Kathy Whitmire was the first woman mayor and Lee P. Brown was the first black police chief of Houston (and any major US city). He later became Houston's first black mayor. Ann Richards had won as Texas State Treasurer and would become governor. My political science degree was focused on social policy and I saw such hope. And, my friend told me about a job opening at city council.
There was a caveat. While the position was working for one of the first two women in the Houston City Council, Christin Hartung was a Republican. We determined the benefits of having such a unique experience outweighed any policy differences. And, this was a time when decorum (for the most part) still existed.
I was hired by her overly protective and paranoid right-hand man, who told me that I was now a semi-public figure, and my words and actions in public should never reflect poorly on the council member and ... did I ever have subversive materials mailed to me???
Though I spent free time in the multi-culturally staffed office of George Greanias, whose district included the gay and arts centered-area of Montrose in which we lived, my focus was constituent services and with Houston's famous lack of zoning and complex of codes and plans, my days were spent problem solving. My disagreements with Christin were surprisingly few and mostly about how her wealthy constituents (in the “Silk Stocking District”, as it included the über-wealthy in River Oaks) took a disproportionate amount of her attention, but, she let me do what I could for folks with fewer resources.
It was thrilling in ways. I knew most of the city news before it was reported and was privy to member-to-member pre-council meeting negotiations.
And, Christin taught me some surprising things. That there was a feminist point to wearing high heels – it put me more in eye line with the men I needed to solve constituent issues and thus avoided, for the most part, the "don't worry yourself, little lady" brush offs. That you could abbreviate "thank you" as 10Q. And, when she gave me a makeover as a wedding present (I think she was a bit horrified that I only wore mascara and some powder), that, even if a River Oaks woman was just going out to play tennis, she needed to think in layers, lots of them . . . foundation, contour, eye and lip liner and so much more that I almost wrecked on the way home when I didn't know who was looking back at me in my rear view mirror.
The biggest thing I learned was that my skills were better suited to advocacy work and that I did not want to run for public office. Ever.
And now, looking back, that there can/or could be decency and human compassion across our divisiveness.
These two kids – my brother was just over 2 and I was 3 1/2 years – look so innocent, don't they?
Between my father's work travel and the two of us wild ones, our young mother, who would have been 24 at the time and states away from family and other support systems, was more than willing to shoo us out the door. The neighbor kids would crawl through the "secret" hole in the fence and join us as we headed across the creek (I have no recollection how deep or how we crossed it) behind the house and up into the forest. where we played among the tree roots.
One day we explored further into the forest and ended up, much to our delight, on a playground. Eventually, our hungry tummies called us home. Unfortunately, my brother was missing a shoe and, as the older sister, I was the target of my mother's frustration. When I responded to her query as to where his shoe might be with "on the playground." she was baffled, not knowing where a playground might be and all I could tell her was "through the forest."
In the car, we eventually found the park. The shoe was at the bottom of a slide. And I am sure my mother was overcome with lots of emotions. Recently, through google earth, I was able to find our old house ... and the park. The forest is mostly developed with homes now, but if we had walked directly from our home to the park, it would have been, at least according to Google, 1,554.35 ft (5 football fields) mostly through the forest for, again, a 3 1/2 and 2 year old! But, we were strong and fearless little kids.
I know that that escapade didn't stop our explorations. I think we just learned not to talk about them with her, and . . . to keep our shoes on.
Clyde Connell blew open a new creative space for me. It would be years before I would learn to weld and begin making sculptures in earnest, but the seeds were planted and . . . there was time for them to germinate. She had not started sculpting until she was in her 60s.
In 1983, my not-yet-husband and I were living in Houston when we were invited to join his Pennsylvania-homed parents at the Lake Bistineau, Louisiana home (or camp as it was called there) of Clyde and TD Connell, parents of my future mother-in-law's friend Clyde.Yes, mother and daughter both being named Clyde was why we called the elder one Mother Clyde and, yes, they were of Scottish descent.
My soul was immediately enthralled with Mother Clyde, her concrete, simple, window-abundant home full of her art, inside and out, her generosity, her concern for social issues, questions about human existence and her church-based civil rights work.
