Tag Archives: CT

By the Side of the Road

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I have been joined by fox on my walks recently. They’re always singular, stepping out onto the country road before me. Red fox, black fox, silver/black fox, we keep an eye on each other as I walk toward him. But before I get too close, the fox jumps back into a culvert along the road or back into the thick of the woods. Since this has happened frequently, I think it must mean something but I’ve no idea what. I do know this however, according to Stephanie Rose in Interpreting the Spiritual Meaning of Seeing a Fox, “as a spirit animal, the fox reveals itself during times of great and unpredictable change.”

And that it is.

Queen Anne’s Lace has begun to bloom on island in fields, meadows, along beaches, and roadsides. I can’t tell you what that wildflower means to me. My first marriage was in a church built in 1846 on an elevated site in Suffield, Connecticut. I had no affiliation with that church, I just liked the look of it. Small, white, wooden, and with the exception of four Doric columns across a portico in front, the church is quite plain, almost chaste. An interior without  ornament, without electricity. A hand pumped organ, a lectern, and pews. And on that day, upon every window sill, homemade arrangements of Queen Anne’s Lace. A young bride in a long white cotton dress—I wish I could stop her, but there was no stopping her. It was all very hurried and quite mad.

Queen Anne’s lace smells like carrots, by the way.

Just beginning to appear, right behind Queen Anne’s Lace, is the wild lavender/blue flower I mistook for an aster my first few years on island. In fact it’s Common Chicory, a woody perennial herb in the dandelion tribe. It was at the Master Gardener Demo Garden that I stood corrected, and I remember shrieking with joy that this little flower, all over San Juan Island, is chicory. What came to me then, and what comes to me now every time I stumble upon it, are memories of a couple days spent in The French Quarter in New Orleans with my daughter. Dishes to die for—“first you make a roux,” bougainvillea growing to extraordinary heights on wrought iron balconies and gates, folds of old velvet drapery in deep reds, spider webs in chandeliers, the texture of crumbling brick walls, squares and courtyards and patios, street musicians, the smells of mossy trees, gardenia, and sweet olive, and the distinctive taste of the coffee. The ground root of Chicory was used as a coffee substitute in The Depression, and still today in New Orleans, as a matter of preference, it is mixed with dark bean coffee.

One glimpse of the pretty Common Chicory and I am there, at Café du Monde, powdered sugar on my fingers and upper lip.

And growing in sunlight where everything else gave up ever trying to grow, for they seem to come out of rocks, the California Poppy. Distinquished as the state flower of California, but native to the entire Pacific slope of North America. A flower so small and demure, with a vibrant explosion of yellow/orange color, the California Poppy expresses the optimism and free spirit of the state, reseeding itself if happy. Flowers that close at night and on cloudy days. I experienced that when I first moved to California from New York. I was continually calling people too late at night, not realizing that Californians more closely follow the sun.

Come fall, I am going to sow some.

I have completed the loop and am coming home from my walk. This is where I turn in: a shrubby lot by the side of the road and by the side of the sea. The tide rolls in, the tide rolls out—and everything comes back to us. It never leaves. A great state in a seed, two days in New Orleans pre-Katrina, a brief marriage, and a knowing fox.

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Rhoda and I

Give me an open shelf and I immediately go into display mode. From the pragmatic to the aesthetic–whether we’re talking everyday dishes or a collection of shells–in my mind they occupy the same sacred space. A well-arranged shelf is like music to me. Where did this come from?

Ah yes, Rhoda.

Not since The Mouseketeers had I been so enamored with a television show. From 1974 to 1978, for the life of the show, I didn’t sit there with my ears on but I was hooked. Rhoda was at first a backstory of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later a spin-off. She had all the right ingredients and captured my imagination in a way that Mary hadn’t. Unlike Mary, Rhoda wasn’t perfect. She had issues. She had verve. And Rhoda was a window dresser. Having moved from Minneapolis back to NYC at the start of her own show, Rhoda called out, “New York, this is your last chance.”

