Thursday, December 11, 2014

Jaki Jean & Jean on Alternative Names: Veronica? Minnie Jo?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

So this morning, waiting in a room for Jean's neurologist, Jean says:

I have thought of something else I could have named you.

The last time Jean suggested that she could have named me something other than after herself & my father, she told me could have named me Veronica.

At the time, I asked Jean where she got Veronica & she said she did not know.

But it is a very pretty name.

The thought of being named after a character in an Archie comic book series did not please me.  

I was wary of finding out what other name I might have been called these last six decades.  But we were wedged in the room, the stretcher faced toward the doctor’s entrance & I could not sit behind Jean & work a crossword without interacting.

Because I have already gone through the November 3rd issue of People  magazine with her, I asked her what else she could have named me except for Veronica or after my father & herself.

I could have named you Minnie Jo.

I think of Minnie Driver & Minnie Mouse & then I tell her that no one in their right mind names anything but a puppy or a doll or a cartoon character Minnie Jo.

Jean replied:

Actually I was quite fond of Minnie Jo.

And I wonder who  was this Minnie Jo who might have been the inspiration for my name & why Jean was quite fond of her.  So I ask & Jean tells me a story. 

Minnie Jo was the product of a marriage between my Aunt Flora’s husband’s brother, Tule (Jean spells out T – U – L – E) & a woman I think was named Bessie.

I verify Jean’s Aunt Flora as her mother Luna’s sister.

Minnie Jo was very tall, with light brown hair & nice, dark skin.  I seem to remember she had blue eyes.  She started dating Billy John Burns.  I liked him first.  I wasn’t happy about that.

The last I heard, they were still happily married.

Minnie Jo used to send me cards from time to time & and she would congratulate me on whatever was happening.

I once wrote back to her:  I hope you only have enough clouds in your life to create a beautiful sunset.

I am sure I read that somewhere.

Every time I have one of these conversations with Jean, I marvel at what I don’t know about her.  And I marvel at how much of who I am is embedded in what she has given me.

And, not for the first time I realize, from whom I first learned to be a story teller.

There is a reason I am not named Minnie Jo or Veronica.  I am very much Jack & Jean’s daughter & my name, as my cousin Vicki Willimon Barkley once pointed out, suits me.

I think of a poem by Vassar Miller, a Houston poet I was privileged to meet.   I cannot find the small book containing the poem – but it had to do with naming.  That we name what we love, we love what we name.

Naming is an enormous power – given to Adam by God, it granted Adam dominion over all that was created after him.  The names we give our children define them, dictate the course of their growing into their own identities.

Veronica is  a very pretty name.  It still invokes only two memories – the Archie comic book figure & a flash of the actress Veronica Hammel wearing Furillo’s shirt during a bedroom scene in the TV drama Hill Street Blues.  Minnie Jo still invokes images of Minnie Mouse. 

Jean did tell me that at some point Minnie Jo dropped the Minnie & signed her cards & letters Jo.

I told Jean that I was quite content being named after my parents.  Even it is does sound like a character in a Faulkner novel, if Faulkner had written about a fictional town in East Texas instead of a fictional town in Mississippi.

There are worse things than sounding a bit like a Faulkner character.

After all, Jack & Jean named what they loved & continued to love what they named.

I really need to find that Vassar Miller poem.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Jaki Jean, Jean, & Remembering the First Baby You Ever Held

Tonight I tell Jean that her niece Lawana saw her picture on Facebook & said that she looked so good.

Jean smiled & then said:  Her name is Lawana Jean.

This is new to me & I ask:  After you?

And Jean says:  Yes.  She was the first baby I ever held.

For a moment I am speechless, but because I am never without words for long, I touch her & smile & say:  The very first baby you hold is very special.

Jean smiles & I tell her that I am going to write for a while & she asks: 

What is on TV?

I tell her nothing much, but I see two VHS packages & offer her a choice between The Lion King  (complete with my rendition of From the day we arrive on the planet And blinking, step into the sun There's more to see than can ever be seen More to do than can ever be done)  & Air Force One & Jean quite wisely chooses Harrison Ford over animation & anything I recommend with what passes for my singing voice.

I tell her that Air Force One is one my personal favorites but I do not tell her that seeing The Lion King on stage is on my bucket list.  Even if it is Disney’s really poor version of Hamlet.

And then I sit down at Luna's sewing machine to write & I forget why it was so important to write tonight. 

All I keep thinking is what Jean told me about my cousin Lawana Jean:

She was the first baby I ever held.

Jean was the youngest of nine, far too young to hold my cousins who are so close to her in age.  Far too young to hold her nieces & nephews who did not live on the farm.

I think it was my first realization that I was not the first baby she ever held. 

Because I was the first of Jack & Jean’s children, the first babies I ever held were my siblings. 

