|Texas artist Bertha Bennett (1883-1957)|
Sunday, April 29, 2012
The truth about the temptation to buy “things you don’t need” is relatively simple. If you don’t intend to buy, don’t go shopping. The mall, the general array of retail stores that dot the landscape in every American city of any size— that doesn’t figure much into my life. If I need underwear, I go buy some new boxers. I walk a lot, and periodically I replace my hiking/walking shoes. My jeans pockets eventually give in, and the knees wear out. True, it’s at this point that they become really, really comfortable. Realistically, however, they’re not appropriate for some occasions, especially on an old man. All these things— I take care of them and then I’m done. Treasure hunting? A totally different set of needs, challenges, and satisfaction.
To get to the point, for indeed, there is a point here. Yesterday, the savior in me was called into action. My friend Tom and I hopped into his small truck to hunt out yard sales. He’d already looked online at craigslist. Out of the chute, going in my 4Runner was not an option. It’s loaded with packing blankets and things that belong to a friend in Santa Fe— things I was unsuccessful in selling on my recent trip to Texas and the semi-annual Round Top Antiques Fair. My vehicle is otherwise engaged until I return her things next week. Not far from where Tom and I live around the corner from each other, we landed at a yard sale in one of the many good-looking neighborhoods of the Nob Hill area of Albuquerque. Pueblo taken modern, high desert landscape but with large shade trees. The offering wasn’t huge, but it was clearly interesting, including a folded, well-loved, as in damaged condition, quilt laying at the top of a storage tub that caught my eye. “Is this quilt for sale?” I asked. There began the conversation. Yes, it was for sale, a second and third quilt, also somewhat damaged, lay under it. And inside the house, two prize quilts, also for sale. The hook for me? They came from the homeowner’s family in central Texas— made by her great and great-great grandmothers. I was in up to my nose.
The condition of the quilts was from bad to gently worn. The salable ones will have to be gently and appropriately soaked and air dried, for they smell of being stored away. Their presence in the living room from where I write tinges the air with evidence of human sweat. The fabrics, colors and design all said “yes” to me. Did they pass the test— you make your money in the buying? Did their purchase answer the question— can you make money off these? No, simply— or at the best, only a little. Did they answer my need to wrap my arms around a piece of history? Yes, absolutely. It’s all in the journey, for me, and once again, the circle remains unbroken. I’m connected to the story of how we got here and how we get where we are going. I get to be the steward of some well-loved domestic artifacts. And though this stop on the journey is a little about making lemonade out of lemons, oh, how sweet the lemonade will taste.
In conversation with the owner of the quilts yesterday, she produced old documents about the family who immigrated to central Texas from Arkansas in the third quarter of the nineteenth century— adding a promise to share some part of this information with me via the internet. On my own, I have found one of the ancestors— possibly one of the makers of these quilts— on a genealogy website. The owner of the quilts and I talked, we shook hands and said “thank you”, each understanding that an important human connection had just occurred. "Serendipity," she said, smiling, echoing what I had said earlier to her husband. I knew as I was writing the check— not a small amount— that I was paying too much to expect a significant return on the money. Knowing that, I was reminded of one of my habits, a habit lying in evidence in the two-story barn I call home the little bit of time I spend in Texas these days. I have rescued a lot of valueless quilts from yard sales over the years. Usually I bring them home, give them a gentle wash, and air dry them on the clothesline. Then I just fold them and add them to the stack of mostly-unnamed family histories that I just couldn’t let end up in the burn pile, or relegated to a dog’s bed, or flapping and disintegrating in the breeze in the back of a pickup truck moving household goods from one place to another. Make up your own picture of what happens to things that are no longer valued. A mass-produced quilt made in China and bought at Wal-Mart, well, that’s a no brainer. A hand-made quilt, a true piece of Americana, lovingly made and passed down through the generations, and now entrusted to me by a member of the family, even though for an agreed-upon price, well, that’s a no brainer as well. I am honored. In my mind, there is no doubt that this connection of spirits, well, it was meant to be. And I am the better for it. Namaste.
R. Harold Hollis, Albuquerque New Mexico (April 29, 2012)
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
For several years, this lovely rose has languished in the arms of a family of yuccas, all the result of one yucca I planted from the woods here in Leon County taking hold and then daring anyone to lay hands on them. I know because I have been stabbed by this beast more times than I can count. I've always called my yucca variety Spanish dagger because a neighbor used this name when I asked him about the yuccas growing in our woods. A glance at the yucca variety bounty on Wikipedia baffles me as to the exact name. Beautiful in its own way, the yucca is indeed a mighty foe. The Spanish dagger has rigid leaves which end in knife-sharp points, making the name Spanish dagger right on target. Left to its own, this yucca simply spreads and spreads and spreads. On my trip here this spring, I'd had enough. In fact, I'd had enough a long time ago. This time, I paid the man who periodically helps me with my yard to take a machete to old Spanish dagger. Given some light and the glorious rains of the winter and spring of 2012, the rose is flourishing. It is from a cutting I made from my aunt Edna's old stock more than a dozen years ago. She didn't know it's name and neither do I. Not to be vanquished, though, pups from the yucca are already peeking out of the ground. That's okay. Vigilance is the order of the day, and if my resources continue, my splendid rose beauty will continue to bask and thrive in its rightful share of sunshine and rain.
