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figurative artist

Finding Inspiration In Small Places

It’s easy to feel weighed down by world events. I can’t control earthquakes, floods or hurricanes. I appear to have limited impact on government decisions although I do what I can.  Sometimes I worry that two megalomaniacs playing verbal chicken will trade barbs for bombs and end my life—at least life as I know it. But, as Alfred E. Newman always said, “What, me worry?”  Worry changes nothing and hinders my ability to enjoy NOW. Anyway, most of what I worry about resolves itself or never happens. What’s left can only be dealt with once it arrives.

Newspapers and the media love to report doom and gloom. Sensationalism sells. Here’s my advice. “Never start your day with the news. Never watch it right before you go to sleep.” For some, this is blaspheme. As for me, I prefer to start and end my day on a positive note.

Lately, I’ve been finding hope and inspiration in unlikely places. My chiropractor likes to post encouraging thoughts on her office walls, friendly reminders of what I already know but often forget…

 

Maybe we should all post positive thoughts on our walls.  How about “Remember to be kind” posted where we can see it every time we leave the house?

Recently, I found inspiration in two seemingly insignificant occurrences. Some unexpected flowers, a spider and a fly motivated me to write the following two parables.

The Parable of the Spider and the Fly

There is a window in my bathroom. It is too high for me to reach without a ladder, but it bathes the room in light. One day, a frantic buzzing caused me to look up. There, in a corner of the window, was a spider web containing a spider so tiny it was barely visible, and a large and juicy fly trying desperately to extricate itself from the web. The spider was closing in and, incomprehensible as it seemed, the miniature assassin was about to partake in the meal of a lifetime. Now, you might ask yourself, “What is so inspirational about a spider devouring a fly?” It was the seeming impossibility of the task at hand, and the chutzpah of the spider  that made me think. I thought about the challenges in my life that had seemed insurmountable, and the ones that face me today. I realized that, more often than not, I do succeed.That little spider reminded me that what seems impossible often isn’t. So dream big. Tackle that fly in whatever form it takes.

The following morning I entered the bathroom and looked up. The fly, the spider and even the web had disappeared.

The Parable of the Parking Lot Flowers

Beauty is often found in unexpected places, like a church parking lot. As I stepped out of my car, my foot just missed flattening a clump of small purple flowers. They had managed to push through the hard packed dirt and gravel, miraculously escaping car tires and busy feet. I bent down for a closer look. Each  miniscule flower was perfect. There were more—a few clumps under my car, some nestled against the wheel of the next vehicle. We’d had no rain to speak of for weeks. No one had purposefully planted them. They had simply appeared. A small miracle.

I thought of people who bloom in the unlikeliest of places, and the moving power of beauty—all because some flowers had the tenacity to challenge the odds and grow.

Namaste

 

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When Doing Everything You Want To Do Leaves You Too Tired To Do Anything

EXHAUSTED

Maybe you’ve been there—you had a smorgasbord of opportunities, events and interests from which to choose and, like me, you tried choosing them all. Maybe, like me,  you ended up feeling completely exhausted. Summer vacations can do that. So many possibilities; so little time. In my case, just ten weeks in which to create memorable art and publishable writing, learn new skills, visit theaters and museums, take in all kinds of other events (cultural and otherwise), spend quality time with friends and family, and still keep up with those necessary, day-to-day chores that don’t go away just because I’m on vacation.

As an homage to that dreaded back to school writing exercise, “What I Did On My Vacation,” here is what I did during the past ten weeks. You’d be tired too…

I Made and Promoted Art:

  • Created art pieces for the newest show at the Cloverdale Arts Alliance Gallery,  as well as the painting that will be used to advertise the Arts Alliance’s annual fund-raiser in November, Moroccan Nights.
  • Hosted an artist’s reception for my solo art show hanging at The Cutting Edge Salon in Sebastopol—you can view it until the end of September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Went To The Theater:

