willing to accept on-going pain from the breast cancer surgery.  A small price to pay for removal of a few tumors and a diseased nipple.

Here’s the thing about doctors when you have cancer.  You don’t just have one doctor, but a team.  There is the general practitioner, and the breast cancer surgeon, and the plastic surgeon, and the radiation oncologist and medical oncologist, and just for fun I added a gynecologist and gastrointestinal doctor to my team.  Add in nurses and medical assistants and technicians, someone was bound to figure out that I was in pain.  In this case it was my radiation oncologist.  He is a funny guy, about my age.  He likes ice cream and doesn’t understand how in the hell I could just free paint bricks across a dinosaur.  He is the one that referred me to specialist when he tried to give me an exam and I shrank from his touch.  He said, “It’s that bad?”  And I said, “Yeah.  It’s like a ten if you touch it, but like a four if you don’t, so I just don’t touch it. You shouldn’t either.”

It took a while for me to get into a physical therapist who specializes in treating breast cancer patients.  Now I am sure other therapists could do what this woman does, but she works with breast cancer patients exclusively.  She commented on how nice my scars had healed–this is a weird thing that I’ve heard enough that I don’t find it weird anymore.  Just like the next thing that always follows–a conversation about getting a nipple tattoo.  That’s a thing that some women do.  Not this woman though.  I don’t have a problem with ink, and I have tattoos, but I got all my tattoos when I was super young and I would definitely reconsider that decision if I could rewind the clock.  And I had a tattoo on that breast.  It was my first–an iris that I’d drawn myself.  It was kinda small and discreet, but then some genius boy talked me into getting tribal marking around it and I hated it immediately.  It was big and gaudy and went from my collar bone to my nipple.  When mom offered to spring for getting it laser removed, I let her think I was doing her a favor, but I was pretty ecstatic to get it off.  And I’ve wondered a bunch if that tattoo gave me cancer.  There was evidence of the tattoo ink on the MRI report.  I have also wondered if the laser removal gave me cancer.  It’s impossible to know. And radiation brought the shadow of that tattoo back which is super bizarre.  Even the breast cancer doctor said she’d never seen that before.  Writing about this makes me realize how normal it has become for me to talk about my breasts.  Almost as normal as it is for me to take off my shirt and let people examine the carnage.

So after all that, the physical therapist completely felt all over my right side and told me that my problems stemmed from guarding my pain.  She said that often when people experience chronic pain, their bodies try to shield the area from more pain and then there is constant tension which can lead to frozen muscles.  She said she felt that she could get me back on track with some deep tissue massage and a few exercises.  She has a pretty cool arm bicycle and gave me a band for arm stretches.  I joked that it was sort of like Crossfit without the sweating and squats.  Then comes the massage table part.  I’ve spent SO much time lying on tables this year with people rubbing my breast.  And I still don’t know if I’m supposed to lie there with my eyes closed.  Or entertain the feeler with stories about how my fifth grade boys make penises with clay in art.  At least in this situation the decision is easier because I have to concentrate on relaxing through the pain because it hurts like hell.   But by the end, not so much.  And I can lift my arm over my head, and at night, I can roll over without waking myself up with pain, and I’m not holding my arm pit all the time because it’s on fire.  I wish I’d done this months ago.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the guarding my pain thing.  It’s become a pretty big metaphor for how I’ve survived the last few years.  Be cheerful.  Be optimistic.  Be busy.  Get out of bed.  You can do this.  I keep thinking about the day of my parents’ funeral and riding up front with the limo driver on the way to the cemetery.  She told me that she was on marriage number three and I made some joke about three times a charm and we laughed.  On the way to the cemetery with my parents’ urn.  I was laughing during one of the darkest moments of my life.  Sometimes my jokes are just bravado though.  It’s way easier for me to laugh, than cry.  But I am realizing that it’s okay to feel the pain.  And maybe working through the pain is the only way to find the peace.

