Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

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.

Bill ~ a new Fragments story

After Dad left that last time to get married to another woman, Mama, left with very little financial resources, had to find her own way. They had a bitter divorce over money and child support. Mama got half the child support, and the other half was deducted for payments towards the house. She had little work experience, but she could sew clothing; she knew how to use her old Singer treadle.

She worked odd jobs, sewing draperies and slipcovers for other shops, sold Diner’s cards over the phone, and eventually began her own decorating business, making draperies and Roman shades, slipcovers that fit so well they looked upholstered, and doing regular upholstery for Carmel clients. She made sandals, and fancy fabric linings for picnic baskets, tea cozies, and bun warmers. And like me, or me like her, she made throw pillow covers, only hers were more traditional than my bizarre creations. She could make anything with a sewing machine, and to my chagrin at times, even without patterns.

She worked only when she needed money. Many times, a large block of money went for something frivolous, like a chaise-lounge. I never understood her logic, until now. I know from personal experience of being a person without money, that holding a big chunk of money in my hands is very tempting and, like Mama, all I want to do is buy something frivolous and personal and fun.

Bill, gray-haired and old enough to be my grandfather, was a friend of Mother’s. He came to the same Monterey folk dancing group my sister and I attended. He didn’t dance, he just sat smiling and watching the dancers, chatting with Mother as she watched. It felt odd. I didn’t know what their relationship was. I didn’t know why he was there every Friday night, if not to dance.

When I was only 16, the year I started with the folk dancing and had begun my third year of high school, Mama asked him to buy a pair of shoes for me. He drove me down the hill to Holman’s Department Store in town where he bought a pair of sleek, shiny black flats for me. Wearing them, I felt grown up, but getting them from this old guy felt strange. Strange, and somehow inappropriate even though he was Mama’s friend.

He lived in the Carmel Woods area. A neighborhood of narrow roads winding around the forested hills and canyons with homes perched off canyon walls amidst the pines. In the early to mid 1900’s, the Woods was an unincorporated neighborhood of residents who settled in Carmel when it was a small inexpensive beach resort destination soon to become an artists’ enclave before it became a busy and gentrified tourist destination. Most of the people in this wooded area built their own homes, building codes probably non-existent at the time.

Before Bill’s wife died, they designed and hand created greeting cards. They had a very successful business. In their owner-built house in the Woods, they became old Carmel money. As they were in the arts, they knew some of the same people my mother and father knew—artists, writers and musicians.

When I was in high school, I heard that after his wife died, Bill was a humanitarian who supported several Monterey Peninsula Community College foreign exchange students, giving them a place to live, paying their tuition. I think Mother was hoping he would do the same for me.

One evening he invited us to supper at his home. When dinner was over, Mother got up to leave as if she was going to leave without me. She didn’t say, Come on Susan, it’s time to go. She just got up, put on her coat and started for the door, implying, and I remember thinking at the time, that I was to stay with Bill. Stay? Oh God, no. Stay?

The word lingers in the spaces and traces of my heart-pounding fear.

Mother! Wait! Where are you going?

It felt like she had made a deal—me for the shoes or possibly me for college tuition. At the time, I was taking all college prep classes; Mom had no money for college, no other resources but what Bill could offer her. Panic stricken, my heart pounding, I thought she was trying to give me to this old man, or worse, sell me to him.

Oh God, Mom, please don’t make me stay here. Please don’t make me do this.

To this day I do not remember how the evening turned out. The old man with the gray hair became my nightmare: a bad dream-wound that I can’t heal. Did that really happen to me? Did she really try to sell me? Or give me away? Was she that desperate? Was she really that nuts? Was she doing it for my benefit or for herself?

I don’t know.

It could be that I threw such a temper tantrum she had to take me home with her. It could also be my illusions. Like many memories, it could be just my illusions. I’m not sure any more.

© Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved.

Fragments: …Green Grapes

Part 1

I arrived at my mother’s house the day after an angry phone argument—not at all unusual in our rancorous relationship. I can’t remember exactly what it was about, but part of it was her worry about soiling her bed. I suggested she use Maxi pads or adult diapers or padded underwear which she refused to do because they never fit very well. Then I suggested a protective plastic cover for her mattress.

