Monday, June 29, 2020

PT 3: Who Loved Me Into Being

I stalled writing this because I told myself I could look for photos of the special people who made me who I am--the people who"loved me into being."  But I realized quickly I'm never going to find photos of many without a lot of effort. And even with photos, I realized it would be impossible to ever do justice to those special people.

It's been fun thinking about who the people were in my life who profoundly influenced me. I'm just going to name three of them in this post and identify how and why they influenced my person-hood.

Mary Anderson, lifelong friend of my mother. 
Mary had two sons who were younger than I. Our families spent our summers at a remote enclave of four large seasonal houses built on the shore of large Idaho lake. It was accessible only by water (or an arduous hike from an automobile 'landing' a mile away over rugged terrain), so once we arrived, we stayed put! The houses had no electricity, just plenty of sunshine, water, and socializing. There were numerous youngsters at the lake every summer, all within a ten year range, but most were older than I To fill my need for companionship, I played every day with Jimmy and Johnny, Mary's boys. Because they were younger, I got to be the boss, and we made up a lot of fun activities and games, but I was in charge--quite a treat for the younger child in a family of two children. Mary loved that I paid so much attention to her little boys, and through that relationship, I felt great kinship. She hung out with my mom a lot, and I used to love to see and hear Mary laugh. Her style of parenting seemed so joyful and relaxed. She listened to my stories, and always seemed so pleased to share tidbits of my life. Mary and I began corresponding while I was in college--it was especially fun to hear her take on my student life, because she was a faculty wife at another university. By then we'd formed a deep, affectionate bond. She reminded me of my mother, but without all the 'strings' of conflict that accompany a young woman's bursting from the nest.

Ben Weatherwax: Friend (along with his wife) of my parents.
Ben made his living as a designer in an architect's office. He had great talent and an eye for style. He designed a beautiful year-round cottage for my family on the ocean, which endeared him to all of us, but even more exciting--he had a weekly radio show! I thought he was the most overtly talented grown up I'd ever met. When Ben would visit our home (with or without his family), he and my dad could talk and chuckle together, and I loved listening to them. Ben always asked me, a young-to-mid-teen, my opinions about current events! I really wanted to be an adult when Ben sat down to visit with my dad, because their topics were so vital and worldly. Ben knew I was a bookworm and always asked what I was reading, then would share his thoughts about the book, which, of course, he would have read years before. Our first literary encounter was over Jean Christophe by Romain Rolland. When he saw what I was reading he nearly jumped up and down with glee. "Oh, how I loved that book!" In the summer of '56 we had a long talk about my adoration for Thomas Wolfe. "Yeah," said Ben, "he sure did write some magnificent purple prose." (I had to look up that term!)  When he died in a house fire in November 16, 1956, I was torn with grief. He was the first person whose death I deeply grieved. At sixteen I was old enough to recognize the depth of loss when a vibrant person passes in the prime of his life. I was overcome with personal sorrow.

Gladys Phillips O'Day: Friend (along with her husband) of my parents. \
Gladys gave me a glimmer of what women could do in the world--besides being a secretary, nurse, or teacher, which were the three choices that "nice girls" had for their careers in the '50s. Gladys was an attorney! Not only that, she used her maiden name on her business cards! She wasn't stuck in the mold of just being the wife of a successful man. She made her own career and everyone knew who she was--for herself! That was a radical notion in the '50s. In addition, she was proud of her native American ancestry and shared stories and history of her family that made me think of native Americans differently from how I'd learned about them at school. Gladys had such reverence for her ancestral people, you couldn't be around her without catching a little of it from her. She was also a musician, and always asked me about my life as a violinist. Our families drifted apart, and we completely lost touch before I entered my thirties. And--truth be told--I was intimidated in her presence. As much as I admired her, I could barely imagine myself as a bold, strong, bright woman who stood up to--and even flaunted--the expected norms of womanhood. She was a true inspiration on a very personal level. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Part 2: Who Loved Me into Being: Margaret Whiteman

I continue thinking about the people who loved me into being: Adults who influenced my life in my formative years, those to whom I attribute (in part) my values, my character, my overall personality.

Aunt Maggie created
this cross-stitched
silhouette for me 1958
From an early age, Margaret Whiteman opened her heart and arms to the little girls who lived across the street from her father, Mr. Strauss. My parents who purchased their first Seattle house in 1943 (I was three, my sister seven) happily engaged with this tiny, vivacious woman and her lively son, Chuck, who came to look in on their father/grandfather. Over the next four years, the Whiteman family became good friends with our family, and at some point my sister and I were invited to call her "Aunt Maggie," rather than Mrs. Whiteman. When we moved to a bigger  house, the Whiteman family was part of our inner circle of family friends and remained there forever.

