Mom in Germany

Dear Mom,

One of the best legacies a mother can leave are stories. Even though I lost you physically in 2006 I can hear your voice today. You left a record in the albums you made for us. I wonder if you know how much that means to us now?

One of my favorite stories was of your trip to Germany in April of 1962. You flew to Germany to attend the North Atlantic Girl Scout Conference as one of the Girl Scout Leaders. You had encouraged us to be in Girl Scouts and as always was you were very involved in everything we did.

I love the story of this trip because it tells me so much about you as a person, not just as my mom. You visited Berchtesgaden…the photo (Mom is in the center with the sweater) shows you holding hands with the other Girl Scout Leaders there. Mom looks calm and dignified. The lady behind her, Lord who knows what’s going on there.

Mom in center I know now that you stayed at the Hotel General Walker, which as I understand it was originally a hotel built to house Nazi dignitaries and after being heavily damaged during WWII was rebuilt as one of Europe’s finest luxury hotels, with a breathtaking view of the Bavarian countryside and the Alps. I have the menu of your lunches there and your itinerary.

180512_0001But your words tell the story best. Talking about the crystal clear alpine streams in the villages you said…..

“In this stream I saw my first black completely round pebbles so smooth they were almost like marbles. This was the first time I had seen mountains and by the end of the day I had a crick in my neck trying not to miss any of them. It was in this village that we (her roomie) bought a bottle of German Beer, a loaf of black bread and a roll of German sausage. We set the beer in the snow on our window sill to cool and when the meeting was over we came back and had a midnight snack; with the windows open, snow on the ground and the moon lighting the mountains and the sounds of cowbells echoing from high on the mountain.”

You were 30 years old. I love the idea of you drinking German beer and watching the moon on the mountains. The poetry in your words reminds me how much you loved to travel and see new places, which is great since you were an Air Force wife. This must have been an exciting trip for a Texas girl from the small town of Jacksboro because you went by yourself. I wonder now how you talked Dad into that. My sister and I, nine and six years old respectively, stayed back in Texas with my Dad. I remember you saying that we told you,” We always got dessert when Dad cooked dinner when you were gone.” I’m sure Dad was just trying to bribe good behavior out of us.

You brought us back a box of the different salts mined in Berchtesgaden, which the pamphlet describes as their most important industry. You told us how you had donned miner’s clothes and sat on wooden rails and slid down through the mine. When you ran your fingers on the walls you could taste the salt. I remember the box of salts, different colored one-inch cubes. I secretly licked each one when you were not looking to see if they tasted differently.

I wish I had been with you as an adult on that trip. I smile every time I think of you whistling through the salt mine licking the salt off your fingertips. I bet you yodeled at the mountains too.

Thank you for telling us the story. It also explains why you loved the movie Heidi so much.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom.

p.s.  After I posted this my very intelligent sister told me that 1962 was one of the three years we were stationed in England, which of course makes much more sense that my mom got to go to Germany because she was so close. Well my bad. Math is not my strong suit. 🙂

 

 

 

Construction Work

#mwisdmatters

Combine an excess of scrap cardboard and 6th grade art students. Ask for them each to build a house that has a roof, four walls, a door and at least one window. Shake well and add end-of-the school year energy, paint and about thirty glue sticks. You get a small cardboard city and a lot of fun.

Lots of good discussions about hinges, doors, roof lines, balconies and interiors. The best part is the creativity my students showed in bringing their house to life. Good choices and problem solving were encouraged.

Drawing on the Heart

4468580706There are certain things I do each school year that are not just part of a curriculum. They are necessary to me as person. Necessary as part of what I want to teach children. I’ll tell you a secret. Every teacher teaches some things drawn from their heart. It’s part of the same package; teacher as a delivery system of a predetermined set of knowledge and skills and teacher as a human that filters teaching through their experiences, beliefs and communication skills.

In my realistic moments I understand that very few of my fourth, fifth and sixth grade art students will go on to be famous artists; if fame in that sense even matters. What I do hope is that I leave behind a legacy of kindness and commitment.

Kindness, in that from something I’ve said or shown to my students that they realize there is a common thread of good, decent behavior that runs through people, no matter where you were born or what life has dealt you. This presents the age-old question, “Is the glass half-full or half-empty when you are looking at humanity?” I want my students to choose half-full. Be realistic, yes. Cautious, yes. But giving, trusting and being kind is a risk that should be taken. No matter the outcome.

