Wednesday, March 3, 2021

RETURN TO DIDDY WAH DIDDY


I suppose that not many people will view 
Nomadland and get an envee to buy an old van and take to the road, but I felt vagabond stirrings within me after I saw this award-winning movie.

In 1946, just after WWII, my father decided to quit his job as a civil engineer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and travel to "nomadland" to become a gypsy, as he called it. And when he presented this idea to my mother, she, who had been a Golden Eaglet Girl Scout and primitive camped in Alabama as a young girl, agreed that gypsying would be the life to lead. My father sold all our furniture, bought a utility trailer, filled it with camping equipment, and didn't bother to ask if any of his four children liked the idea. We were expected to wander in the western United States indefinitely. I once described my father's decision as a time when I heard all the doors of schools and libraries clanging shut against me.

My father took us to see Marlene Dietrich and Ray Milland star as gypsies in "Golden Earrings," and romantic that he was, he decided that gypsying was the way for all of us to live. My mother became excited about this proposed adventure. So, one warm day in May, after school had let out, we packed a utility trailer with camping equipment and an old trunk from my mother's college days crammed with all the clothes we were allowed to take. We filled a giant jug with water and placed it at my one-year-old brother Harold's feet in the front seat of a '41 Ford coupe, and off we went.

We survived three months on the road and 'though the open road looks appealing to me today, I remember uncomfortable days traveling ever westward, sleeping on stone tables in state parks, bathing in the Brazos River, and eating a barbecued jackrabbit my father had shot one night (illegally). Because I complained that I might never see a school again, he named me "a luxury-loving gal" and continued the odyssey. It ended in busy Los Angeles where he decided to turn around in traffic whizzing by and declared, "We're going home."

The Diddy Wah Diddy experience reminded me that I'm not an intrepid camper, but I like to think I could be. You can Google small trailers on the net and turn up photos of tiny campers for sale that feature everything except bathrooms and visualize crossing the Mohave Desert on a warm day in June. You might quickly return to earth. However, I admit that during these enforced times of isolation due to the Covid virus, travel trailers look enticing.

But… would you go out there in the vast expanse of desert or pass through it to avoid Covid, or seek company and amenities in nomad land at nightfall? Or would you fly on through it like the Flying Dutchman? I reckon you'd have to "keep a 'going," as my Grandfather Paul used to say. (He was one to talk since when he finally located my mother on the Diddy Wah Diddy trip, he encouraged her to come home rather than continue with the odyssey).
 

And so I sit at my desk watching fat robins fly in and quickly fly back out, and return to looking at small travel trailers, then add a second Diddy Wah Diddy trip to my bucket list. Maybe when I'm 90??!!
 
 


Monday, March 1, 2021

LEGACIES OF BEAUTY

Painting by Paul E. Marquart

 
During these spring-like days when life becomes flowers and soon-to-be gardens, I leaf through two black notebooks with photographs of my deceased brother Paul's paintings and gardens he planted in northern California a few decades ago. I'm proud of Paul's considerable talents in both fields, and I viewed his art firsthand several times, but I never tire of revisiting the photographs his wife took and relinquished to me on a visit about five years ago.

Although the paintings of flowers don't have his usual signature symbols—tiny people embedded in forests and other landscapes —I laugh when I discover them because Paul seemed to think people should be a part of any garden or landscape when he created art.
 

Paul's Garden


I once sat in the garden depicted in the photograph above, wearing a heavy jacket on a summer morning because the wind often blows cold in northern California, even in the summer. I loved the sights and scents of this Paradise Paul had created. He had a checkered past, beginning with mischief-making at an early age as the firstborn boy in our family, and he showed little interest in scholarly pursuits while in school, but he was someone I think Henry Miller would've taken under his wing as an artist living at Big Sur, California. However, Paul would not have liked the idea of being poor, although he would've enjoyed the community and stayed at Big Sur awhile during an adventurous period of his life.

I didn't communicate with Paul for twenty years until one day the phone rang, and I recognized his lazy southern drawl at once. "You need to come out to see us," he said. "I have this old pick-up you could use to tool around in the redwoods." At the time, I was employed at a daily job and told him I couldn't visit, but he continued to talk about his painting, and I told him I wrote poetry. "I'll trade you a painting for a poem," he said, and a few weeks later, we made the exchange. Two years later, I went out to northern California on vacation, and we reunited.

I'm proud to own a few of Paul's paintings and the two black notebooks. Paul began practicing art early, illustrating my father's tales about Jimmy Bear, but he didn't become a serious artist until the 1990s, when he gardened and painted until his death a few years ago. I like to pen the lines "art is eternal" when I look at Paul's paintings and gardens. And when winter closes in, I spend a few hours a week thinking of how art can alter a person's vision—and lead him/her to create a legacy of beauty.
 
 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

FOR ANNE SAYWELL, A BIT OF BIRD’S-EYE SPEEDWELL OR VERONICA PERSICA)

Blue-eyed Veronica


Today is a balmy February day, much like spring (72 degrees), and the sudden birth of flowers assures me that we’re going to enjoy the last weeks of our Louisiana sojourn. One of the small, winsome plants that have appeared near our home is thriving in a pasture for horses across Darby Lane here in New Iberia, Louisiana. 

“It’s probably too small to mention because it isn’t dramatic enough,” my botanist friend Vickie Sullivan declared. But I like this tiny blue flower called Veronica persica (Bird’s-eye Speedwell) because it isn’t a “show-off” plant. Linnaeus named the plant after St. Veronica, who appears in early Christian legends as pitying Christ on the way to Calvary and wipes his face with her handkerchief, which then receives a miraculous true image of his features.

Veronica persica has been naturalized in the US from Eurasian sources, and it seems to like horses because it grows almost under horse’s hooves near the golf club on Darby Lane. The sight of it causes me to lighten up a bit today. Yesterday, my dear British friend, Anne Saywell, passed into the “Also World” (as Sister Elizabeth of Convent of St. Mary calls the hereafter), and I was sad most of the day. 

I recently wrote a blog and published a photo of Anne Saywell that showed her in a beautiful sweater she knitted. Anne was someone I befriended in 1974 while living in Ahwaz, Iran, and we kept in touch for almost fifty years. I can’t say I “kept up with” because Anne and her friend, Maureen Allchin seemed to always be aboard cruise ships. They spent several months doing an “around the world” tour during the last decade of Anne’s life. A trip to Bulkington, Wiltshire in England was on my bucket list when Anne suddenly developed stomach pain, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and died 24 days after diagnosis.

I’m publishing Vickie Sullivan’s photograph of the beautiful tiny flower mentioned above as a small tribute to Anne Saywell, an outstanding executive in the administration of Girl Guides in England, a talented craftswoman and gardener who loved fun and games and blessed her friends with enchanting wit. She also possessed a gracious plenty of loyalty to anyone she befriended during her long life. I hope she has a good view of the Veronica persica from her new perch in the “Also World.”

 

Photograph by Victoria Sullivan