I was working as Communications Editor for G. Fox & Co., a large department store at the time in Hartford, Connecticut. My first gig out of college, editor of in-house publications. Unlike Mary, who was tied to her desk, I had the freedom to roam between departments with paper & pen and camera, attending events, getting stories, and becoming acquainted with both employees and management. And in all the world of G. Fox & Co., I considered the Visual Merchandising team the most creative bunch—far more creative than my department, or even advertising.

Inspired by my new arty friends, the window dressers, I rented a trendy loft space in a beautiful old building enjoying a renaissance at the time near Union Station in Hartford—an area undergoing a major effort in urban renewal. My high- ceilinged, light-flooded space was a blank canvas for all that I would do. A massive store window, if you will. I think I got as far as rolling in a wooden spool for a table, my first piece of furniture ever, to start my life around.

Rhoda married Joe. Then love bumped me off course too, and the next thing I knew I quit my job, left Hartford, lost my security deposit and first month’s rent on that loft, left my first piece of furniture behind, flew to St. Thomas USVI for a couple of years, and… we won’t go into it.

Let’s just say I should have stayed, kept writing, and set my stage. Two things that make me immeasurably happy.

Rhoda’s marriage to Joe fell apart too. The ratings plunged. Joe was the owner of a wrecking company, and my ex-husband might as well have been too. In any case we pulled ourselves up through design, Rhoda and I.

“What is design but the creation of orderliness?” states Mary Douglas Drysdale.

Today my blue & whites are in a hutch. Like things together, that seems to work.

Bookcase 3

A major bookcase is color- blocked like a Mondrian painting. When I’m watching a game and my attention wanders, it is most likely up to the books.

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In the master bath, a shell collection sits on pine shelves that once held Costco-sized spices, sea salt, pepper mill, olive oil and vinegars in a kitchen in Pennsylvania.

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In the kitchen today, much of what was once hidden in upper cabinets is now out. Stainless steel kitchen shelves hold all our white every day china and clear glasses. The idea is that what is used frequently, doesn’t get dusty. And as cooks in prepping we experience extraordinary head and shoulder space.

Live with what you use and what you love. And get rid of the rest.

Yep, I can see Rhoda winking at that.

 

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Meeting Maya

Passing Time

Your skin like dawn
Mine like dusk.

One paints the beginning
of a certain end.

The other, the end of a
sure beginning.

Maya Angelou

 

Every now and then, perhaps just once in a lifetime, we are in the presence of someone who, we suspect, must be a god. She walked into the room donning a long brightly colored African caftan, her hair wrapped in a turban, holding herself high, seemingly floating on grace. Elegant and eloquent. Each word carefully chosen, as in her poems. The clarity with which she annunciated. Offering words up like holy communion.

I met Maya Angelou before I knew who she was, before many of us knew her. It was 1975 and Random House had just published “Oh Pray My Wings are Going to Fit Me Me Well” and she was on book tour in Hartford CT. The Public Relations department at G. Fox & Co., a large department store, was sponsoring the event in a reception room.

I was on my first job out of college as Communications Editor at G. Fox & Co. With a Polaroid camera strapped over my shoulder, pen and steno pad in hand, I interviewed managers and covered rallies and events for material in publishing “Fox Tales,” the monthly in-house magazine. It was the day of literal cut and paste, and that deadline was perhaps the only time I could be found at my desk. Otherwise I got to run around, and I especially enjoyed covering events such as this that had nothing at all to do with the retail world.

Back to Maya.

Her every word, her commanding presence, demanded we listen, just listen. I remember her attentiveness to us. Her joy in reading. It was like being at a sermon where you get it. And the congregation comes floating out, higher than they were when they came in.

A woman who was silent for so many years. A silence that must have been cleansing like a fast. Thus her purity of words. How could I not think she was deity?

When our daughters were young, we toured the United Nations in NYC. A friend of the family, a delegate, had arranged for us to go behind the scenes. It was spectacular—all the art, the etiquette, rich in languages and men in robes. Ten year old Jackie believed she was in the presence of “kings of many lands.” No one could dissuade her and no one wanted to, for her awe and respect was beautiful.

I felt much this way meeting Maya.

I took her photograph that day and came away with a signed book. That photograph is pressed somewhere in the pages, and that book is packed because I am moving. And now she has died, and I long to hold it.

 

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