I am one of the artists exhibiting work in this “Faculty Showcase”. I will be at the opening reception from 4:30 till 6:30 tomorrow. I have 4 large pieces hung all from 2016. If anyone is in the region stop in to see us. Quite a variety of visual concepts!!
Gardens that I have known have been places of refuge for the people who tended them. Peace and solace can be found in a garden. Gardeners, as they work, often look as if they prefer to be on their own with their methods. As the hand of an gardener works, the mind of the gardener drifts. The gardener is far from alone. Alone with one’s thoughts and surrounded by God’s beauty; prayer, meditation, and the counting of blessings come easily, in the garden.
The first gardener whom I grew fond of was Lena. I was four years old when I took true notice of her. She kept perennial gardens throughout her small yard. My mom and I lived with my grandparents; Lena was my grandparents’ next-door neighbor. Lena would rest on her knees amidst the thick, manicured lawn that corralled the well planned, geometric shaped gardens on her quarter acre of land.
The tulips she kept in the circular garden at the center of the back lawn were spectacular. The garden was at least ten feet across. I admired those tulips. There were so many beautiful colors, and they stood so straight and proud. Their proximity was too far out of reach for me, though I was tempted by them. Closer were the irises. Along the side of her house that faced my grandparents’ driveway the long rectangular garden held what seemed to me to be one hundred irises. I was enticed by the irises. I remember picking one once. I reached half way down the stem, grabbed it, then ran with it to our back yard as fast as I could. I sat with it on the step of the garage door. I remember the iris’s beauty and it’s smell. I was four and I knew that I had done something wrong. I felt guilty and afraid.
Lena was quiet, a reserved lady; very different from my grandmother, who expressed herself freely at any given moment. Because of Lena’s quiet manner I thought she didn’t like me much. After I picked the iris without permission, I was sure she didn’t like me. I remember my grandmother complaining to me or my mother, or to whomever happened to be there in the kitchen to listen, that my grandfather was talking with Lena, again, about her garden. Grandma was jealous because Grandpa and Lena had a common interest in gardens. Grandma loved flowers, but she wasn’t taken to tend to them outside.
Lena’s only son had grown and moved into his own home by the time that I knew her. As I reflect, I believe the time that she spent working in the soil was a time of devotion for her. She was the widow of a man, whom I learned in adulthood, sadly, had taken his own life. I was never given specific details, but I assume it happened at the home. Lena was left with their only child, a young son, to raise alone. It is no wonder to me now that she found sanctuary in the gardens surrounding her home.
My memories of Lena are few, until the summer after my beloved grandfather passing. It was late summer and Lena was digging up the irises to separate them because they were too crowded. She called me over and said to me, “Carrie, would you like me to show you how to plant the irises along the side of your grandfather’s garage?” I was so happy to hear those words. I replied “Oh, yes, I would love that.”
Side by side on our knees we worked together, Lena and I, digging in the soil and placing each group of iris tubes in to stabilize them upright. It took most of the afternoon. Lena told me that I would be able to transplant them after they spread, that it would take a couple of years. Immediately, I knew where I would transplant them: in front of my grandfather’s gravestone. I was so pleased that I would be able to share, the irises that I adored with my grandfather at his resting place, like Lena did with me.
The irises that I planted at the cemetery two years later, still bloom; it has been thirty-six years since I first planted them there. Since then, I have shared Lena’s irises with my mother and my aunt and I have brought them to my home as well. The flowers that I admired as a child, my neighbor’s sanctuary, are still with me. Lena was with me as well. I enjoyed conversation with her and advice on my own gardening over many years. She was in her 90s when she passed, just a year ago. One place where I will forever find my faith and be at peace will be “in the garden.” Thank you Lena. Carrie
Thank you Jesus for the gardeners.
I picture you guiding the way for many loved ones through the garden. We are blessed that you walk with us, that you lead us and that you carry us when need be.
All of nature is a gift from our Father; let us protect and nurture that which you have blessed us with.
All of the natural beauty that surrounds us in our world we are thankful for. Amen.
I heard the other day that a good practice before going to sleep at night is to reflect on three things that made you laugh that day. I found this quite discouraging, as I was already more than half way through the day and I realized that I hadn’t been brought to laughter yet. Then realized that this is not unusual for me. The lucky people are the ones who can laugh easily at things that are heard/ spoken, not seen. That is not me. Spontaneous gestures, movements or postures strike me as funny. These are not as easy to come by on a daily basis, especially if you aren’t seeking them out.
