I’ve got a lot of stamps, and a lot of fortune cookie messages. The stamps were easy to come by – I bought bags of them from craft stores. The fortune cookies weren’t so easy. I like Chinese food. I eat it at least once a week. And once a week I get a fortune. I get a little overwhelmed when I think of how many meals my collection of fortunes represents.
Recently I started to go through both of these sets and sort them into themes. From that I’ve been making art. I’ve done some of this over the years, but after sorting them I have a bit more focus. I found an “empty” book that I bought years ago and started arranging some of them there. I’m only filling the right-hand pages.
Of course, I’m doing this amid all my other craft projects. Either I’m getting distracted or I’m clearing my head so I can finish the other main project (my book). Perhaps I really am into the “jigsaw” method of life – do a little here, and a little there, and then it all comes together.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to do this, to put them together like this. I thought I was going to paint and put them in art, kind of like Nick Bantock does. But this empty book seems to be a good way to hold it all together. It is clean and simple too. All the focus is on the subject. It isn’t “busy”.
I had a bit of a pause – what if I put it in the “wrong” order? Then I realized I can scan it and re-sort it later. Sometimes I over think things, but I think that is part of being an artist. What matters is that I won that argument by deciding to just do it anyway. Half the part of making art is getting over the need for things to be perfect. Something is better than an imagined thing that ends up being nothing because I over thought it and was too scared to start.
I’ll post the pages in a separate post so I can add to it later and have the whole thing together for you. But I want you to see what I’ve been creating.
Here’s something I’ve been working on recently.
Front view. Acrylic paint, oil pastel, decoupage glue, metal foil.
Top left side. Chinese fortunes, Czech glass stars, glue
I’ll need to paint matte medium over the top sides again so that it all has the same sheen. But it is mostly done. It hangs like a diamond – it isn’t horizontal. One nail in the wall and then pop it on.
This is a “postcard” of me and my grandmother. She is the only grandmother that I knew. She was my father’s mother, and her name was Mary Frances. I called her Mama. My mother’s mother died before I was born.
My aunt sent me this picture recently. I’d never seen it, but I knew when it was taken. There is another picture of me from that same day, wearing those same clothes. It, however, has all of me and not just half. I’m not sure where that picture is anymore. Probably in a box in a closet. I’d had this picture sitting out for a while. It needed to be put in a frame of some sort. It needed something.
Here’s a closer picture of the photo that started it all.
The back of the picture says “Betsy and me at the Holiday Inn, Chattanooga”. It is written in blue ballpoint pen in my grandmother’s handwriting. The printing on the side of the picture says “Jun 71”, so I was two years old. I’d been swimming – my hair is wet. I was cold, and my grandmother has put her ever-present white sweater on me to keep me warm. Yes, my hair is wet, and I’m not wearing a swimsuit. So that means I was changed into normal clothes and nobody dried my hair. My grandmother has her handbag nearby. This is big and stiff and white, like all of her purses. The one I remember the most was a white wicker contraption. It was fascinating.
I spent most of yesterday sorting my stamp collection and my collection of fortunes from fortune cookies. I have a slightly disturbing amount of both. Fortunately they are tiny paper things, so having a lot of them doesn’t take up a lot of space. I pulled out ones I liked as I was sorting, with no particular idea what I was going to do with them. At night I knew – put some of them together with this picture. It is like a postcard of memories.
The fortunes all have meanings for me. They are like pithy snapshots all to themselves.
Here’s a closer picture of the first three.
“Travelling to the south will bring you unexpected happiness.”
There were two of these fortunes in the collection, and I’m amused by how specific they are. The south – not the north, not just traveling, but the south. I found it interesting, so I pulled them aside. Now I know why. I went south to visit my grandparents every summer for two weeks while I was growing up. We’d drive down as a family to meet up with my grandparents in Gadsden, Alabama and go to Noccalula Falls. It was halfway. Then my parents would drive back home, and my grandparents would drive the rest of the way to Birmingham with me in the car. Two weeks later they would reverse the procedure to return me.
Was it unexpected happiness? It was certainly different from the norm. My grandparents slept in separate rooms. My grandmother had two single beds in her room. I’d sleep in the one closest to the wall. The blankets were white with pom poms on them. The “Birmingham fairy” would visit and there would be a present under my pillow. Was it every night? Or just the first night? I don’t remember. No teeth had to fall out to get a present. It was just for being there. I remember being stunned how it happened. I’d see something I liked at a store we would visit and it would show up under my pillow the next morning. It was magic. I never saw my grandmother buy anything that I later got under my pillow. She was part elf, I think. She taught me how to palm money, but that is another story.