Monday, April 16, 2012
"Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all." from Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (Copyright, 1956, The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani)
Sunday, April 15, 2012
I am spending more time thinking about what I could be saying rather than saying it. Around the time of my mother’s death on February 1, 2007, and for a couple of years after that, I seemed to have lots on my mind that I guess I just needed to get out of that crowded space. Although I know about as much about a digital camera as I can store on the head of a pin, sometimes the camera has been a good friend to me. I would hardly leave my home without the camera, just in case I saw something that seemed important to me at the time. For several years I took so many photos that they now number in the thousands and have made the migration across three different laptops. When I bought a new MacBook Pro last October, the Apple store in Albuquerque had a serious challenge in getting all of the photos onto the new laptop. Now it seems that I am not nearly so camera-driven.
So what’s going on? Not so much in the way of words, at least nothing much that sends me to the keyboard. A digital camera, the current one soon to be five years old, that more often than not remains somewhere in my house when I head out to my vehicle or onto to the street for a walk that is pretty much a daily part of my life in New Mexico. A friend in Santa Fe who has been one of the recipients of my blog at times told me before I left for my current sojourn in Texas that he enjoys receiving my blog from Texas. It has been a scant offering in this late winter/early spring of 2012. Is it possible that what I’ve needed to say in words and pictures has been said? I doubt that—seriously, I doubt that.
I’m realizing that I have felt much less driven for some time. Chalk it up to getting old, going inside with some resolve, being bored with too many people offering too many opinions. More and more I just think about things, and I wonder—I wonder a lot.
I’m mid-way through the authorized biography of Tennessee Williams that with sometimes tedious detail covers the first 34 years of his life, through the publication of “The Glass Menagerie”. I’ve long been a fan of Williams’s work, my introduction being my high school’s production of “The Glass Menagerie” for University Interscholastic League one-act play competition around 1960. I can see the faces of Amanda, Laura, and Tom, and I can even remember the first names of the young actors who played Amanda and Laura. “Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger — anything that can blow your candles out! — for nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles Laura — and so goodbye…” (Tom, Scene Seven) So Tom Wingfield implores, as he grapples to get released from the clutches of his family, one based closely on Tom (Tennessee) Williams's own family. I was touched, most likely to the point of being silent—because I likely didn’t know what to say. I just knew in my heart that I had witnessed something that mattered deeply in a life-affirming way—at least to me, if seemingly not to most of the other kids seated in that auditorium. Why do I remember snickers? No doubt, the story touched nerves that causes discomfort in lots of people, especially unsophisticated teenagers. We weren’t country folk—our family—but we did live in a rural area. It was the era of Eisenhower, even though my social conscience was very much attached to John F. Kennedy and the soon-to-come Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson.
Most of my experience with Tennessee Williams has come through the films based on his stage works—Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Summer and Smoke, Sweet Bird of Youth, and more—produced on film as I was graduating from high school and going through college in the 1960s. It was a great time in the history of film, and the time in my life that I realized my love for the written and spoken word. I had a lot of catching up to do—and in no way made a dent over the next 10-20 years. But I did make my way through much of the wealth of work produced by southern writers. To this day, my favorite stories are still rooted in the south of my heritage.
As I read Lyle Leverich’s biography of Tennessee Williams, I am often struck by the very ordinariness of the letters and journal entries quoted from Williams’s papers. Yet they tell so much about a young man who was in many ways at the mercy of his family— a controlling mother without whose financial and emotional support, along with his maternal grandparents, Williams simply wouldn’t have made it; a father from whom he was alienated, only to acknowledge later in his life how much he wanted an emotional relationship with his father; his inability, or perhaps unwillingness, well into his late 20s to acknowledge his homosexuality. A short story writer, a poet, a playwright— a playwright known for his poetic language, and characters in struggling circumstances elevated to some level of universality. Nothing ordinary about that. Tennessee Williams’s life was so totally about his choices, choices like for everyone that grow out of our family experience.
Each time I come back to Texas— when I spend a few weeks each fall and spring here in the 2-story barn that became my home now more than a decade ago, when I am in daily contact with family—I am caused to mull over these roots of mine. Even though it is not really a case of loving it or not, these roots are what they are. I’ve been all over the outside and inside of them, only to have the same questions, but fortunately, with more resignation, more acceptance, more peace. This time I have visited a long-lost family cemetery on my mother’s German side, and I’ve become a little connected to cousins who are third or fourth in the lineage of cousins, some of whom I’ve met only a time or two. I’ve had more contact with some of the stories about closer relatives from that family and their turmoil. I am thankful for all of it, thankful that I have the choice of not being embroiled in matters that I cannot impact. It’s one thing not to care, another thing entirely to be wary of tar babies and to distance oneself from them.
It is a rainy, spring Sunday morning in east Texas. For the last five weeks I’ve had the luxury of hearing rain on the metal roof of this barn. I’ve had the luxury of hearing and seeing the birds that populate the sanctuary surrounding this place and the luxury of seeing and smelling the fruits of spring, including 20-plus rose bushes that are seeing happier times for the first time in at least a couple of years. While I might not feel much of a need to put it all down in writing, or catch it all in digital format, I nonetheless appreciate it. And I give thanks that I don’t feel so driven to make sense of it all. Some things—maybe most things—are just what they are.
Some Thoughts on Tennessee Williams—Normangee, Texas (April 15, 2012)
R. Harold Hollis