Weight

Sorrow weights my chest like lead: breathing
is hard. Today I can cry for a minute or so
and then that is over. Sorrow teething
tearing at me from inside like a crow’s
beak sharp pointed poking grabbing tearing
winter break approaching everyone goes
insane buying drinking drugging bearing
the cost into the New Year deepening woes
I miss the dead: father sister mother
Read my mother’s journals when I am ten
She writes about art and us and other
friends dead. Her voice clear again.
My mother is my age when she dies.
Her younger voice: memory smiles and cries.

Sterling too

I grow up with sterling.

My mother has a set of sterling. It is important to her. It is an emblem, a badge. She does not have as extensive a set as her mother.

My sister and I know the silver is special because of our mother. We like the tiny spoons best. They are silver with gold on the bowl.

“Can we use the special spoons?” we ask. For ice cream.

“Yes,” says my mother, smiling.

We run to get them, the small spoons, heavy for their size. Silver is heavier than stainless steel. The spoon also gets colder than stainless steel and tastes different. We eat our ice cream with our special spoons very happily.

We know that the silver is sterling. I don’t know what that means for a while. It means it is not plate. Plate? But these are spoons.

My mother shows us the stamp on the back of each spoon. “See? It says sterling. That means it is silver all the way through. Plate has silver over another metal.” She shows us the back of another spoon. The bowl has a worn spot. “The silver has worn away. And it does not say sterling.” We both study the two spoons and weigh them in our hands. The plate one is lighter. My mother is scornful of silver plate.

My mother is an artist and goes to museums. She comes back from one laughing. “They have an exhibit about homes and decoration. There is a room with tv trays and very few books and wall to wall carpet and a large color television. I thought it was so dull and ugly. Then I went to the next room. Oriental carpet and books and a guitar and no television and art!” She laughs. “They have me nailed. I am such a snob and it looked just like our house!”

We do have a tv but it is the smallest black and white that you can get. And my father knocked it over one night. Now the picture is cup shaped. The top of heads are wide and swollen. Neither of my parents care enough to get it fixed or replace it. They spend their money on art supplies and books and music. Friends visit. “What is wrong with your tv?” I look at it in surprise. I am so used to the deformed picture, I stopped noticing long ago.

Once we are at my mother’s mother’s house. My mother tells another story. “I found mother sweeping to get ready for guests. She swept the dirt under the edge of the rug! I said, “MOTHER! What are you DOING!” Mother just looked at me and said, “It’s a poor mistress who doesn’t know the maid’s tricks.” My mother’s mother did grow up with servants. But not here. She was born in Turkey because her father was a minister, running an orphanage and school. My grandmother lived there until she was sixteen and the family was exiled from Turkey at the start of World War I.

I give my mother’s sterling to my niece, after my sister dies. My children are not very interested in sterling. That is ok with me. Things change and values change.

I still have some special spoons, and think of my mother and father and sister when I eat ice cream.

___________________

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: sterling.

Doll culture

When I was married, my husband described my parents as “Time-Warp Beatniks”. That is a good description. We had no television until I was nine and my sister was six, because my parents disapproved of television. This lack made me even less social at school, even though I was never ever good a small talk. I still don’t understand the small talk code.

My mother disliked Barbie, so she conspired with her brothers. We had five girls and two boys in my maternal cousin generation. My mother got the four younger girls all 8 inch china dolls, instead of Barbie. The next summer, the younger boy got one too, since the girls were all sewing and building furniture and generally going to town with them.

I was also given the doll in the picture. She was my grandmother’s china doll, Katherine White Burling. I do not know who sewed the dress that she has on, possibly my great grandmother. The stitches are by hand and tiny. We understood that the dolls’s world was in the late 1800s and since this doll came with a wardrobe, we sewed doll nine patch quilts and my grandmother helped make demure pantaloons for our dolls.

My sister and I did manage to score Barbies eventually, though our china doll world was much more full. The china dolls went with us to Ontario, to Blind River, Canada, where my maternal family has shacks on a lake. We were all allowed to use scrap wood to build tables and chairs and benches and beds, as long as we PUT THE TOOLS AWAY.