At night she would give me chocolate milk to drink, and in the morning she would put sugar in my orange juice. She’d also put a packet of sugar in my applesauce when we went out to eat. We went out to eat every meal. Really. Every meal. “Grandmother’s cooking” means nothing to me. When I think of food associated with my grandmother, I think of the Piccadilly café. Buffet lines were the norm. She didn’t cook. The only time I saw her use the stove was to dry of my shoes if I’d played outside in the rain, or to heat up mud pies that I made in little cast iron skillets.
Real mud. In the stove. Why she didn’t insist that I put them outside in the sun to dry is beyond me. That was my grandmother.
We slept with the windows open. There was no central air in that house. That wasn’t a problem for me because I grew up that way. I’d go to sleep listening to the sound of the train whistles nearby. It is part of why I got a house close to trains. I love that sound. It reminds me of those summers, sleeping in her room, getting presents under my pillow.
“You have at your command the wisdom of the ages”
I bought my first real computer, a Gateway, with the money from my grandparent’s estate. I’d gotten this Chinese fortune around the same time. It seemed an appropriate thing to tape to the monitor. I also taped my grandmother’s name to it, as a reminder of who to be thankful to. I wrote it out in a fancy old script.
“You will discover the truth in time.”
I feel there are a lot of things I don’t know about my family. Something about this speaks to me. I’m uncovering and recovering a lot about my history through writing, art, and prayer. Things are coming back to me, things I never knew were lost. It is beautiful and difficult at the same time. There is a lot that is hidden, that I intentionally forgot. I ask Jesus into it, and it helps.
Here’s a closer picture of the last ones.
“You find beauty in ordinary things. Do not lose this ability.”
My grandmother was very child-like. Not childish. She knew how to play. She was clever and creative and fun and whimsical. She wasn’t an adult, really, but I don’t know whether that was intentional or was the result of my grandfather’s overbearing nature. Or, was that simply the side of her that I saw?
I like this fortune because it speaks to how I make jewelry, seeing beauty in the everyday. I make treasures out of things that other people see as trash or overlook. Alchemy is part of it – turning lead into gold.
“Choosing what you want to do, and when to do it, is an act of creation.”
I feel this is a message to me from my grandmother. It and the stamp speak to me about the same thing.
Here’s a closer picture of the stamp.
The stamp is a French stamp, and it reminds me that my grandmother was fluent in French and German, and taught both of them before she got married. When she got married, her husband insisted that she not work. He felt it was shameful to him for his wife to have to work- that it said that he was not a good provider.
Problem is, she liked teaching. She liked translating. She wanted to. But he didn’t want her to, and he won.
This reminds me of the fact that her mother wasn’t allowed to be who she wanted to be either. She wasn’t allowed to work or even to cook. It too was seen as shameful for the woman of the house to work, outside or inside the house. Her husband owned several pipe foundries and made lots of money. He hired cooks and maids. She was allowed to do needlepoint. It wasn’t pretty. It was brittle, and stiff. I feel like she was that way too. A person’s art tells you a lot about the person.
They both were stunted. It was a bonsai kind of a life. But not beautiful, like a bonsai.
This is interesting to me to realize. Both women were “free” of the traditional roles of women, and they suffered because of it. One wanted to work outside of the home. One wanted to cook and take care of the house. Neither woman was allowed to, because it would hurt the pride of their husbands.
This is what I mean about how I’m uncovering the truth through my artwork. I’ve learned quite a bit and put together quite a number of pieces this way. Things make more sense.
So then I look up how to spell Noccalula, and I find out more about the story. This is from Wikipedia. She was a “Cherokee maiden who, according to local legends, plunged to her death after being ordered by her father to marry a man she didn’t love.” Fascinating. It ties into these other women -my grandmother, and her mother. They didn’t kill themselves, but they let a part of themselves die when they got married.
I’m not anti-marriage at all. And I’m not saying that women need to work or cook to feel fulfilled. But what I am saying is that people should feel free to be who they are, and do what they want. Other people should not make decisions for them as to what they think is best for them. This applies to parents and spouses, regardless of gender. To suppress yourself in order to appease a family member is the most damaging thing you can do. It is the heart of codependency.
(I have this collage framed in a simple pop-together frame. I’ve taken it out of the frame for the pictures.)