Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter


No Way
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No Way that fix-it guy is going to get my mouse!

Blondie has been going crazy with the tiny toy mice that I send her. She exhausts herself playing with them. Before taking her nap, she hides them in various places. After her nap she digs them out from under pillows and furniture and begins playing again. She carries them around in her mouth. She wakes her mom up by sitting on her chest, staring at her, Wake up! Wake Up! Wake up! Four in the morning is a startling moment to wake up with anyone sitting and staring at you, nonetheless with a cat sitting on your chest inches away from your face, staring at you with a mouth full of mouse! Willing you to wake up, wake up wake up!

I woke up in the hospital bed one night after my surgery and as I rolled over I became aware my night nurse was standing about four feet back from my bed, quietly staring at me, listening to my breathing she said. Willing me to wake up first probably, because the last time she woke me up I was combative and socked her in the face! It was a strange feeling to know someone was staring at me while I blissfully and fitfully slept. Did I snore? Did I talk in my sleep and give away ungodly secrets?

​Regarding Blondie, I am just delighted that she is enjoying my gifts so much!

This cartoon developed one day when her mom had a repairman out to fix her clothes dryer. She said Blondie sat in the living room with the mouse stuffed in her mouth the whole time he was there working.​ The image stuck with me, couldn’t get it out of my mind. I just had to give it a try. Hand-drawn first, I then scanned and computer manipulated it.  I had in mind this image of Blondie sitting upright, tall, still, prim and proper like a princess, with her tiny cheeks bulging with a black mouse, and anxiety in her eyes wide-open; how long, how long, how long was she going to have to suck on this soggy mouse? When could she breathe? When could she get a sip of water?

There was no way she was going to let this fix-it guy steal her mouse. But, she may also have been hiding the mouse, and feeling remorse, thinking it would give away her secret…that she had quietly secreted away another mouse behind the dryer and it was the cause of the strange noise her mom had heard.

I tried to get the character of Blondie’s stubbornness and the strain of having to hold something in her mouth for so long – she couldn’t swallow, the mouse was undoubtedly soaking up her saliva, drying out her tongue, making it feel fuzzy, and her eyes would get wide and buggy with the stress of it all.

Poor kitty, all she had to do was spit it out, but maybe she didn’t have any spit left.



The Defiant One teaches me about courage
The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie)

The Defiant One (aka. NASCAR Blondie) #1

I found this quote on PaintersKeys.com the morning after I had made changes to my painting The Defiant One for all the wrong reasons. It seems all too appropriate for a discussion I was having the day before with a friend about the importance or lack of importance concerning perfect drafting skills. I said I didn’t care about drawing correctly, that I thought the character of the drawing was more important. I don’t look for drawing errors when I look at art.  I look at the whole composition and how it works together. And I believe character is key. It is that which expresses the unique feeling whether one draws the cat correctly or not, and that expression of feeling is most important. It is character that turns it into a painting and not a photograph.
On Painter’s Keys the next morning:

​Limitations are an access point for focus, discipline, resourcefulness and the development of voice.

They’re clues to uniqueness and form-style and point of view — requirements of all works of art to communicate and connect. “In abandoning the vagueness of the sketch,” wrote Eugene Delacroix, “the artist shows more of his personality by revealing the range but also the limitations of his talent.” We fear our limitations will define us, yet they’re the hurdles necessary for refinement and courage. They’re the builders of character, and paintings need character. “The greatest progress in life,” said Yogi Bhajan, “is when you know your limitations, and then you have the courage to drop them.” ​

