Black, black, black. How can I see when it is all black? Where am I? My eyes are open but I cannot see. My fingers reach beside me. It is gritty, ropy, some kind of texture. The smell of must pervades the air. I was sleeping but there is no bed. I stretch my arm as far as I can reach. Smooth. Small indentations like a groove. Roll over. Breath in. Very musty. No ventilation. Slide along reaching with fingers. I can’t move far. I can’t sit. My head’s wet. Tastes like salt. Salt. Salt Lake. Ocean. Water.
My head throbs. Head’s wet. Arm’s dry. Try to remember. Dancing. Dancing. Cannot return to the table. Ted is looking very agitated.
Yes. We met the Czech cousins in Prague. They were able to get away during the week from their teaching jobs. We met their superior, the minister of Education for Slovakia. Joined them for dinner. Lots of slivovitz. Destination: After hours place.
Nightclub appeared closed. But after a wrap, wrap, wrap, it opened. We emerged into a large ballroom with a 12-piece orchestra, large dance floor and many clothed tables. Strange that no one other than our group was here. Ted can speak with his cousin, Elizabetha but not with her husband. Ted’s parents came to the US from Austria Hungary so his first language was a Slovakian dialect.
Twelve in our party; mostly men in dark suits. Only two other women besides Elizabetha and me. One very handsome, tall man asked me to dance, not in words but by gesture. It was a polka, whirling, whirling, whirling, legs up in the air polka. After 3 dances, I wanted to return to the table. My partner did not understand. I tried to release myself from his grasp but he held me in place. We started dancing again. Ted was looking extremely agitated. Shaking his finger saying, “No. No. No.”
My legs were aching. Trying to pull away. Handsome man transforming into sinister enemy. Unable to return to the safety of my husband’s presence. 4:45AM. Dizzying dancing. Endless dancing. Deliberate dancing.
At last we return to the table. Ted was sweating. A large trail of sweat was just about to reach the collar of his shirt. Reaching over to wipe it away, I was restrained. My quizzical expression went unanswered by Ted.
I was permitted to leave the table to use the restroom. A woman, also dressed in black, placed her hand in the small of my back pressing me in the direction intended. Down a long hallway I was propelled. Shoved.
Blackness. Nothingness. Silence. How long have I been here? A stripe of light. So cold. Crawling towards the stripe. Slight waft of air fingers my face. Where is Ted?
Sounds approaching. Approaching louder. Door thrust open. Brightness invades.
Elizabetha stoops down to help me up. “You must have fallen.” I nod. “Where is Ted?” Elizabetha replied, “He is in the taxi waiting for you.”
The large doors to the club were unlocked to let us out. The red orange rays of early dawn were just crossing the sidewalk. It was 6:15 in the morning.
Ted’s concerned look and index finger pressed against his mouth answered none of my (unspoken) questions. Silent cab ride to where? Prison? Torture? Execution? Escape? Where were we being taken? Taken somewhere to disappear? The cousins were no longer with us but we were not alone in the cab. We were being “protected” by an unknown dark suited man.
My heart’s beating faster. My throat’s dry. Eyes pressed closed. Ted’s hand on my arm. The cab slowed down. Then stopped. The doors released. My eyes opened. My head turned. Destination was our H O T E L . Not taken. Safe. A L I V E.
Coming home from school was a bit of an adventure. Kenwood School was on Dorchester Avenue on the South Side of Chicago. The best part of walking home was going by St Paul’s Episcopal Church where I was in the girls’ choir. Mr. Rayfield was the choir director and also a piano teacher. He was very strict and shouted a lot. My parents finally said it was OK if I stopped my piano lessons with Mr. Rayfield. He made me cry. I hated crying in front of people. He would just raise his arms and shout, “No, No. You must play it softly and then crescendo.” It was enough that I could play it all since he was ready to shout at any moment. I really liked the piano. My grandmother in Colorado played the piano. Sometimes she would play the piano for hours. It wasn’t like practicing at all because when she played it was beautiful, almost as if she were in another life.
Oh dear, here I am walking past the church and falling into a day dream. I have to be careful to think about what I am doing. But now I can cross Farmers Field. I don’t know why they call it that as it isn’t a farm at all. Maybe it once was. But if I go kitty corner thru the field it seems faster. Sometimes I have to use the sidewalk if some boys are playing baseball. But not today. Coming up to Kenwood Avenue, that is just a block from Kimbark. Now walking along 49th Street. When I climb fences behind our house I can see into the other people’s yard. Dr Apt lives directly behind us. So it is easy to see in his yard. He is the doctor for Tommy, Kathy and me, but not for Mother and Dad.