Mother Clyde's use of rattan and red clay of the forest, found pieces of farm equipment, and paper she made to resemble that of wasp nests touched on my childhood history of making secret places in the fields and forests nearby whatever home we currently occupied. One of her series was called "Habitats." Another was "Ritual Places." These pieces were visually and physically at one with the beautiful moss-laden cypress swamp in front of their home.
I was able to visit her again during our Houston years. Then, in 1998, shortly before her death, while I was visiting in Texas, I drove over to see her, by myself this time. I was able to thank her for her influence and, as frail as she was, her hospitality and genuine interest in others remained strong. (An aside, her son and his wife took me out for crawfish étouffée and were unsuccessful at getting me to suck the heads.)
As one of my treasured mentors, she was included in my "Ancestresses & Wise Women" sculptural series. I used her methods and materials for that piece - wood, handmade and brown paper, red clay, farm equipment pieces, stones - and infused it with my gratitude.
I threw my leather gloves down in a flourish.The last of the dirty work – the bending of steel rods, the grinding, the welding, the weaving of baling wire, the oil sealing – on my Community Grove sculptures was finished. The gloves – new and clean just weeks ago – were embedded with oil and the seams were broken open in places, testament to hours and days of joyful metalwork.
My eyes wandered to the detritus – the scraps of steel rod and wire,the hand tools and power tools, the layer of welding dust coating everything on and around my table and across to my work "bench," an old, long bar counter from, what I was told, a pawn shop. On top were plastic bins and boxes of small tools and materials and several Folger's coffee cans (my parents' coffee of choice) filled with screws and nails and random findings. My mind flew back to the Junker ("Yunker" in my family's German heritage) Brothers garage, which my maternal grandfather co-owned.
The garage was only a few blocks from my grandparents' home in their small south Texas town. Grandpa would come home at noon for two hours for dinner – the biggest meal of the day. It was always heavy on fried items, including Grandma's homemade egg noodles crisped up in the skillet with lots of butter and corn flakes cereal. And bacon, always lots of bacon or leftover ham mixed into the green beans.
After a nap, he would sometimes let me walk back with him to the garage. I was fascinated by the workbenches and shelves full of tools and parts, but I was not allowed to explore there. Instead, he would give me (was it a nickel?) to buy a roll of Necchi wafers from the front counter and ring it up myself on the old cash register with the delightfully satisfying bell and clunk of the cash drawer as it opened when the sale was totaled. I would then sit on the stool and ring up combinations of items for imaginary customers.
Grandpa was parsimonious with his words, but quick to point out when my/our actions didn't line up with his way, the correct way, of doing things. Back at his workshop in their home garage, on the other hand, I knew, from his lack of reaction, that I was free to open the many coffee cans, cigar boxes and jars with the seemingly endless, to my young eyes, amounts of treasures - recycled bolts, nuts, springs, washers, gaskets, with which I created patterns and experimental structures.
As a girl in the 60s, there were many things that I was not allowed or supposed to do. But, that smell of oil and ground steel and copper from my grandfather's car repair garage and his home one are the same aromas I now create in my studio.
My Father: Host and Grill Master
Recently a friend from high school, Paul Wood, died. He was well known as one who loved to share food, especially that which he himself cooked. I recall he also won some barbecue contests?
His passing reminded me of my father's passion for hospitality and grilling. The latter was a family tradition on both sides. A 55-gallon drum turned into a grill, mesquite wood, slow cooking, smoked, an oil & vinegar baste, and the semi-secret ketchup/worcestershire sauce/lemon based barbecue sauce. At family gatherings and reunions, the men folk would hang by the grill, drinking Pearl beer (think 3.2, perhaps Coors Light style). My great-grandmother was unparalleled at catching and quickly dispatching chickens with a flick of her strong wrists and the women folk would do the plucking, but the grilling was a man's thing.