 

Sculptures…

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People ask me all the time about the sculptures downtown.  It’s confusing, because there hasn’t been much press and no one really gets why there are dinosaurs and big horn sheep.  I don’t get why there are dinosaurs and big horn sheep either.  The best I can answer is that Canon City suffers from a bit of an identity crises.  We aren’t exactly sure what our thing is.  Florence has the antique shops and Salida has the art galleries.  Canon City has prisons and dinosaurs and mining and rafting and the Royal Gorge and climbing and biking and pot.  (Every town in Colorado has pot, please let’s not let that be our thing.) But it seems like we are still trying to come up with that one thing, that we can draw people in for.  Personally, I think it could be dinosaurs.  We do have the Marsh quarry close by, and the Dinosaur Park on the other side of town, (even if the T-rex did explode). How cool would it be to drive through town and see twenty brightly painted sculptures of awesome dinosaurs?  It would be like the cows in Chicago. Or the hearts in San Fransisco.  But as with all identity issues, things get a little confused, so soon we will have sixteen dinosaurs and four big horn sheep scattered in locations all around town–some of the locations are great, and some just kind of make me shake my head.  For example, there is a dinosaur in front of the social service building.  I understand there is a lot of traffic there because the justice system is there and the police department.  But we really want tourists to come to our crime and welfare complex?  Because really, that should definitely not be our “thing.”  Despite all that, the sculptures are a great idea because it is art for our town, by people who live in our town, to celebrate the history and culture of our town.  How cool is that?

I was really excited when I saw the call for design proposals for the sculptures.  I love large scale art.  My big dream in life was always to move to New York and paint sets on Broadway, but you know I got pregnant right out of college and had to get a real job, real quick, so that just never happened.  But I still love painting and I have wanted to do a large sculpture my whole life.   However, my breast cancer diagnosis came around the same time the sculptures were announced.  I had the idea of submitting a proposal in the back of my head, but I was also preparing for death.  I mean realistically, I knew I wasn’t going to die, but you hear the C word and your mind immediately goes there.  So I was busy fixing up the house, and making sure Shayne was safe in Maryland, and pushing the damn lawyers to finish up the final steps of my parents’ estate before my surgery.  I decided just turning in a design was the goal, and if I got selected, great, but if not I had met my goal of at least trying.

At two in the morning, on the day of the deadline, I made myself get up and sketch a stegosaurus and color a design on it.  I drew sunflowers and put a brick background on it.  This design has become a bit of a motif for me.  (I’m using art words in this blog). I love bricks–the different colors and textures.  I love architecture and the stories and histories buildings hold.  We have a lot of brick and stone work in our town and I thought the brick dinosaur would compliment those attributes.  Sunflowers are my favorite flowers.  I know they are kind of weedy, but I love how they grow in the summer and fall, so bright and happy.  (Yellow would be my favorite color, but I don’t want red and orange to be jealous).   I also love how sunflowers can grow anywhere; they’re so tough and resilient.  As I colored the stegosaurus, I got to thinking how it also represents my journey over the last years.  I keep coming up against these “brick walls,” yet there is always enough light and hope to get me through to the other side.  Strength against adversity.  That kind of thing.  I made the deadline.