The night before, Blondie’s ears haunted me. I couldn’t sleep. I had already made many small corrections to this painting, but suddenly when I was looking at its enlarged version on my laptop, I saw that the ears were way too large for her head. I had drawn them incorrectly. They were too tall and too pointy. They looked like bobcat ears. Perhaps the devil’s ears. BUT they contributed to the character of her stance. She was excited, riled up, the hair on her rump standing up in anticipation. Blondie waited for her mom to do something, perhaps something Blondie didn’t want to do, and her fierce alert and defiant pose said so.  Okay Mom, take the darn picture, let’s get this over with, okay! I’ve got mice to play with.
Shamefully,  last night I decided to redraw and repaint Blondie’s large pointy ears that gave this painting so much unique character. Truth be told, I was afraid of failure. I’ve never been able to draw with ease. Always a struggle. And I didn’t want anyone pointing out that I was bad at drawing! I lacked the courage to believe in my work. This lack of courage rears its ugly head a lot with me.
Oh woe is me…what’s a gal to do?
I learned a valuable lesson last night, two lessons.
  • One, I am a hypocrite, I say one thing and do another. BAD. I don’t care about the drawing, yet I feel a deep need to make mine look right. What?
  • Two, I learned from the above quote that it is okay make mistakes because the errors work with the whole picture to create character and emotion and draw people in to experience something powerful —whether you as artist recognize it or not—an experience of connection and a wonderment. Oh look how those ears stand up so tall and pointy and don’t they add to the mood of that cat’s stance!
If courage and wisdom had not escaped me, I would have left the ears alone.
Here’s the altered ears. Smaller, shaped better, and more proportionate to her head.
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The Defiant One with new ears #2 CORRECTED

They added very little to the total emotion of her stance. So I made the new ears appear more pointy by limning the edges and tips of the ears with white light. Now some of the pointy character is back, but they are not as big. Not as fierce!

​Next time I hope I will be able to control my urges to make it perfect. I claim to not care, but I lack the courage to live with my failures if I cannot do it. I’ve got to let go of that. I’ve got to let go of the idea that my bad drawing means failure—not only in my painting of cats, but also in my landscapes and papiér maché cats. It is, rather, about character and emotion.


Bridge Bones (1)

The act of imagination is the opening of the system so that it shows new connections. Every act of imagination is the discovery of likenesses between two things which were thought unlike. (Jacob Bronowski)

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Bridge Bones, Acrylic on Canvas, 30×40

I like the above quote and believe it applies to much of my work. I look for connections, not while I am painting, but after, when I am sitting and looking and wondering what it’s all about. Why is this painting important to me? Why did I want to paint it? And should it matter to the viewer, or just to me?

Okay, I have to admit it. Man-made constructions set against a natural environments fascinate me. In my mind, what we build isn’t always ugly, and it isn’t necessarily unnatural, for after all we humans are a part of a natural system. We are alive. We live the natural world all around us.

I enjoy juxtaposing the natural with the man-made in my paintings. I find the contrast exciting, even though I don’t always like what we do to our landscape and not all buildings are beautiful, not all changes, natural or man-made, in our landscape are beautiful, but the two things work in conjunction with each other, creating a foil for composition and concept. The contrast of man-made and natural environments provides a built-in subtext to my landscape painting—it is more than just a landscape.  I admit, this is a subjective view.

Bridge Bones is a painting of a small part of the Siuslaw River Bridge overhead structure (in Florence, Oregon). It is a span from one arch to the other of crisscrossed beams that create triangle and parallelogram shapes, allowing the sky to fall through. Structure is important because it holds the bridge up, and in that sense this painting reminds me of a spine, the part that gives it strength to survive since its completion in 1936. Seventy-eight years and more to come, most likely. More than I will ever see. Born ten years later than the completion date for this bridge, I am now sixty-eight years old, and though my spine has crumpled and hunched a bit, I am still held upright by it. It gives me the strength to move around on my feet, to bend over and pick up items that I’ve dropped on the floor in my new-found clumsiness since my chemo treatments. Items like spoons, forks, paint brushes, pots and pans and really big sharp knives just seem to fly out of my hands these days. Considering all that danger of sharp things flying around, not of my purposeful volition, the bridge will certainly outlive me!

Besides holding us up and giving us physical strength, the spine is also a metaphor for emotional and mental strength. I learned during my cancer experience that I am emotionally strong. And I had a great support structure of friends which gave me more strength. They had my back the whole time. I had spine.