Chuck, Aunt Maggie, sister Judy, me
1949
It truly was a lovely family friendship, with my father and Margaret's husband, Glenn, deepening their bond every year, and Mother and Maggie always finding hundreds of topics to discuss and giggle about. Maybe it was because she had no daughters of her own, but Aunt Maggie was always genuinely interested in what my sister and I were doing. She was a talented piano player and artist, too, capable of improvising a little jig on the family piano or making a quick sketch in our autograph books (see the two photos below). Because Chuck and my sister were closely matched in age, their interests and abilities much more advanced than mine in the first decade of our families' friendship, so I was the 'odd-man-out' when the two families got together in the early years. Aunt Maggie always made conversation with me, not just the adults. Maybe that's the reason I believed Aunt Maggie and I had special bond. Her genuine interest in me resonated increasingly as I grew older.

In 1952 our family moved to Aberdeen. I was twelve; pubescent, tall for my age and overweight. Not the easiest profile for buying clothing in a small town. Quickly Mother learned that the shops in Aberdeen did not carry much of a selection of clothing for girls shaped like me,at least clothes that she approved of for a young woman. The department stores of Seattle carried lots of youthful looking clothing in chubby sizes. (Would you believe there was actually a clothing-size category for girls called "Chubettes" ?) More than once Aunt Maggie came to my rescue by shopping at a Seattle department store and driving to Aberdeen to bring special occasion garments she'd purchased 'on approval.' If the item didn't fit, or meet aesthetic approval, Maggie could return them to the store. I still have such fond memories of seventh and eighth grade dresses that Aunt Maggie selected for me, and I absolutely loved them. I always got the feeling the she took great pleasure in doing this for me. 

In fourth grade marionettes had
become my hobby. Aunt Maggie signed
my autograph book Easter that year
But Aunt Maggie was more than just a personal shopper, artist, and musician. She was interested in me and what I was doing. I felt like I could talk to her about anything--a real auntie figure, especially welcome because my only actual aunt lived thousands of miles away and I didn't know her at all. When we moved back to Seattle in 1956, my parents bought the home next door to the Whitemans! Certainly the fact they would know their neighbors was instrumental in their decision to purchase, and I was ecstatic. By then I was a sophomore in high school, transferring into the same school from which Chuck had recently graduated, so Aunt Maggie's first-hand knowledge of the school--its faculty, strengths, pitfalls, etc--was extremely helpful to me, a newbie. She also was available to listen to me whenever I just wanted to complain about school. We often talked about music and she would show me whatever creative sewing project she was doing. Sometimes she'd sit at the piano and play a little Liszt or Chopin, too--on the baby grand piano that prominently sat in her living room.

In fifth grade I had a new
autograph book signed on the
occasion of a Memorial Day Picnic
In addition to being an artist, she was a creator of all kinds of needlework, crewel, cross-stitch, even quilting. Whenever I got new dresses, elegant shoes, or especially glamorous sweaters, the first thing I'd do would be to take it nextdoor to show Aunt Maggie, who, predictably, would ooh and aah. She'd admire the fabric, rave about the cut, the color  . . . the kinds of things a mother might do, but it seemed so much more meaningful coming from an unbiased 'outsider.' I even remember taking my wedding dress to her house to show her the minute we brought it home, and I still remember how excited she was to see it. She lent such strength and emotional support after both of my parents' deaths, and periodically would call to chat on the phone until Jay and I moved to Wisconsin in 1972. Then we reverted to letters.

When Jay and I moved back to Seattle in 1986, one of the first people I visited was Aunt Maggie. By then was living in a retirement community in the downtown area near my work. Occasionally I would visit her during an extended lunch hour. I can remember her asking my advice about travel insurance at one of our last get-togethers, and how flattered I felt when she asked my advice about something, after so many times I'd asked for her opinion.

Yes, Aunt Maggie was definitely one of the people who loved me into being. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Who loved YOU into being?

The question seems corny . . . but it's also so profound, the question Fred Rogers asked audience members to think about at the awards ceremony of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1997. WHO LOVED YOU INTO BEING? If you're like me, you probably missed that event, but I'm sure you've heard the quote--most recently in the recent movie, 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' with Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys.

Grandmother Elmendorf  with me 1942
With nothing better to do in this locked-down existence, I started thinking about the people who loved me into being, and discovered a few surprises--even a few people who helped form me that I've not talked much about to my offspring. Of course, they've heard stories about my big three: mother, father, and sister. And my offspring have also heard about my grandmothers, particularly my mother's mother, Margaret Elmendorf.

She was always referred to as "Grandmother Elmendorf" at our house. Never Granny, Nana, Grandma or any other cozy nickname. For whatever reason from the first moment we were introduced, she was Grandmother Elmendorf, and my sister and I (for the seventy-five years we've been alive without her) still refer to her by her full moniker. And although I shared her with my entire family, it felt to me as a very little girl that she was exclusively MINE!

Of course, that was absolutely not true!. When she visited Seattle from her home in Spokane, she was there to see everyone: her daughter, her  son-in-law, and her TWO granddaughters.I am certain she loved my sister as much as she loved me, but she was just so present when she was in our presence. She was clearly very good at focusing her attention.