  • Saw Hamilton at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco.  So wonderful it’s indescribable! Let me just say it was, perhaps, the theater high-point of a lifetime. I added “perhaps” because my life isn’t over, but I can’t imagine anything better.
  • Had season tickets to the Summer Rep Theater Festival at Santa Rosa Junior College: West Side Story, Chicago, Raisin In the Sun, Clybourne Park and The Drowsy Chaperone. All the plays were very well done and I enjoyed them all, but the play I remember best is the one I didn’t particularly want to see— The Drowsy Chaperone. Advertised as a parody of musicals from the 1920s, I didn’t expect to like it and I didn’t—I LOVED it! Funny beyond words.
  • Went to Shakespeare at the Cannery for the third year to see In the Mood, the company’s musical version of Much Ado About Nothing. The singing and dancing were not up to the level of the acting, but David Yen, who played Benedick, was so good, I almost didn’t care.
  • Kicked off the theater season with my annual sojourn up Mt. Tamelpais for The Mountain Play. This year was West Side Story so, yes, I saw this play twice at two different venues with two different casts. You haven’t lived if you haven’t taken a trip to the top of the mountain in a big, yellow school bus.
  • Flew to Los Angels to see Sondheim on Sondheim at the Hollywood Bowl with my good friend Lynn. The performance was wonderful but the real show is always the bowl itself—an intimate evening with 17,000 people.

Continue reading

TV or Not TV…That Is the Question

A little background information

When my grandparents were born, the main means of transportation was the horse and buggy. It wasn’t until 1908 that the Ford Motor Company offered the first mass-produced automobile. My parents took cars for granted and grew up listening to the radio. By the time I was born, television was about to become a mainstay of the American home. Enter TV dinners! Phones were rotary. If you weren’t home, they called back later. Life was simple. My youngest son was an infant when I got my first computer. It was a Mac then, and I’m still a Mac user. Shortly after I got that computer, I downloaded one of my paintings and used up all the memory. Fast forward—I have my entire portfolio downloaded and I’m not even close to using up the memory. My kids grew up without cell phones and were spared the possible agony of being bullied on Facebook. Today, they can’t imagine life without a cell phone. To be honest, neither can I. We’re running around with tiny computers in our purses and pockets. The built-in cameras on those phones are immortalizing every major moment of my granddaughter’s life. She’s two. I can’t even guess how technology will have shaped her world by the time she’s my age.

Technology has improved television over the years. Today everything is high-definition and the program selections are endless. We have cable, satellite dishes, Hulu, Netflix and so much more. But one thing hasn’t changed. Television continues to be a major part of most people’s lives. This brings me to the topic of today’s blog. I wrote this piece for a writing contest soliciting articles about technology. I didn’t win anything—didn’t even get accepted into the magazine. But, I stumbled across it today on my computer and decided it was worth posting. Baby boomers can identify with much of it. The rest of you, read it and be amazed.

TV and Me…

To TV or not to TV. For some, that is the question. I don’t have any doubt that the advent of television changed the world and society as we know it. Some argue it’s all for the good. Some take a darker view. My guess is, it’s like life—complex. Maybe the overall effects are incalculable.

My earliest years were television free. But by the time I was three or four, several families on our street had purchased that miracle of modern entertainment. As luck would have it, my parents were good friends with one of those families. Every Saturday evening found us sitting in their living room, transfixed, watching Milton Berle on the Texaco Star Theater. It was television’s biggest hit. Everything was in black and white, of course. Back then, we never even imagined the possibility of color. Ignorance is bliss and we were blissfully happy. Radio was passé; at last, we could see as well as hear!

Saturday Night Wrestling followed “Uncle Milty.” Young as I was, I still remember Gorgeous George, the premier wrestler of his day, entering the ring in a sequined robe, platinum hair curled and gleaming, while his “valet” sprayed perfume into the air. The crowd was astounded and so was I. That level of flamboyance would not be seen again until the emergence of Liberace, years later.

Women’s wrestling or, my favorite, midget wrestling frequently preceded the main event. No one had heard the term “little people” in the 1950s. I pleaded to stay up, usually to no avail. The kids were relegated to a bedroom. An hour or two later, my parents wrapped my groggy, PJ clad body in a warm blanket and carried me home to my own little bed. Grown-ups had all the fun.