I also like that once I am crossing a bridge, I see more. I see more of the beauty I may not see behind the roadside trees and mountainsides, and behind the buildings. A new world opens up, like when you are traveling by train or boat, suddenly great vistas are open to you. Riverbanks reveal pastures,  farm lands spotted with sheep, cattle, horses, barns and fences, and urban interiors. Mountains divide and open up their deep canyons and rivers. Mountains you’ve never seen, appear before your eyes. Have you ever walked or driven across a bridge and expressed awe at the sight of a magnificent view suddenly opened up? First there is light, then the sea and crashing waves on one side, then steep gullies and canyons, reaching deep to the river beds. I’ve seen it. And there’s no better experience that brings a reverence for our natural world than crossing that bridge, being one with that bridge, and feeling as if there are no boundaries between me and the rest of the world.

Looking through the railings, posts and beams of a bridge defines humankind and nature in a whole new perspective. We are not opposed. We are nature, and in that sense, we are beaver builders, bees building beehives and spiders spinning webs. What we build is just as much a part of nature as that which the wild creatures build. (Maybe that’s why spiders, shiver, haunt me so often!)

The simplicity of it for me is that I enjoy the geometric designs and patterns of bridge structures. Set against the backdrop of a clear dome of blue sky, or shroud of dense fog, or floating cumulus clouds high above, or distant muted rocky mountainsides, or crashing ocean waves, the bridge bones make my experience more intense. It’s the bridge juxtaposed with the natural. You can’t have one without the other.



Surveying His Domain

surveyor-of-his-domain_colo

Almost everyday Tai The Terrible worried about his domain. He wanted to know what was going on, who was in his neighborhood, whether there were any mice, rats, coyotes, or feral cats roaming the streets. Who was causing trouble? Did he need to prepare for battle? Or was he just a curious nosy cat?

He waited patiently by the front door until I let him outside. He wandered five or ten feet from the door where he could get a wide open view of his dominion. There he sat.  His platypus(s) tail lay flat-out behind him, a sign of his high status and breeding.  Excited to be outside, he looked left and right, and now and then twitched in place.  His overall appearance of serenity belied his seething tension, his readiness in every muscle for battle or flight. He wasn’t called Tai the Terrible for nothing.

After a while, his hunger for interesting and exciting activities satiated, the boredom set in. Time to find a comfortable safe place for his afternoon nap. Or perhaps try a little camouflage among the tall grasses and wait for his folks to turn into the driveway.

© 2014 Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved.



The Defiant One
The Defiant One

The Defiant One

One day as I sat on the sofa and Blondie, in rare form, had just jumped up on the sofa with me to sniff my clean laundry, I must have made a noise that startled her or moved my big toe or something, for suddenly she somersaulted backwards off the sofa landing on all four paws. She turned her head to look at me, a surprised look in her eyes tinted with a bit of embarrassment. Humans also tend to look to see what caused our tripping. Usually just a bump in the sidewalk or a root in the ground, or even sometimes a cat. But the looking is a sign of one’s disbelief that one just tripped…Did I just do that?  And  also to see if anyone, God forbid, noticed our clumsiness.  Blondie was checking to see if I had seen what happened to her when she somersaulted off the sofa. Yes I saw you, Blondie. Her alert four-paw stance said she was ready to run if she sensed danger. At the same moment her look was one of bewilderment, as if she was thinking, What the hell just happened here anyway?

Blondie is an agile cat. She jumps as high as six feet to a high window ledge, she leaps five feet over a three-foot high sofa, while at the same time, squeezes her body into very tight spaces. But most of the time, she can jump up to a high shelf with decorative pots and small sculptures and wander the length of it without destroying one item. But then again most cats are nimble and careful enough to wind their way through a forest of precious objects, including expensive art objects.

When it gets tricky is when a cat is acting in defiance and knocking items off shelves on purpose, and I mean knowingly batting things off shelves with her paws. When the people are away the cats will play they say. When a substitute teacher comes to class, the students act-up. I remember doing everything our little brains could think of to make our substitute teacher’s day harder and more unpleasant, like chewing loudly on carrots in the back row, tapping our pencils against our desks, gossiping with friends and uncontrolled giggling. From my experience as a teacher for a college art class, I know how annoying that extraneous talking is. Blondie acts up when I am with her, doing things she never does with her owner. She knocks things off shelves, chews on artificial plants, breaks into the liquor cabinet, sharpens her claws on furniture she’s not supposed to scratch on. And I am reluctant to punish her for fear of alienating her for life.