I was super happy to get chosen, but it wasn’t great timing.  School had just started and I was in the middle of radiation.  The dinosaur was delivered and sat in my living room for weeks.  Radiation isn’t really any big deal at first.  You go to the radiation place, strip down, lie completely still while a beam of light hits you for a few seconds, then you get dressed and go on your way.  The effects come later, itchy, blistery, burnt rashes, and bone crushing fatigue.  All you can really do is give in to the sleep.  It’s what your body needs to heal.  So as I worked through the fatigue, I painted the stegosaurus.  I started with the foreground first–the flowers.  I wanted the yellow to be vibrant.  So when I did the brickwork, I had to go around the flowers.  Plus I used a modified form of pointillism.  Each brick has four different shades of red, and I tried to make sure that no brick was like the one next to it.  Seraut, the father of pointillism went blind painting dots.  I totally get why.  I don’t know how many hours it took to paint that dinosaur, but I was proud to do it.  It was a symbol of my survival and a gift to my community–to all my friends and family who love me and support me.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed that the dinosaurs have been installed with little fanfare.  So when the next round of installations were announced, I was excited.  This was a chance to make the display bigger and better.  I didn’t know if I would get picked twice, but I hoped so.  This time, I also introduced the sculpture proposals to a couple of my classes at school.  I have some great little artists and I thought it would be fun for a team of kids to paint one of the dinosaurs.  But again, the proposal came out at the same time I was struggling with health concerns.  The date of my hysterectomy was the same week as the deadline for designs.  Again, I found myself pushing aside the sculpture plan as I prepared my 650 students for a guest teacher.  I had a tight kiln schedule to get all the clay projects fired, I was painting a backdrop for a music show, and getting ready for the district art show.  In addition, I was having panic attacks over losing my ovaries.  I got this crazy idea that estrogen might be my superpower and I was freaking out that I might be losing my strength.  However, I did manage to turn in my design, choosing the big horn sheep as my canvas (even though, I still think the sculptures should all be dinosaurs).  I arranged for someone else to turn in the student designs, and I checked into the hospital for my surgery.  I figured if I was chosen or one of the kids was, at least I’d have time to paint while I recovered and there was spring break.

Well, I was chosen again.  And so was one of my students.  Wow.  Two sculptures.  The problem was that even though my surgery had gone well, I developed some sort of intestinal infection that knocked me to the ground.  I considered writing about it, but no one needs to hear about my shit.  Literally.  But I’m more or less back on my feet and I’ve started working on my big horn sheep.  This time I started with the background first, a lesson well learned last time.  The foreground is a surprise, but it does tie in with the history of our community. It is also a homage to memories of my childhood, especially with my father and brother, Michael. And of course, a symbol of strength and resilience.  And I have a plan in place with my students to complete another stegosaurus.  I don’t know the story behind my student’s design, but I am sure as we paint, the story will unfold.  I hope that I am able to make the experience fun and foster a sense of community and pride during the process.

Please take time to admire the sculptures.  Share my blog, so others learn about them too.  Canon City may not be the perfect paradise.  But we wake up almost every morning to blue skies, stunning ridge lines, and a rippling river.  People are connected and our history is rich.  Each sculpture represents pride and dedication.  Each sculpture shares a story about our community.  These are the stories that need to be told, shouted and celebrated.  Please help me do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Mom

10009997_10155809047925171_7819341347342984370_oOne of my first blogs was about my mother, but I am writing about her again because it would have been her birthday this week, and I can’t stop thinking about her.  I miss her so, so much.  I can’t speak for everyone, but it does seem like when people close to you die, all of a sudden only the good stuff remains.  Maybe you remember the bad stuff, but it doesn’t matter as much, because you would give anything for just one more minute, one more phone call, one more hug, one more memory, no matter what it is, just one more anything.  At least that’s how I feel, even though I’m first to admit that sometimes my mom made me CRAZY.

When I saw her in the hospital after the accident, she was stripped of all her make-up and jewelry and her wig was gone.  All these machines were attached to her and giant compression cuffs were keeping her circulation going.  I took her hand, noting that every piece of skin that I could see was bruised or shredded off her body, but her nails were perfect–a dusty pink color.  Mom loved her pink and she would have been so pissed that people were gawking at her without make-up and her hair done, because THAT is not how you leave the bedroom, let alone the house.  She was always after me for wearing ripped jeans and ratty sweatshirts and no make-up.  And she’d say shit like, “You’d be so pretty if you would just brush your hair and put on a little lipstick.”

