Life Story February 13/14, 2003
I was born in Columbus Ohio July 21, 1965 or so I am told around 11:30 in the morning. My mother was 32 I think and my dad is about three years younger. They were about to adopt a baby after having been unsuccessful to conceive for about three years of marriage. I was born with blonde hair that then changed to red after about six months. In my mind's eye this became the most meaningful and memorable and identifiable characteristic of my childhood by others, hey carrot top your father was the milkman? Both of my parents and all members known on both sides of the family are and were brunettes, no redheads. I was told that a great great great great uncle from Ireland was that last known redhead in the family on my mother's side. I think I am remembering a few too many greats. My dad however, got a reddish tint to his beard if he didn't shave for a number of days.
My parents are the most significant relationship and support in my life, always have been. I particularly remember my father being 36. I also remember visiting with my grandmother and seeing my dad with a moustache for perhaps the first and last time. I don't remember that lasting. He also smoked a pipe for most of my childhood. After years of nagging and a developing cough he quit very abruptly and successfully. My dad had a really flexible schedule and he stayed with me when my mom went back to teaching when I was about three. There was a time when I became rather possessive and jealous of my father. For some reason I had the fear that he would have an affair. I told him that I would hurt whoever might try to do that and would climb to his legs. I used to play wedding with a long chiffon nightgown and carry an Easter basket instead of a bouquet and one time my dad brought me a wedding gift
We had a stray cat, mama kitty who promptly had kittens after her arrival. I remember her crying and trying to climb up a screened door while kittens started popping out. I had a dog named Tipee a border collie who used to chase cars. Our house is on a two and a half acre lot with the originally Cape Cod style house set way back from the road. Today this is a busy street but when I grew up it was safe to let a dog run loose. However, Tipee died while chasing my dad's car out of the driveway.
We found homes for Mama kitty and all but two of her kittens, Starlight and Tom. Tom was a true Tom Cat and hit the road for the ladies. I remember one time while I was home on lunch from gradeschool that Starlight came up the brick walk with one eyeball hanging by a thread. I still cringe at recalling this. I think I might have screamed. Mom and Opal who grew up in the country gathered her up somehow and took her to the vet to have it sewn back in place. Starlight was my cat for almost fourteen years until she came down with Feline Leukemia and slowly and sadly died. We buried her in our yard underneath a giant oak tree.
I was very very close to our neighbors Harry and Opal Caldwell, the house to the west of ours. Their son was already an adult when I was born so I became like their grandchild especially until Amy came along. Harry and Opal loved to spoil me and almost anyone really. Harry always promised me that he would get me a pony. I believed him for many years. He would try to put this promise off on my dad. I became disenchanted at his word some years later when I found out something upsetting. They grew up in Kentucky and neither had a great education. Harry worked in the coal mines for a time but eventually became a millionaire through real estate.
When I attended public grade school, Maize Elementary, from kindergarten (see summer lecture series "Recollections") to fourth grade I was very confident and the best friend of the most powerful and popular girl in our class. Donna Zeller was also a redhead. I don't recall her as a bully or bossy but that she had a lot of respect in our school and I was her best friend.
My best friend in the neighborhood, the only other child in the neighborhood was Dane Jordan. We used to play together in his giant bedroom. One time not long after my mother gave me a book about how babies were born I asked him or he me about our private parts. I remember saying to him, show me your's and I'll show you mine. We did without a lot fanfare or interest. He said that his dad's was larger and that he had seen it in the shower. Dane's parents were really cool to me. They raised and had a kennel for husky and malamute dogs and his dad raced cars of some sort.
One time I reached over to pet one of the dogs not knowing she had a sore hip. She promptly grabbed me with her teeth by the collar and tossed me to the ground. It has surprised me later that I never developed a fear of dogs after this but I didn't.
My weekends were filled with different friends spending the night together and playing. Donna and I would hang out in my dad's shed playing with a found roulette wheel. My dad found all sorts of wonderful treasures people left behind in his rental apartments and sometimes in dumpsters. Once he found a set of wedding rings, the victim of a robbery. Eventually he was able to find the original recipient..
My other girlfriends from grade school included Heidi Johnson and Jan Van Stavern. Heidi was rather wild but we went to the same church. Jan and I had the most in common. We loved horses and collected plastic models from the Children's Palace. Each time we got together we would spread out both of our collections, horses and barbies. We would then take turns picking from the larger whole. The rest of the day was spent in an imaginary world on a ranch whose mountains were our beds.