My father was a natural party host and was first to volunteer to grill up chicken and ribs. His face would light up watching guests enjoy their meals. When my parents moved back to Texas in 1979, the company for which he worked hosted customers at the "deer lease" in Central Texas or at golf tournaments, with my father manning the grill. Eventually, he had a huge, trailer-sized grill fabricated, on which he said he could cook a full cabrito, a dozen chickens, ribs and more. I do believe he enjoyed the spectacle of pulling up to the party with this monster grill. When he died, we found Costco sized supplies of party goods - paper plates, plastic utensils, napkins, Solo cups - in the attic ... remnants of who knows how many meals.
My brothers, my husband and now, my son, follow the grilling tradition, though, at our home, vegetables get cooked in the process. It is a commitment to cook this way. Hours during which to play games or hand down family stories.
Graduating with degrees in Chemical Engineering and Marketing from Texas A&M, my father was offered a job at Goodyear Chemical. I was born in Akron, Ohio, home to Goodyear, while my father did orientation there and lived around Akron two more times in my life. This job and time obligated to the US Army, meant we moved often. Four of my elementary school years were spent in Dunwoody, Georgia, just north of Atlanta.
Recent politicized conflicts between our president and Goodyear, based on acceptable and non-acceptable logo-based clothing for Goodyear employees, caused me to think of our years as a Goodyear family. The company picnics, the families that also moved, just ahead of us or behind us, to the same communities . . . My father's boss' son and I were friends in high school in Hudson, Ohio and I think I recall meeting him in Atlanta.
Because my father was in marketing, he had some access to providing rides for customers in the Goodyear blimp. In October 1968, he arranged for our family to experience its wonder. The blimp was stationed on the northeast side of Atlanta, so our ride took us over Stone Mountain, the Confederate Memorial Carving, the largest high relief sculpture in the world, depicting three Confederate figures (which I will discuss in another memory). The highlight of the ride was when the captain turned off the engines and we floated, so quietly over the pine trees and red earth with views of distant mountains and downtown Atlanta.
From my father's stories, Goodyear was good to its employees. His only complaint was that he was Texas born and raised and any further promotions would keep him in the Akron offices. During my freshman year of college at Colorado State University, he took a job at a chemical products distribution company in Houston, Texas and he and my mother, were, finally, after moving away from Texas when she was 19, living close to both sides of the family again.
I met Tobin Low and Kathy Tu, co-hosts of the podcast Nancy, at SXSW in 2018. Tobin is a friend of my daughter-in-law Emily through their music backgrounds (Tobin was a cellist, Emily is a violinist). Over lunch and between films, Tobin, Kathy, Emily and I discussed gender pronouns and staying current with language around LGBTQ issues. Tobin, Emily and I continued the conversation while cooling off at Barton Springs. When we departed, I wanted to know more about how Tobin and Kathy were sharing queer stories about journeys towards self definition and became a regular listener of their Nancy podcast via WNYC Studios. Their earnestness, vulnerability and light are so enticing.
I recently caught the last of the 100+ episodes and I found myself tearing up. Is it Covid or the long overdue protests or being home so much or not seeing my children? Even before Tobin's voice broke at the end of the episode, the emotions, which ride so high in me of late. took over. Another goodbye to a connection, however virtual.
If you haven't tuned in, there are some starter kits on their website - groups of episodes geared to having a good laugh, a good cry, starting a gaggle, queer money matters ... I do think you will be pulled into their warm, inviting and informative conversations.
This was one of those nights that, when described later, seemed unreal.
My friend Jo Hamilton lived in the West Village near Restaurant Florent in the Meatpacking District (think: drag shows, Bastille Day performances with Florent Morellet (the owner) as the gorgeous Marie Antoinette, Florent’s T-cell counts posted with provocative political statements on letter boards and the great French bistro food – oh, those moule-frites!).
Jo and Florent had worked together to get the area designated as the Gansevoort Market Historic District. They also helped establish the High Line. Each of my NYC visits included Florent’s and/or a visit with him at Jo’s home. When he decided to celebrate twenty years of the restaurant with a Ball at the Roxy (which hosted one of the city’s largest gay dance nights each week) with proceeds to benefit Friends of the High Line and the Meatpacking District Initiative, Jo invited me out to join her, her husband Bill and other friends at Florent’s table.