When I was young, I used to argue with her over lipstick.  Like the night, Shayne was born, my parents were with me in Northglenn when my water broke around 10:30 pm.  I was in bed, and they were watching a double header of the Rockies on the couch bed in the living room.  (One they bought, so they’d have a place to sleep when they visited. Although, I was perfectly happy giving up my bed for them).  The first contraction hit about two minutes after my water broke and we all knew it was showtime.  Mom put on make-up.  She was fast about it, but the whole enchilada–foundation, powder, blush, eyeliner, mascara, shadow.  Then she tried to chase me around with some bright pink stuff to give my cheeks some color.  “Don’t you need a little lipstick?”  Dad intervened, like he frequently did, “Rosa, we need to vamanos.  Put it in your purse.  She can put it on after the baby gets here.”

My mom was an amazing cook, as I may have mentioned two million times, but food was sometimes about control for her.  You ate, even if you weren’t hungry, because she went to the effort.  I’m the first to say, that I’ll probably eat anything, but I wasn’t always like that.  I grew up in house that had an abundance of food.  There was a large garden, and berry bushes, and fruit trees, and a green house.  At any given season, I could have a snack of peas, or fresh strawberries, or a juicy apricot, fresh roasted pine nuts, or warm sugar cookies.   The pantry was stuffed with pretty much anything, anyone wanted and there was always ice cream and my favorite cereal and a million cartons of yogurt.  Because I’ve literally had yogurt everyday of my life, since I was like four.  I could be picky, because I was allowed to be and mom liked to brag that she catered to all of us.  And she did, sometimes she made three different meals.  Granted she was a bit of a drama queen martyr about it, but she WAS Catholic.

Going back to the night Shayne was born, Mom made Dad and I cheeseburgers.  Hamburger is something I used to be kind of picky about.  Okay, I still am.  I like grass fed meat, and if it’s hamburger, I want it bison and the leanest possible cut.  I also like meat rare.  Even hamburger, or in my case, bison, and I don’t care if rare ground meat can possibly bring me to death’s door.  I’ve been known to eat it raw and I pretty much always take a taste raw if I’m cooking it myself.  (I haven’t died yet, although with this lingering intestinal infection, I’m sort of wondering if I’ve had raw meat lately?  I don’t think so…..)But mom and I argued about the way my meat was cooked for decades.  So on that night, she thoroughly cooked my burger, so it was basically on the fringe of being burnt.  I ate it becase she told me that I was ungrateful and pulled out the waterworks.  No one told me that puking sometimes comes with labor, so I thought I was just sick from eating overcooked meat.  I threw up for a couple of hours after dinner.  Mom took pictures.  There’s one in Shayne’s baby album.  I wasn’t wearing lipstick, but she made me hold my hair back. So, so Mom–“Smile for the camera, even if you are throwing up.”

As I got older, I quit arguing with mom about all that stuff and just kind of accepted that’s who she was.  (It only took a little therapy;). )And I’d give anything to just have one more minute with her.  I’d put on lipstick and nylons and blow dry my hair and get a full set of nails;  I’d eat well done meat and wear uncomfortable shoes.  I would even iron my underwear and wear it, if it would bring her back to me for a single second.  Because when it comes right down to it, all the good, generous, kind, loving, self-sacrificing things are what I miss about mom.  Right now, while I’ve been so sick, she’d have been over here everyday, polishing up the silver, scrubbing the tub, boiling up every recipe she could think of to settle my stomach.  She’d probably have loved my blog and printed off every entry and laminated them to stick on the refrigerator.  She loved me, even if I didn’t always do the things the way she thought they should be done.  And yeah, sometimes she did make me crazy, but she made me a lot more that just that.  Because of her, I learned to be thoughtful, kind, generous, and tolerant.  So instead of being sad about her being gone, I’m going to try to remember her by doing something she would have done–maybe I’ll get the kids some shoes, or give a homeless dude twenty dollars, or light a candle at church for the recent school shooting or the storms in the East, or maybe all of those things.  Most of all, I’m going to think back on her with love and laughter and remember how beautiful she was on the inside as well as the out.  Happy Birthday, Mamacita.