I loved to spend a lot of time by myself in the yard imagining. Many times I pretended to be a horse or would climb up in a tree and think about leopards. When I was a horse I was usually Midnight of Midnight and Moonbeam a black and white horse duo represented on decorative collector plates in the backs of magazines.
I made some friends, they were sort of fringe people I would say, not popular, not exactly nerdy or able to fit into any other category. My parents put me into catholic school to avoid busing. My memory of this is more so related to the distance and quality of an unknown school rather than desegregation itself. Regardless my dad had to drive me every day a few miles. We had to pass over a set of railroad tracks near our house and were regularly stuck waiting and watching.
It was always so much fun to see the caboose and wave hoping for a toot of the whistle. We always had soot in our window sills because of our proximity to the tracks. It was also a very regular and comforting sound to hear in the distance. My mom always commented on coming weather by the tone of the whistle. I remember her wearing a certain type of clothes and a certain type of hairdo with streaks of gray, before she dyed it regularly. It swooped up into a sort of wave that began at her forehead and ended at the nape of her neck in a loose curl. She made many of her clothes and mine throughout my childhood. I remember a lot of polyesther. I was such a tomboy. She always wanted me to dress more feminine and once with futility bought me a bunch of Polly Flanders dresses which was a somewhat famous girlie label of the time.
We used to drive down to Florida with a group of people every winter and stay in a rented mobile home. These trips didn't involve much beach time, a lot of walking around with old people. My parents closest friends while I was growing up were typically ten years or more older than they. Partly this resulted because my dad was self-employed without a peer group and my mother's teaching colleagues must not have suited. They square danced and played in many card clubs. I used to go with them out to dinner and then play for anyone taking a break. I especially loved Euchre. I always felt comfortable with people older than myself, much much older.
Kathy and Val Carberry were my closest friends and only friends in the neighborhood. We created a club together, the Busy Bee Club and even made stationary with a little bumble bee logo for ourselves. We wrote and produced little skits for our parents. They were real smarties. However, there were many times when they couldn't or wouldn't come out to play. They seemed to be doing their hair a lot. They each had lovely brunette long straight hair, what I always dreamed of. We took art classes together for many years in the basement of a local ceramic engineer, Mr. Sayling.
He gave us a little perspective lesson or the like first and then he would dole out house paints and we would do typically landscapes or still life paintings that we would then later enter in the State Fair. I won a few blue and red ribbons over the years and made the neighborhood paper, the Clintonville something or another. I delivered this paper for a while and tried in vain to collect donations for it, pretty fruitless.
I was an acolyte at church which was my big payoff in my opinion for being a protestant. I used to laud it over my classmates at catholic school because only boys could be altar boys back then. One of my friends Denise Moos was going to take it to the Bishop.
Life at OLP ended and I attended eighth grade at an all girls school CSG, Columbus School for Girls. I entered the school three weeks into the school year putting myself at a disadvantage socially. There had been a rigorous entry process including an interview. I don't think I really was ever interested in attending. I was known as Ramona's replacement for a while. I became much more shy and educationally intimidated. It was an educationally demoralizing and degrading environment for me with not so helpful teachers. I am not mentioning the fact that I didn't really want to work at it much. I still remember a few words in Latin. I had two friends Evie and Andrea. Val and Kathy had moved next door within the last few years and they went to CSG also. We commuted together. I quit after one year and went back to Catholic school.
High school at Bishop Waterson was pretty uneventful. I had friends who didn't fit into any group and was at the peak of shyness. Sister Urula Marie was the low point, math teacher who humiliated myself and a Salvadoran girl who sat in the front row with me. However, it was at that point that I determined to make new friends. Katie Byrne was someone who didn't fit into any category but rather lead not followed was thought of as a stoner by some because her contacts made her eyes blood shot all the time. Instead of taking Art II I took Spanish IV to stay with my friends. Mrs. Shineman the art teacher couldn't figure that.
I forced myself to go to parties and basketball games whenever invited. Eventually I made friends with Jodie Cantwell and Katie. Katie is still one of my closest friends. She is from a very large family and they are Irish so I am often mistaken for one of them. However, I'm from the protestant side of the tracks which didn't always go over well with her father and some of his friends. I began to show up at their house for every holiday after spending time with my own family. They are very dear to me. Went to the prom on a blind date after asking three guys. He was the only one not to wear a tux, couldn't afford it. Plus I had to get a fake i.d photocopied because he was over 21. The administration was afraid that he would buy us all alcohol. On one of our few dates I tried pot, didn't do much for me. He broke up with me on the night of a date because he was afraid that if he touched me my dad would kill him. He reappeared of course and called every year or so for next six years until he finally gave up after my mom told him I would likely never return his call.