There is a running joke in our family, one which I perpetuate, that I am still not over the birth of my sister Janet.  It is true that I have no memory of her birth.  But I do remember holding her.

And I remember all the grownups warning me to be careful, not to drop her.

While I don’t think I ever dropped her, I know without a doubt that over the years, Janet has never dropped me.

I remember holding our brother John – I was so worried about him – why did all the grownups let that ugly thing cling to his belly button?  Who was in charge?

By the time our youngest brother Jason arrived, I was thirteen & an expert at holding babies.  But I had a lot of competition from my two other siblings – everyone wanted to hold Jason.

Over the years, I have held all my siblings’ children - Felicia Marie, Emily Kate, Johnny Alexander & Sarah Jane.  Each time, I remembered how it felt to hold my sons Nicholas Jordan & Samuel Jean.  

And how it felt to hold my baby sister & my younger brothers.

Today I once again held my late brother John’s grandson.

Tonight, writing, I think of how it felt to hold little John, named for my brother & his grandfather John Simpson Ettinger, who was named for our grandfather, John Simpson Alexander Ettinger.  To feel the connection of what came before, of what is & what will continue.

And I think about Jean, how she must have felt to hold that little girl, the first baby she remembers holding, Lawana Jean.

Preparing her for holding her own daughters & sons & grandchildren.  Jean can no longer hold a baby - Parkinson's has robbed one of her arms of its strength.  

But my niece held little John close & Jean spoke to him & his eyes shined & he responded to Jean's voice.

The first baby you remember holding is very special.

And perhaps, so is the one you cannot hold.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jaki Jean on Coming Home with Jean & Luna's Machine

Friday, November 21,  2014

Tonight was one of those rare perfect drizzling nights in the swamp – when the air begs to be breathed & the tiny droplets of rain beg to caress your face.  A light enough drizzle to turn naturally curly hair fetching & irresistible but a little too many droplets for the fantasy of making love in the rain.  A night for walking one’s neighborhood & thinking.

In another time, even in the space I currently occupy, I would not hesitate to take that walk.  Indeed, I have walked & glided on a bike through this neighborhood at all hours in the past, oblivious to any danger or any threat.

But the world, the square mile hamlet I live in with Jean is not the place that allowed me to leave my parents’ house at any hour & explore.  Always trying to replicate the mornings I left Jack & Jean’s house in El Paso, crossed the desert behind our back yard & climbed a hill to watch the sun rise or set over the Franklin Mountains.

I used to wander the streets of this one square mile hamlet on my bike with a friend, or alone, just for the joy of owning the street early in the morning.  My way of replicating that trek to the top of the hill to watch the sunrise.  Only the Borden Milk Man’s truck invaded our space - & he always offered us a sample of the latest Borden frozen delight.

Of course, he always asked if our parents knew we were out so early & we always glibly lied & said yes, sir.

Tonight I cannot walk in the drizzling rain that begs me to let it curl my hair & give me time to walk the neighborhood & think.

So I open my laptop & write about what I am thinking.

Jean & I have spent nine days & eight nights at Methodist Hospital Sugar Land.  It is a wonderful hospital, doctors & nurses vie for positions there.   It was not our first rodeo at MHSL, & it will not be our last.  God willing.

Because I am not yet willing to let my mother go.

We went through Emergency at the hospital on instructions from Jean’s primary physician.  Results from a test for a suspected UTI indicated the need for IV antibiotics.

And in the Emergency Room, the doctors & nurses detected an arrhythmia.  An arrhythmia that descended to dangerous levels while Jean slept.

So I took my mother to the ER for a severe UTI & she received a pacemaker & we spent nine days & eight nights in the bizarre dimension & time zone of a hospital.

Coming home late this afternoon was an adjustment.  It always is.   After nine days & eight nights, I suddenly am once again responsible for the dispensing of medication  (which I monitor like a hawk – hospital pharmacies make mistakes & Methodist make a big one this soiree) --  after nine days & eight nights, I face the laundry I left when we went on this latest jaunt to the hospital.  I cannot pick up a phone & order a meal.  No wonderful cleaning fairy named Dora will come & clean, no charming aid will come & give Jean a bath, no one will bring a pair of fresh socks.

As I sit at my laptop, remembering & savoring that drizzling rain, I think about all the times I have been able to walk & think, caressed by a mist of tiny raindrops.  Jean can no longer walk anywhere.  All of her thinking, all of her life & experiences are played out in a single space, confined to a bed with an air mattress.  And most of the time, with me as a companion.

When we came home, I moved my computer space to the top of a Singer sewing machine, built in 1921 (I looked up the registration number on the Singer website).  The same machine that Jean’s mother Luna Sims used to make clothes for my aunts & uncles, Lorrine, Ronald, Mansel, Allyne, Edsel, Janette, Melba, Barbara & for her baby, Jean.