No, she said, I don’t want that either. No, that won’t work. That won’t protect my clothes or blankets. I could hear her tears over the phone.

I suspected it was already too late for a mattress cover.

When I think about her typical responses to my suggestions and my frustration with her, I remember my own stubborn refusal to cooperate with my diabetes nutritionist. In our meetings, she offers many suggestions as to how to eat a well-balanced diabetic diet. For each of her suggestions, I rationalize why I can’t eat those foods. I never liked them. I don’t want to cook them. It’s too complicated.

Could I eat a tuna salad? She asks.

No, the last time I had a bit of tuna from a can it was mostly bone and fat, tiny flakes of something that wasn’t recognizable as fish. I won’t try it again.

What about adding different fruits, oranges, bananas, blueberries, not just apples?

I answer, I like apples. I like to eat cold Braeburn apples with lime chicken for dinner. It’s simple. I only have to cook once to have enough to eat for three days. Bananas have too much sugar, and I can’t eat just half a banana because the other half turns brown and I don’t like brown bananas or other brown or bruised fruit. I would not eat the other half. It’s a waste of banana money.

Can or do you eat veggies?

I can eat broccoli with my eggs in the morning. Eggs are the best for me in regards to my sugar levels and my overall strength. Nothing else seems to work like eggs. 

But your cholesterol is high.

Yes, I know. I need to bring that down. I like to eat sugar peas cooked or raw. Carrots. Snow peas. Broccoli coleslaw.  I cook Chinese-style with pea pods, water chestnuts, celery and carrots and a bit of chicken thrown in. That’s simple enough. Or I make hearty veggie soups to last a few days. I want to keep my eating and cooking as simple as possible, I said. If it gets too complicated and is too much work, I know myself well enough to know I will not stick to my diet. Keeping it simple is the key for me.

How about exercise? Can you walk everyday?

Yes and no, after I build up my muscle strength. At present, I’ve lost so much muscle since 1998; it’s going to take me a while to get it back. That’s one of the reasons I’ve switched from a vegetarian diet to eating eggs and chicken protein. Also my left foot hurts, so it makes it difficult to walk or stand for long periods. And my back too, I add.

Well, how about swimming?

No way. I don’t swim. Nope. Fear of water over my head, getting in my nose. I climb up and down my stairs to my apartment every day and I can throw in one or two extra trips for exercise.  It’s helping to build leg strength.

Well, stairs can be dangerous, she said.

Yes, but I have to go up and down to get to my apartment. I could fall any day and hurt myself. Why not call it exercise?

Finally with frustration, she said, I don’t know what to say to you. I don’t know how to work with you if you keep finding reasons why you don’t do this or why you don’t eat that or why you can’t exercise. Why don’t you tell me what you can eat or are willing to eat and do? Maybe we can come up with a plan.

I don’t like plans. I didn’t tell her that, but I don’t like plans.

I realized at that moment how frustrating it was for her to deal with me. I negated all her suggestions with my rationalizations as to why I couldn’t do or eat what she suggested. I resisted the idea of having to change my entire lifestyle just for a disease called diabetes. I had developed my lifestyle and eating habits over 64 years and in the last twenty years beginning with the dissolution of my marriage (or what I thought was a divorce; apparently I didn’t lose that completely), I had lost so much that I did not want to change—or lose—one more thing, and changing my diet meant a major loss:  a loss of all the foods I like to eat. Of course, in those same twenty years I gained a new sense of self, so it was not a complete loss. And I do understand that the losses of change—while I perceive them as a losses now—are replaced with gains—a healthier, more energetic life.  Happiness and contentment arrives with a change in perspective.

Nevertheless, I resist changes especially if they are complicating changes, like cooking when I hate cooking. I need to make my life simple. I wear simple clothes, the same thing everyday. Black. To maintain my sanity, I allow myself a cappuccino or iced Americano and a pastry everyday and I don’t want to lose that, too. It’s my sanity time.

I know, bitch bitch bitch. I am my mother.

Part 2

That night on the phone, my mother was doing the same thing, resisting the reality of her aging life, of incontinence, of having to wear diapers or soiling her bed and clothing. She had a bucket by her bed to pee in, but I’m sure that was hard for her to do. Hit or miss, I suspect. I know I couldn’t hit it.