Noise

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When I was a kid, I remember sitting next to my mom and dad in the crowded gymnasium of my elementary school listening to adults argue how to spend PTO dollars. Lots of people wanted to replace the drab, and dusty stage curtains.  I will never forget this man standing up and saying, “If we spend the money on curtains, in ten years we will have curtains that look just like the drab and dirty ones, we have now.  If we bring an art program to our school, our kids will have that learning for the rest of their lives.”  People stood up and clapped and cheered, so we got visiting artists, instead of new curtains.  I got to go outside with my class, sketch book in hand and sit in the dirt on a bright spring day and try to bring something to life on the page.  I sketched a mailbox made of wood.  The visiting artist looked over my shoulder and said, “You are doing very well, I can see the texture and the shadows.”  I didn’t know that I could draw until that moment.  That man literally changed my life.  I was nine years old.

I let art slip from my life in my twenties.  I was working way too hard to survive.  And it’s super hard to paint or draw with a toddler crawling over the canvas, so I just gradually quit doing art.  I took a job as a English teacher because I’ve always liked to write and read and it seemed like a good, grown up job.  But I never really liked teaching English much.  When I’d pack 100 essays to read over the weekend, I felt like that’s exactly what hell might be like.   And I’d look at the writing kids did and I wouldn’t even know where to start.  They all thought they were e. e. cummings, with their punctuation all eschew.  And I’d seriously, think, “How do you not know this shit?”

My breaking point was after teaching The Diary of Anne Frank for the twenty-ninth time.  We read the play and watched the movie and I snapped off the video and started plopping the test down on the desks and I realized some of the kids were crying.  I’d gotten so desensitized to the power of the story that I forgotten that kids had just witnessed a girl their own age perish in a senseless slaughter.  I needed to do something else.

I went to my HR director and said, “Is there something else I can teach, because I can’t do this for one more day.”

He said, “Well, you have a lot of art credits.There will be art openings.”

I didn’t know if that would be any better,  but I thought I’d give it a try.  I took a college art class, just to refresh my skills.  Our teacher had us do a self portrait.  She took mine and pinned it up on the board.  It was hands down an exact replica of myself and I remembered suddenly that I could draw.  It was like an epiphany and I remembered that I’d actually wanted to be an artist once upon a time and move to New York and paint sets on Broadway.  Maybe being an art teacher wouldn’t be so bad.

Being an artist and being an art teacher are not the SAME thing at all.  Most kids aren’t natural artists, but they think they are and I think my job is to build them up, not break their spirits.  So my philosophy is that it’s about the process, not the product.  Although I provide lots of steps that make the product attainable for most kids.  And I am brave and crazy enough to bring it all out—glue, scissors, paint, clay, glaze, yarn, magazines, and even glitter.  My room is messy and chaotic and kids take risks.  The noise is deafening at times.  They pound their clay on the tables and exclaim over new colors they make with paint and just make noises because they’re kids and happy.  And the incessant questions– Miss Taylor, can you look at this?  Am I doing this right?  How do you make elephants have wrinkles?  Can you show me how to make things look far away?  How do I make things look close up?  Are zebras black with white stripes or white with black stripes.  Miss Taylor, are you married?  (What?  How does that have to do with anything?).   And I think the only way to retain my sanity is to run away a to silent retreat in the hills of Tibet.   But the kids see me in the hall and say–WE HAVE ART TODAY!  They hug me and high five me.  They write me letters and bring me drawings and drag their parents over to me in the grocery store.   They build me up.

On the best of days, I’m exhausted.  But this year has been harder than usual.  There was the immense fatigue of radiation, and some other health issues.  Truth be told, I’ve probably never properly grieved all the losses I’ve experienced in the last few years, and sometimes I think I might be mildly depressed.  Mostly, I try to employ an attitude that if I fake being happy enough, I will be, but it’s been harder this year.  And more and more I wonder why the kids can’t just shut up.  And I wonder if what I do even matters.  Is knowing primary colors important?  Is learning how to glaze a pot gonna change the world?  Why am I doing what I’m doing if it doesn’t ever matter in the big scheme of life?  So not only was the break for my health, but also to rekindle my passion for the work that I am doing.

