Monday, April 14, 2008

Remarkable Women: A Series

As I have somehow survived the past few busy weeks (and have several more ahead of me), I've had a niggling idea that I've wanted to write about: the remarkable women in my life who have influenced me, loved me, taught me, laughed and cried with me. I am the woman I am because of them. And the best part is that all but my grandmother are still alive and still teaching me all there is about being the woman I dream of "growing up to be."

First on the list is my mother, of course, seen in the above photo I took last month, teaching two grandsons how to play a laser harp in the Discovery Science Center in Orange County. Her love of reading and gardening have definitely been transmitted to me as they are also my favorite ways to spend spare time (when I have some!). And her stories of family members of the past have also given me a great love of history, and the history of our family in particular; she always tells wonderful stories of her grandmother and her great-grandmother who lived long enough to hold me as a baby (died the year I was born), along with tales of other family members. The oral history of our family is something I want to pin down in writing as it's something I desire to pass down to my children (and grandchildren) as well. During my high school years, she worked on my campus as an aid to the "home ec" department, helping with the preschoolers, shopping for the cooking classes, running copies for the various teachers, etc.; I thought it great fun to have my mom on campus. When I was in college, she decided to go back to school as she didn't finish her college education because she married my dad. So while I studied at Point Loma, she attended Mesa Community College majoring in history. We occasionally attended each other's history classes, too.

She is an artist, finding peace in painting landscapes in her small studio overlooking the Pacific. Her passion for nature -- of mountains, rivers, wildlife -- has also taught me to love them, too. One of my favorite sounds in the world is the one we heard when camping in the Cuyamaca mountains each summer: the "music of the trees," as she calls the sound of the wind blowing through the branches overhead. She taught me to lean in to smell the vanilla scent of Jeffrey pines and to just stop and listen to silence. I remember the joy on her face as she sat on the shores of the Shoshone River just outside of Yellowstone, "watching the river roll by" on one camping trip in the mid-70s. And her love for music has also influenced my tastes as she raised us on John Denver, the Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Elvis, the Drifters, the Platters, Jan and Dean, the Carpenters, Neil Diamond, and other great groups of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Music was always playing in our house, and we'd dance around the living room or do our house or yard work to the good ol' 8-track tapes blasting through the speakers.

Her mother, my grandmother, died when I was pregnant with my first child, and I would have loved to have placed my daughter in her arms. Mae has also been instrumental in my life. Her love of poetry, the arts, and refined living have been instilled in my memory. I remember her teaching me the correct way to set a table when I was about eight years old and her thanking me in French, "Merci beaucoup, mademoiselle." When I, as a fourth-grader, asked her to sign my autograph book, she sat for a moment thinking, and then wrote some lines from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in her splendid script. I love having her Seth Thomas mantel clock on my own mantel, chiming the tones I know so well from childhood.

Her home was filled with refined things: old books, antique clocks, a grand piano topped with beautifully-framed photos of family, lovely china, glassware, and mahogany tables from previous generations, scratchy renditions of Caruso and other opera greats on glass records, and the portrait of Omar, a middle-eastern sheik, her great work of art, on the wall by the entry. Her easel stood in the screened-in patio, an oil painting of a ship at sea partly finished. I love having her portrait as a little girl on my mantel as well, a constant reminder of the little daughter of a German immigrant who grew up to speak French, adore poetry and music, and create lovely art.

Obviously my love of the arts (music, visual arts, poetry, writing) come from my family. My mother's sister was a creative writing major at San Diego State, and my great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother were both women who also loved art and the refined things in life. I love having some of their possessions -- pictures, photos, knick-knacks -- in my home as a reminder of them and of my artistic heritage.

I've had to change this post into a series, I think. I have a list of thirteen women about whom I'd like to write, so I think I'll take them two or three at a time. So having completed the family women, I think I'll write next about some very dear friends from waaaaay back. In the dark ages, you know. Stay tuned for the next installment....

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