Monday, March 8, 2010

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Assignment: Examine of picture of you taken in your childhood.

When was it?

What were you doing?


My parents, in those Depression Years before I went to school, had concerns other than snapping pictures of me and my younger sister.  Only one snapshot of me as a toddler remains in my possession.  I have no idea who snapped it; probably one of my cousins, whose family shared a duplex with my family. 

The photo is black-and-white, of course, possibly taken with a box-camera.  In it, I am probably no more than three years old, standing alone in the middle of a field of weeds and flowers, holding one flower (daisy?, dandelion?) in my right hand.  Many scraggly-branched trees form a border far behind me.  I think the site is the upper part of the large back yard of the duplex we lived in.  

As in the Parry Studios photograph, my demeanor in this photo is pensive, too, but perhaps more somber -- actually, even rather belligerent.  Maybe I didn't like to have my likeness taken, or maybe the novelty of having my picture snapped was foreign and puzzeling to me.  In the shot, I display  a big head of very thick dark hair, cut short, with Buster Brown bangs across my forehead.  I am dressed in a white, short-sleeved, short-pants, one-piece play outfit.  Only my two baby-chubby thighs and knees show above the flowers and weeds.

When my husband first found this photo among our jumbled collection, he put it in a lime green frame he had bought purposely for it.  Around the border of the frame is printed "Mary, Mary quite contrary".   He thought the frame a most appropriate find.  It sits on the melodian in our far room, and our four offspring love it, especially the inscription on the frame.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Manifest Destiny

The man kept the bird, not out of affection, but because he believed the two of them were linked in destiny, and he vowed with sacred compulsion to keep it, the bird, until death ― either its, or his. 

It had been on one fateful afternoon while he was shopping for oils and brushes in the five-and-ten, that the bird's riotously bright plumage had lured him into the pet and pet supplies section.  With a recklessness dictated by something undefined in him, he bought it with four precious twenty-dollar bills and sixty-nine precious cents, county and state sales taxes included.  As if that were not in itself an extravagance beyond his means, he emptied his pockets and purchased a cage on a stand for it also. 

He took the bird home then and every day coaxed it to sing, confident that a bird of such beauty was surely destined to sing with a heavenly, soul-quaking voice.  But every day the bird merely sat in his cage in the corner of the room, and ate the seed the man provided, and produced only noisy, chattery sounds in its throat.  The man eventually gave up coaxing, but never gave up hope, for he knew in his heart of hearts that someday the bird would sing for him.  He knew the bird had not been created for ornament alone, any more than he himself had been created just to live, eat, drink, and die.  They each had a purpose, he and the bird.  Such was his religion. For the bird not to sing more beautifully than could be imagined, and for he himself not to create on canvas a masterpiece such as the world had never before known, would be, he believed, the most mortal of sins, worthy of everlasting damnation. 

A few times over the many years, he brimmed full with ideas, and, laboring feverishly all day and far into the night, he seemed on the brink of achievement.  But each time resulted in a failure that left him heavy with worthlessness and despair.

He had no steady employment, but would take odd  jobs when his supply of money became exhausted.  When he had saved enough, he would retire again and devote himself to his art.  So it went – in endless cycle . And the bird looked on, and consumed

its seed and water, and dirtied its cage, and did not sing.  And the man replenished the seed and water, and cleaned the cage, and painted one uninspired, unspirited canvas after another. 

Then one gray February day, with a stomach that rumbled with hunger, and with a larder as empty as the wallet in his worn jeans, the man looked over at the bird in its cage, saw it plumped and fat on its perch, and imagined it sneared at him.  

"So what are YOU looking at, you ingrate?" he shouted, throwing his pallet at the cage, causing it to rock on its stand enough to set the perch inside it and bird plumped there to sway.  The bird cocked its shiny eye and let out a screech that pierced the man's ears and his very soul, and at last he knew his bird would never sing.  In the same moment he knew that he himself did not have, nor had he ever had, a masterpiece in him to present to the world.  

He opened the window and tossed the bird, cage and all, into the snow below.  Then, after slashing to tatters the canvas on which he had been working, the man threw himself, fully clothed, across his bed, and reaching down, pulled the blanket over his head. 

I shall lie here, he thought, and hold my breath until I suffocate and die.  But no sooner did the oxygen under the blanket grow thin, than he uncovered his face and took in great gulps of air.  Whereupon he brought himself to his feet, sighed, donned his thin coat, went out into the snow, retrieved the bird, cage and all, and resumed the cycle of  life —  his and the bird's.  

All of which, of course, gives validity to the adage that birds of a feather certainly do, by nature, flock together, and, further, that no matter how ferverently one believes he can, it is irrefutably impossible to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.  A third adage, a  most encouraging one, is hereby proven as well ― that hope springs eternal in the human breast.  

And for that we give thanks.