Long Ago Mom


My mother is a difficult person in a lot of ways. Difficult to be with, difficult to understand, difficult to quantify. Tonight, after a hurried dinner, I’ll bring the kids downtown to her art show opening. I’ve been to dozens and dozens of them throughout my life and there hasn’t been one that I looked forward to. Not necessarily because of her but because they require me to stand around like a light pole, looking at stuff I’ve seen a million times, and watch other people have conversations. They do it so effortlessly. It’s a mystery to me.

My mother always, but especially in these situations, is all about her and so I was never taught how to talk to people – strangers or otherwise. I don’t know how to not say the wrong thing, or the weird non sequitur. Random shit comes out of my mouth because it knows I’m supposed to speak but my brain never opens the right doors. So, I generally try to say nothing.

Dealing with a raging narcissist in the best of times is challenging but in a situation where they are on the throne, wearing the crown, and still finding ways in which the adulation is inadequate, creates anxiety and dread in me. She’s tried numerous ways in the past couple weeks to ensnare us in her crazy schemes, making unreasonable demands and just generally being highly annoying, to put it in the kindest terms.

And yet, she’s my mother. And people expect you to be kind to your mother. And I try but it’s not easy or ever rewarded. So. While going through all the recent pre-art show turmoil, I found these photos in the slide carousel. They cover a couple of years in the early 1970’s. And as I look at them, I understand what my dad saw in her. You see it, don’t you? She’s quite beautiful. But often beauty has a sting. So admire but stand behind the line. Don’t get too close.

The first one up top was taken in the summer of 1971. She’s pregnant with my sister. She made that dress. She made a lot of things like that with the same seersucker fabric (I think that’s what it is) and that orange rickrack. I still have a bit of it, believe it or not.



This was taken in a different year because her hair’s curled. But I couldn’t tell you whether it was before or after the previous one. Probably after. Probably during that beach trip I posted earlier. Same empty lovely beach.


The tennis outfit. We were members of the Jewish Community Center for years while I was growing up. We’re not Jewish but they fortunately didn’t care. It had a pool and tennis courts and I took swimming lessons there for a couple years. My parents and another rotating set of adults, played doubles in the tennis courts. I can remember them playing and my sister and I would hang around in the pine needle covered grassy area outside the fence by the parking lot delineated by railroad ties just…wandering with nothing to do. There was no one to watch us. We just played under the trees, bored, until the adults were done. Pretty sure she made this top, too.


A companion to the first. Clearly pregnant. I wish she’d kept her hair just like this. Instead, by the late 70’s she’d permed and crimped it to death. I don’t know what anyone was thinking back then. But perhaps the divorce unhinged her and she took it out on her hair. I get it but still. This is pretty much my hair (and Dusty’s) only blonde. She has never stopped talking about how disappointed she is that I did not get my father’s curls (such as they were). As if this had been up to me. Something I should have been working on in utero. Failed my first beauty test before I was even born.


Christmas time. What a crazy wonderful satiny outfit! I don’t know if she made this or bought it but it highlights the best of 70’s fashion. Kind of Peter Max-ish. Swirls and colors and paisley gone wild.

Actually, I’m betting this was taken before one of the New Year’s Eve parties they used to throw. I don’t know how many years those parties lasted but my mother would hire an older black woman to come clean the house. I was fascinated by her, not only because she was the only black woman who had ever come inside our house (not for any particular reason other than my parents didn’t have black friends by default, not by choice; Richmonders still moved in “separate but equal” circles that didn’t intersect much). But this woman, whose name I’ve forgotten, was all business. I would stand on the landing of the staircase and watch her. I had a million questions to ask her but I barely asked any of them. She didn’t have time for my foolishness and my mother was hovering so I’m sure she wasn’t having a fantastic time in our house (and no doubt wasn’t getting paid very much). There’s nothing worse than cleaning for someone or babysitting their kids while the employers are home.

The Christmas mess would be put away and alcoholic punch would emerge, spiked egg nog, and food, and all the crooked decorations would be righted and 20 or so adults would cram themselves in my parents’ house and get drunk and noisy. Eventually, after midnight had been cheered, they left and I’d come down in the morning to a smoky house with full ashtrays and glasses with inches of nasty smelling liquid in them and crumbs everywhere. Moods were foul and the day would be grey and I’d spend most of it up in my room. Alone. Wishing I had long curly blonde hair.