When my substitute texted me about the incessant talking and that two boys made play doh penises, I just laughed.  Yep.  Kids do stuff like that.  Every damn day.  I thought about myself, sitting crossed legged in the dirt, my feet asleep underneath me, as I drew the mailbox with great detail. I’m not ready to go back to work yet, physically or mentally.  But I will be. There will always be days when I’m going to wish the kids would just sit down and color quietly.  But more often, there will be days when the kids are buzzing with the noise of wonder and excitement.  I know they won’t all grow up to be artists; but  with a little help, and a little guidance, I hope their discoveries and creativity will bring them joy for the rest of their lives.

Daily Prompt: Noise

49

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I turn 49 this week.  49 reminds me of 3rd grade and learning multiplication facts. I had such a mental block on 7 times 7.  Mom would quiz me on “seven sevens” randomly-like when she’d be driving me to gymnastics, or handing me a snack.  While I was thinking about that memory,  I remembered being a really little kid and having a strong visual of age being a staircase.  All the people in the world were somewhere on the staircase.  It wasn’t crowded of course, because I was so little my vision of the world population didn’t go much past my family.  Each year, you took one step up and I was about to be on four.  I remember thinking how grown up I’d be when I got to the number 7 step.  I ran to the kitchen to ask my mom how old she was because I wanted to know her step number.  She told me and I tried to rattle off my staircase analogy and she shooed me off to play, because she was always too busy, cooking or cleaning.  Truth be told, my excessive imagination was always a bit much for her.  My dad would have listened and probably got out some paper and pencils so I could make a picture of it.  He delighted in my nonsense. I think I thought the staircase went to one hundred and ended in Heaven, because all things end in Heaven when you are three and raised Catholic.

Thinking about all that made me realize that turning 49 means I’m about to have lived “seven sevens” (to use one of mom’s expressions).  I wondered if I could look at my life in those seven stages and come up with fun little titles.  (I do this kind of shit all the time, ask James).  But losing major organs and fighting an infection that has knocked me to the ground distracted me from being my best creative self and I didn’t really come up with fun titles.  But I do think there is something to looking back like that and it’s kind of interesting especially since I took a memoir writing class recently and I’ve been playing around with writing bits about my life.  I can definitely see how each of my seven has  a quality of a story.

If I concentrated on 14-21, I could definitely write about what it was like to be coming of age in the eighties.  It would be fun to stroll down the memories–like listening to the album Thriller with my cousin Becky when we were at her son, Larry’s, tee-ball game.  And cruising Main Street in Alamosa with my cousin, Jackie, and listening to the radio up loud. And falling in love for the first time with that Abbey boy, Matt.  And learning how to cement friendships with women like I was taught at St. Scholastica.  And discovering that Pam was my sister for life.  And stepping away from the comfort of my mom’s kitchen and my dad’s protection when I left home for the first time.   Writing about 35-42 would be fun too.  It would be more introspective about being a single mom, and finding my groove in education, and surrounding myself with good friends, and coming to a place of absolute devotion to family, and really learning how to trust and accept love from a man.  Writing about this last seven years, mmmm, maybe not so fun.  This has been a period of challenges and tribulations, for sure.  But there are definite bright spots, James, teaching art, remembering my writing voice, traveling, making unexpected new and wonderful friends, watching Darian become a resilient, young woman, and of course, Charlie ;).  Really all seven sevens would be interesting to explore and reminisce over.  And I’m sure I’d have great fun coming up with themes and lessons learned and writing an epic saga.  Because, really, I am that big of a geek.

Birthdays do this to me.  They make me take stock and see where I’ve been over the last year and what comes next.  If I’ve learned anything though, it’s about taking life one day at a time, because you never really know what’s ahead.  It’s a good idea to enjoy what’s right here today.  That being said, I am expecting a giant surprise party for 50.  So all you planners out there, start working on it, because I want to celebrate BIG.