Garden of Steel Magnolias

Mother’s Day

One of my earliest memories is of going out the back door to the camellia bushes before going to church on Mother’s Day. My mother always cut red camellias for my sisters and me, and another for herself.  I remember the year that she cut a white one for herself. When I asked why, she answered that white was for a mother who had passed away. I remember thinking at her funeral that now I had to wear a white camellia on Mother’s Day.

My mother was an enigma when I was little. She slept from the time my brother and sisters left for school to the time they got home in the afternoon. I didn’t recognize the signs of depression for a few decades, despite being immersed in it myself since my teens. Every so often, I could rouse her to talk to me about the plants she loved, but it often made her yearn for an acre of deep, dark, earth that would respond to her touch, rather than the red clay of our Atlanta back yard. I hated to make her sad.

When I was in college, my mother convinced my father to let her take art courses at the same women’s college I attended. She bloomed there in a way I had never seen before. My mother was intelligent, with an intellectual curiosity and love of learning she passed on to me and my siblings. She excelled in art, enjoying every medium, but falling in love with textiles and pottery. I remember seeing her with her friends in the campus center, laughing and smiling, as she shared some hard-won life lessons with them.

After my mother’s death, my sister found hundreds of pictures that had been kept in the attic for decades, all dating from before my parents’ marriage. Neither she nor I had ever seen them before. The mother we knew was quiet, almost dour. She did not complain, but she did not seem to enjoy her life. These pictures showed a vibrant, laughing young woman having dinner with friends, or shockingly, posing with a young serviceman whose hat she had placed on her own head. The serviceman was not our father, either.  

In them I saw the smile from her college years. I recognized that young woman, confident and smiling with her friends, vibrant and playful. I often wonder what happened to that young woman in the intervening years. My guess is that she was forced to choose between marrying and taking care of a husband and children or staying unmarried and taking care of her parents. I think she would have chosen to live alone until her mid- or late-twenties, something that is no longer unusual. I write about women in the middle ages with limited choices about how to live their lives, yet am surprised at the lack of choices my mother had in the middle of the 20th century. Perhaps I am not the only one born in the wrong century.

 

Beauty of A Woman, Garden of Steel Magnolias

Love Letter to My Wrinkles #BOAW2015

August McLaughlin Beauty of a Woman

I offer my reflections as part of August McLaughlin’s Beauty of A Woman Blogfest.  Go here to read other posts in the blogfest and a chance to win exciting prizes.

A few weeks ago, I found my passport picture from college.  I will admit that my first reaction was dismay at the changes I saw in the mirror. My second reaction was how much I dislike people immediately judging others by their appearance.  I have endeavored not to do so in my life, but realized I was judging myself harshly. Today, I stood before the mirror and wrote my acceptance of one of my “flaws.”

Dear wrinkles,

Today I looked at you without allowing my eyes to glide past you, as I so often do when checking my makeup or brushing my hair. I looked at you with loving acceptance. First I noticed my eyes. I will not call you crows-feet, you wrinkles at the corners of my eyes, as you do not remind me of crows, but of the years of smiles given my parents, siblings, husband, children, grandchildren, friends, and strangers. You provide the context, the setting, through which my spirit shines.

Next I noticed you, wrinkles bracketing my mouth, serving as a reminder of the polarity of life, the tension between happiness and anxiety, both mirrored in your folds. You are a testament to the pleasure and closeness of shared laughter and smiles. However, when I crease my face with worry, you are a visible admonition to release what I cannot control.  I gradually feel the effort of contracting those muscles, and force myself to breathe, to relax, to let go.

A few years ago, I saw a college classmate whose face was bare of wrinkles, her flesh stretched over her cheekbones as if she were twenty-five, not twice that age.  I realized then that you, my dearest wrinkles, carry the character of a person. You are part of me as much as my brown eyes or short stature.  You are my history, carved visibly in my flesh, the official documents of my life more than any birth or marriage certificates set down on paper.  How could I not love you?

With all my heart,

Elizabeth

EM

Garden of Steel Magnolias, WIPpet Wednesday

WIPpet Wednesday Christine the child

Flipping to another WIP, a novella based on the life of Christine de Pizan (1364-1431), the first woman in France to make a living as an author. I give you 18 sentences, adding 9+10, and well, minus 1, because that’s where the piece stops.

If you want to join in, post a snippet from a current WIP that has some connection to the date, and link to the blog hop here. It is hosted by K L Schwengel–thank you!

“Christine, please pay attention to your spinning. It is a disaster, yet you refuse to learn. You must use both your hands in concert.” Christine thought, Synchronicity, like Papa explained about the celestial spheres.