Ancient History, Part One

A few weeks ago, during one of my manic tidying frenzies, I thought: okay, I’ve done the clothes, the books, a lot of the other household crap, I’m ready for photographs. I thought – stupidly – that this would not be a difficult task. Yes, I have a LOT of photographs (my father is a photographer and the first 10 years of my life are well, if not overly, documented). But….not THAT many, surely. So, I pulled all the boxes of envelopes of photos (Marie Kondo would have you throw these envelopes and the negatives away. No, no, no! Do not do this!) out of my closet, along with the many albums. I also had a two-foot high stack of framed photos. I took these all out of the (falling apart) frames and was left with many huge piles of photographs and….then….something major in my brain, like the mother of all synapses, fried to a cinder. There was an audible snap, like when you hear a transformer die on the next block. I could see that nerve ending whipping around in my skull like a live wire cut from a light pole in a storm. I had to leave the room for a minute.

What the HELL was I thinking? How in the WORLD would I even start? Maybe I could sort them into three categories: before I was born (all time until 1966), before my children were born (1966-2000), photos of my kids (2000 to present). After about 5 minutes of this nonsense, I couldn’t take it and shoved all the loose photos into shoe boxes and shoved everything (neatly, tidily) back into my closet. Next big snowfall, maybe I’d revisit this. Or, maybe not. Who were they hurting taking up all that space in there? Nobody.

In the process, though, I drug out a box containing a carousel of slides. You remember slides, right? If you don’t, you’re too young. Go google it and get back to me.

I thought at first it would be slides of my mother’s paintings. She took a million billion trillion photos of her art (as did my dad) which were turned into slides which were then sent in to galleries when submitting applications for art shows and such. And job applications. Crazy 20th century stuff.

But I was wrong. I discovered a missing piece of my past. All the slides covered a few slices of time between about 1971 to about 1974. Give or take. I’ve never seen any of these photos before and that is saying something. I took them to a camera place and had them put on a CD so they were useable and shareable.

I thought I’d start with the beach photos because my mind is thinking BEACH these days and this is where my beach romance began. I date these to the summer of 1972 because my sister was 6 months old and may have still had the chicken pox. I can’t remember. I think, because my grandmother is with us, that we were in Nags Head. Now, if you’ve been to Nags Head lately, you’ll understand why I can’t go to the Outer Banks any longer. Because THIS, my friends, is how I remember it and how it was supposed to have stayed. Had it not been for rich people needing to grab every square inch of the Atlantic coast line and build towering teetering mansions along it. (And if I’m horribly wrong, and this is Virginia Beach, I feel the same way. I vacation down the road in Sandbridge now. It’s built up but it’s not teeming with millions of people.)


Nana, Mom, and me. I remember this bathing suit. I had many but I loved this one. Look at all that NOTHINGNESS behind us. Sure there are cottages behind the dunes but they are low slung, all the better to ride out hurricanes. Look at all the NO PEOPLE! Bliss.


Aw, here’s me and my sister. She was actually pretty terrified of the ocean back then. Just like Red was at that age. But while she looks apprehensive here, it might have been the discomfort of the pox more than the waves.


Me at my happiest. As long as I was coated in salt water with a crotch full of sand, I was good.


My dad. Yep, it was the ’70’s for sure. He’s probably hunting for shells.


My sister hidden under netting, similar to the way I protect my tender garden seedlings so that bugs and birds don’t eat them. Maybe a seagull looked at her funny. Fortunately, she’s alive and well so that seagull had to find his dinner elsewhere.

There are more and some of my mother pregnant with my sister and looking stunning. Like I’ve never seen her before. Perhaps part two will be all photos of her. I’m sure her house is full of surprises like this but I won’t know until I have to dig it all out one day. Until then, I’m satisfied with this small time capsule.

It’s All Good

Well, it’s spring. That hopeful time of year when you begin to see and smell and hear signs of life. When there’s a warm day and a coldish day and a warm day and a frosty night and rain and sun and rain again. But you don’t care about the rain and the chill because the END IS NEAR. The end of winter. The cats and the guinea pig are ecstatic. Especially the cats who forget there’s an indoors until the sun goes down and the wind picks up and they suddenly remember that abandoned bowl of food in the laundry room and the warm lap awaiting them. Pretty soon, they’ll stay out most of the time.

I also know it’s spring when the people in my house begin to complain about the lack of shorts and sandals in their wardrobes and how all the stuff from last year doesn’t fit. So, I’m shoveling money at that problem bit by bit. The good part about this is that we finally all wear the same the size shoe and sock. This is shocking but good because I think their feet have stopped growing. The bad part is that grown up shoes cost more than kid shoes. Oh well. You can’t stop progress.

