Saturday, February 6, 2016

A ladybug signaled the passing of great beauty. My mother.

My mother was there to witness my first breath and
 I was there to witness her last.

On New Years Day I received a message that my mother had to be sedated.  She was under the temporary care of a nursing home.  They were going to care for her for a few days while giving a much needed break to my little sister, Terry, who had been her primary caretaker for nearly two years.

We all quickly made our way to the nursing home to check out the situation and give her whatever attention she might need.  Her earlier diagnosis of lung cancer had made its way to her brain and she was not reacting well to the medication.  After staying two nights there while she was stabilized enough to bring her home, we were told that her time was limited and she was dying.

We took her back to my sister's house and set her up in the living room.  I watched my little sister administer the most loving care I have ever witnessed. With no nurses training, she learned quickly how to make my mother as comfortable as she could be.  I marveled at the way she instinctively knew what to do.

For the next four days, my sister and I kept a watchful eye and shared those last few days watching Mom breathe. We talked to her and shared loving stories about our early days as children. We sang her favorite songs. Terry played the piano and we spent the next few days making sure that she knew we were there and that we loved her dearly.  My other sister, Pam, was there periodically. It was apparent to Terry and I that she was having a lot of difficulty with Mom's condition. While we tried to comfort Mom, we were also aware that our sister was in pain and needed some comfort as well.

On the Friday morning of her death, Terry and I both realized that the end was nearing. We were told that those facing death need permission to leave. And we did that. We told her we were all going to be fine and that she could go.  Anyone who knew my mother for any length of time would know she talked often of Jesus and God and her longing to finally meet her Lord.  So, we knew that she was ready.  But as ready as she was, she was also stubborn. It had to be her way and in her time and on her terms. And she certainly showed us that.  

After having reapplied ice packs under her arms, I looked into her glazed over eyes as she starred into the abyss.  “Momma, those angels sure are tired. They've been waiting on you for a while now. It really is okay to go.”  At that very second after hearing my words, she took her last two breaths.  Terry was there at her bedside on the phone with the Hospice nurse. “Terry, it's happening,” I said.  She quickly placed her hand on Mom's chest and felt her last heart beat.

At that moment, we both looked at each other with such joy in our eyes and smiles on our faces. Then we quickly questioned, was this the way we were supposed to feel? There was no sadness. There was no sorrow. There were no tears. We were happy and full of joy.  We were overcome by the beauty of the moment. I remember us both expressing how much joy we felt. It wasn't relief. Just joy. Pure joy. 

Earlier that week, we had both witnessed a lady bug on our mother's pillow. It stayed there the entire time.  It served as a symbol of comfort for us then and symbolic of a blessing later.

I have never experienced anything like this in my entire life. I was not there when my father died, quickly and unexpectedly. I wasn't there when Rick's mother and father passed away. This was my first experience with the death of a loved one.

I can't explain the beauty that I saw in this but I would imagine it would have been what my mother would have wanted.  We saw her spirit move from this place to the next with such grace and such beauty that I have no words to describe it.

So, I guess my reason for sharing this is to say that death isn't to be feared.

I do believe that is was important for me to be there to witness our sweet 
mother's last breath....and thank her for giving us life. 

Rest in Peace,  Sweet Ladybug!

Helen Cooper Sampson Dec. 23, 1934 - Jan 5, 2016 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Shadowing Vincent"

From the time I was twelve years old and stood in front of one of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, I have been in love with this man and his art. As a preteen, I had the unbelievable privilege of being able to see his art at the center of the art universe….Paris, France.

Last month, after fifty years I returned to Paris.  

Traveling with my husband, Rick, and our dear friends Kelly and Brian Carlisle, we rented an apartment in Montemarte historic district for twelve glorious days. Our apartment was situated at the base of a massive stone staircase that led up to  'the hill of Paris' and the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur.  After arriving, we made our way to the many outdoor cafes and shops that line the cobble stoned streets.  All the while knowing that this place inspired many of the great painters of the twentieth century, Salvador Dali, Monet, Picasso and of course, my favorite, Vincent Van Gogh, I kept pinching myself.  