Our TV friends lived at the end of the street, but directly across the street lived the Peters family. Sally Peters was a year older than me. She had bad teeth and a vocabulary to match. She also had a TV set. So every afternoon, I found myself drawn to her door. It was Howdy Doody time and I couldn’t miss it. Howdy was broadcast smack dab between the Kate Smith Hour and dinnertime. I usually arrived just as Kate embarked on her signature sign-off song, When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain. I harbored a deep resentment toward the hefty singer with the warbling contralto voice. I was sure that, if she were not on the air, Howdy Doody would start an hour earlier. That woman was clearly interfering with the enjoyment of every child in America lucky enough to have access to a television set.

We moved to another town when I was five. My new best friend, Donna, lived just a few houses away. Her family owned a coveted TV. We didn’t sit all day in front of the set. We played house ball and hopscotch. We fastened roller-skates onto our tennis shoes using skate keys that we kept safe on strings around our necks. Often, we played dress-up. In the summer we spent hours in Donna’s canvas swimming pool. It had a real shower. Hook it up to a hose and, “Voilà!” a steady stream of cool water, delicious on a hot day.

Despite our large repertoire of activities, Donna and I did watch TV, especially when it rained. Only three TV stations existed at that time leaving us with few viewing choices. The pickings were slim. Daytime programming depended heavily on old movies, especially old westerns. Being a huge cowboy fan, that was fine with me. Hopalong Cassidy was the biggest western star at that time and I owned the complete Hoppy outfit including a set of six-guns. Mom tied those guns down because, otherwise, they flopped against my scrawny little legs turning them black and blue. I was so cowboy crazy that my mother could get me to eat almost anything simply by giving it a western name such as “Ranger Joe” cereal. I’m not sure how old I was before I found out cowboy eggs were just plain old soft-boiled eggs.

My parents finally bought a TV set when I was eight—a Philco in a large console cabinet, the deluxe model. I remember it vividly because it arrived on my eighth birthday, just hours before the big party. It wasn’t really a birthday present, but it sure felt like one. At long last I could watch television in the cozy confines of my own home! I remember running downstairs when I woke up the next morning to see what was on TV. All I saw was a test pattern. Twenty-four-hour programming didn’t exist in the 1950s.

In the 1960s TV became more sophisticated. Cable was on its way. Color had arrived, but it wasn’t until the mid 70s that color sets became the norm. Since I have such a vivid recollection of that first black and white set, it seems odd to me that I have no memory of a color TV materializing in our home. One day, everything magically became colorized. Tinkerbelle ran her wand across the screen and, suddenly, Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was on the air.

Early TV portrayed a simpler time. Programs contained little violence and no sex. From Ozzie and Harriet to the Dick Van Dyke Show, couples in sitcoms slept in twin beds. Sometimes I miss the innocence of the 50s and 60s until I remember all the stereotypes, both racial and sexual, that were prevalent. However, by the late 1960s, a number of controversial new shows hit the air. The Smothers Brothers drove TV censors crazy, Laugh-In arrived and television finally had a major hit with an all black cast. The Cosby Show, finally featured an African-American family headed by educated professionals. By then, I was a young adult. My friends and I chafed at societal norms, protested the Viet Nam war, campaigned for Eugene McCarthy, and smoked a little marijuana on the side. We were “hip”, or so we thought, and we embraced TVs transformation. Then, in 1971, All In the Family debuted with its comedic but unflinching approach to divisive subjects. Liberal or conservative, it seemed that almost everyone in America loved Archie Bunker. The country was laughing, not only at Archie, but also at itself.