Whenever I am there now she has taken to knocking off two tiny Bengal cat figurines from a shelf in the guest bath. The figurines, made of something similar to ceramic but more durable, hit the tile floor with a loud crash. They never break into tiny pieces, even their thin tiny tails and paws and ears do not crack or break. Blondie knows the guest bath is mine while I’m there. She knows I am the only one to use it. She knows I sleep in the guest bedroom right next to this bathroom. She knows the tiny cats make a loud noise when they hit the floor or when they land in the waste basket. Score one for Blondie, she meows. When I get up to see what happened she stares at me with innocent blue eyes. Her owner says she has never knocked those pieces off the shelf before, only when I’m there. That’s cat defiance. A cat challenge? A message that says this pretty cat rules!

What is the reason behind the creature’s behavior? I believe Blondie commits  strange repetitive activities to annoy me. She knows. She also does it when she wants something from me. To get my attention. My job is to figure out what she wants! Oddly, it is an act off communication. She knocks them off at 7 am in the morning to wake me, so she is telling me it’s time for breakfast, or having kibble-nibbled already, she is telling me she wants water. She knocks them off during the day at various times because she is thirsty and she prefers to drink water out of the faucet. When I hear the clatter on the floor, I peak around the corner to find her sitting calmly on the bathroom counter, looking towards the door as if nothing happened. What, she asks? I didn’t do it!

I pick up the figurines and put them back on the shelf. Like a well-trained dog, I turn the faucet on to a slow dribble and she drinks her fill of tap water. She never bothers to turn the tap off. And I always forget it is on, until an hour later she jumps up on the table where I am busy working on my computer. She exhibits some sort of excited, animated, possibly anxious behavior. I cannot work until I discover what is causing her anxiety. My job again is to figure out what she is trying to tell me. I think maybe she wants more water, but I discover the water is still running. I forgot to turn it off. As soon as I turn it off, she settles down, shuffles off to her bed and takes a nap…finally.

I wish she could talk in my language. That would make things between us so much easier!

She knows how to open doors with levered handles, so all exterior doors have to be dead-bolted all the time. I’m thinking if she knows how to use a levered door handle she will eventually figure out how to use the levered faucet handles. She could learn to turn the water on for herself, right? Her owner says she learned how to flush a toilet a few years back. Had so much fun watching the water swirl furiously down the pipe and waiting for the bowl to fill up again, she did it over and over. She was in big trouble! I have terror-filled visions of returning from running errands in town and finding the bathroom floor awash with water because she turned the faucet on and did not turn it off. Water, water every where! If only she could teach herself to shut the water off in the same way she learns to turn it on. This hasn’t happened yet, only in my nightmares!

She is one smart defiant devilish kitty!



Walking a Cat Walk

Copyright 2013 – By Susan Canavarro

When you are not writing, you are a writer too. It doesn’t leave you. Walk with an animal walk and take in everything around you as prey. Use your senses as an animal does. Watch a cat when he sees something moving in the room. He is perfectly still, and at the same time, his every sense is alive, watching, listening, smelling. This is how you should be when you are in the streets. The cat’s mind is not thinking about how much money he needs, or whom to write a postcard to when he visits Florence: he is watching the mouse or the marble rolling across the floor or light reflecting in crystal. He is ready with all of him to pounce. Now, you don’t have to get down on all fours and twitch your tail. Only be still – some part of you, at least – and know where you are, no matter how busy you are.
– Be An Animal, From Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, p. 90 ——-© 2005 (Shambhala, Boston and London)

I am reading Writing Down the Bones in a coffee shop called Mon Ami. Mon Ami sells antiques and estate sale items. Cindy, the owner, also serves delectable deli and bakery items, espresso coffees and teas. Her employees cook up fresh wicked apple-cinnamon and/or cherry turnovers daily. Her cappuccinos are deep and rich and soothing for my soul.

It is steamy outside. Sweat is beading up in my every nook and cranny and my bra, chaffing. I can feel my skin glowing red with rash. I have a headache. This is not your average Florence weather. This day I choose to drink iced tea at Mon Ami’s.