When my cousin Linda Wiley offered me the machine, I responded with a joyous yes, please, we would love to have it.  

I took out a page I tore out from a magazine at Methodist Wound Care Center – I am an unapologetic thief of recipes & interesting articles discovered in waiting rooms. And just before Linda mentioned Luna’s sewing machine, I found an article on what to do with old Singer machines.

My sister has our grandmother Helen Irene Roberts Ettinger’s Singer machine.  So I felt that it was quid quo pro for me to take Luna’s as my own.  The picture I robbed from the magazine table at Methodist Wound Care Center showed an amazing transformation - with a minor investment – spray paint the cast iron a deep purple, remove the top of the cabinet & replace it with a coffee table top from IKEA. 

When my cousin Larry & his sweet wife Frances brought the sewing machine from his sister Linda’s place, I discovered that the cabinet had two missing knobs, some damage to the top of the cabinet, a bad paint job & the machine itself intact.

The machine Luna’s hands & my aunts’ hands & Jean’s hands worked while learning to sew.

And the purple based table left the building.

I sit at Luna’s machine & write, my always tile weary feet moving the cast iron petal, & I summon bits & pieces of Luna & Rush’s farm outside Canton, & vivid memories of visiting them after they moved to Dallas.  Rush leading grace before each meal, his deep, rich voice forever implanted in my being.  Sitting on Rush’s lap in his giant rocking chair, that same rich, deep voice singing softly.  And my grandmother Luna, who always greeted us with a smile to melt anyone’s heart. 

Luna always served a stack of sliced white bread & butter at every meal.  For a long time, before Jean got heart healthy with Jack, she did the same.  Once I asked her why & she explained that on the farm, the ingredients for bread were always available & it was a great way to fill out a meal.  After all, Jean said, your grandmother was feeding nine children, your grandfather & whoever appeared at her table.

Jean has Luna’s smile.  And implanted in my being is the feeling that I should offer bread at every meal.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

For Jeff Phelps, aka Tejano, & Cate Poe

Pho0t stolen from Cate Poe.

This post is for Cate Poe’s Tejano, aka Jeff Phelps.  Whom I suspect will learn & master more about Paper Mache than I remember from all those art classes.

As a quick aside, I am going to point out that the font I prefer is Comic Sans MS, which a link on Facebook tells me is not just a cringe worthy, but a contentious casual font.

Somehow that pleases me & Cate & Tejano will understand.

Of course, Tejano, you can find any number of recipes for Paper Mache online, but Cate is a writer supportive of other writers & both inspires & encourages me, so I am going to share a bit of what I learned as a child.

And recently, in my Catrina creation & over the Internet.

Tejano, the most basic recipe for Paper Mache involves strips of newspaper, flour & water.

To make the glue, use one part flour & two parts water.  The result of mixing it should be a runny glue.  Because I live in a reclaimed swamp with high humidity, I added salt.  And because I wanted to smell something other than the glue it becomes, I added cinnamon.  (I stored the paste in a Mason Jar in the fridge & added water if necessary when I brought it out for additional layers.)

This is not an artist’s recipe.

In public school art class, we built a form of wire (or in my Catrina case, use a skeleton from a Dollar Store) & then dipped strips of newspaper in the flour glue, wrapping the strips around the form.

Always sculpting the desired result.

The larger the wire frame, the easier it is to achieve that result.

And then you painted it.

Because I was dealing with a skeleton not much taller than a Barbie (although with no breasts, huge hip bones & feet), my attempts at Paper Mache were limited by my desire to keep her frame as a skeleton. 

Somehow the whole process reminded me that it is more difficult to write a poem, where every word is so necessary & so apparent, than to create something in a larger venue. 

Of course, there are far more sophisticated recipes for Paper Mache glue.

But sometimes, basics work.

Photo also usurped from Cate Poe.

Jaki Jean: Completing & Unveiling Mi Primer Calavera Catrina

My first attempt at creating my own Calavera Catrina is complete.

La Catrina’s image as the Lady of Death is rooted in ancient Aztec culture.  Mictecacihuatl, goddess of death and Lady of Mictlan, the underworld, ruled over the bones in the underworld.  She also presided over a month long festival honoring the dead.  With the arrival of Christianity, the Aztec Lady of Death & Her festival were appropriated & became Day of the Dead.

In the late 1800’s, a Mexican printmaker & artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada, became famous for calaveras  (skulls or skeletons).  Posada  eventually used his images & illustrations to expose the corruption of the government of the dictator Porfirio Díaz, to an illiterate majority of impoverished Mexicans suffering under Díaz’s regime.

One illustration, "La Calavera Catrina" published in 1910, featured the face & shoulders of skeleton dressed as a lady of high society.

By Jose Guadalupe Posada, circa 1910

And Catrina became a symbol of the revolution.