Women’s roles on TV were changing, and so were my own expectations as a young, twenty-something female. Traditionally, the women on TV sitcoms had been housewives or maids. Father knew best, and wives were supportive. Suddenly, there were shows with strong female characters. That Girl arrived in 1966. Finally, a sitcom that featured a single woman who was not a domestic or living with her parents. Soon to follow were the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Murphy Brown and Ally McBeal. I no longer dreamed of marital bliss. I wanted to be a career woman and work in a big city. I moved to Boston, landed a job in advertising, and didn’t marry until shortly after my thirtieth birthday. At forty, I was the single mother of two little boys. Finding freedom more fulfilling than togetherness, I never remarried. Did watching independent women live happy, single lives alter the direction of my own life? I wonder.

If the last few paragraphs give the impression that stereotypes on TV have gone away, I apologize. “The times they are a changin'”—but slowly.  Stereotypes of all kinds still persist. Thank goodness for Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers (my hero).

As I matured, TV continued to bombard me (and the world) with a barrage of media coverage. Through the years I’ve watched conflict and dissent. Sometimes it appeared that the country was coming apart at the seams. Sometimes it still feels that way. I’ve observed riots, sat on the front lines of war, seen assassinations unfold, and attended the funeral of a president from the safety of my own home. For better or worse, things keep changing and TV has become a major catalyst. In the late 60s, I found it all exhilarating. Today, as a parent and teacher, I’m afraid that children spend too much time in front of a television set. I’m concerned that it is squelching their creativity, changing their brain patterns, making them numb to violence. (I’m not addressing social media today, but if you spoon that into the mix, you can triple my concern.) For more on this, check out http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/tv-affects-child.html#

Television continues to influence our thoughts and ideas. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes it’s not. It has been called a vast wasteland. It also brings the most astounding, wonderful things into our homes—moon landings and lions and tigers and bears, oh, yes! Maybe it’s not a matter of should we watch TV, but how much. It’s easy to come home after a rough day at work and plunk down in front of the TV. Sometimes it’s all I can muster. However, I still read. I intend to finish writing that book, continue painting, exercise, dance, spend time with friends and family. TV is a filler, not the mainstay of my life. I want it to stay that way.

The typical American spends between two-and-a-half to five hours a day in front of a TV set. I read that somewhere, and I believe it’s true. There are people who keep their television set blaring every waking moment. I know some of them. Conversely, some of my friends proudly boast that they don’t even own a TV, or that the one they have is off the grid. “I only get the public broadcasting station and a few local channels,” they say. Or, “ I only watch an occasional movie on Netflix.” As for me, I have a few guilty pleasures I’m not willing to give up. I learned to fly with Peter Pan, have seen the best and worst of human nature play out on that small screen, been shocked at times, sometimes bored and often highly entertained. Television is sometimes a purveyor of fear; other times a beacon of hope. It depends on what you choose to watch. For better or worse, TV has had a hand in shaping who I’ve become. Maybe TV deserves some of the credit.

Before you leave, follow some of the links to see what America was watching as TV came of age. You’ll be amazed—and entertained!

 

Democracy, Kindness and the Fourth of July

Last night I attended the annual fireworks display in Sebastopol, California. We celebrate a day early in Sebastopol, but who’s counting? The event is a stereotypical example of small town America at its best.

With over 4,000 people crammed onto the high school football field, it was challenging for latecomers to find an empty spot, but everyone was accommodated in close quarters, and nobody seemed to mind.  (In this case, a latecomer is someone who—like myself—arrives several hours before the main event.)

A flag ceremony led by fife and drum preceded the singing of the national anthem, and then—fireworks! The pyrotechnics were punctuated by whistles, explosions, and the “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs” of the appreciative audience. It was peaceful. It was fun. When it was over, thousands of people poured out of the stadium in orderly fashion. Some of us walked a mile or more to our cars. Despite the inevitable jostling, merging and waiting, the atmosphere was cheerful—small town living at its best. And, yet, as I sat on that football field, I was troubled. Was I the only one in the crowd ruminating on the state of the Nation? I believe my country is at a crossroads.The principles of democracy that have held our country together seem to be unraveling. I’m worried. And, so, as I left the event last night my mind was spinning. Thoughts raced through my head keeping me awake all night. Now, as I write, they are spilling onto my blog.

