Friday, May 26, 2006

Window boxes

Breathing. It's all about breathing. My dad sent me a birthday card last month with words of wisdom from the great guru on the mountaintop. The key to a long life, according to the guru, is to keep breathing. The key to living through loss and grief is the same. So is the key to birthin' babies, enjoying symphonies, waiting for the next call of a hidden owl, and, I swear, the only way to match plaids perfectly when cutting fabric for a garment. Keep breathing.

Butterfly McQueen has been voicing my thoughts for a year and a quarter--"I don't know nuthin' 'bout grieving my mama." Most of the time I needed a slap to the cheek and a direct order to fetch hot water. Tell me what short steps to take on this new journey.

My parents took me to see the rerelease of "Gone With the Wind" at the Cooper Theater on Lincoln's O Street in 1967. It was an official acknowledgement that I was a Big Girl Now, and able to behave myself at a grown-up movie and handle the mature content. I'm thankful my parents kept wise control over my viewing, although I resented it at the time. I wish my students would all have such wise parents.

Fritzi has been a presence at several occasions in the last couple weeks. I could have sworn she was sitting with us around the table at the Albuquerque Outback restaurant two weeks ago to this minute. Her enjoyment of well-behaved young people sharing a delicious meal encircled us as much as the ABQ sunset.

This morning an unidentified owl called about eight times close to my condo. The calls were several minutes apart, in a range similar to a mourning dove's, and about eight notes in length. I had binoculars, but I was in my PJs, and couldn't venture too far out into the parking lot. Remembering Fritzi's excitement when owls were nesting in the maple tree by her patio swept me into the moment, even if I never saw the owl! It was a good day for birds as a cardinal sang alleluia by the front door after the lawn maintenance workers pruned, mowed, and edged.

Living with my mother was not without aggravations. She was a perfectionist extraordinaire. Her standards and expectations were non-negotiable, and controlled her own choices most of all. Last week my sons and I picked out a sofa at IKEA in under an hour. It isn't a perfect sofa, but it is comfortable, affordable, and the covers are washable. Plus, the sofa doesn't have to be perfect, and it doesn't have to last for the next century. Fritzi purchased three sofas in her entire adult life. I was along for the ride on two of those shopping missions (1966 and 1981+ or minus a year), so I know what it means to evaluate sofas for perfection. Bert Parks could not sing about a vision of loveliness so carefully selected. Keep breathing.

I'm more receptive to Fritzi's occasional presence and everyday influence in my life. I'm able to enjoy memories that I would have blocked a year ago. I'm able to channel some of this into my art.

One of the most profound experiences in the time after Fritzi's death was opening her box of costume jewelry with my sister and reminiscing about the pins and earrings. This sense of memory and surprise, compartment and opening, sharing and marvel showed up in my work in unpremeditated fashion.

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