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who can take projects start to finish in a variety of styles.
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Friday, May 18, 2012

"Sight"

Before blogging, I used to write little vignettes of people to myself.  They were kind of a diary, but at some point I sucked up all my nerve and asked my friend Ray to give me feedback.  We were at a wine bar, and lots of things were going on, live music, friends… but Ray produced a red pen and started marking all over my tender feelings.  I wasn’t allowed to talk to him, so I drank a lot of wine to make the whole process less painful.

One of the stories I let him read was about Mrs. Harbison.  She lived across the street when I was growing up, and since she was blind, I read her mail to her every month.  My original story was a little less than 2 pages long, but Ray wrote at least that much in red ink in the margins and across my carefully spell-checked typing.  I ordered another bottle of wine.  When the misery of watching Ray edit was over, he said “She sounds sweet.”  What?!!  If she sounded “sweet”, I had completely failed.  We drank the wine and Ray explained all his red ink.  I had to admit that everything he said was valid, and I studiously rewrote my story when I was sufficiently sober again.  Less than 2 pages became a short story, or more accurately, a chapter for a book.  Nobody was going to call Mrs. Harbison “sweet” again.

It took me a long time to realize that I had written the blind woman’s story in a completely visual way.  Maybe that’s because she asked me to describe visual things to her, or how she softly touched the tips of pussy willows…  Oh wait!  That’s where someone can get the misconception of “sweet” when more accurate words are “crazy, nuts, certifiably insane”.  I dreaded her monthly call for me to read her mail.  I nearly wet myself when I knocked on her door.  I sssoooooo didn’t want to be nice to her.  I wanted to run and play in the sunshine, far away from the crazy lady’s mail and her creepy, creepy house.

She had every right to be nuts.  She started out as a favored daughter on “Millionaire’s Row” in Cleveland, married badly, got disinherited, got abused, and her only son died .  That’s the Cliff Notes, and hardly begins to tell her story.  The only person who went to see her besides me was her priest, and when he moved away, I became her only visitor.  I was the only one to see black gobs of cobwebs hanging off the ceiling, opera glasses on the floor, cans of food crawling with bugs on the counter, and photos of long-dead people on the walls and tables.  If other people in the neighborhood saw her out in the yard, they quietly tiptoed away.

Maybe in some ways she could be sort of sweet.  She tried to educate me with long, boring stories about stuff I didn’t care about, and she had enough self-awareness not to call for me when she was in a real psych state.  I never thought she wanted to harm me.  It’s just that there’s no way around crazy.  Crazy is scary, and I got some grudging respect from the local bullies for going there.  Eventually I even developed a relationship with her.  She was very intelligent and determined.  She was awe-inspiring in a multitude of ways, but I never stopped wishing I didn’t have to read her mail.  I just learned to deal with my fate while I passionately prayed for her to have a bad month so I wouldn’t have to go over there.

Her end was as bad as everything else in her life.  She heated her home with a Ben Franklin stove in the living room, but the stove went out one winter.  No call.  Another month, no call.  Another month… Well, it wasn’t the first time she hadn’t had a good month for 3 months, but the fire department came and broke down the door with axes.  It wasn’t pretty, but she finally got to quit living her miseries.

I usually try to write happy stories on this blog, and the thing is, in a way Mrs. Harbison is a happy story.  She helped me develop strength and character.  I learned to do things even when I don’t want to do them, and to show compassion.  She gave me an example of survival, even when faced with things nobody should ever have to face.  The blind woman gave me sight, and Ray helped me become a better writer.

I don’t want to do “crazy” art this week, so let’s just appreciate our sight and look at a flower :)

22 comments:

  1. These are the kinds of things we start to view differently as we age and become more mortal. For many elderly, going blind or becoming wheel chair bound can happen in a very short time. I once had a much older co-worker tell me that almost all his friends had died, and what a terrible feeling that was. There is an Elton John song where he describes an old person visiting the cemetery often, because that's where all his friends were.

    I totally understand what you're feelings were regarding that woman, but I'll bet your visits were probably about the only thing she had to look forward to.

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  2. I am so thankful for the sense of sight, as I am for all my senses. Your flower is beautiful.

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  3. Is this new art? It's beautiful! I always felt so bad when you told me stories about Mrs. Harbison. I had a Mrs. Williams that I would drive to the hairdresser, and help her with cleaning in her apartment. She was cranky at first, and a bit scary, but we became close in that short time span.