The entertainment was jaw-droppingly wild, campy and, as advertised, decadent (one ventriloquist projected her voice to her . . . ahem . . . nether lips). And then, Florent” secretly” told us that Madonna was going to show up later, after everyone left the Ball and the venue opened to the public. I recall that she had lost favor with some of her gay followers for some reason and this was to be the launch of a new album and an effort to charm this gay-centric crowd. Of course, that rumor spread like wildfire and there were soon thousands of folks lined up outside and most of those inside didn’t want to leave. Jo and I stayed, staking out a place along the railing. Folks were packed from the entrance, across the dance floor to the alcoves in the back, pressing up behind us. Guys chivalrously ventured to the bar and brought us drinks. After a lengthy teasing of her recorded songs and being diverted by quick evolutions of gay love and breakup and revenge flirtations around to us, Madonna showed up around 2 a.m., blasting out her new “Hung Up,” and bringing forth ecstatic screaming, dancing and removal of extraneous clothing. Her performance was brief and exhilarating and then Jo and I staggered back to Jane Street. I am not sure what my expectations had been for that evening, but they were far exceeded on all sensual fronts.
#memoriesat60 #PRIDE #TheRoxy #RestaurantFlorent #FlorentBiDecade(nt)Ball
#EarthDay #memoriesat60 #gratitude
Today, thinking about the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I remembered that I had copies of "Earthwards" somewhere and... I found them.
Steve and I embraced the environmentally conscious culture in Portland when we moved there, with our one year old son, in 1990 ... the curbside recycling of practically everything, the numerous environmental nonprofits and opportunities to celebrate the diverse regional ecosystems, the gorgeous mountains and waterways and ocean. When Earth Mercantile, which carried the broadest selected of cruelty-free, minimally-packaged, enviro-friendly products and resources in the area, opened within biking distance of our home, I proposed a barter with the owner. In exchange for store products, which I would not have been able to otherwise afford, I would start, edit and illustrate a newspaper that would create a platform for the mission and message of Portland's environmental organizations and events, action alerts, ballot measure details, and best use practices for things such as vermiculture, alternative energy, low V.O.C paints, water conservation and various products in the store. Interviewing folks and reading the submissions of local leaders was endlessly fascinating and a source for much hope.
Almost thirty years later (it is hard to believe it has been this long!), I have to admit that much of the information shared in the issues of "Earthwards" has yet to be implemented on a large enough scale to make the level of difference we imagined at that time, but ... those efforts continue to grow and build and, today particularly, is a time to celebrate the increasing elevation mindfulness and consciousness of all those who are grateful for and cherish our beautiful and bountiful Earth.
#memoriesat60 #missingcommunity #gratitude
One of my first friends, when my family moved to Hudson, Ohio in 1972, was Terry McNally. We pulled together our coins and purchased Record books in which we planned to record our twelve year old wisdom. It was my first journal and lasted through high school. Looking through it now, I see little in the way of original life hacks, but I do see I was heavily influenced by Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I included parenting advice for my future mothering (probably after a disagreement with my own mother), some of my melancholic teenage poetry, a list of boyfriends (real and desired), bullet-pointed memories (many of them encrypted in case my mother read my journal), and, the source of sweet flashbacks this cold, snowy Covid day - favorite songs and concerts I attended.
Northeast Ohio was blessed with Blossom Music Center (affordable tickets for enjoying performances under the stars), nearby Kent State, many other venues and was a destination for top bands. I could only get to a handful and remember almost losing my breath in the crush at the Coliseum during my unsuccessful effort to get tickets for, was it?, Led Zeppelin.
Most of my babysitting and other odd job money went to those concert tickets. Or... we created our own concert experiences by driving out across a hilly field to The Tree, hidden from the nearest road and passing cops, where we would share whatever alcohol we scavenged and turn up the radios on each of our cars. This was the location of many of the encrypted memories in my journal mentioned above. I remember a particularly loud playing of and singing to "Magic Man"...
I was at a loss to explain to my father the build up of mud and grass under the bumper of our low-slung Pacer after one of these nights, but I had heard of many of his own small-town high school exploits, so perhaps he figured he owed me a pass.