Commitment, in that seeing people as essentially good is a choice, and sometimes a tough choice. In the sea of negativity that my students face every day in the media, online and sometimes at home, choosing to create your own atmosphere and point of view is your right, really your obligation. It does not mean being a push-over or wearing blinders to the ugliness that exists. But choose to see the up-side. Choose to take a stand on what you like and don’t like. Choose to be kind.

So how does this connect to teaching art? What got me thinking about this is a story that I tell my fourth-graders each year. I told it last Thursday. It’s called “The Coming of the Bluebonnet” and is from a wonderful book called “Texas Tales with a Twist”. (https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Texas-Twist-Original-Enduring/dp/B0064XN59UThese are all short stories, tall tales and legends meant to be read or told aloud. (Spoiler Alert) Each spring when the bluebonnets first appear I tell a story to my fourth graders about a little Comanche girl who gives up what she most values most to save her people from a drought. She sacrifices her doll as a burnt offering and spreads the ashes to the four corners of the earth. She asks for a sign from the Great Spirit that her offering was worthy. In the morning, wherever the ashes of her doll touched a sea of bluebonnets appear. Then it begins to rain and the people are saved from the drought. The little girl gets her name, She-Who-Loves-Her-People.

I tell this story because it makes children think about giving. I tell it because it teaches about legends (I am careful to explain this is a legend) and interpreting the ideas presented in the story. Then we draw bluebonnets and talk about our state flower.

This is the concept that I really want children to understand. Visual art, like all of the arts, is a way of communicating what is important to people, a record of the good and bad ideas and events since our recorded history began. The stories, the ideas represented are what draws me to art, whether the ideas are abstract and mysterious or simple and obvious. I love the sophisticated artist and the folk artist all the same because of the thoughts that they show me. And I choose to teach that kindness, compassion, wonder, humor and understanding can all be taught through art. And that most of the wonderful ideas that humanity has cast upon the world are created, struggled for and born through the imagination and drawn from the heart. It is that idea that is important.

Internal Flight

blue 1

In my dreams, I don’t have to fight gravity, I only have to flex some hidden internal muscle to lift off from the ground. I don’t even stretch out my arms (thank God, that would look so silly!), and just float effortlessly up to the heights over the trees where I can see the earth below me. There is no sensation of movement or speed, just a presence over the earth. I guess I would describe it most like rising up to the surface and floating in water, but upside down, where you can see everything under you. Thrilling. Don’t start with me about Freudian interpretations, I think Freud had way bigger problems than I do.

Strangely enough, my awake-self is afraid of heights. I have a recurring nightmare of falling off a bridge. Riding in the car with my parents, looking out the window at the concrete barrier posts of the bridge flashing by, my father inexplicably pulls off to the side of the bridge and stops. I get out, climb the railing (who knows why) and teeter on the edge for some sweat-soaking, scream-inspiring moments before  falling towards the water below. Waking up before I hit, I’m still alive to redream that terror again and again. Hitchcock made Vertigo for a reason.

I’ve made an intense hobby of watching the wing-flap position in every phase of flight to ease my horror in commercial aircraft. My father, an Air Force Senior Master-Sergeant taught me the correct positions to calm me down. Like there would be anything I could do if they were not in the right position. Not that I have avoided heights or flying, I simply recognize my fear and plan for it. On planes,  mostly with wine.

I did however, almost brain an pimply-faced teenager over the Swiss glacier “Les Diablerets”, when  he announced it might be funny if we all bounced up and down in the Volkswagen-sized gondola to …” see what would happen”. I tell you what happened, I froze him in his tracks with one look and he trailed off to contemplate how many times he might bounce if I threw him out the window of the gondola.

He did not know I could fly in my dreams.

The Meeting

haunted path

The light was failing. I walked faster, pulled my coat up around my neck.

It looked like a leaf. Yellowed and curled on the edges, the letter fluttered in the afternoon wind; mixed with the amber avalanche of fallen leaves on the path.

“Judith, it said, My time here is done. Look for me in the fall, I’ll be waiting at our spot. ”

I looked up the path, half expecting to see Judith and the writer of the note locked in an embrace. The quiet was heavy in my ears. The trees seemed to close in, muffling the sound except for an impatient rustling and swirling of leaves settling down to the forest floor.

“She didn’t come.” I thought.  “But still he waits.”

Walking on, I can see the first green tips of crocus beginning to push through the leaves; sharp fingers like bones reaching up through the earth.