It was our jaunt to Auvers Sur Oise that stole my heart. We traveled by train that day to the little village where Vincent lived and died.   None of us had any idea what we would encounter here.  The small village offered a stark contrast between the crowded streets of Paris.  With a map from the local tourism office, we made our way up the hill to the cemetery.  We were surprised to find that many of the homes and buildings that Vincent painted were still there 125 years later.  Our first stop was in front of the Church of Auvers.   Knowing that Vincent walked these grounds was awe inspiring to me.  I couldn't believe I was really here.  A dream of a lifetime coming true. 

We had stopped at the french market that morning and purchased flowers for Vincent's and Theo's graves. Venturing to Auvers to see Van Gogh's grave was the most incredible experience of my later life.  Walking up the hill past the church and around the bend to the top of the hilltop cemetery was more than I could take in.  An old wooden fence between the little wooded area marked the way to the old cemetery. A field on either side of the road also marked the walk.  We Entered the old stone walls and metal gate with great anticipation.  Not knowing which way to go, we saw two women had entered before us. Figuring they must be going to the same place, we looked for them. 

And there it was ~ against the stone wall covered in lush green ivy were the head stones of Vincent and his brother Theo. As I lay the bouquet of flowers on his grave, I paused to just take it all in when I heard the laughter and voices of children. I turned to see an entire class of elementary children about the same age as those I teach at Glenbrook. With notebooks in hand, they stopped in front of the graves and quietly listened to instructions given by their teachers. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn't help but think about the many students I have taught over the years. And here I was standing in front of the burial site of the very person who inspired me as a youngster. It was an incredible feeling. 

After the children left, we stayed and took many shots and while taking one of my favorite photos of the trip, I saw a young photographer taking a photograph of us.  Then the young Frenchman asked to take one of Vincent's tombstone. We moved to one side but he kept motioning for Rick to move forward.  Confused and not understanding french,  Rick hesitantly moved forward.  And there it was!  The shot that the young photographer saw. A shadow.  A shadow that eerily resembled Vincent Van Gogh.   As Rick moved forward, the young photographer captured it.  A cast shadow on Vincent's headstone of Rick.  The sun was at a perfect angle.  We were both moved by the moment and the shadow caught on camera.

This journey back to France was life affirming. I am an artist and an art teacher because I was inspired by the bright colors and the sweeping brush strokes created by the man with a bandaged ear.   My memory of standing in front of his paintings as a young girl and thinking to myself, “I don't know what this art stuff is but I think it's for me' came back in living color. 

Vincent Van Gogh lived a short life and painted his vast collection of incredible works in ten years.  He died never knowing that he would leave behind  a trail of passion and pleasure for anyone to follow. 

Thank you Vincent

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The 100th Monkey

The 100th MonkeyA story about social change.By Ken Keyes Jr.

The Japanese monkey, Macaca Fuscata, had been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years.

In 1952, on the island of Koshima, scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkey liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant.

An 18-month-old female named Imo found she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too.

This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys before the eyes of the scientists. Between 1952 and 1958 all the young monkeys learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. Only the adults who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes.

Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes -- the exact number is not known. Let us suppose that when the sun rose one morning there were 99 monkeys on Koshima Island who had learned to wash their sweet potatoes. Let's further suppose that later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes.

THEN IT HAPPENED! By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes before eating them. The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough!

 A most surprising thing observed by these scientists was that the habit of washing sweet potatoes then jumped over the sea...Colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland troop of monkeys at Takasakiyama began washing their sweet potatoes.

Thus, when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, this new awareness may be communicated from mind to mind.

Although the exact number may vary, this Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon means that when only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the conscious property of these people.

But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone!

