Mary Beth Writes

10/21/2021  Three Things

My birthday was last weekend. This is my question for you; have you celebrated a birthday lately that seemed extra fine? I wonder if the quarantine year reset our happiness scale. I don’t remember being miserable last year, but this year felt so rich.

Supposedly “older folks” are embarrassed or apologetic about being in our sixties or whatever non-cute age we are. I’ve never felt ashamed about getting older but I did internalize that it was my job to pretend this is a sorry joke. Somewhere in this past year I’ve jettisoned that, too. I’m 69; it is what it is. Still agile enough to hike and walk and move and why yes, I DO have a favorite physical therapist. (And I’m seeing her today for my ‘reading injury’ sore shoulder.)

Here are some of my good birthday moments.

Sunday afternoon my daughter called when she had just arrived at a playground with our four-year-old granddaughter. Grandkid was smiling and interacting with me until she saw her BFF Josephine who had arrived for their playdate. Poof, off my kid ran and it happened so fast both my daughter and I broke into laughter. All you could see was the back of my running kid, her blond hair flying, like those videos of parents coming home from war. These little girls had not seen each other in … a week?

Monday evening daughter called again, this time with our two-year-old grandson who is a total pumpkin head. Big head on top of his little body, his tummy pushing out whatever stripes and trucks t-shirt he is wearing.  

He “gets” FaceTime now. He looks right into the phone and grins; he knows we are really somehow behind the window in the phone. Daughter said a few weeks ago she found him in his room intently looking out his bedroom window. Their neighbor was making his breakfast and our kid was talking to him although the neighbor had no idea he was being watched and chatted at. We wonder if he thinks his window is FaceTime; when you see someone you love who is small and behind glass, you can talk to them.

Anyways, on the phone this week he was trying to say Happy Birthday which was cute. Len and I were talking to him and he watched us, his face all lit up like Christmas. It occurred to me he looks now like I looked on the MayaWorks trips to visit weavers in Guatemala. Totally happy to be there, concentrating like crazy, listening so hard for any word in the conversation that I might understand. When I did understand a word or sentence (from my high school Spanish) I would light up like a Christmas tree, too. People coping in a language they barely know pretty much all look like two-year-olds.

But, if you say “firetruck” he’s here for it. He’s got that word nailed.

I’m like that with “almuerza.” It means lunch.

Len and I spent Sunday afternoon at the Art Institute in Chicago. We hadn’t been there in maybe 15 years and it was powerful to revisit paintings that affected us when we were young.

Of course, this was one of the most amazing visions of the day. Every single person was wearing a mask and wearing it properly.

By the end of the afternoon, I had a new favorite painter. Marsden Hartley. I’ve already put books about him on hold at the library so I’ll know more in a few weeks.

He was born Edward Hartley in 1877, the 9th of nine kids, to a poor family in Lewiston, Maine. When he was 8 his mom died. Later his dad remarried Martha Marsden. I don’t know why he took her name as his name when he became an artist. Curious.

He worked in a shoe factory the year he was 14 (consider what you know about dangerous textile and leather factories in New England in the 1880’s, before unions and safety standards). At 15 he moved to Ohio where he went to art school.  Later he would live and paint in NYC, where he achieved some success.

When he was 35 he moved to Berlin where he fell in love with a Prussian military man, Karl von Freyburg. Von Freyberg would die in WWI, devasting Hartley. Hartley appreciated German culture through the 30’s and 40’s. Also curious for a gay man in that time and place.

I didn’t know even this much when his paintings caught my attention. These are three of his paintings at the Art Institute.

 

I like Hartley because I like the suggestion of shapes more than “it’s only this one thing and nothing more.” I love shadows. I’m curious about how this guy fitted himself into his world. His paintings from the southwest remind me of places Len and I visited this past May; that landscape is so massive, to witness and wonder seems like the only honest response.

I like watching my granddaughter streaming across a playground to her friend because it says she feels joy and passion and that’s awesome. I like that my grandson is trying so hard to figure out how to communicate with the rest of us. As a writer, I empathize that this is not always simple to do, but one keeps trying.

I like art that comes from a complicated life and leads me back to mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

Happy Belated Birthday!!!
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you!

Thank you, Mary Beth, for sharing the joy of your Birthday. It transferred. Many Happy Returns!
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks, Karen!

This made me smile. We also have more time to enjoy our birthdays now! Life is good.
Mary Beth's picture

Hah. We've known each other since we were, what, 25? That's a lot of birthday cards.

Happiest of birthdays to you! I love celebrating birthdays; in my view, it is an honor to age. I turned 60 last January. My intent was to have a big Disco party...the pandemic had other plans. My mom, daughter and I had a lovely lunch on the patio. I proudly wore a t-shirt my younger sister sent me: Vintage 1961. All original parts. The quiet of midday was disrupted by a surprise Mariachi band serenade family members had hired. I danced and sang with them, while family members attended through Facetime. It was wonderful! Talk about feeling the LOVE! I raise my glass to you. Patricia
Mary Beth's picture

I LOVE this! Mariachi band, "vintage 1961, original parts", family on the deck. On my 60th I took the day off from work, invited many GF's (most are possibly reading this now), made so many pancakes, drank wine, and then there was a spectacular layer cake from Kathryn. Because everyone needs cake after pancakes. I said I wanted presents form everyone - with a $5 cap on price and thus received some of the best stuff one could laugh at. socks, markers, plants, chocolate. I'm sitting here grinning remembering that day. Good memories that are good medicine.

Happy Birthday! Good for you, accepting the age you are. Stay healthy!
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you! Though a behind the scenes joke was in the text, when I said I am glad to be 69, when I proofed it before finalizing it here - it said 29. Made me laugh.

Happy Late Birthday MB (NOT really, I feel we should celebrate our birthday month) because at our age we are deserving of it... I'm just now reading this post... I love finding the joy in the simple things, when it happens on ones birthday it's even better... Many more my friend...

The Art Institute of Chicago. What a lovely way to spend your birthday and to emerge ever so delicately out of Covid isolation. I have been a regular at the Art Institute before Covid, and went to an amazing exhibit of the work of Bisa Butler, an African-American fabric artist exhibit earlier this summer. It was breathtaking in its creativity, dazzling color, and cultural roots. As many times as I have walked the galleries, I have never taken note of Edward Hartley's work. The two landscapes are shades of Van Gogh with the swirling sky and hills. And what a backstory! You have piqued my interest.

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