It was a scary transition for her. She had never been easy or open to my suggestions about anything, but this time our fight wasn’t about me, it was about her. It was about aging, loss of youth, loss of control over her body and life. Arguing with her was pointless. So I agreed to visit her the next day.

With a great deal of anxiety about what might happen, I grabbed a package of adult Pampers and a plastic sheet for her bed at Safeway and drove over to Pacific Grove to see her. I wanted to help, but didn’t know how much she’d let me do. In the past, whenever I did anything for her she made it feel like I was intending for her to feel obligated to me.

I parked my car on the street and walked up the winding path through her dying garden to the front door. I knocked. No answer.

I opened the door. Hello?  It’s me.

No answer.

I walked inside. Mom? I’m here.

Still no answer.

I walked to the back of the house where I found Mom recumbent on the bed surrounded by tiny bits and pieces of her green telephone scattered about the bed. She had been trying to fix the phone for god knows how long. Maybe since last night’s call. Maybe if she fixed the phone, she’d fix us. She reminded me of Elizabeth Taylor in her movies reclining on a chaise in a gold and silver lamé gown and an elaborate gold headdress, popping grapes into her mouth, sipping wine, with a huge frondescent palm above her head pumped up and down by a dark slave to keep her cool; all of her little minions sitting on the floor at her feet, adoring her, laughing at her witty, wry comments and wicked gossip.

Only Mom wasn’t wearing gold lamé. She wasn’t young and beautiful like Liz Taylor.  And the only places  in Pacific Grove where she had a bunch of adoring minions was at the local Pancake House or at Tom’s Cafe where she had held court almost everyday for years.

Hi Mom, I said. I’m here.

Still nothing. She refused to acknowledge my presence.

She glanced furtively in my direction from under her half-closed eyes as she lay there trying to put her broken phone back together again. All the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men couldn’t put green Humpty Dumpty back together again, but she kept trying. All her life she had fixed broken things, plumbing, electrical outlets and appliances; she had built shelves, furniture, sewed draperies, upholstery, clothing and hand-made sandals. There was very little she couldn’t do, except acknowledge my presence on this day.

I assumed she was still angry with me. But this particular lack of response was unusual for her. After our fights, she always acted as if nothing at all had happened, like we were best buddies, the most loving mother and daughter duo on earth; as if there had been no fight, no nasty words uttered by each of us, and everything was normal. No apologies, no expression of sorrow for what she had said. Nada. It was me. Each time, it was me sitting there seething with hurt and anger, asking myself how she could be in so much denial?

As I grew older I realized it was a pattern of narcissism. She could not accept blame or responsibility for anything that went wrong or for anything hurtful that she said to me. Always, I was wrong. And with some bitter internal argument, and not knowing any better, I accepted all the blame. The world revolved around her needs, her desires, her emotions, and not mine.

Everything about her continued anger this day was unusual, except for the fact she was habitually bizarre and emotionally erratic, so I thought nothing of it.  

I sat on her home-made living room sofa waiting for her to get up, to come out and do her usual hosting, fixing coffee or tea and offering me cookies or brownies. She often had a pot of beans on the stove and a pile of hand-made tortillas when I visited, but not this time. This time there was nothing cooking but our mutual anger.

I waited for thirty minutes, then I stood and said, Well, Mom, if you’re not going to talk to me, I don’t know why I’m here. I’m leaving now. Goodbye.

I left the Pampers on her hand-built kidney-shaped coffee table and walked out of the house, down the path through her decaying flower beds, over her peeling red-painted Japanese garden bridge, and down the crumbling and uneven steps to my car. As I got to my car, I turned to take one last look. She was not there. She had not followed me down to my car as she used to do.  Even when she was angry, she used to rant and yell at me all the way down, waving her arms in anger, and on the last step, say hurtful things like, Don’t ever come back Susan! Don’t ever come back!

Not this day.