From the book "The Hundredth Monkey" by Ken Keyes, Jr.
The book is not copyrighted and the material may be reproduced in whole or in part.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

We miss Dessie Carter

Dessie Carter was one of those unusual people who became a part of our lives. She lived on Germantown Road in a little white house on property that had been in her family for generations. Her modest home was obviously in desperate need of some attention.....clearly something that was not in her means to address.  I had always admired the multitude of purple irises she had planted all around her little home. The irises mixed with the bright yellow patches of daffodils added to the charm of her little rustic homestead.  Dessie was one of several black folks that we befriended and became quite attached to. 

I first came to know Dessie when she cleaned various offices of local businesses around Minden. My husband's business was one of them. It was clear she had some mental challenges.  Knowing what the minimum wage was and how much you owed her for her time wasn't one of them. She knew to the penny what you owed her.  You dared not pay her one penny more or less. She wanted the exact amount and no tips were acceptable. 

She cleaned in a most peculiar way. She was thorough and you knew it was clean when she was finished. Only problem was, she would move the furniture from the wall in order to clean behind them and some of the office furniture would end up against the opposite wall, only backwards. Even when you pointed it out to her, she would do it the same way. Those businesses who hired her appreciated her cleaning skills and were tolerate of her little quirks. 

I came to know her a little better than most because we both lived on Germantown Road. Highway 534 on the map.  Germantown Road is one of several rural road that connects Claiborne Parish to Webster Parish. But it  is the only road that leads to The Germantown Colony, a nationally recognized historic settlement  The locals also know this road  for it's gift of color in the fall when the leaves of the many hardwoods that line the road would change.   I drove this road to town each day to drop my infant son off at daycare on my way to work.

Dessie didn't have a car and probably couldn't pass the drivers license test anyway. She hitched a ride into town as often as possible but not with just anyone. She was careful about who she chose to ride with. My husband tried many times to pick her up and she would refuse, even knowing that he was my husband. She walked the ten mile trek into town most everyday.   I  picked her up many times and took  her wherever she needed to go. She always insisted on paying her own way,  even after telling her that I was going this way anyway and it wasn't necessary. And when I would try to drive off, she would toss her money through the car window. It was always the same amount, $1.54. How she came up with that amount was any one's guess.  Dessie was careful with her money. She wrapped her dollar bills and coins in a cotton handkerchief, tied off  and carefully placed inside her bra. I remember during the summer months  trying to dodge the sweaty dollar bills and change I knew she would hand off.  

I loved picking her up because it was always a surprise as to how I would find her. On one occasion, I noticed that she had baby blue eye shadow on her eyes. Now the baby blue color wasn't the only thing that stood out. She had applied it under her eyes instead of on top of her eye lids.  I commented on how pretty she looked that day. She beamed. She seemed so proud that someone would notice. Dessie was not a young woman. Her age was not know to many who knew her. She was average height with a somewhat husky build. She always wore dresses and seemed quite intent on looking her best on her trips to town. She and I were quite comfortable with each other and she seemed to be quite fond of my son, Ben, who found her fascinating. She commented often about what a good baby he was.  He seemed to have gotten  comfortable too with our frequent passenger. 

On another occasion, my husband, Rick, stopped to check on her. She was dragging a big pine top down the road. He stopped and asked if he could help. She thanked him and said no.  And while carrying an ax and a  big pine top down the road wasn't enough to draw attention, she also had a big blooming rose bush, roots and all, wrapped around her head. When asked her why she had a rose bush in her hair,  she didn't answer. She just touched the roses as if to once again appreciate that someone had noticed.  Dessie had short black hair.  We often saw her with one of her kitchen forks stuck in her hair. We assumed she used it as a comb. We never asked.  

 Dessie was an avid church goer. Her church home was also located on Germantown Road. As we befriended many of the folks who live along Germantown Road, we discovered from some of our neighbors that Dessie wasn't always challenged. Seems the story was that she was once married and her husband abused her often. We were also told that 'he used an iron skillet on her to get her straight.' 