[Yes, even though I am right-handed, I went through a few years of experimental penmanship, depending on my mood... vertical, leftward leaning...!]
#memoriesat60 #missingcommunity #gratitude
With spring snow falling, I am drawn to the color and silliness in this collection of photos... We had this open, rambling house. We enjoyed cooking for others. Our daughter had an extensive dress up trunk. I had a collection of rhythm instruments... With my father's legendary hospitality as an example, we invited performance groups who had an extended stay in Billings over for a meal and some relaxing, fun time away from hotels. Thank you to Corby Skinner and the Alberta Bair Theater for these memories!
1998 WOFA from Guinea... My French was minimal, theirs was colloquial. Even body language was uncommon, but my research into Guinean foods paid off. At least the peanut soup and anything oval, such as almonds and the last minute hard boiled eggs, were a huge hit?!. The guys drummed. The women took turns dancing, lifting up their t-shirts and lapas. My young children were big-eyed and had interesting questions for us for days. One of the wonderful side-benefits of hosting such gatherings.
1998 Le Ballet Jazz de Montreal... Christene Meyers played piano for a karaoke of musicals.
2000 Diavolo from Los Angeles... I loved that the women placed Emma on our ottoman and danced around her.
2000 UMO Ensemble from Vashon Island... extra points for creative costuming
2000 Montreal Danse and the Drum Brothers - think hot tub and uninhibited Quebecois!
2001 DynamO Theater from Montreal. Their performance was called Mur-Mur (The Wall) and their athleticism was remarkable on the stage, in our pool and on our son's climbing wall.
2002 Toronto Dance Theater - kilt dancing?
2003 The Puentes Brothers from Cuba- such beautiful, seductive voices
And I know we had a flamenco troupe over, which were, surprisingly, less wild. There are so many more photos, but I wanted to protect the not-so-innocent
#memoriesat60 #missingcommunity #missingmountains #gratitude
Three years after leaving Portland and my women's circle, which met very two weeks to study, explore, celebrate and support each other, four of us gave ourselves four glorious days of reconnection along 40 miles of the wild and scenic Rogue River in Southern Oregon - an area only accessible by foot or boat and winding towards the Pacific.
The trail took us through sun drenched hillsides, curved into valleys trickling with springs and feathered with huge ferns, opened up to hot rocky faces, wove to and from the river banks and surprised us at just the right moments with cool pools or refreshing cascades where we could strip down and refresh our feet and sweaty bodies. The abundance of flora and fauna delighted us... the sublime Pacific mandrones exfoliating their outer skins in layers of shimmering smoked salmon and fresh pistachio, osprey, sugar pine, Douglas fir, king snakes, western fence lizards, salamanders, a black bear, deer, star thistle, buckwheat, scotch broom, manzanita, blackberry, bead lily, and poison oak, which we successfully avoided.
We met few other hikers and and reveled in the beauty and isolation that gifted us with time to delve more deeply into each others lives, as mothers of young children and adventurous women. I was so very grateful for my good boots, my comfortable pack, my strong legs and this time to nurture my soul in nature and the beautiful community of these friends.
The summer of 1983, after busting my brain at the University of Houston to graduate with one last semester, 21 credits and two senior theses, I was so thankful for the opportunity to go up to Longswamp, PA (one of those crossroad towns in the hills outside of Allentown) to help the family of Steve’s high school friend Tony renovate a 1700s house into a B&B. The rhythm of sanding, nailing, and painting allowed by brain to decompress. Elsa would cook us amazing meals with ingredients previously unfamiliar to me – fiddlehead ferns, feta cheese, chervil, lemon balm... After dinner, we would often find ourselves sprawled on couches, wending our way through their extensive vinyl collection. Sarah Vaughan’s soul penetrating voice and her songs stayed with me as I worked and I began to yearn to hear her recordings each evening.
Back in Houston, that next winter, I was employed, had found a CD of Sarah’s “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, was listening to it in my car almost daily, had heard that she was going to play at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston and had discovered the Eastern Airlines middle-of-the-night freight flights that let folks fly very reasonably. Since this was near Steve’s 25th birthday, I connived with Tony to fly him down for the weekend as a surprise to celebrate him and hear Sarah live. I was transfixed by her performance, her range, how she modulated her voice.