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  4. My grandpa told me once to quit complaining about having to buy wedding gifts I couldn't afford because at some point all you get invited to are funerals. I shut up and started appreciating the happy events. I may have been unwilling to read Mrs. Harbison's mail, but in the end, I'm really glad I did it. We enriched each other's lives. We should all pitch in and take care of the people who need help. That's a lot easier to see now that I'm grown up.

    I painted the flower, but didn't know what to do with it and stuck it in a file. I made the pattern another day and stuck that in different file. Yesterday, I made the two go together. I think that counts as "new" art? I have a lot of files just waiting for some inspiration to take them to "finished".

    Thanks for the comments everybody!

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  5. Sadly there are many Mrs Harbison's in the world Linda. I'm just glad that your Mrs H had you to read her mail.At the time we do not realise that small acts of kindness are actually enormous to the recipient. Keep spreading some kindness. I love your flower.
    Jane x

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  6. The best lessons from childhood, are not always the happiest! I loved this story and had a Mrs. H, too, actually a couple of them, including a Mr. H! What's odd, now is when I remember them, it's with great sadness of their lives, wishing I could tell them what valuable life lessons, I learned from them. I'd like to think, it would have given them a moment of happiness in the end. Wonderful post as usual!

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  7. Yes Linda, I used to hate red pens as well. Now I'm my own worst critic. Love the painting. You'd never guess it was two pieces put together. Regarding your lovely, crazy Mrs. H - I had a friend once who thought that age was contagious and you wouldn't have caught him reading her mail! lol Good for you!

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  8. What a story! While reading this, I couldn't help thinking how good you were to keep going to help her. This is as much about life as the happy stories are-- and I admire you all the more for telling it--and telling it with such honesty. PS your flower & pattern marriage is quite lovely :)

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  9. Lovely story, lovely flower. 'Sight' appreciated.

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  10. Well, a bottle of wine always makes things better. You were a real trouper to take his critique and rewrite. Bravo. And the blind neighbor. What a character! Charles Dickens couldn't have written her any crazier!

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  11. I remember when my father told me all his smoker friends were dead, then years later telling me all his friends were gone. I resolved to make friends of all ages so that when everyone my age is gone, I'll still have some (even if they have no pre-Reagan memories).

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  12. Thanks everybody! I know Mrs. Harbison was crazy, but I just don't want her forgotten. Old people really do have so much to teach the rest of us if we can sit still and listen. That was really hard when I was young and in a creepy house. Completely agree with you Phil about having friends of all ages. Young people keep us young and old people have the wisdom. If we balance that we can have it all!

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  13. And what a lovely flower (and new piece of art) it is! This really should be a greeting card, Linda.

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  14. Your story is great. These things flavour our lives don't they. Your illustration is beautiful too!

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  15. I so enjoy reading your stories! Its funny how you have a slightly different perspective about Mrs. Harbison now that time has passed. She was lucky to have you. Gorgeous flower, from the vibrant petals & leaves, to the soft, patterned background. I agree that it would make a lovely card.

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  16. Maybe I'll send it out as a card next Easter? Thanks for the comments everybody!

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  17. Lovely flower and another thought provoking post.

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  18. Thanks Amanda! I was thinking of you when I was trying to force the pattern and flower together. They just didn't want to go together at first, which just goes to show "if at first you don't succeed, try, try, again!"

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  19. I skipped right to the words, Linda. Went back later to absorb them as my eyes floated along the colour and delicate textured pattern. A rest for the mind while sorting more difficult thoughts. I know we avoid sharing difficult, dark things as a rule - it's hard work to make them palatable, and yet they carry meaning - rich meaning. Thanks for posting.

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  20. Thank you! Maybe I'll try to mix things up once in a while :)

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  21. Good story, Linda. I probably would have felt as you did about Mrs. Harbison, and it would have been nice if I'd reponded to her as well - like you did. I have a bit of an affinity for people who operate outside of the box, though I pick and choose carefully. I find, too, that there is a lot that can be learned.
    Someday, I will have someone red mark my writing. Having had no professional training, I would welcome it, and then say, "Oh my Gosh!" lol

    I like your flower, and it's background that fades from blue to green... or does the green gradate to blue? :)

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  22. I enjoy your writing Anita. You make some interesting observations. The background started out blue, then green, then I muddled them around together, so I don't know which way they're fading. Thanks for the comment!

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