Something I owe to the soil that grew-
More to the life that fed-
But most to Allah, who gave me two
Separate sides to my head.
I would go without shirts or shoes,
Friends, tobacco, or bread
Sooner than for an instant lose
Either side of my head.
(Above: A picture I painted of the spouse when he was upright. Can’t see it, as this is cropped, but I also painted a miniature “Van Gogh Crows Over The Wheatfield” in the corner. It’s very small, an inch by three inches perhaps)
I used to make weekly treks to flea markets, in particular my favorite one, called The Elephant Trunk, which is purported to be the biggest one in New England. I’m a magnet for ‘found treasures.’ Maybe I’m a sucker too if you’d believe my late husband. Among other things (wooden sailors, crosses, and treasures from the gutter that sparkled, rocks, erasers, pencil shavings…), I collected crockery that caught my eye. I would repurpose it into mosaics, that I liked to plaster onto any surface available. I’d been told this was ‘tacky’ but to me, it was not only a therapeutic activity (especially was my husband was dying) but it gave me pleasure to see the broken pieces in colorful disordered order all over a wooden remote control holder box, up the side of the entertainment center, on flower pots, on cabinet doors…
One day at the flea market (this is when my late spouse could still walk of course), I happened upon some marvelous plates; with handwritten price stickers on the fronts of them; displayed on a table. What I liked was the abstract pattern. These yellows, reds and cornflower blues would be beautiful in a creation… I found that true red was hard to find in the ceramics I was coming across.The flea market guy stood wrapping each of my selections in newspaper which I felt entirely unnecessary, considering their fate. I couldn’t see using protective wrapping when I was going to smash them anyway.
“You know what,” he said to me, “I’m going to give you a big discount on these. They have a lot of chips.”
yeah around the edges, I thought. But all the color, which I need, is not anywhere near the chips…
And this is the kind of person I am: I was so psyched about my beautiful find that I blurted, “I don’t mind paying full price! No sense discounting them on account of some chips. I’m taking them home, putting them under a sheet and smashing them to bits with a hammer anyway. They’re going to be part of a mosaic project!”
I paid full price.
The spouse was muttering things after that. Instead of being encouraged by my honesty and ability to expound FOUR full sentences to a complete stranger, he was rather nonplussed.
I often wonder if my fascination with mosaics has to do with scotopic sensitivity syndrome. In short, it’s the interaction of the central nervous system and the eyes at a physiological level with light. Everything about me screams: poor depth perception; seeing the part and missing the whole. All those things, including a tendency to get lost- seriously hinders my ability to operate a motor vehicle. But I digress. Again.
When spouse became chairbound I often dressed as a mime. They were not expected to speak. My voice needed to become stronger as his own was disappearing. But mimes could tune out. I busied about, feeding him through his feeding tube, quietly following the lists I kept everywhere so I would not forget how to run his various machines. If it felt like life and death, that’s because it was. Miming helped in some way. I dressed in full make-up and sometimes striped shirt and suspenders. That was called coping. The man never had sores, skin breakdown, etc. and I was proud of the care I gave him though my demeanor may have seemed unconventional. My children never batted an eye and nor did their friends, seeing me in that get-up. It was normal for me to use art for expression. Mosaics are a big part of that….using art to cope. Peace through broken pieces.
This is a pic of me during that difficult time, that an RIT student by the name of Amy Tuccio, took. Look her up, she’s a good photographer.
Anyhow, as I’ve said, often my creativity peaks when I’m under a lot of stress. In 2002, some men came to the house DAILY to remodel everything. They built a ramp, put in handicap accessories like rails, and widened the bathroom and doorways. When the men went home for the day, I visited the rooms they destroyed and one day behold! A bucket of grout! They used it for the drywall, (the wall they built in the bathroom after taking down the old one to widen the bathroom.)
I submerged my hands wrist-deep and brought up luscious white plaster. Ah that I be six inches high that I could dive in the white stuff in merriment and have the sweet cloying scent in all my pores! I slapped the creamy stuff as thick as white frosting onto the wooden fronts of the kids’ bunk beds and smoothed it on with a trowel the men left behind. No more knotholes. Fun! I scooped some out of the bucket and hid some away in stashes for mosaic projects, in plastic containers. I could no longer have access to flea markets but I had an old green 70s style suitcase filled with delightfully broken pieces. Shards. Possibilities. I still have it.
Then the spouse’s voice beckoned me. Confined to a reclining chair or power chair (I had to push the buttons, though) he was paralyzed now but still had function in his vocal cords and he sensed I was up to something. In a short year and a half he would lose the voice too, and not long after that he would lose his life entirely. He called to me, his voice mistrustful.
“Whatsa’ matter, hon’?” I stood behind his recliner so he couldn’t see me.
“Let me see your hands!” he demanded. He sounded kinda’ healthy. Anger could do that. Good thing he had me around. Strong emotion seemed to empower his voice; make it sound less like it was weakening.
I splayed my beautiful hands out for him to see and I waggled them. Dried grout fell into his lap. “Oh, sorry”, I apologized. I tried brushing it off and realized I was making things worse when I saw the white smears across his jogging pants.
“What the hell is your problem?” he asked me.
“They left a lot of grout in there”, I grinned. “They won’t miss it. Gotta wash up!” I skipped to the bathroom ignoring his lecture.
When all else fails to make sense, then partake in nonsense as Dr. Suess said—–
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
I leave you with one of my poems, written during a time when the spouse was in a crisis…
By and large; oriental horses
don’t play penny pool but red-haired villain’s do-
Their King’s English; is as you like it.
Sailors discuss scuttlebutt over scrimshaw sessions
Whilst lollygagging longshoremen comb the Lorelei for ladies.
Rough and ready roundheels stack the deck;
burn the midnight oil. But by and large
oriental horses don’t play penny pool