Her mother continued her rant, “Look at the lumps in your wool! Your father thinks he can make you into a scholar, stuffing your head full of Latin and science. It’s not right for a woman to know how to write. How we will ever find a husband for you, I do not know!”

I’ll find my own husband, Christine thought. Stifling a yawn at the perennial argument, she searched through her Latin in a familiar game. Oscitate, yes, that’s yawning, she smiled to herself. Out loud, she said dutifully, “Yes, maman, I will try harder.” She picked up more roving to bear out her promise.

She loved her maman, but she wanted more than her mother’s life.  Christine yearned to be a scientist like her father, famous at the French court for his knowledge of astrology and the humours of the body.   She wanted to discover whether the pestilence that had ravaged the world was due to the conjunction of three planets, as some thought, or from a miasma, a mala aria in her native Italian. She would be as famous as her father, some day, and not for her spinning. She would be a new sort of woman.

EM

 

Garden of Steel Magnolias

BOAW The most beautiful woman I ever met

Closeup decorative grunge vintage woman with beautiful long hair

This year I am taking part in August McLaughlin‘s Beauty of A Woman BlogFest.  She will list links to all of the blogs participating in the fest on her blog. Stop by for fun, inspiration, laughs and more. You may also win one of two $50 gift cards, so go on over—after you’ve read this post.

Among her topics, August suggested the most beautiful woman you’ve ever met.  I met that woman, whom I will call Kathryn, when I was a sophomore in college, at a small women’s college in the South.  I had gone to college a year early, and felt a bit like a misfit, so when I noticed Kathryn sitting alone in the dining hall, I asked if I could sit with her.  When Kathryn looked up at me, I realized in part why others were avoiding her. Her face was oddly misshapen, with a very small jaw, and her hands were knotted as though arthritic.  Although several women stared covertly at her, no one was obvious, and all were well-mannered enough not to say anything mean to her.  However, it was clear from the space everyone left around her that they were uncomfortable.  While I noticed this difference about Kathryn, I am drawn to people’s eyes.  Her eyes were clear and beautiful.  My mother always said the eyes were windows to the soul, and that old canard was true in Kathryn’s case.  There were depths of pain and wisdom in them, but her wit and kindness also shone through them, pure and blue as the sky after a snowstorm.

Kathryn smiled and invited me to sit at the table.  I learned that she was several years younger than most freshman, which created a further bond between us.  Intelligent and quick-witted, she seemed to ignore the combined avoidances and sideways glances of the women around us.  We found several areas of common interest and similar backgrounds during that meal and many others that followed. We came to be friends, although several of my other friends continued to avoid her.  There was always a space around her, a sort of benign neglect zone that moved with her.  Despite this reaction, Kathryn never felt anyone was unkind, saying she realized how different she looked and it was normal for people to shy away from her.

After a few weeks, she told me that she suffered from Progeria, which is a rare, rapid-aging disease.  Most people with the disease do not live beyond their teens, which is why she had gone to college early.  When I replied that I couldn’t imagine bothering with college in her case, she shrugged and said she had nothing better to do. In the time I knew her, she never complained about her pain, never felt sorry for herself, never felt slighted.

Instead of feeling sorry for herself, Kathryn concentrated on doing whatever she could for her small group of friends.  At the end of that year,  an acquaintance asked me in private how I could stand to look at her.  I was stunned, because I had truly forgotten Kathryn didn’t look like the rest of the freshmen. I saw Kathryn, not what her disease had done to her. She  was the kindest soul I ever met, and a far better person than I could ever be.  She taught me volumes about self-confidence, acceptance, and striving for one’s goals.  She was hands down the most beautiful woman I have ever met.

Garden of Steel Magnolias

Dreams from the trash

Although this ad is to encourage recycling, I started listening to the words. It transfixed me.  My family wondered why I was recording a recycling ad.  But listen with me: “They told me I was a piece of  trash and that is all I would ever be. . . a bottle couldn’t see the ocean . . . give up and go back to the dumpster.”

There are people told this every day.  I was one of them.  Not smart enough, not pretty enough, not important enough to have dreams. Dumb and ugly should know its place and stay there.  I refused, in little ways at first, but louder and bolder as I grew up.

It took years for me to dream, and more to feel I deserved to dream, but, much like that little plastic bottle, I have gotten there.

I wonder if the creators of the ad had any thought of deeper layers in  the words–of talking about people as well as plastic.  Life is recycling, after all, changing, growing, re-inventing oneself.

Am I  odd  alone in seeing this ad and thinking of all the “disposable” people in the world? Is it just my childhood memories coloring my vision?