As a child, age 4, I remember watching “The Monkey’s” show whenever I came upon it on T.V.. I loved the music of “The Monkey’s” then, and still do. What was more interesting to me than the music though, was the silly ways in which the band went running about ridiculously, in seeming less peril. The producer of that show was ahead of his time (surely it was a him, it was the 1960’s), the cast members would individually look directly at the camera and connect with the viewer. It was all spontaneous miming, live action rushing about. Then the band would play. Davie lead singer & guitar, Peter guitar, Mike guitar and Mickey drums, they were a hard act to follow. The first comedic and band experience of my youth, theatrical on many levels.
Before hearing about this practice of reflecting on three things that made you laugh in a given day, I had been reflecting on something that gave me the same satisfaction as this exercise is supposed to. It was the huge smile that I saw on my husband’s face, while laughing inches away from mine, just the week before, while attempting to ball room dance. It must have been the proximity that effected me so, feeling and seeing the laughter so closely. Lance has a good sense of humor, he laughs pretty regularly. This time was different, though, it will be forever engrained in my memory, a visual gift, that smile on his face. It was a Wednesday night in February, on a basketball court. We were doing our best to please our dance instructor, Bill Baltusnik, so that we wouldn’t be called out by him to be “re-taught”.
Seventeen years ago I talked my Lon-mon into taking ballroom dancing with me. We took two- 8 week sessions at the time. The second session our friends Deb & Jim Haeger joined us. We enjoyed our time together. It stood out to me as one of the most enjoyable times spent with my husband. Why? Because we put ourselves into the uncomfortable position of learning something new, that neither of us had any experience in. The awkwardness that we both felt made us comfortable. We laughed a lot.
Dancing, free style to almost any type of music is at the very top of my list as the best most fun experiences of my life. I love to dance! The first dance that I remember practicing was “The Locomotion”, it was in “Neisner’s”, at the Westgate shopping center. It was by the toy section at the right side of the store. Mom had walked with me and my friend Kelly O’Connor there on a Sunday afternoon. Kelly, always uninhibited stood me at her side and showed me all the moves to the “new dance”, “the locomotion”, as the song played over the store’s radio. I was hooked. Later, I remember watching “Soul Train” with Kelly in our teens. We would mimic the latest moves. Before I knew it, the 80’s came and the dance floor became my stage. My cousin Victoria and had the time of our lives. I can’t express how much I love to dance.
Lance feels the opposite of me regarding that type of dancing, it makes him uncomfortable. Lucky for us, ballroom makes me uncomfortable, too. Last month, with no persuasion, Lance agreed to give ballroom dancing a try, again. We found that what we learned 17 years ago didn’t come back to us “like riding a bike”. That is exactly what is making the experience such fun again. The reason that I got to feel, hear and see that laugh, so close. The image I will forever have of my smiling man, I am thankful for. I may not have 3 times in a day that I can recall laughing, truly laughing. At least I can recall being completely loved.
Karry Fuller Comfort ~ 3/4/2018
We’re all drawn to short stories, at some point in our lives, especially those of memoir. Memoir is a reflection of something unseen, inside. It is how I tend to communicate verbally, and often times, how I tend to bond with friends. I have been told many times that I could talk to anyone and get an interesting response. My mother in law once told me that I could have a conversation with a corpse (I didn’t like that she said this at the time, she has clarified the statement over the 25 years since she said this to me. She says, she meant I could get a very boring person to converse about something worthy.) People who I hardly know have trusted me and told me about their most personal experiences. I feel that this is partially because I am so willing to share my own.
The first time that I remember having empathy, deep rooted empathy, for someone else I was nine years. old. I had been at the grocery store with my mom and grandma. It was late on a summer night. It must have been a Tuesday or Thursday, those were the nights mom worked until nine. She worked retail. I remember it being dark when grandma pulled the car up near the curb. We had to park behind both a police car with its lights flaring and an ambulance. The police were at the home of my next door neighbor, Georgia Mae. They had the gurney form the ambulance. I remember being upset and saying to my mom that something bad must have happened to Georgia Mae. We left our groceries in the car and hurried to join the rest of the neighbors, mothers and children, along the sidewalk to see what was going on.
We were the 500 block, a close knit community in the only apartment complex that was sometimes called the “project” in my home town. Kids from all of the eight blocks in our public housing conplex knew Georgia Mae, but we in the 500 block claimed her as ours. Mom’s and children stood along the grass that edged the sidewalk to give the police officers room to come by. It was a difficult thing to see, the police taking Georgia Mae away, bound with white straps, tight to a gurney. Her dark skin and hair in contrast to the white sheet she lay upon.