Now I take a right hand turn onto Kimbark. I know just about all the people who live on this block because I sell them girls scout cookies. One lady on the other side of the street hides when she sees me come onto their porch–even before I ring the bell. Maybe it is because one time she came to the door she was acting strange. Swaying and holding on to the door. She kept saying I should not come to the door so early in the morning. I did not tell her but it was after 4 o’clock in the afternoon. She even was hiccupping. I don’t go there anymore.
My best friend, Marcia, lives across the street. Marcia is a year younger than me. I love to go to Marcia’s house. In her bedroom, Marcia applies lipstick, then rouge and eyebrow pencil. I watch her in the mirror. Mother tells me it is not good to wear makeup because I am too young. I don’t care about that. It just takes too much time. I would rather think about things like how I could go on a train to visit my grandmother.
Here I am back at 4823. I walk up the steps across the porch. The porch goes around the side. Mother can stop the car there and unload groceries. I love this house. We moved in when I was in second grade. Then not much furniture except for the square baby piano or is it a baby square piano. It came with the house.
Let me introduce you to my house. It is big with 3 floors, five bedrooms on the second floor, one apartment on the third floor, four bathrooms and one basement. The first floor has the kitchen and its pantries. Also the big entry hall, music room, living room and dining room. Look, see how the sun comes in thru those high windows and makes rainbows across the floor. Daddy said it is called leaded glass. Just like a lead pencil.
Yes, that is the first fireplace in the hall. We don’t use this one but at Christmas, we hang our stockings to be filled by Santa. We have more fireplaces in the living room, dining room and upstairs in Mother and Dad’s room. Here on the second floor is our other telephone. It was so funny when we first lived here, I would pick up the phone and someone else would be talking. I ran downstairs and no-one was on the downstairs phone. Mother told me we had a “party line”. When I listened, it was no party. So dull that I would just hang up quietly. We don’t have that anymore. I mean the phone is only for our family.
Of the five bedrooms on the second floor, I have slept in three of them. All of them have stories. Some are really big and others are just medium big. This was my parents’ room when they brought home my little sister four years ago. You see this place right here. That is where her crib was. Now if we look out the big window, we can see the back yard. In the summer we put up a tent and pretend we live there. We even put cots inside.
Anyway I know you don’t have much time so let’s go down to the kitchen. We start down the front stairs, then in the middle through this door we take the back stairs. The back stairs don’t have any carpeting. They are just wood. Then we come thru the tiny room where the telephone is. It has a door to the entry hall, a door to the basement and this door to the kitchen.
I love the kitchen. See, we even have a dishwasher. That is new. It’s so fun when the dishwasher finishes, the top pops up and steam comes out. Just like our breath outside in winter. Can you see we even have two pantries. This back one is where my uncle hides the garlic. My mother keeps red cherries in bottles and olives back here. My brother loves the red cherries. I think they are yuck. The front pantry is my favorite. We keep all the glasses and china in these cabinets with glass doors. My mother puts the cake right here after she makes it. It has a cover. She has a special glass plate that she uses only for the cake.
Here’s a secret. After we have cake for dinner, it goes back right here. Then a few people in the family sneak back, open the lid and slice out a sliver of cake. Just a tiny sliver. I think we all do that. So that would be seven or eight people.
The dining room was the hub of activity for our house. Big dinners were everyday occurrences.
By this time Ted and Jean Bloch had arrived to stay two weeks–that was a month ago. Jean and my mother worked things out well in the kitchen. I loved being in the kitchen with them as they planned the shopping list along with the ration stamps. My job was to set the table. It was to be for 8 this evening.
It was a usual family dinner except this time it was Thanksgiving. We all were gathered round the long dining room table.
A man walked into the dining room, “Good evening, It looks like a delicious meal.” He said.
“Happy Thanksgiving.” my father replied.
The man walked around the table checking out the turkey, vegetables and olives. As he walked by me, he put his hand under my chin and raised my face to look at him. He did the same thing with my brother.
“Who was that?” Ted asked.
“That was Mr. Boyer. He comes to see Miss Peabody who is currently staying in the third floor apartment.” My mother explained.
My father commented, “When we bought the house we agreed to let the previous owner, Mrs. Nordstrom use the third floor apartment for a period of five years whenever she came into town. She asked us later if her friend, Miss Peabody could stay there for a while.”
