In 1937, Mom and Luella worked at the same place; stylish Luella was a little older and became Mom’s ideal, ranking right up there with Jeanette MacDonald and Ginger Rogers in Mom’s eyes.
Years passed. Jeanette and Ginger gave way to clotheslines and Bab-O. Mom had two teenagers when new neighbors moved in next door — it was Luella and her family! Mom couldn’t believe it! Luella lived there for a long time and became a part of my later growing-up years. I tried to picture her as the lovely young woman who captured my mother’s girlish admiration but it was hard: Luella was a comet, a streak of energy, the blur who lived next door — who could tell what she looked like?
Apparently, though, there were times she stood still; she gave us pickles to prove it. Luella’s pickles were wonderful. Even more wonderful, she gave me her pickle recipe, handwritten on a card I still have. That she thought I could make her pickles was enough to make me boastful, and I was touched by her faith in me. She was right, too: many batches have I made, remembering her and Mom with every one, and, for a little while, with Captain Kangaroo in the background.
Now I am the older neighbor, though no blur. It is my responsibility to pass along this briney gesture, so last week I gave some of my young neighbors jars of Luella’s pickles, recipe and story attached. These young people live in a world of iThis and iThat, Higgs bosons, clones. Jeanette MacDonald? Who? Clotheslines? What? Time passes, things change, children morph into parents, grass grows, leaves fall: this we know. But good pickles and memories of good neighbors are forever.
The legend lives on.
Several months ago, I was one of five writers sitting around the dissecting table, the bones of paragraphs strewn about, muscles of terse descriptive phrases exposed. We viewed the specimens with renewed resolve and despair. Also with egg salad sandwiches and chocolate cupcakes.
We spoke of our upcoming summer and the perceived impediments to writing. I said I had walls to paint. Two of the five burst into rhapsody: “I love to paint!” The thrill in their voices was real. Can we extrapolate that in every gathering of writers 40% will be lunatics? Have their brains been twisted by revisions, their perceptions dulled by analogies, their childhoods misspent with the Thesaurus?
I’ve had ample time to ask these questions as I’ve been felled by full paint cans, skinned by the ladder, splattered by brushes, and shackled by edging tape. As I struggle to disentangle myself from the drop cloth, which has also grabbed the ladder, I lose my sense of the horizon and tip the tray of paint, which goes the way of all things: down. Mostly over my feet. “I love to paint!” is not what I say.
What is it that causes people to love to paint? Is it a rush from a quadrillion shades of white? Is it dances with ladders? The delicate interplay between plumbing and roller? The up-close voluptuous curves of the toilet? The absoluteness of the baseboard line?
What am I missing here? To me, this is mess and mayhem, bruised shins and rudely awakened muscles, slobbering brushes and drooling cans. What’s to love? It occurs to me that there are those who would ask the same question about writing, and I am forced to shrug weakly and capitulate to the inexplicable.
Not a box of chocolates.