We loved Dessie Carter. She was her own person.  My husband and I offered to bring her firewood for her wood burning stove only to be turned down. She had many offers from local folks who knew Dessie and knew her struggles.   She insisted on paying her own way or she wasn't having any part of it. We later figured that pine top she was dragging home earlier must have been for her pot belly stove.

It's been years since we've seen Dessie. Last time we checked on her, she was in the parish jail. She was accused of attacking a bulldozer with her ax. Seems she thought her family still owned much of the land around her home and when a logging company came into log, she attacked the bulldozer with her ax.   We called the sheriff's office to plea for her release. We worried that they would not be sensitive to her mental challenges. And we worried that she would not understand why she was being locked up.  We were relieved to find out that she was no longer in the jail and that her brother obviously bailed her out. She left with him.  

Several years before the attack on the logging truck, Dessie's brother had the old family home demolished. A new brick home was built for her. She lived comfortably there for years until her arrest. We tried several times to make contact and check on her. Sadly, we never saw Dessie again. We were told by the locals that her brother moved her in with him. And her brick home became rental property for the family. 

We miss seeing her walk down the road with her coat on even in the heat of summer. Summer days in Louisiana can be brutal. With temperatures climbing upwards to 100 degrees Fahrenheit , we never understood why she insisted on wearing her black, wool coat. She was such a sweet soul. We miss Dessie Carter.  We miss seeing her walking down the road with a fork stuck in her hair. I miss the unusual conversations we would have on our many drives into town.  

Dessie Carter passed without notice. That sweet little woman touched our hearts and even now we can't drive by her house without smiling and remembering her fondly. 

We miss you  and love you, Dessie Carter. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The power of the line

It came to me that I had not done an adequate job in explaining the importance of a particular process while teaching art this week.

I started teaching art to 4th and 5th graders at Richardson Elementary this past month. Their first project was a fairly easy one that involved understanding the creative use of lines and basic shapes like circles, squares and the like.  With no prior art in the school for these little guys, they struggled with the process. So much so that it bothered me that it might be the teacher and not the student.

So, I set out to explain it again. "There is power in the line," I told them. "You hold the key to creative expression in your hand and if you can capture it, it will change your understanding of yourself and the world that surrounds you."  As I drew a frantic line on the board, I asked them if they could sense how I was feeling. Hands immediately flew up. "Anger," said one. "Frustration," said another. "Yes." I said. "I have felt frustration in trying to explain to you how you can use a line or several lines to express yourself on paper. And I was able to tell you this without saying a word, without writing a word but by drawing a single line."

Then I drew a wavy line and offered the same question. Now how do I feel I asked them. "Calm," said one. "Relief," said another.  "Yes, I said. These lines and their direction and whether you mix them up with shapes to create patterns can give you such satisfaction as you create your own original piece of art I told them.

Creative expression is so hard for many people to grasp especially if they've never experienced it.  Even though I had given them plenty of samples and had drawn several patterns and designs on the board, they still struggled with the concept. In fact, it was their frantic lines on paper that clued me in on their own frustrations.

For those that got it...they really got it. And you could see their happiness and self satisfaction in their faces and in their work. And for those that struggled, it was painful and disappointing.

I shared with them that there will be sad days, happy days, tragic days and confusing days. But if they could master the creative use of the line, they could take control of their feelings..... Put them down on paper and the release of emotions and the peace that could come from this could feed their spirit and calm their fears. I shared some of my early fears with them and how I had found my 'neverland' in my own art.

I don't know if they all understood but I did see some happier lines at the end of the day.

If you are looking for a way to express yourself creatively and struggle with basic drawing skills, may I suggest Zen Tangles.  Search the internet for samples of Zen Tangles and you'll be amazed at the creativity that can be expressed with the creative use of lines. They're also called Creative Doodles. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mondays with Mom

My relationship with my mom has been off and on for years.  Cutting apron strings was harder for her than me. As the mother of four children and the wife of a military man, she spent a lot of her time being both mother and father to us.