In 1947 the amazing artist Diego Rivera placed a full size Catrina, elegantly clad,  in the center of  his 50-foot mural,   Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central  ("Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park") in the Hotel del Prado in Mexico City. 

Catrina holds the 10-year-old Rivera's hand while Frida Kahlo stands behind them in traditional Mexican dress. To Catrina’s left is Jose Guadalupe Posada, offering her his arm.

At the same time La Catrina entrusts one bony hand to Posada, she firmly holds onto the young Diego’s grasp with her other.  A powerful tribute by Diego to the man who found an Aztec goddess & used her to created the textual braid Rivera took & made his own.

In making my first La Calavera Catrina, the goddess of death & revolutionary & usurped icon of Day of the Dead, it pleased me to learn about her history & her evolution into the amazing cultural & spiritual icon she is today.

I wonder about this goddess turned revolutionary rewritten as a cultural icon & I realize that in a former life, I would be exploring this curious metamorphosis.  I still may.

My Catrina is a most humble effort, but I like her.  She is far from the elegant ladies who inspired me to create her.  But she is so, so very Jaki Jean.

And I am already planning her sisters.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Jaki Jean on Sharing One of Jean's Memories with my Willimon Cousins

So, this story is for my cousins Jenny, Suzanne, Vickie & Laura.  Because it is one of Jean’s memory’s about their father, Ed.

My uncle Ed remains my favorite uncle.  I used to listen to the discussions he, the not to the right & my father Jack, so to the right, engaged in.   Perhaps that is part of the reason I do not lean to the right.

Tonight, after I described to Jeab the amazing wedding cake Ed’s daughter Suzanne made for her own daughter’s wedding, Jean asked me about Ed, if he was still alive & she said he must be almost ninety by now.

I tell her that Ed is a bit beyond ninety, that his daughters visit him, & that he is still Ed, but in a different way than she remembers.  I tell her that he still recalls details from World War II & can still talk about rocks & fossils & geology.  I tell her that I think Ed’s essence is still there – but I think that he just can’t quite grasp it.

Then Jean tells me a story.

I took a man to dinner at Ed & Janette’s.  Not your father.  Just a boy I was dating.  Ed gave my date a lecture on how much things cost.  Rent, utilities, food, gas.  It was a long lecture.

Later, we laughed, because we were not seriously dating.  Just friends going to a family dinner.

As I leave the room to record Jean’s memory, I remember something Jean told me, when my Aunt Janette had a stroke.

I don’t know how my world will survive without Janette & Ed.  They have always been there for me, part of me.

And so now, I try to keep that connection, as long as Jean remembers it, by sharing posts from Ed & Janette’s amazing daughters, Jenny, Suzanne, Vickie & Laura.

So Jean doesn’t feel alone.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Jaki Jean on Being Friends with Conservatives

So, today, my friend Shirley Isbell, who is the right to my left, posted an interview on Fox News about Greg Abbott’s response to a recent ad by Wendy Davis’s campaign in the quest for governor.

Now, first you must understand that Shirley & I have known each other for almost thirty years.  We both raised two sons in Meadows Place, Texas.  Shirley was a stay at home mom, I was a working single mom & you think we would not have anything in common.

But we both had sons in the same school & we met up when our eldest sons were Tiger Cubs in Cub Scouts.  Shirley & her husband John were very active in the Scouts & the community.  They were & are, amazing.

I was a Den Mother by default & I created the first Den Doodle in the pack.  It was quite fine. (Give me an art project & I excel).   And there was the historic rendition of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” by Carly Simon.  Complete with props.   And a huge spider.

Shirley loves to tell the story of when I told her that I could not go to work without earrings.  That I would stop at a Wal Mart or Target to buy earrings until I learned to keep a spare in my desk drawer.

Anyway, Shirley & I go way back.  When we reconnected, via Facebook, she was serving on our local City Council, clearly a Conservative.  In response to her friend request, I told her that I kept my FB page limited to family & interesting friends & most of them were not conservative.  I worried that being my FB friend might prove a problem for her position in the community.

“Friendship transcends politics.”  Shirley responded.

And that mantra guides me today. 

This afternoon, when I responded to her post about Greg Abbott’s interview, Shirley posted with the same grace of that original response to my concerns. 

Davis’s ad featured an empty wheelchair.  Greg Abbott lives in a wheelchair.

Whoever created this ad lost the message with the image.  The message was important.  No one will remember the message.  Everyone will remember the image.

So, at the end of our discussion, Shirley posted this:

"As we have discussed on many occasion, friendship transcends politics. If or when we ever need help, we will have each others backs in any circumstance regardless of political affiliation. I do not believe that all is fair in love, war, or politics. We should all strive to be honest and ethical regardless of the outcome."

And that is friendship.

But I won't be voting to the right.

My friend & fellow writer Cate Poe advised me to post a link to the the ad in contention.