Deepak Chopra stated that, “Nationalism is just another form of tribalism.” Those who know  history (and it seems that not many Americans do), know that a worldwide rise in nationalism invariably leads to conflict on a global scale. “My country, right or wrong,” is not my motto.  When my country is wrong, I want to do everything in my power to make it right. Among other things, I can: vote; peacefully protest; contact my elected officials; write letters to the editor, and speak up for those who have no voice. I can be kind.

When did lashing out at people who are different from us or who disagree with us become acceptable? I recognize that lots of Americans are angry. I’m aware of many of the reasons why. To be honest, I’m angry, too. I’m angry that many of our elected officials are placing political interests and the quest for the might dollar ahead of the interests of the people who elected them. But anger doesn’t fix anything unless it is channeled into energy, commitment, sacrifice, and purpose. I’m sure Martin Luther King Jr. was angry at times, but it wasn’t his anger that brought about change. He channeled his anger into a higher purpose— “We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know that you love them.”

No matter who you voted for, you have the right to have your own beliefs and to say and think what you think. In a democracy, everyone is free to choose their own religion and practice their religion as they see fit. Every individual has the right to enjoy his or her own culture along with the members of their group, even if their group is a minority. However, everyone has an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully, with respect for law and the rights of others.

A lecture given at Hills University for Humanistic Studies titled What Is Democracy? says it all. I urge you to follow the link to the transcript of that talk and read it. In the meantime, what can I do to channel my anger into a higher purpose? Of all the things I outlined above, I believe the last one on my list is the most important—PRACTICE KINDNESS—not just toward the people you like, but toward everyone. Forgive the person that cut you off on the highway. Practice patience. Think before you react. Refrain from gossip. Use social media to bring people together, not drive them apart. Smile. Say thank you (even if you didn’t really want it). Don’t engage in defamatory remarks against anyone.  For those of you who espouse to be good Christians, but are happy to tell me who you hate,and presumptuous enough to tell me who God hates, remember that Jesus hated no one—not the Romans who ruled his people with an iron hand, not his own people who demanded his death, nor tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves.

I’m doing my best to practicing the Golden Rule. I invite you to join me. It takes practice. Some days I know I’ll do better than others.  Remember, it is not “Do unto others as they have just done unto you,” but rather, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Someone once asked the Dali Lama, “What is your religion?”

His simple reply—”Kindness.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!

 

Discover Amazing Sidewalk Art!

 

The possibilities of art never cease to amaze me. And amazed is probably the word that best describes my reaction to the art created at the annual Italian Street Painting Event in San Rafael last weekend.

Watching artists squatting on the ground creating master-pieces out of sidewalk chalk made me think, “Wow, that looks like fun. Maybe I could try that next year.” But when I really thought about being hunched over on hot asphalt for two long days, I decided to forego that creative experience. I’ll be returning to the festival next year—as a spectator.

As the day progressed, gawkers like myself could revisit artists’ sites over  time and observe the progress as sections of sidewalk turned into works of art. It’s a two day event so if you want to see the process from start to finish, you have to attend both days. My friends and I were only there on Saturday so the images I’m showing are still in progress, although Jimi Hendrix looks pretty complete.

Here are just a few of my favorites from the event…

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the year of the rooster.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                               The most beautiful girl at the festival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year the event’s theme was the Summer of Love. There had to be a Jimi Hendrix!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love painting zebras so I had to capture this guy. Look who’s having the last laugh.

 

 

 

 

After seeing so much great sidewalk art, I went on-line to learn more about it. It’s an authentic genre with a number of famous practitioners, including some who specialize in 3-D art. The most famous of these are: Edgar Mueller, Julian Beever, Kurt Wenner, Manfred Stader, and Eduardo Rolero. They have crafted an amazing ability to trick the eyes of passersby into seeing 3 dimensional sceneries and objects on a completely flat asphalt. To learn more about them, go to http://www.boredpanda.com/5-most-talented-3d-sidewalk-chalk-artists/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ice Age by Edgar Muellar. Pretty amazing!