Meanwhile, my paternal grandmother, Evelyn Bayers Ottaway, was a brilliant knitter. She taught me to knit at age 8, but it didn’t really take. I learned again in Denmark and still knit. Grandma Ottaway knit elaborate Barbie clothes on microscopic needles. I still have a few of them. They were in the late 1960s and early 70s and really beautiful. One was a tiny knit stole, with a mohair, lined with brown satin. My china dolls stole it from my Barbies. Or perhaps there was an exchange, I don’t know.

The hand sewing came in handy. I have had surgeons ask me where I learned to stitch. “Doll clothes,” I say. They tend to look confused at that.

At one point I had a patient here who was indigenous to the area and age 104. She told me, “When I was in my twenties, even if I dressed like the Caucasian women, they would get up and move to a different pew if I sat by them in church.” I apologized. She told me not to worry, things are changing. So in the photograph, the woman behind my grandmother’s doll is an indigenous weaver. There is a tiny baby on a cradle board. They are having tea together. That is wishful thinking on my part, but we are allowed to wish for peace and work for harmony. Two cultures, still trying to come together with respect.

Blessings and peace you.

__________________________

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: culture.

Family

The photograph is from left to right, my sister Christine Robbins Ottaway, my (sort of but not blood) cousin Katy, and me. This is a fourth of July. We wanted to DO something. We were at my maternal grandparents’ in Trumansburg, New York. My mother suggested that we dress up and do a presentation. We wore her 1950s prom dresses, held a small parade involving three dogs and a cat who were also in costume, and read the Declaration of Independance and the Preamble to the Constitution to a group of adults in lawn chairs. This was in lieu of fireworks. We had fun but we still missed fireworks.

I am thinking about asking. I could not ask my mother for specific things I wanted as a child. She would get me a different and cheaper alternative. If I was disappointed, I would be guilt tripped or humiliated. I did not ask my father for things either. He would make and break promises, too sick from alcohol or he would have forgotten. I stopped asking because I did not like being disappointed and I did not like being shamed. Once I really really wanted something for Christmas. My sister and I made a quiet deal, showing each other exactly which toy we longed for. Then we each shopped with our mother and insisted on the toy the other wanted. Our mother did try to talk each of us out of the toy. We had arranged it so that we were spending the same amount of money: $20. She thought that was outrageous and that something cheaper would do just as well. We both stood our ground on the other’s behalf and then open the presents on Christmas day with faked surprise and real joy. We did NOT tell our mother.

On an earlier Christmas I sewed my sister a toy stuffed snake. My mother was discouraging, but she let me have cloth and needle and thread. “Why do you want to make her a snake? A snake?” I couldn’t really explain well. We had gone to a county fair and my sister and I both longed for the velvet snakes, six feet long and deep red. The snake I made for my sister was only a foot and a half long and I had flowered fabric, not velvet. I coiled it in a circle and wrapped it. My sister was delighted with it and held it all Christmas morning. My mother just shook her head. “A snake.” she muttered.

The things that I could ask for were books and music. I was the kid that the teacher would hand the scholastic book box to after she handed out one or two books to the other kids. I would order 20 books. My father said I could have as many as I wanted as long as I read them all. The only books I avoided were about television or movies. I loved a non fiction book about WWI Flying Aces. The technology of the airplanes and the problem of bullets ricocheting off the propeller were amazing. I also liked that it talked about the ACEs on both sides: German, English, French, American.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: ask.

I don’t know who took the photograph. I think it was one of my grandparents. Oh, I think “cousin” Adam is in the picture too, though he is nearly hidden behind the flag.

hunger

It is hard to write about hunger

I am always hungry
I am always afraid
I always long for love

How can I always be hungry?
The hunger is partly for food
and partly for love

They are tied together
“You have food insecurity,”
A friend says

I want to argue and do
but I also know that he is right
I am always worried about food

My daughter has it too
she admits that even as she finishes a meal
she wants to know that there is food for the next meal

A friend tell me about running out of food
hiking in Alaska. He is ok with it.
My daughter and I agree we will never camp with him.

My mother says that pregnant
she is hungry the entire time
fantasizes about a banana split and chocolate syrup

After the baby is born
“I did not want the banana split!”
she says and laughs

Maybe it is the baby who is hungry
inside the womb, the fetus that is hungry
“The doctor yells if I gain any weight.” laughs my mother.