Between her sobs she was hollering, it seemed as if it was to us, the neighborhood kids. She said that she didn’t want to go, she didn’t want to leave her home. She could only move her head, it flailed back and forth as she called out. To me it seemed that she went silent when she caught my eye. She knew me well, as I was right next door. Her eyes said to me “HELP”, empathy arose from me, as tears flowed down my face. It was as if a straight jacket held her to the board dashing by on its metal legs and wheels. I was full of distaste for the intervention we were all experiencing. You must see, this still effects me. I shed tears as I write this. Nine is a very impressionable age.
Calm and quiet during her days in her garden. Georgia Mae enjoyed showing me through all of her precious plants. Her little plot of land in the front yard held perennial flowers of many types. At the back of the building she had another small plot of land where she planted vegetables. She liked to tell me about her flowers whenever she could get me to stop and listen. She was very proud of her green thumb. During the day she hung out laundry, tended to her garden and talked to the neighbors. It was only at night every so often that there was a commotion due to her heavy drinking problem. I met Georgia Mae when I was six, I was more drawn to her than I was her daughter who was my age. Looking back I would guess that her youngest had a learning disability, she wasn’t serious enough for me. But there was much about her mom that I found interesting. She was my first black friend, though she was middle aged, moody, and an alcoholic. I cared deeply for her, as many of us did in our neighborhood.
During the heat of the summers of 1974, 1975, 1976 I was to see Georgia Mae carted in the manner previously described, a hand-full of times. The policemen who came, usually three, were respectful. They grew to know Georgia Mae and they seemed to care for her just as we did. I remember them being young, male, white, tall and thin. I also remember them working together as a team, seeming to try to make Georgia Mae as comfortable as possible. They spoke calmly and direct. They always said her name. This, I could see, kept her calm. She seemed to feel safe. Never was a weapon drawn in my presence. As she aged she calmed down. The only photograph I have of her was taken in 1978, she happened to walk over to talk while my friend was taking my picture with my polaroid camera. It does not show her face. She passed away within a year of this.
Georgia Mae was unique to me , my mom and grandparents. We were open. I grew from the experience of knowing her. I found empathy at nine years old for my neighbor because of the fact that I knew her. In my adult life my surroundings have regretfully become less diverse than those which I grew up in. I married the man whom I love, and moved to the small town he grew up in. We live ten miles from where I was raised. I am a teacher and I am lucky enough to teach in the district where I grew up. Somehow, I feel a commonality, a kinship with my middle school students. Especially those who come from the means that I did. I feel grateful for this.
A good conversationalist methodically reflects and listens, a lot, then, shares what they can remember of similar experiences. Someone who has had a variety of experiences, good, and bad, can help another person feel connected enough to share more about themselves. Bonds are made through empathy. Putting one’s self in the other’s place during a difficult time for further understanding and connection can do this. A good conversationalist gives, stops, listens, and gives a little more, that is all.
This piece was prompted during the week of the fourth of July 2016: One of the worst weeks documented in recent history regarding race and force in the USA.
On Empathy… We all need to have empathy, everyone does. When tragedies occur, such as the horrific events of the past week, (7/4/2016), we all find a degree of empathy. Empathy, not pity, concern, for fellow human beings, make strong bonds in society. We need to connect, not only with people who are like us, but different from us. Be proud for others, believe in them. There is truly so much more good in this world than there is evil. Shine your light to let others feel it’s warmth. Kindness matters, always.
Karry Fuller Comfort 4/21/2017
Ode to the Front Porch
The shovel that grandma used for the front steps was small. It was made for a child, perhaps, me I thought. But it was hers. A wooden dowel held together the bright red-orange plastic handle and shovel blade. Grandma was only 5’2″ at her tallest. She was sure to let me know that the child’s shovel was best for her because it was light.
I can still picture my grandma wearing her flowered velvet turban style winter hat. The hat complimented her bobbed white hair. It was a rusty brown color with gold roses and moss green leaves decorating it. A velvet flower was placed on the hat. The flower was always balanced over her right brow. There she would be on her way out in the winter child’s shovel in hand wearing the turban and the royal blue tweed coat with large buttons and the large white fur collar.
That shovel went with her into the car, light and easy to carry about. When she would get stuck in the snow filled driveway she would put the shovel to work and holler to me to “get the cat litter”. She would clear behind and in front of the two back tires with her little shovel then add the cat litter that I retrieved. She knew how to get out of a fix like this, forward and back she would rock the car in the driveway over the cat litter. When she felt the time was right she placed the gear in reverse and charged out of the drive into the street. Luckily no one was ever going by behind her. I didn’t realize what she was doing was dangerous at the time.
The shovel sits now. On the back porch. There is no longer a handle to grasp, just the dowel and the shovel’s end. Mom used the light shovel with the missing handle, same house, same porches, same drive, years later. That was when her hands could still grasp the stick; till the ALS took her grasp.