Off to Ohio State University because I was lucky to take this for granted. First boyfriend thanks to blind date fix up by Jodie. His name was Lloyd (hmm�what's his last name). We and the boy she loved drove up to Notre Dame to visit her. We spent the night in a Howard Johnson's, that's his last name. He broke up with me that night, not good enough for you�will find someone who will love you like you deserve� The next morning I lost my virginity. I decided to study photography because I knew I couldn't make a living at fine art painting. I didn't have any plans of ever leaving Ohio either. Katie and I took some Spanish classes together. I will never forget Senor Brown (Moreno) saying phrase completa por favor. Also the time I walked into the classroom with dog shit on my shoe and didn't figure it out until near the end.
Jodie fixed me up with Pat Hood, her sister Julie's boyfriends brother next. I thought he was in that bad boy kind of way, really rough looking, drop out from high school. That relationship lasted for ten years. He eventually got his GED and loved me more than anyone ever has except for my parents. He had a horrible temper, a screamer who would at times punch a hole in the wall. My dad had that screamer temper. Eventually I stopped going out socially with Pat because I could never figure what might set him off. I left to go to grad school in part to move away from him. The relationship had a slow death but I wouldn't be where I am today so I try not to regret it. My mother does of course. His family was great to me. His daughter Patricia and I were very close. He had cutody of her after his divorce. I always believed he would give his life for me if necessary. I missed her more than Pat.
I moved to Chicago to go to grad school. I walked 45 minutes every day to school. I was so young and had so much time on my hands. I was so lucky. I had no idea what I was doing with photography but I knew I wanted to try and thankfully my parents supported this adventure which was probably my most important. I made new friends who were from all over the country. Chicago was so amazing to me because I grew up in such a white bread community which was mostly divided between white protestants, white catholics, and later I discovered jewish people. The cultural diversity was such a shock to me, the food, the people. The people were so nice to me. I rode on the bus and for the first time was one of few white people. I realized a few years later that it was during this time I became and adult. I always think of myself as a late bloomer.
After finishing my course work I began to teach Photo I on a lark actually. At this point I met the last major boyfriend **. He taught at the school full time and developed an attraction to me. I noticed he kept running into me near the computer lab and chatting me up but I was too niave and unaware to realize what was going on. He's about 17 years older than myself. I thought at the time, oh how nice and friendly he is. Besides I was still dating Pat although I was not allowing him to visit or actually call me in Chicago. This impressed ** greatly which should have been a RED flag to me.
Eventually he invited me out for lunch. We sat across from each other at a large round table at Las Pinatas. He asked if I would consider going out with him. I remember knocking my leg up and down under the table in a panic of sorts. Contrary to my better judgement that he was a terminal bachelor I went out with him for three years and gave him everything, everything and I want it back.
I made art after graduate school with greater and greater discipline and rigor in some part due to the mentoring and example of ** whose work�I am not going there. I feel very lucky to have found something that I feel so absolutely committed to and passionate about. I will never retire from being an artist. That is a gift.
I was an artist in Residence in Chicago for two years and a very painful disconnect followed when it became clear that I would not be considered for hire due in large part to my previous relationship with **. I took a one year position at Cornell in Ithaca New York. It was nice that for the first time my parents could tell their friends what I do.
The next year I believed that I couldn't go back to being an adjunct and I took at tenure track job in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here I am. I have a very charmed life but still feel quite challenged about choices, ramifications, and the future. I never thought I would leave Ohio not to mention live west of the Mississippi. I loved my life in Chicago and am still terribly homesick but visit regularly to teach or show work when possible.
Today is Valentine's Day. I received some flowers this morning at school from someone. Not the right someone. There were about two hours before I knew who sent them when a flurry of scenarios raced through my head. There are about four male friends in my life who are wonderful people and friends that I keep at arm's length. I had decided to lay it on the table if it was so and so I would call him and spill it, tell him that I am terribly afraid and can't and won't trust. This is what has depressed me today. I have a great capacity to love but am too afraid to allow anyone close enough. I believe I have a great capacity to love, I just haven't found the right vessel. I believe that someday I will. My stomach hurts. I'm going to write a lecture tonight. I would like to remind myself that Scarlett Ohara said: "After all tomorrow is another day,"