When I read the above paragraph by Natalie Goldberg, I sat staring off across the ocean with a grin spreading across my fat cheeks. Cindy waved her hand in front of my face to see if I was okay. Mustn’t stare too hard and too long when in a coffee-house. I smiled, nodded my head, yes. In fact, I was better than usual. Across the ocean across from my table was an antique soft creamy white dining buffet with ornate filigree decorating each cabinet-door edge. One door damaged and detached, leaned against the front of the cabinet. On the buffet top stood a large showcase trophy sailboat, two tall masts in full sail. This day, the ship, gripped in the stall of its display stand, was unable to fulfill its purpose–adventure on the open seas.

At one end of the ship was a small table-clock made to look like a ship’s helm, also an old gimbaled compass in its original box and two kerosene lanterns filled with red liquid. At the other end, a selection of three books leaning up against the base of a lamp: a first edition copy of Victor Canning’s novel The Chasm a story about adventure in the Italian Apennines; a first edition by Oregon writer Elizabeth Lambert Wood writing about the magnificent forests, ocean and lakes in her home state; and a 1931 edition of Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia Vol. IV of people and places, only the “B” list included. A set of very old binoculars with its original leather carrying case lies next to the books. And on the floor a small white, red & blue Route 66 sign, ticking time. A display of adventure signs, sailing the oceans and rivers, crossing a gorge in the Apennines, learning about new worlds and old times. Details observed.

A small table sculpture of two black Scottish Terriers standing on their hind legs holding up two interlocked rings declares an eternal cycle of loyalty, love, life, death and rebirth.

And here I sit in Florence, Oregon, not Italy as in Goldberg’s quote, living a life nearer to its ending than its beginning, yet dreaming of a desire to write, to publish, to create passable if not stunning paintings, to travel the world and sail down the canals of Europe, and to have the love, acceptance and tolerance of good friends.

I smiled at Goldberg’s words because I recognized that I had just experienced one of my Dad’s favorite synchronistic moments. Reading her book for the second time, wondering how to write about my animals while vicariously traveling to Lyon, France thru the email and picture journals from my friends just seemed to come together to bring more meaning to what I was writing. Dad believed that when you experience a coincidence such as this and it relates meaningfully to something happening in your life, it is a moment of Grace; one to which we should give our attention. And what’s happening in my life this moment is writing and armchair traveling and learning to walk like an animal. So it all fits.

Natalie Goldberg said writers should walk like an animal, with your senses alert like an animal’s senses are alert to every nuance of sound, smell and movement. As a pet sitter, I walk a cat walk. My senses are alive to what my special charges are doing and feeling every moment of the day. If they had been my cat or dog living at home with me, I would not have been so focused. Their daily adventures and idiosyncrasies would become uninteresting to me and I would have ignored them. I would have said, Oh you’re hungry again? You eat like a bull, Taurus. What is your problem? It’s not time yet. Bootsie, why the heck are you biting my legs? What is your problem? Leave me alone.

But, as pet sitter, I watch. I become a peeping-tom, a stalker. I follow them around. I walk like an animal. I check to see what they are up to, to see if they are okay. I annoy them to no end, especially Trina and Simon. I look for details. And they follow me. Even the cats follow me like a dog as if they were afraid I, too, would leave them. I remember thinking in the beginning, Why don’t these creatures let me have a moment of peace? But secretly, I love it. I know they are feeling insecure without their people and I become their only source of comfort when they are home alone. They eventually get it. I am it! I have the hand that feeds them, that gives them a rub-down. I glean a small bit of satisfaction that my presence makes them feel better.

I’m learning a lot about pets and about myself. I’ve learned that I like to ascribe human emotions to them. I know when they are happy. I see a cat tail extend straight up when he or she walks into a room and I say Hello Simon or Hello Tai or Hello Bessie! I watch whiskers turn up or down, knowing sadness, irritation, anger or contentment; I know eyes half-opened is an expression of love and contentment and trust; eyes large and round with dark pupils in full-moon is an autonomic response to fear or anger, and preparation for an attack. Often, I’ve experienced that glare. In fact, I have been the feared one too many times, the recipient of those big, dark alert angry eyes. Scary. Suddenly I am their prey and I want to hide under the covers.