 

 

 

 

 

Tune in to my next blog where I’ll let you know how my battle with procrastination is going. I’m still using the Ivy Lee method.

Recently someone told me, “If you’re busy with something else, you’re not procrastinating.” Well, that depends. Watching TV for hours—procrastinating. Stopping to write the great American novel—maybe not. But if you use novel writing to avoid paying your bills, you just might find yourself living on the street. Stick to your to-do-list.

How Procrastination Killed My Blog and Why I’m Back

I wrote a blog about procrastination in January. That was back when I was actually writing a blog. So what happened that caused me to take a four-month hiatus?  Why was I suddenly procrastinating? And why had I previously managed to write a weekly blog for almost five months?

The reason I was successful is easy. I was taking a social media class at the local junior college. I had wanted to write a blog for some time and, finally, I had the tools and the impetus to get started. Writing a blog was mandatory. So, no matter how busy I was, I found time to write. My grade depended on it. Then the class ended and so did my good intentions. Within a few weeks, I stopped writing my blog. But I was going to start again soon—next week, or the very next.

In January I said I didn’t know why I procrastinated. I have a pretty good idea now. The future may bring me more “ah,ha” moments. In the meantime, I can think of four reasons why I frequently procrastinate.

  • Perfectionism: What if what I do doesn’t live up to my expectations.    What if it isn’t good enough? This leads to the next reason…
  • Fear: Elizabeth Gilbert once stated that “all procrastination is fear.” But is it fear of failure or fear of success? I think I fear both at different times, maybe even simultaneously. “People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy, carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the ‘someday I’ll’ philosophy.” Denis Waitley
  • Lack of self-discipline: Lacking self-discipline, we become seduced by instant gratification. The desire for instant gratification causes us to put off the things we should (or even want to do) for an instant “hit.” For example, I really want to finish the art for my book but I also want to work in my yard, watch that highly recommended movie, read the book I just bought on Kindle and a few other things that are all a lot easier and less time-consuming than finishing twenty-two illustrations.
  • I’m really busy: Of course, I was busy when I was taking that class. It’s all about priorities. Perfectionism, fear, and a lack of self-discipline caused me to make other choices when the blog was no longer mandated by an outside force. My long-term goal was sabotaged by a desire for instant gratification. I would write the blog tomorrow when I wasn’t quite so busy…only I didn’t.

    My Plan to Stop (or at least reduce) Procrastinating

    There a lot of things I could do. Today I read article after article on the “whys” of procrastination, and how to stop doing it. However, in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed—leading to more procrastination—I have selected two simple tools.

    1. Break things down into smaller steps: When I think about the fact that I need to finish twenty-two illustrations in order to complete my book, I feel overwhelmed. If I set a goal of one or two a week, the mountain of work will hopefully become a manageable incline.

    2. Use the Ivy Lee Method:

    • At the end of each day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow.
    • Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
    • When you begin your work day, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
    • Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
    • Repeat this process every working day.

Why I’m Back In The Blogging Saddle Again

Despite a lot of self-doubt (Do I really have anything worthwhile to say that hasn’t been said before? Does anyone really care?), I’ve set the intention of resuming a weekly blog. Maybe it’s just for me, but I have come up with a few reasons why I think it’s a good idea.

  1. It will help me write better by providing a consistent arena to hone my skill. Practice does, indeed, make perfect.
  2. It demands self-discipline which means coming to grips with procrastination. It’s a test of sorts.
  3. I can promote my art and writing. Whether it’s a publishing deal or an offer of gallery representation, I’ve been told it’s more likely to happen to writers and artists who have built a loyal fan base.
  4. Writing a blog teaches me a lot. It demands that I learn about stats and how to get readers. It demands that I do research on interesting topics. If introduces me to other bloggers. I learn so much from their example. (Austin Kleon, you are my blogging idol.)  And, oh, yes, (back to number 1) it demands that I write.

