Thursday, December 30, 2010

Five Things I Love About My Mom

It's been a rough night for me. Friday will mark a full year's passing since I lost my mom to leukemia. But rather than wallow in grief, tonight I make the conscious decision to be happy that we had the sort of relationship that is so devastating to end. So here is a list of 5 things I love about my Dee, in no particular order.

1. She was hilarious. One time, she took my best friend Katie and me to see a movie at the drive-in. We stopped on the way to get a bucket of chicken to take with us. She left us in the car while she ran in the KFC, and when she came back out to the car she looked flustered and said, "Well that was a finger lickin' experience."

Another time her boss brought in his girlfriend, a model type with elongated features. He said, "Isn't she exotic?" to which she replied, "Yeah, she looks like a giraffe."

One time, she put icing all over a phone book and served it up as birthday cake.

2. She was spunky. In her younger days, she dated a guy named Johnny Lemon. Johnny drove a cherry red mustang with Woody Woodpecker painted on the hood. He gave her his drop, a gold pendant of his initials, to signify that they were going steady. He had given the same drop to all his other steadies and gotten it back when they broke up. When I helped her clean out her garage a couple of years ago, we came across it. Take that, Heartbreaker!

She got a memo one day at work that was addressed to everyone, but was really just for her. It said that everyone working there had to take up a full parking spot. She had been parking her motorcycle on the yellow line between the cars belonging to the president and VP of the company.

3. She threw great parties. Dee could put together a spectacular event on any budget. She helped me throw the best wedding anyone's ever been to, if I say so myself. But she also made her regular office meetings something to look forward to. In fact, they called her back for years after she retired to help plan conventions. Nobody could do it like her. She did things people would have never thought of. For my 13th birthday, back when I was obsessed with the local hockey team, the OKC Blazers, she helped me plan a bowling party. But when I showed up, my favorite player in the league was there to join us, as well as one of his teammates.

4. She wrote one hell of a letter. When someone wronged her or someone she cared about, she wrote letters so well-worded and scathing that I could hardly proofread them for her without feeling an amount of pity for the recipient, which was nearly always expressed as a nervous laugh because I cannot handle confrontation. When a friend of hers was asked to retire from her 30-year post as church secretary, she wrote a letter to the board of elders, naming names and listing in detail the ways in which this person had helped them. "She planned your mother's funeral. She taught your son in Sunday school. She arranged food for your family while you were in the hospital," and so on. Then she started a new church.

5. She retained her east Texas drawl. It doesn't say anything about her character, but this is the one that makes me cry as I write. Not being able to hear her voice has been one of the hardest parts of being without her. She had such a distinct sound that everybody knew her immediately by voice. People with whom she had only had phone contact knew her at once when they heard her speak in person. Once, back in the poor days, she wanted to apply for a line of store credit without our adorable salesman (who called her "My Dear" the whole time) knowing if she was denied. So we left the store and she called back to handle it all. Our little salesman answered the phone, and when she spoke her first word, he had the only appropriate reaction to hearing her voice: "Dee!" So much for being sneaky.

So there you have it. Five of a million things I cherish about our time together. I've said this same thing a thousand times over, but it still holds true. Anyone who knew her was fortunate; the only people who should mourn are the ones that never knew her.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Here's a story

Have you ever thought of something from your childhood and, for the first time, realized you've never properly reasoned out the events with an adult's mind? Not like you just forgot about it or something and then one day it popped into your head. I'm thinking more of something that came to mind occasionally throughout the years and you just never challenged your then-assumptions. Ever do that? Well, it happened to me once at least. I was embarrassingly old, maybe around 23, when it happened.

One year I was She-Ra for Halloween. This was in the early 1980s, so the costume was more or less a trash bag or, more accurately, a plastic pillow case with arm holes and a picture of She-Ra's body stamped on it. It was certainly nothing sophisticated. And it came with a mask, too. It was the kind of mask where there's a picture of She-Ra's face and then three ovals cut out so I could see and breathe. It was awesome. I wore it to the Temple, my Jewish preschool where nobody was Jewish except for one of the teachers, Mrs. Goldman. But we did sing a happy birthday song to the tune of the dreidel song any time anyone got older.

This particular year, I was going to fool everybody. I was going to leave my mask on the entire day and nobody would know it was me. And I really had them going, too. The highlight of my prank came while we were out on the playground. I very casually planted myself near a group of chatting teachers and listened in on their conversation. I heard my name, followed by inquiries as to my whereabouts. They said I would sure be sad to have missed such a fun class Halloween party, and that they wished I had come to school that day. Success! I was so proud of myself. I went home and told my mom.

Fast forward several years. I was telling this story to some friends one day in a discussion about Halloween costumes of our youth when it dawned on me that the teachers had put on that whole show about me missing school because they knew all along that it was me in the trash bag costume! You see why 23ish can be considered old in this case! It is not as though I was surprised to find that my teachers outwitted me at that age. In fact, it would have been surprising if they had not. But for some reason, I had never reworked my 6-year-old perspective. And how disappointing for me, now. I may never have a costume that convincing again.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kids' Shows and Art Shows

I know I said I wouldn't post about parenting, and I'll have you know this post doesn't count because I've been watching Yo Gabba Gabba since before I was even pregnant. It's cool. It's got a regular segment featuring Biz Markie beat boxing. Mos Def was a guest star. Bands like The Roots and The Shins play on it. That counts as cool.

A while back, I watched an episode where the gang put on an art show. At the end, they all went around unveiling art as they sang about each other's pieces with lyrics something like, "Ooh! Ahh! Muno, that's awesome! You made such a great sculpture! Way to go, good job!" But then, at the end, they unveil poor Tutti's art, and it is a disaster. It actually begins to collapse under its own weight, and nobody can even tell what it is. If this were the real art world, it would be dubbed ephemeral and abstract and, subsequently, sold for a few million dollars. Unfortunately, the Gabba crew have a really pedestrian take on art and don't appreciate it for what it is. But, ever positive, they continue to sing. "Ooh! Ahh! Tutti, that's fantastical. You tried really hard! Way to go, good job!" And everybody's happy because, even though Tutti's art was horrendous, she did her best and that's what matters.

Quite unfortunately for a beginning artist like me, that's not how it really works. When you are starting out, people look at your crappy paintings and use appropriate words to describe them. Then, as you get better, so do the reviews. And the critiques match your rising skill level up to a point, and then you start doing weird stuff like performance art and people still speak well of you somehow. But I'm at the first stage, so that's where we'll focus.

People don't like ugly paintings. And because of that, I am a bit shy about trying to sell my work. In fact, I'm a little shy talking about art and, more specifically, myself as an artist. It just sounds weird and pretentious, since I'm still a student and all. I usually go with, "I'm taking some art classes." I have a few really nice friends and some generous relatives who have helped me stay in canvas and brushes by taking a painting off my hands, but I've only ever made one sale to a stranger, and that one doesn't even count because it was The Ugliest Painting You've Ever Seen. I'm convinced it only sold because I priced it for what it was worth.

Today was the second student art show/sale in which I've entered some work, and I sold a whole four paintings! And, as far as I know, I don't know the folks that bought them! I can say I moved up in the art world, if only by a few tiny baby steps. I wouldn't say I'm a "working artist" just yet, but this definitely beats taking online surveys.