As a little girl growing up and one of three sisters, my mom spent much of her time making clothes  for all of us. She was an incredible seamstress. I don't remember ever having a store bought dress or even knowing how to buy one even after I left home. I remember trying to buy clothes while in college and I didn't even know what size I wore.

She spent many hours either laboring over our clothes or the canning she did every summer.  We'd spend hours under the old tree in the back yard with an enamel pan in our laps shelling peas. My fingers stayed purple all summer long.
She would can up more vegetables than we could possibly eat. Her green beans and potatoes were probably my favorite. Even today, I cherish a jar of her stewed tomatoes. And Ben would make himself sick on her canned applesauce.

As I got older and she got more demanding, I found myself pulling away. Her inability to cut the strings and let me live my life was rather difficult for her. Her constant calls and inquiry into my personal affairs led me to slowly and cautiously cut her off.

Now she's 80 and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer.  What came with that disease was actually a blessing in disguise. My mother had never really discussed her upbringing. We knew that she had been raised by her Aunt and Uncle. And we knew that her mother had been head injured and placed in a special home. That's pretty much all we knew. But evidently life had to have been difficult for her. She learned from her last remaining brother now living in Kentucky that she had been handed over to relatives along with her other nine siblings by her father. And as the youngest of the 10 children, she was the one that no one wanted, so she learned.

Over the years, with the divorce from my father and a second failed marriage,my mother's interest in her children's lives grew along with her discontent. Her obvious anger and disappointment spilled over into our lives. She became very controlling and very demanding. And with every demand, I withdrew even more.

Following a  mini stroke last summer, she began to lose her memory. While that would concern most, it turned out to be a blessing for her. She has forgotten a lot of the disappointments in her life ...and ours.  And she seems happier now than I've ever seen her. She's less interested in controlling our lives now and more interested in just sharing time and making new memories.

I started spending Monday mornings with my mother. Starting with her favorite meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken, I realized how important it was for me to spend this time with her.  On my second visit, she taught me how to make her fried chicken.  We've spent the day talking about the good times. I see her face changing. I see the softness come back in her face and I see how vulnerable she is right now. Her sweet loving nature is coming back as her memory fades.

I am renewing my relationship with my mother. My love for her has been redefined. We're making new connections, new memories and I'm learning how to make fried chicken and homemade biscuits.

Mondays with Mom is just what the doctor ordered...for both of us!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Remembering Arley James

Autumn brings back memories for me that I am eager to always share with my young art students. Recently I shared the story about Arley James to one of my elementary classes. While using storytelling as another art form, I carefully provide details so as to  'paint' a picture in their minds.  Through my words, I hope they can see and feel  the true beauty of this sweet little old woman who enriched my life.

I have always found it pleasing that these little ones always seem eager to hear one of my stories.    They often beg for them. Telling the story about Arley James is probably one of my favorites. It is easy to describe her with her long handmade skirt and worn apron; her hair up in braids and carefully tucked under her handmade bonnet. I describe her modest house with only four rooms. And I detail the little living room we sat in together. With  only a couple of cow-hide bottom chairs, a rocking chair and a pot-belly stove in the middle of the room.  It's hard for them to imagine that that was all she had.  I usually have to stop here to explain what a cow-hide bottom chair is and a pot belly stove.

My story continues as I explain that she had never had her picture taken in her entire life until that day in November when Mr. Rick happened to drive by and catch a glimpse of her chopping wood. It's when I explain the sweetness and kindness she relayed to Rick and me that I see their eyes sparkle and a smile emerge on their little faces.

I guess the part that touches them most is when it's obvious to them that she touched my heart and that I loved her and was proud to call her my friend.  And that I didn't let the color of her skin or the poor conditions she lived in keep me from stepping over that threshold into her life.

The little old house that Arley lived in is gone now. The trees have grown up and in the spring you can barely see a few dots of yellow as the little daffodils try to mark the spot where her garden once was.  When we drive by her old home place, I can't help but look over and imagine her standing on the front porch with her little bonnet on, drying her hands on her apron, smiling, and giving us a big wave.

I love you, Ms. Arley!