I procrastinated much of today but I finally did what I set out to do. I wrote a blog and published it! Stay tuned to see if I can establish a regular habit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Valentine’s Day—Memories from the Heart

images-2 Valentine’s Day is almost over. Flowers have been delivered. Chocolate wrappers litter depleted candy boxes. For some it’s a time to celebrate their love. Others struggle with the letdown that goes with unrealistic expectations. As for me, I’ve been thinking of past loves. I thought of Charles who was my first love, and Armand who was my last. Today, I ‘m about to tell the story of the one who opened my heart, not the one who closed it.

His name was Charles. I met him when I was nine. You may call it puppy love, but it was important—a promise of things to come, a memory to be savored years later. It inspired the story I am about to share—a story as true as memory can recall.

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First Love

Charles Stroud was my first true love. Yes, I had cared for others…kid stuff. There was Buster with whom I shared a galvanized tub of cool water on hot days, licking condensed milk from oversized spoons. Buster brought me my first love offering, a popsicle delivered to my front door. My father had just forbidden me the coveted trip to the ice cream truck because I had picked at my dinner. Yet, when faced with the eyes of a love-struck three-year-old, it was my father who melted. The popsicle was mine!

In kindergarten I had a brief crush on Michael, the milkman’s son. It seems fitting that I shared milk and cookies with him at the snack table. However,  Damon Cooper was my true champion. After our kindergarten teacher announced to the class that Damon “uses his fists too freely,” no one teased me when he was around—not even Chucky Porter who hid my art projects, and grievously wounded my clay elephant. But that’s another story.
In first and second grade I gave my heart to Tommy Clark. We walked home together after school. Tommy lived on Water Street, aptly named because the street sometimes flooded. All the homes had been built to keep their main floors above the flood line, and  a long flight of stairs led up to Tommy’s front door. We often slipped under those stairs for a few stolen kisses before parting.
Sometimes David Marin chased me home from school. Over lunch, I announced to my mother that David liked me.

“How do you know,” she asked.

“Because he hit me,” was my reply. Any sensible little girl can recognize a love tap when she receives one.

There was also Clinton Dorn. He chased me on the playground and kissed me if he caught me. I never cared for Clinton. He picked his nose.

By the age of nine, I was no stranger to love. Still, all my past affections paled in comparison to my feelings for Charles Stroud. I saw him, for the first time, the day I entered the fifth grade.  In general, that was a dark year. Mr. Lydell, our elderly teacher, a religious fanatic in poor health, should have retired years earlier. His penchant for acting out the Old Testament convinced the whole class that Judgement Day loomed. We were surely facing Hell fire and damnation! Then, there, in the midst of it all was Charles.

Charles’s mother, Velma, was something very unique in a 1950’s Pennsylvania steel town. Divorce was almost unheard of and she had been divorced, not once, but twice. Following her most recent marital failure, she returned home to the welcoming arms of her own mother. Despite her reputation as a chain smoking, hard-drinking woman, Velma’s heart was in the right place and she loved her boy more than anything in God’s world.

Charles was more sophisticated than the local boys. Before his arrival in Birdsboro, he had lived in distant, exotic Florida, and even attended private school there. Although he was not a great scholar, Charles possessed a wry sense of humor. He was the best natured boy I ever met.
When I close my eyes, I can see him on that first day of school, standing tall, his blue eyes brimming with good humor and his blond hair surrounded by light…just like the light in the Jesus picture prominently displayed in my Sunday school class. That’s how he looked to my nine-year-old eyes, and that’s how I remember him now.

It was soon obvious that Charles reciprocated my feelings. We were the couple of the year. Many thought it more than a coincidence when, during the Christmas gift exchange, we received each other’s name. There was only one rule to follow; the gift we purchased could cost no more than one dollar. Being a stickler for rules, I agonized long and hard over the perfectly priced offering and settled on a pencil box with a built in ruler and pencil sharpener. What, I wondered, would my sweetheart find for me?