I see the young kitten-energy return over and over after they do their daily job in the cat box. They burst into the living room wanting to play, wanting attention and affection, as if they know they’ve done a good job and they want me to know…so I can scoop it out for them. Cat sluggishness goes with cat constipation; and cat energy and happiness comes after a good bowel movement! The emotional and physical behavior of animals is amazingly familiar. Language of the animal world is as it is for us humans, too.

Dog tails swish back and forth and I know they are happy campers. Tails wagging. Jumping up and down barking. Barking in embarrassment, barking to warn, barking in excitement. Running in circles. Dog whimpering. Each whimper and bark a language to be deciphered. Each look a look of desire or love or need. Each rump-wagging, tail-wagging, a sign of love and excitement. The white lab lifts her head and looks at me, a sad questioning look in her eyes. What is it this time, Belle? I know she is asking me something but I don’t know what. Are you sad, hungry, do you need to go out? I prefer to think she is sad, but her owner says she is hungry. Just hungry.

I become a cat watching them like a cat watches a bird, chattering, waiting to see what would happen next, my body quivering with tension and excitement over what I might see, what indiscretion, what new sign I can read and learn, what might become a good story to tell their owners, thus Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter is in the works.

Writing. Watching animals. In Florence, Oregon. Traveling from my computer chair from cat house to cat house while reading emails from Bonnie and Ralph in Lyon and Avignon, France. A synchronistic moment. Just maybe I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.



Treasure Trysts

This week I received a meaningful and thoughtful gift from my stepmother Lois. The treasure box was full of old photos of my father’s paintings, a few 8×10 photos of me, a 1972 letter to the editor written by Dad concerning the construction of a nuclear power plant in Point Arena on the California Coast, and a small booklet of pen and ink and watercolor sketches by my sister Veneé. After discovering the gifts inside this box, tears rolled down my blotchy-rosacea cheeks for thirty minutes or more.

You may ask why this gift moved me so strongly, but perhaps first, before telling the story of the package and its contents, I need to tell you a bit about my life prior to this point—specifically, my kinetic life after my marriage dissolved.

In the summer of 1987 I packed my car with as many of my “things” as I could stuff into it, said a tearful goodbye to my husband and drove off. Caught the ferry to Anacortes and drove all the way to Monterey. This break-up was not the first. I had left several times before but always came back. Ultimately, I felt like I was going crazy and that leaving was the only solution. If I were on my own, I could finally be myself, not a wife and not an emotionally distraught step-mother. To some degree, that came about when I left this last time, especially after I reentered college.

With only what I could carry in my car, I left everything behind. I had to start anew. Get an apartment, get a job, and buy all new bed and blankets, and chairs and kitchen equipment. I virtually lived on the floor of my apartment in Monterey for months.

Along the way, after leaving my husband and after a half-assed attempt to get back together again, I moved several times, each time having to give up more of my belongings. I moved to Chico to go to school, from there to San Jose for graduate school, then on the Monterey to be close to my demented mother who died one week after I moved, and then I moved north to Fort Bragg. From Fort Bragg I moved east to Sacramento, and then finally on up to Florence, Oregon. With each move I gave away more of my possessions and wound up buying more items, like beds and chairs and computers, etc., only to have to give them away too. Here in Florence I had to move out of my first good apartment and into a small, narrow, cold, and moldy old travel trailer. Out of necessity, I got rid of more things and bought lots of plastic to cover all the non-thermal-pane windows. Finally after 3 years in the funky trailer, I was old enough to get into low-income senior housing, where I’ve been since early 2010, with only one move to a downstairs unit, and in the process of that last move and all its attending frustrations, I tossed many more things into the dumpster.

Before moving to Florence, planning for the very real possibility that I might actually become homeless and have to live in my car behind some lonely and/or isolated gas station, I gave my brand new bed and other furnishings to Salvation Army; I gave several framed paintings and a Futon sofa/bed to my good friends in Merced—I should say they were gracious to take my paintings off my hands. I gave away my top-notch stereo system to the son of a friend who had done some work repairing my PC. I gave my desktop PC to him also. I gave away my smaller portable record player used for folk dancing sessions. All of my precious art books, collected and well-used for over 27 years, I donated to the Sacramento Fine Arts Center to do with what they pleased. I gave away my drawing table and stool, purchased when I had finally gotten my first dedicated artist studio in our 2500 square foot house on Orcas Island, which helped to relieve my migraine headaches. I gave away all the large and heavy items I knew I could not carry in my car and then hauled what I could in three car-loads to Florence, Oregon.