Hunger and love intertwined.
I don’t see my mother for nine months after birth
because she is ill.

I curl around my daughter ferociously
I want to protect her from any harm
I eat when I am hungry and feed her food and love

____________________

The photograph is me and my mother. She is getting over tuberculosis and is still very thin. I think that my grandparents took the photograph. I took the photograph of the photograph.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: hunger.

Finch Face

YOU thought I said “Fish face.” Fish faces came up at the wedding.

When my son is a baby, he goes with my husband for a well child check. I am in residency and can’t get away. The doctor asks, “Can he play patty cake?”

“No,” says my husband, “but he can make a fish face.” My husband has a long narrow face. He pulls both ears out and purses his lips. He wiggles his ears.

My son promptly makes a fish face.

“Good enough,” says the doctor.

My son has a small godson. They have mostly said hi on zoom. My son has taught his godson to make a fish face. When they visit in person, he makes the fish face and his godson’s face lights up. Oh, this is THAT person and they are REAL, not just on a screen!

The godson is the ring bearer at the wedding last Sunday. I tell him I am his godfather’s mother and make a fish face. Then I call my ex over. He makes a fish face and the godson is delighted. All of these talented people at the wedding! Who know about fish faces!

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: faces. Very Happy Mother’s Day to everyone, who is a mother, has a mother, is a grandmother, has a grandmother. I could go on.

Upstage

I am reading Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius, A Guide for the Poet Within, for a class. In the chapter about cliches, she suggests choosing a cliche and playing with it. The first example on her list is “A sudden fear gripped me”, so she inspired this:

Upstage

A sudden fear gripped me by my nipples
I hear my mother: Colder than a witch’s titty
Why must the witch’s titties be cold?
Must they dance naked even in the bitter winter?
Can a witch retire at a certain age
Sit warm, clothed, with her cat and tea
By a fire with enough fuel for winter?
You’d think they’d get pneumonia dancing naked
In any weather; yet witches are usually old.
Maybe it acts like jumping in to cold water
To dance around a Beltane fire; maybe witchery
is hot work and they aren’t cold at all.
Maybe a witch’s titty is warm all the time
And meanwhile the fear is gone, upstaged by titties.

L is for landscape

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

L for Landscape. This watercolor is of Coolfont, West Virginia, a view from the deck of my grandmother’s house.

My grandparents lived in Trumensburg, New York. My grandfather, F. Temple Burling, died when I was 13. He was 79. My grandmother lived in the enormous house for a while, but eventually sold it. She moved to West Virgina, a couple of hours from my parents. Later she bought a second house two doors down. Her sister and sister’s husband, Estie and Russ Parr, moved in and they all lived on the same block as my parents until their deaths.

I love this landscape, both because it is so gorgeous and because of the memories of all of the family.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

K-k-k-Katy

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

This is a multigenerational post. I am Katy, Katherine after my maternal grandmother. The drawing is of that grandmother, done by my mother H. Ottaway in 1978. My mother mailed me the sketch diary for Christmas. My grandmother was Katy B, for Katherine Burling, and I was Katy O, for Katherine Ottaway. I have inherited a spoon that has Gertrude, Margaret and Kathryn engraved on the bowl. A different spelling, so I don’t know which Kathryn that was.

So K is for Katy. My father used to sing K-k-k-Katy to me when I was very little. It is from 1917!

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

small cruse

The Ragtag Daily Prompt is cruse, which I had to look up. I thought, I don’t have any earthenware. Then I thought, yes I do, but can I find it? I did.

My sister and my maternal cousins and I had elaborate doll houses with china dolls. I think the adults were trying to stave off Barbie. We collected whatever we could find for the doll house, for 8 inch dolls that were the “kids”. The adult doll was 12 inches.

The three earthenware pieces in the back are from the late 1960s or early 1970s. I am guessing SE US or Mexican. The three in front are Native American and from after 2000, at least, we got them after 2000. Possibly at a garage or thrift sale.

I think my grandmother made that dress, because of the button detail down the front and the short sleeves. I did do lots of sewing, small quilts, dresses, mattresses for the beds we made.

Here are the live cats, wondering what I am doing.