This magic has never dulled, though at some point I gave the CD a break. Her songs are in several of my playlists. When I hear “I’ve Got the World on a String” or “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, my mood is instantly lifted. They are certainly among the songs I sing loudly in my car with lots of head dancing (you may have seen me?) and this recording is helping me get through the home stay version of a desert island.
#memoriesat60 #missingcommunity #gratitude
When I moved to Billings in 1993, I was 8 months pregnant, missing my women's circle in Portland and desperate to make some connections here before I became more home bound with an infant. I was so very lucky, in two ways.
We had found a last minute child care/preschool spot for our 4-year old son at the Montessori School. When I reached out to its directress Nancy Jo (what an amazing human), she suggested I call one of the other mothers, Carolyn Ostby, to whom I am forever grateful for the ensuing outpouring of woman spirit. Carolyn reached out to one of her friends, Robin Taylor, who immediately responded that their circle wanted to come to our home, with their daughters, to provide comfort, encouragement and to do a belly casting. As soon as they arrived, I was enfolded into their warmth and friendliness. My heart is still warmed as I remember the looks of awe on the faces of the daughters as they placed plaster wrappings around my belly. They created an altar with that cast - a permanent recording of my glorious roundness - with things they brought with them, with their well wishes and with the necklace that my Portland women's circle had started for me - a kind of rosary made of beads given to me by them and sent to me by far flung family and friends. I wore this during labor, fingering each bead and remembering their love and support and that of these new women and girls in my life.
In our tiny cul-de-sac, lived two good-hearted women, Mary McCarvel Helgeson and Shelley McBride. Mary put together a baby shower with some of the wives of my husband's coworkers - again, women I didn't know well, but who responded with a beautiful generosity of spirit. Mary and Shelley, not only had boys with which our son could play, but were the best kind of neighbors and with them, we created a sweet, if rambunctious, life together... welcoming our new daughter - the only girl among the, now seven, neighbor kids - sharing holidays, making up celebrations, watching out for each other and our families.
I treasure those unexpected and touching gifts of community, these lovely beginnings of my life here in Montana. And ... I look forward to the end of the Covid-19 crisis, when such gatherings can start up again.
Though these 11-pages are mostly filled with with the likes of: " I was born at Akron City Hospital .. A month and a half later, we moved to Anniston, AL so Daddy could be in the Army... my favorite activity was reading..." A few more detailed memories stood out to me at that point in my life:
After 1st grade, we drove from Houston to Florida. My brother and I were very excited to catch horseshoe crabs. They were so weird. We threw them into the trunk before we left for home so we could show our friends. Half-way there, Daddy asked "what is that smell?" He had to stop the car so my mom could throw up.
I was both excited and disappointed when my youngest brother was born, because I wanted a sister. My grandmother told me that if I had a sister I wouldn't get as many handmade clothes from her. I decided that was important and talked about my little brother every day at school.
In 3rd grade, I had a boyfriend named Lee Carter. I knew he was my boyfriend because we would talk at recess.
In 4th grade, I sold enough boxes of Russell Stover candy for Camp Fire Girls that I was rewarded with two weeks of resident camp in northern Georgia. I loved the horses, hated Spam, short-sheeted our counselor's bed, and didn't miss my parents one bit.
I also learned to play the ukulele at camp. We used our bed sheets to dress up in togas, played the hukilau song and hula danced to it, which earned us beads because Camp Fire traditions were based on Indian lore. (?!)
One of my 5th grade teachers was new at teaching. She invited all of the girls in our class over for a sleepover at her apartment. We were all good until she went into her room to sleep. We began a seance, which made several of the girls scream really loud and wake up the neighbors. Our teacher wasn't as happy in the morning.
That teacher was the one who made us write autobiographies. She gave me a "very good!" and complimented me on dotting the 'i" in my signature with a flower.
A place to decant my brain, to capture inspiration and share fresh insights. [Posts from 2015 onward]