I entrusted into the care of my sister our family photo album, consisting of pictures of our childhood years with photos representing us through all the grades on into high school and in all the front yards of our many lived-in houses; photos of our parents when they were younger and celebrating their marriage with a photo taken at a Hollywood lounge; pictures of our automobiles, pictures of grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, and pictures of our family dogs and cats and chickens and roosters and ducks and nasty angry geese that we had cared for over the years; images of my mother’s garden before it and she became ravaged by dementia. Images, each representing a miniscule part of who I was and who I’ve become, given away when I gave custody of those items to my sister in 2003 just before my final trip north. I also entrusted to her my wedding album which not only included pictures of our wedding in one of Dad’s unfinished houses, but also pictures of the husband’s family, all our Christmases spent with his brothers and sisters, his mother, pictures of our stepson, and his growing years; Christmases on Carmel beach at the mouth of the Carmel River on cool, blue-sky sunny days.

I knew Veneé would take care of these photo albums. She had done an extensive genealogical study of our family and had been tacitly elected as the family archivist. Memories come flooding back to me. Little did I know at the time that she would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008. Dreams gone, lost, dead, buried in the dark depths of my sister’s subsequent struggle with Alzheimer’s. I have no idea what happened to all of her things, to the family albums and to the book she had created about our family history.

I loaded my car up with a new laptop so I could stay in touch with people, my clothing, a few kitchen items, a small TV, paintings and art supplies, and drove to Florence. I shipped six boxes of books via UPS, so they could haul them up the stairs for me! I made three trips with my car loaded with small items. Again, I lived off the floor in my new Oregon apartment. I slept on an air mattress, ate and worked at my simple portable table. I bought an unfinished door and placed it across two plastic light-weight saw horses and this became my new painting table with an art stool.

Along each step of the way, with each looming move, I gave up more of my precious belongings. It was just stuff you might say. You can buy more stuff when you get settled somewhere, you might say. That might true, but only if one had the extra money to do so. But you cannot replace all those old photos if they disappear into a black hole. Due to financial necessity, I had adjusted to living light, to living without my old belongings and without much new stuff, but I felt the loss. I not only lost my husband to his errant ways, but I lost the stuff of my life. At each step of the way I gave away a bit of my self, never to be found again, except in memories, and those were fading fast.

When Lois’ package arrived this week filled with old photos of Dad’s paintings and sketches, photos of me learning how to throw a pot on the potter’s wheel, and of my sister’s wonderful watercolor sketches, and the insightful and revealing letter to the editor written by my father in 1972, it opened a flood gate letting loose the waters—I was awash with memories and emotions. I remembered who I was when I was 17, 18 and 19— that trusting, fresh, young spirit—and it reminded me of long losses of time between then and now at age 66, but I am so pleased to have these old images filling in my memory gaps.

Rapunzel, Save Me! Save Me! Real photo by Scrib.

In the old brown portfolio were several 8×10 black and white photos of me. One, an image of my face as I leaned against the upstairs window sash looking out of an old abandoned building in Mendocino. My eyes, shielded by lowered eyelids and dark lashes, looked down at Scrib the garbage collector as he pointed his camera at me. He was a professional photographer who supported his family by collecting garbage and hauling it off to the bluffs and dumping the trash into the ocean and on to the rocks. For decades that’s how the northern coast folks got rid of their garbage.

rapunzel2_for_blog2I wrote about Scrib in my memoir Fragments: Growing Up Bohemian Poor in Dementia’s House:

Rapunzel’s Save me! Save me!

There I was in 1964, not yet 18, in Mendocino at my father’s place, insecure and on the brink of a breakdown for fear of being unlovable. So what do I do? I fall in love with the married garbage man. I had a thing about falling in love with unavailable men—married, gay or just plain emotionally, physically or intellectually unavailable.