The slipper, it wasn’t a slipper it was a shoe. Why did they call it a “glass slipper”, Cinderella’s, we barely knew. Did I ever lose a shoe? Not one that was on my foot. I think that mud may have tried to take one from me before. Good thing it wasn’t quicksand. My biggest fear as a child; Quicksand, to sink slowly, nature’s killer. Sinking deeper and deeper till the tips of the fingers on your raised hands disappear forever. After heavy rains, I stayed clear of the muddy puddles on the path by the river where I played.
It was the fault of the Saturday morning “Monster Movie Matinee” that I looked so forward to watching after the cartoons. I was very young, intrigued and alone. Grandpa would be off painting houses with Homer on the weekend, mom worked at “Star’s” and grandma would sleep in on the weekend, late…sometimes I would see her from my view from the door to the front porch. Backing out in the car in a hurry to go off for some reason.
The doorway blocked. I made all three cats stay with me in the living room. I did my best to line them up on the couch in a row as viewers. Rusty my dog would be by my side on the carpet. All of the comforts of home, ready as ever for the quicksand to suck down the actors in the “Monster Movie Matinee” to my amazement.
Caught in the elevator’s doorway, stuck with mom and her power wheelchair, much like quicksand, the feeling. It was the front right wheel and the door shutting on mom, alone, caught. Anxiety, frustration, fear; to feel helpless is humiliating. To be stuck was much like being sucked down, it was dreadful. Mom looked to me, I took on her feeling of helplessness and called out in fear, for help. She looks for me to do just that. It worked. Someone from the hall responded.
The porch out front on Healy Ave, I jumped off of when the snow was deep and I was small. I created my own tunnel of light blue bliss. A shaft carved out by the rush of my over stuffed navy snowsuit. I looked up at grandpa, always ready to clear the porch and the drive when he was with us. I amazed him, and I knew it; how lucky am I? The porch grandpa built, it was a place. He laid each cinder block, he molded it’s cement and placed the steps. It stood.
Now I paint the wooden decking and the rails that cover the concrete porch. Mom’s ramp is gone. As the house sits still and quiet. The streetlight shines, it’s dusk. A young couple glide up to me on their bicycles. Their bikes are loaded with gear as are their backs. They ask how far the closest camp ground is, and look discouraged. They told me that they had been riding across the country. They were from Alaska, I assume in their mid-twenties. They set up the tent in Mom’s yard after my offer. I knew that they would be safe and my mom would be pleased.
I heard that we were moving, me and my mom, by eavesdropping, again. That is how I got all of my information as a child living with three parents. My mom, and my two grandparents were my entire family. The women were always making some kind of plan, thanks to grandma. Like when I was four and they were discussing sending me to “Head-Start” while I sat in the back seat of grandma’s car, annoyed with them. It was like I had no say in any matter, and I felt like I should have. That is how it is when you are an only child surrounded by attentive adults, like you should be treated as an equal. That is how I remember feeling any way. I was very sheltered, shy and imaginative. What I imagined about leaving my grandparents’ home was not good. I loved it there .
Grandma parked right next to the large brick building, just at the start of the sidewalk along the front of the block. We were to see the new apartment. It was late and just the three of us. Grandpa was working the late shift at “Revere”, as he always did. Mom had to be picked up from her cashier job at “Stars”. Grandma and I had to wait for her shift to end. It was night, the sidewalk was empty as we walked to our porch. The door was painted olive green and it had a mail slot that was shoulder height to me. It had a brass door knocker just out of my reach and a heavy duty lock.
Inside, there was no light in the living room, mom found one in the kitchen and turned it on. A bright light shined from the center if it’s ceiling. I went right upstairs. The bedrooms were up there, both seemed big. I shared a room and a full size bed with my mom as far back as I could remember. I stood in what would be my own room. There was no light bulb, there were no shades nor curtains. The outdoor light from the side of the building shined into the darkness and made long shadows from the window’s frame onto the dark tile floor. It was so empty. That night I was afraid to leave my grandparents home, but we did. It was just before my sixth birthday.
It was sunny, it was July and my shadow was short on the sidewalk. The kids were all sitting out on the front porches of their apartments. The first two porches were single, with only one apartment door. The next two were shared with two apartments, mine would be the second of these. There was a boy my size with his two wheel bike flipped upside down, close to his porch, working diligently. His was the porch before mine. The sidewalk was so close to the front porches of the apartments that some of the older kids had to pull their feet back as we went by. They did so willingly, smiling and curious. I walked along in front of my mom and my grandpa, and felt that all eyes were on me. As I approached the door of my new home, 513, I knew that each of them would somehow become like family to me.
Me, comfortable at my first home.