I’m having weird dreams which might be attributed to the change of seasons. If not, I’m just going to pretend it is. The other morning, I dreamed that for whatever reason, I was instructed to go to a certain place and meet “Jim”. The place turned out to be a video arcade circa 1984 and “Jim” was actually an imaginary friend – someone I know in cyberspace but have not yet met in real life. This was a relief because I’d been worried “Jim” was going to turn out to be a drug dealer or something. I don’t remember why I’d been sent to him. He went through all my stuff and found a puzzle in my bag that he’d made me (in the dream, not in reality) and I knew he wanted to kiss me but I wouldn’t let him. He is married (in real life and dream life) and I don’t kiss married men in any reality.

So, instead of that, he showed me a commercial for thigh high satin sock/tights things that featured David Bowie from his Ziggy Stardust era. Jim had a pair and I tried them on. They were kind of awful but exactly what they sound like: satin thigh high tights or socks or something and could only have been produced in 1972 and could only have been hawked by Bowie. Or possibly a super glammed up David Johansen but not really, actually. Just Bowie. Only he could have pulled it off. The tv was set into the wall much like the tvs that showed clips of his videos and mime movies at his Chicago retrospective.

And then of course, I woke up. And it was a dark cold spring day and there was no back alley video arcade and no Jim and no Bowie thigh high satin socks on my floor.

But, there were chilly cats to let in and a beautiful sunrise that slowly emerged through the trees across the road (it showed up eventually; my hatred of DST never diminishes) and the hopeful green stalks of future daffodils sticking out of the brown leaf covered flower beds.

So, it’s all good and will only get better and this weekend’s agenda includes planting carrots, potatoes, radishes and lettuce. FINALLY.

Fox Catching

I watched Foxcatcher last night and it made me ponder loneliness, the wealthy version, and the perils of searching for unconditional love from a mother and never getting it. It’s too bad DuPont was so clearly incredibly fucked up because if he’d been reachable, and I’d had a Tardis, I could have told him that we just have to find our own joy*. That spending our lives striving for the impossible will only lead to bad things. Like pain and sorrow and, in his case, prison. There was so much unsaid in the movie, so much that didn’t need to be said, and it’s those kind of movies that make movies worth watching. Like a good book that sticks with you like the jelly on the outside of the jelly jar (some jelly eaters are messy) that gets on your fingers and won’t come off until you actually wash your hands. Just wiping them won’t get rid of it. Or like one of those dreams that makes you wonder if there might be an entirely other reality that can only be visited while you’re sleeping in this one. The kind of dream that you carry with you in your head the next day, catching glimpses of that other life when you let your mind wander.

I’ve been fending off my own mother this week who, like my ex, will only contact me via email. She suddenly remembers I exist and fills a paragraph with a random assortment of questions, demands and guilt. The last doesn’t work on me. I live guilt free when it comes to what she, and my ex, want from me. Which is a lot; I give very little in return. It’s how it has to be. He wants to see his kids except they are expensive to feed. This surprises him because he hasn’t had to pay attention until now. She wants to see her grandchildren but also demands a pound or two of flesh. I don’t deal with Shylocks. I also won’t do Easter anymore. Easter is a ridiculous holiday for an atheist to celebrate. Especially when forced to celebrate it with a crazy person.

I’ve had to shut down the dating sites too, speaking of crazy people. Only creepy men contact me and none respond to my messages. And when I was matched to a trans guy in a polyamorous marriage? That was the last straw. Perhaps it was a bad day for OKC or something but….no. No more. I can’t do it anymore. I’ll just stay at home and keep tidying and watch movies with my cats. I’ll just hang out with friends, like I did today. I’ll just keep writing my new story. I’ll just wait for the snow to melt and the sun to warm things up so I can work on the garden again. I’ll just try not to be a mother who completely fucks up a child in an irreversible way.

Winter is – thank you JEEBUS – coming to a close, and while I’m very, very unhappy that this is the last day of REAL TIME until November, I’m glad that the weather’s on the upswing and the days will get warmer and I can reacquaint myself with the outside and listen to spring peepers and insects trill in the night. I can paint my deck and plant my gardens and watch things grow. I can mow my acres and write my novel and have fun with my daughters. And the people who create their own worlds of negativity will stay on the other side of the fence. Even if I have to keep building it higher.

*In real life DuPont’s mother died years before he killed Dave Shultz so I wanted to appeal to the fictional DuPont whose fictional mother rejected him.