Looking Good

Last night Joy mentioned how I portray myself, suggesting my motivations are often to “make myself look good”.  She said that based on my answer to an earlier commenter’s question  I am pretty naive about how I look to others.  How did I think that me makes me look? Not good.  Then why did I say it? Because it’s the truth. I like to keep it simple. I don’t want people to approve of me based on erroneous information.

I have been overly concerned about what she thinks about me.  By not raising her, I missed out on the lovely assurance that no matter what; I am her mother.  I  have feared her judgment against me could separate us forever. How bizarrely I’ve handled that concern illustrates why worrying about what other people think of me just doesn’t work.

One of my references for a good life is an image I got from a side bar commentary running throughout much of the Last Whole Earth Catalog by Ann Herbert. It’s where the quote “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” came from. She described the way running for the bus with your scarf flying can be a senseless act of beauty  contributing to the well being of all. ( I can’t find the article of my memory but you can see some of her writing here.) Joy is a great appreciator of beauty. I think she would appreciate me looking good. Maybe fleshing out the circumstances of how I came to have the painting I had been assigned to give to my uncle can make for a nicer picture.

In 1995 my mom died of cancer.  I had flown to CA from KS just 5 days before to be with her as she completed her life. I stayed on for another couple weeks for the memorial service and to help make arrangements for my dad who had two herniated discs and high blood pressure.

Both his parents had lived to be 97 and I fully expected him to recover from his back problem and his high bp.  So when he asked me to be his trustee in the event of being incapacitated or dying I said sure, without giving it much thought. Five months later he had a series of strokes that left him totally dependent. He had letters in the midst of being printed in his computer to people all over the country. There were thousands of reel to reel tapes he archived for the local chamber music society. There were decisions about how and where to care for him physically, emotionally and financially.  And I lived 1500 miles away.  That could be blog fodder for years.

Nearly a year later he moved to  a nursing center in KS. Another year later I sold his house, after emptying it. There were lots of oil paintings, all but two done by my grandmother. Two of them went up in his room at the nursing center, a portrait of his wife and one of his childhood backyard in Lansing. I shipped a sunset over Wing Lake to my cousin in MI. Most got boxed up and stuck in the garage. I sent Joy photos of many of them.

I was instructed to ship the portrait of my grandmother to my uncle, upon my father’s death. It was the one of the two paintings  I would have liked to hang in my house.  Meanwhile, my dad was alive and kicking (and biting) and keeping me busy in addition to substitute teaching, raising two kids and reunion.

In 2000 we moved it all back to CA, from 3000 midwestern sq ft to 1100 CA sq ft, leaving Buster behind as a freshman at KU.  Neither my husband or I had jobs, but we still had two mortgages.  It felt a little tight. My dad was in a nursing center just a 12 minute bike ride away.

DH got a job pretty quickly. Ezzy was making new friends and falling in love and learning to drive. There was considerable tension between me and DH completely apart from reunion. Joy’s and my relationship was still riddled with ambivalence to put it mildly.

Anyway, when Joy said “Send me the portrait.” I was still under obligation to Uncle, my dad’s brother.  I didn’t know his interest. I hadn’t asked. He was 7 years older than Dad. Ezzy and DH and I had talked about hoping we’d get the painting eventually.  If Dad died first, we’d probably get it back when Uncle died, no guarantees.

Dad died in 2004.  My brother & I went back to visit Uncle & family after the memorial service. Their health was failing.  My brother was aware of the dispute between me and Joy. He didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask Uncle about the portrait beause they were concerned with bigger issues. They were barely able to navigate their current situation. Aunt died the following year.

About that time Buster helped me unpack the portrait and start making arrangements for it to be copied.

Last year I visited again and Uncle talked incessantly about the sweethearts of his youth and how much nicer the house in Lansing was than where he currently lives.  He moved out of the house in Lansing before WWII. These days when I call, he doesn’t answer. Cousin says he doesn’t hear very well but is “doing fine”.

I asked him about the portrait. He said he doesn’t want it.  So yeah, I held onto it long enough and now consider it mine. For some reason Grandmother covered her face with lacquer, which has yellowed over the years making her look severely jaundiced.

The first symptom of my mother’s cancer was jaundice. Whoa, that didn’t look good.


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