She died when I was five, but I have vivid memories of her. They are my own memories--not stories about her told me by others. She taught me how to knit, and I remember her sitting next to me, watching me struggle with the needles, ready to help whenever I turned to ask for help--but never, ever meddling or reaching for the needles in exasperation. She praised every eight-stitch row with or without a dropped stitch. She taught me how to sew, too, and by that I mean the very beginning basics: threading a needle, tying a knot in the end of the double thread, pushing the needle in and out of fabric in even spaces, reinforcing the last stitch with three extra stitches, measuring the doll for sleeve or skirt length. My doll had a wardrobe of beautiful clothes Grandmother Elmendorf made that lasted until I was done with dolls, as well as a few primitive pieces I made under her watchful eye.

I never pick up a needle and thread without thinking of her. When she was in the room, snuggled next to me, it was as though I was the only person in world. I had her rapt attention even in silence. Such a gift, and one that we could all get better at in this era with its constant interruptions by pings and chirps, rings and blasts from myriad media. Yes, Grandmother Elmendorf was certainly one of the people who loved me into being.

In another post, I will write about several other people who helped form me, but who aren't related by blood. They aren't people I've necessarily identified as helping to make me who I am until this solitary existence inspired the exercise. It's fun, thinking of those people. I hope my reflections might inspire others to ask the question of themselves: who loved me into being?

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Perspective

Maybe the title of this post makes you think the topic will be profound. Nope--just a silly observation I made as I returned home after a short walk.

When seen close up, the little plants in these little round holes look like small flower pots with intentional
'starts' in them for some glorious summer flowers. But that's not what they are. When viewed in their rightful scale, they are weeds finding peep holes of light from beneath a rubber covering of a pathway.

It occurred to me that we can all try to be more weed-like in this current COVID-19 situation. Somehow in this dismal and dark covering of our lives, we can also find air and light (and maybe even laughter and delight). Go, weeds!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Walk the walk

Sammamish River Trail (former
rail right of way)
Blyth Park in Bothell, Wash.
Whenever I begin to feel even a little bit sorry for myself, I only have to look out the window to realize I am one of the luckiest people on earth.

Because the coronavirus has changed so much of how we live our daily lives, many of my friends are severely limited in the ways they can exercise. In contrast, I have easy access to a variety of outdoor areas suitable for walking. My neighborhood has a plethora of wonderful places literally right outside my front door.
Former Wayne Golf Course
has yet to be named as a park.

The Sammamish River Trail is plenty wide enough to maintain social distance.  Blyth Park is across the river from my house and with a bridge that connects to it just two blocks from my front door. And, if the ground is squishy from recent rains, Blyth's parking lot is a great place to walk! Four times around the loopy parking aisles is one mile. 
Blyth Park is closed to cars
      but open for pedestrians                       

On some days, I walk through Blyth and cross over to the former Wayne Golf Course, now parkland belonging to the city of Bothell. Social distancing is not a problem there. It sounds corny, but I feel blessed.



Thursday, April 16, 2020

Putting myself in another world

 Recently I pasted a photo of my face on a Renoir note card and sent it to a friend. Her reaction was so positive, it inspired me to try it with other works of art.

Well, the project of looking through an art book to find paintings I wanted to inhabit was a real freedom event. It took me away from the world of solitude and isolation into an all consuming place for a little while, staving off the corona-virus blues.

The results (just two of them) are shown here . . . maybe you will be inspired to do the same. I took selfies, then shrank them to what seemed 'about right' in terms of scale, snipped them off the paper and laid them onto the art book page. Unlike my original note card experiment, no pasting necessary on this project.

I wasn't striving for perfection, just entertainment. Thank goodness there are ways to escape the suffocating presence of COVID-19.

Friday, April 3, 2020

The godsend of parks

Thanks to 'you-know-what,' local parks are getting a lot more use than they normally would during the work week. I've been walking in my neighborhood and feel lucky to have interesting places to meander in while keeping six feet away from others.

Red Brick Road Park is less than two blocks from my house. It's just a little segment (.2 miles) of a once four-mile-long road that connected Bothell to its neighboring communities. I've walked it occasionally since we moved to Bothell ten years ago. But only this week, when I stopped to look at the sculptures that represent the old-time transportation one would take to Seattle, did I realize the models were created by Bothell high school students in shop classes!

What a lovely thing it is to have a handsome school project on permanent display in a local park! One of the sculptures has some interesting graffiti on it now, which might have been added by a current Bothell High student. The graffiti isn't obscene or rude, but a radical commentary about life--maybe even directed at Covid19.

I am not alone in hating this confinement we're all living with, but at least I am able to enjoy fresh air daily. And that is a privilege not everyone in my age group is enjoying, so I am filled with gratitude to be able to enjoy the freedom and fresh air of a local park.