Rules be damned! Velma marched her boy right down to the local jewelry store. When I opened my gift in class, I beheld a heart shaped, gold locket that contained a smiling photo of Charles. The box also held a matching bracelet. Both pieces boasted a small garnet, my birthstone. Despite the fact that my offering paled in comparison, ever the gentleman, Charles managed to look genuinely pleased when he opened his package. I’d gotten him just what he wanted, or so he said. Once the gold locket circled my neck, I forgot about that pencil box.  All eyes were on me. Surely, only love could offer up a gift of such magnificence.

Even his ardor couldn’t stop Charles from having a bit of a laugh at my expense. It was nothing mean spirited and, in retrospect, it was funny. In those days, no little girl wore slacks to school, dresses only. During the cold winter months, my mother insisted that I wear leggings under my dress…bright red wool, itchy and absolutely mortifying! I hoped Charles wouldn’t notice. Of course, he did. Who could miss them? Picking me up and upending me on the playground, he sang, “She’ll be wearing red pajamas when she comes… scratch, scratch.” My flushed face matched my flailing, woolen leggings. Embarrassed but flattered, my heart raced. What a thrill to be in Charles’s arms…even upside down.

That was the year I decided to make an original Valentine for every boy and girl in my class. An ambitious undertaking, the cards were completed on time and deposited into the makeshift classroom mailbox, all except the one I made for Charles. To show my devotion, and perhaps to make up for the discrepancy in our Christmas gifts, his was one of grandiose proportions. Since it was too large to fit into the mailbox, I had to place it underneath to await delivery on Valentine’s Day. Seeing whose name was prominently displayed on the envelope, several boys began shouting “Oh, Charles!” The recipient of all the attention turned an alarming shade of fuchsia; however, I could tell he was pleased.

Although I made close to thirty cards that year,  I only remember the one I made for Charles. Its front featured a draft horse with a yoke around its neck and a funny hat on its head. The head actually moved back and forth thanks to an artfully placed tab. Inside, it said, “No horsing around. I go for you.”

Our romance lasted through the sixth grade; it didn’t survive junior high. I earned a spot in the accelerated class. Charles did not. New friends vied for my time and attention. I can’t even remember seeing him in the hallways or the gymnasium.  It was as if he simply disappeared. To be honest, I rarely thought of him back then. Youth is fickle. What’s more, I had problems of my own.

Within the year, my father lost his job and our family embarked on a series of moves that left me emotionally overwhelmed. As I struggled to survive socially at one new school after another, I longed for that little town in Pennsylvania where I had been happy.
My parents moved back to Pennsylvania many years later. On occasional visits I received news of Charles, none of it good. The funny, easy-going boy died on the killing fields of Viet Nam. An angry man came home, depressed and drinking heavily. His marriage crumbled, but he had a little girl whom he adored. Unfortunately, he never sat at her graduation ceremony or walked her down the aisle. Instead, cancer took him at the age of forty-two. His broken-hearted mother blamed it on Agent Orange.

While Charles’s life unraveled on the East Coast, San Francisco seduced me with her charms. After years of moving from place to place, I finally found a home.
Every summer, I returned to Pennsylvania to visit my widowed mother. It was my habit to run in the morning, and I frequently stopped at the local cemetery to visit my father’s grave. It was a tranquil place, part of the geography of my heart.  Surrounding me, old friends slumbered beneath marble markers: the shopkeeper who’d sold me penny candies, the old ladies who fussed over me at church, the teachers who tried to mold my mind, the neighbors who watched me grow.

Then, one day, I stumbled over a simple stone lying almost flush with the earth itself. Its inscription read…”Charles Stroud, Born – 1948, Died – 1990, Rest In Peace.”Seeing that marker, old feelings rushed back, feelings I had buried for more than twenty years. Surprised, I found myself on my knees, my face wet with tears. Were they for the boy who never returned? For a lost love, long gone, but never really forgotten? Or, perhaps, they mourned an innocence we both had lost. I only know that, without warning, memories of a childhood love opened my heart, like my long lost locket, to reveal a laughing boy with golden hair. Oh, Charles, you were there all along.

From Journeys: On the Road & Off the MapCopyright © 2015 by Redwood Writers

Valentine’s Day comes once a year. Make every day a special day. Tell someone, “I love you.”