Charismatic, intelligent and witty, Scrib drove a large green garbage truck. In those days detritus was garbage and recycling non-existent, but for dumping it all back into the sea from whence we all came. Scrib backed the old rusty truck up to the edge of the bluffs just off Main Street and tipped the bucket, spilling garbage on to the rocks and sand 100 feet below. Ultimately, all of it dispersed by the ocean’s crashing waves.

Even though I knew he was married and had two kids, I flirted with him. He didn’t seem to mind. When he was not acting the garbage man, he was a fine art photographer, a writer and poet. We had trysts in the derelict buildings that dotted Mendocino. He shot many photographs of me standing in front of open doors and windows in the streaking dust-filled sunlight. With long brown hair and hazel-green eyes, I was his Rapunzel, flaunting my sexuality, enticing my prince of a trash collector to climb the blackberry vines and pick me. Choose me, my heart called out. Save me! Save me!

After I moved to Santa Rosa to attend Junior College, Scrib surprised me by showing up at the motel where I was staying. My roommates were a bit surprised that the quiet and shy Susan had an older boyfriend. However it appeared, though, ours was only a brief summer platonic encounter. My romance with Scrib was seemingly innocent and safe. We were sexually attracted to each other, but no sex beyond kissing. I trusted him implicitly. He was married. I didn’t have to make a commitment, nor did he. We both knew this and we both knew it was morally wrong.

I missed seeing Scrib, I missed his attentions and pined for him after he left that day, but I very quickly fell in love with another unavailable man—oh so cool Dan, a Santa Rosa guitar player/folk singer.

Our relationship remained platonic probably because at age 17, I knew nothing about sexual matters.

I thought Scrib’s photos of me were lost. To see one of them again was a sweet treat. It brings back my carefree summer salad days as a young adult in 1964 -1966 Mendocino. Whether I want to or not, I recall all the young men I flirted with and dreamed about, and over whom I pined and suffered countless hurts: Scrib the garbage man and a photographer who took many photos of me on our secret trysts; Philip the writer and poet who once wrote me a love poem that I carried in my wallet for over 25 years; Dan the coffee-house singer and guitarist I stalked at the Santa Rosa Coffee house and as fate would have it, whom I sat next to on the bus to San Francisco and thus began our brief encounter; the fishermen boys from UC Berkeley, John a pianist and Gil a classical guitarist, both students wigged out on pot and other drugs and the Beatles, and now gone; then on to beautiful and handsome Peter, a counselor at a youth camp near Philo and stealing away together in the middle of the night to climb down the bluffs on the Bodega coast; and Russell the intellectual with his blond hair falling in his eyes, his rough pock-marked face oh so serious yet smiling at me in the Caffe Mediterraneum living in his tiny purple Berkeley apartment with the orange kitchen, and who cared for me when I needed caring; and Lee the blonde film student from San Francisco State who created a short film of me and a young man running through the sunlit dappled forest to a romantic tryst—after all these years, I now see this was a proverbial love scene with film students and commercial movies. Not too original.

Then, in 1968 another John showed up in my life in Pacific Grove who enlisted and went to fight in Vietnam soon after we met and came home married to a Vietnamese woman; and finally the man I married, Antonio who played classical guitar and with whom I had secret liaisons at the Monterey Peninsula Cemetery…because at the time he was married, and his wife was wont to show up on campus! I knew all along that if he would liaison with me while he was married to someone, he would eventually liaison with others while we were married, but in my bliss, I ignored all the signs!

It’s a long tragic list for which I do have a few fond memories and many unpleasant and embarrassing moments. I was cute, flirtatious and alluring and I easily became infatuated with every man who crossed my path.  A romantic addict, I wanted to be loved and to be in love. I often wonder how I survived. What strength I must have had to survive that time of hippies and drugs, innocence and ignorance without becoming a drug or alcohol addict? How did I survive falling in love so many times yet remain so naïve and trusting? Or was it that I was too frightened to get drawn into all that free love and sex, and the reckless lifestyle of drugs? I often think all of my neurotic fears saved me. They kept me out of serious trouble!

Next week’s post will consist of another cherished artifact found in my father’s old brown portfolio.

© All Rights Reserved. Susan Canavarro.




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