Several weeks later my sister Venée found Mother in bed, near death. She called the ambulance. The paramedics carried her down the steps, placed her on the gurney in their van and sped off over the hill to the hospital. On the eighth day, Venée called to tell me Mom was in hospital. When I arrived they told me they were releasing her the next day, sending her home, alone. This was not going to happen, I said. She was not capable of walking, could not make her way up the path to her house, nor to the toilet. She could not prepare her food nor take her insulin. After a few hours, the hospital social services found a nursing facility in the wooded hills above Monterey willing to take her. They arranged for her admission.

When driving back to San Jose that day with the smell of urine and feces from the facility’s dirty laundry cans in the hall permeating my nostrils, my clothing, I was sick with fear and guilt.  I cried copious amounts, but still had not made the connection between dementia and her bizarre behavior when I had seen her weeks before.

The facility psychiatrist finally gave me his diagnosis: dementia and mental illness. She was psychotic and had to be subdued with Haldol. I knew for sure then that her behavior during my last visit was symptomatic of dementia and a mental illness. With her regular behavior being so bizarre and difficult during our entire lives, downright nasty and vindictive, verbally abusive, and narcissistic, it was easy to miss the signs of illness. And I had been in denial for a long time. But now, obviously, the two primary markers were there: she was mentally ill and suffering with full-blown dementia at the same time.

The day I visited her, she had not known who I was. That’s why she would not look me in the eye; why she would not say hello or acknowledge me in any way; and why she did not greet me at the door nor walk me down to my car at the end. Terrified and helpless, she was only capable of lying on her bed in her focused cocoon fiddling with the bits of green phone that she had dismantled.

After years of struggle between us, years of hate and anger, it all made sense. Compassion for my mother washed over me. I felt sad for her, but relieved that she would finally get the care she needed in the nursing facility; and relieved to have a name for her disease. The struggle was over for me and my sister.

Placing her in the nursing facility was the right place, the right thing to do for both of us, for all of us. The staff helped me understand what her needs would be; they gave my mother medications to keep her calm but awake and mobile, and made sure she had her diabetes insulin. Her psychiatrist and the staff told me they enjoyed her company. She entertained them with fantastic confabulated stories when most of their residents, if they were mobile, just sat in the lobby waiting for their loved ones to fetch them home. It was a sad, sad place, but I know for Mom, she took ownership and called it her hotel.

© 2011 Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved.

Dad Painting, Smoking Vanilla, Sounds of Segovia
November 28, 2010, 8:43 PM
Filed under: art, fragments | Tags: , ,
Dad Painting, smoking Vanilla…

Up three steps from the central landing in Victor’s house was a fourth level. An unfinished painting on Daddy’s easel stood in one corner under a skylight near the long vertical windows of the front wall. A side table stood next to it holding his palette, brushes, tubes of paint, thinners, turps, mediums, varnishes, paint rags and extra mixing jars. The fragrance of oils and turpentine wafting down through the open spiral when he was painting gave me a sense of quietude, peace, and security.

Always in my peripheral vision, I watched the dance of his painting. He stood up close to the easel to touch brush to canvas, then backed away to look at his mark, contemplating its effect. He mixed and dabbed another color on his palette, touched brush to canvas again, leaned back, then walked back about four feet to look again from a distance.

Daddy, why do you keep backing away from it? I asked.

Everything looks different when you get back from it, Susie. Up close it’s just a jumble of brush marks and colors, lights and darks. When I step back, it takes a form of nature.

His words came out in marbled jumble, as if he had a tube of paint tucked inside his cheek.

Oh. I see… But why, Daddy?

Okay, Susie, when I step back, the brush strokes no longer look like brush strokes, you see here? They look like rocks and water and light.

He pointed to each with the end of his brush as he spoke. And if I step back even more, I can get a larger view—a seascape.

He was seeing an ocean of possibilities, a cosmology.

Daddy, can I paint, too?

He returned to his canvas. He moved back and forth, never tiring of his repetitive actions, although, sometimes he sat, pensive, on a tall stool, one foot up on a rung, the other flat on the floor, ready, contemplating, looking, lighting and re-lighting his pipe, puffing on it with short little intakes of breath to keep it lit. In slow swirls the vanilla aroma drifted up to the ceiling, mixing with the father fragrance of turpentine and the sounds of Segovia he loved.

Early Carmel Seascape, Circa 1963, Oil Painting

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