“We can’t go up the stairs to the third floor. That is off-limits.” I added.
Mother continued, “We don’t know when they are here and it is not very often. It is only Miss Peabody’s gentleman friend who feels free to come into the dining room. We don’t really mind.”
When dessert came it was that wonderful chocolate cake that mother made with the icing my brother and I liked so much. I the habit of taking off the icing to save it and eat it last.
“Jannie, you should eat the cake and the icing together.” My father requested.
“But, Daddy.” I said as my father reached over to take the icing off my plate and eat it himself.
“Oh well,” I thought. “I know where the cake lives after the meal. Everyone in the family would stop by the pantry, take off the lid that covered the cake, cut a sliver of a slice and then put the lid back on.”
I started thinking after the meal was over about how much I liked the dining room. It was a room full of surprises. One time I came in while my parents were having a party in the living room. The dining room was dark. I saw a man lying under the buffet. When I asked my mother she told me that was Buster, a friend of the family. He was fine. He was just tired and was taking a nap and that I should not wake him up.
Then there was the time my father shouted, “Look at those zebras in the back yard.”
Tommy and I raced to the window and saw nothing.
“April Fool.” My father replied.
Sometimes when my mother had really big parties, we put another table next to the regular one. Then put a really long table-cloth over both of them so it looked like one long table. She had me put little cards with people’s names on them at all the places. It was like this: one family person, one guest person, one family person, one guest person. My mother always sat at the end of the table that was near the pantry door. My father sat at the other end near the windows where there were no zebras outside.
I was just lying curled around myself like a slinking snake in a basket filled with slinking strand creatures like myself in blue, green, purple, black, brown, white and yellow. Yes, we are such a peaceful world even with our many colors.
Please, please stop. You are hurting me.
I don’t know why I am having so much trouble making this little sweater for the baby Noah who was born at the end of last year. It is as if the yard is fighting me. I need to be kind to the yarn maybe it was not ready for this birthing process. Perhaps if I just soothe it by giving it a gentle touch and not so much of a tug. It could be that this yarn has feelings like a tomato when it sinks screaming into boiling water.
Wait just a moment. Suddenly the pulling and tugging has stopped. Now l feel fingers laying on my strands and petting me in the direction of my strands. Oh, this is so comforting. I could almost fall a s l e e p.
Now that is so much better. The yard has begun to relax and not resist. Maybe I was just being too rough. I will be gentle with the yarn. Perhaps if I think of this red yarn as baby red yard it can grow without so much pain. There, there, baby red. Your great-aunt is just making you ready to surround a new human baby.
Oh, I must have dozed off. I can feel I am being twisted and pulled but so gently. It is like the gentle stretch I did before starting the special yoga class for strands. Breathe in and breathe out. Feel the pain. The pain is not bad. It is transforming me into a new shape. I am not curled up around myself. I am a super long twisted, coiled. . . I don’t know what I am. Now l feel fingers laying on my strands and petting me again. Oh, this is so comforting.
Oh, I feel like I am transferring my quiet happiness to baby red. It is so soothing to be relaxing on this park bench. Oh I better not fall asleep. If I fall asleep, they may send for the paramedics and think it is my time to pass. I am not ready for that. So I will take up baby red, put him in my lined yard basket along with all the other yarns. OK, baby red, I am lifting you back so you can join the other yarns while I walk back to . . . .
“Hey, lady. Are you all right? Who are you talking to? Do you live around here? Is there someone we could call? I thought you were talking to someone but there is no one else here.”
“Oh, Officer. I am just fine. I was here knitting. I just got up to leave. No need for concern.”
No one else here? How could you say that? I am baby red and I am right here in the basket with all the other strands. You be nice to this lady. She was kind to me.
“Well, I was concerned but I can see that you are with it. Do you want me to walk you home? “
“Thank you, Officer. I can walk by myself.” That was a close one, little red. We almost got caught.
In the lobby of the Prime Deluxe Balaji Hotel in New Delhi, the wind swept in and delivered one wiry, handsome, remarkable man known as Ravindra A broad smile spread over his face like the sun breaking out of a rain cloud. As we had talked by phone the night before, I was expecting a positive personality but what I saw was a man who lept onto the world stage, ready for any situation that life offered.
I had been traveling nearly three weeks in India and the stay with Servas Hosts Ravindra and Shyamali in Noida had been arranged over a month ago. Servas, http://usservas.org is an organization that promotes world peace by enabling individuals of different cultures to meet and converse.)
We moved swiftly out of the hotel into the small street where dozens of auto rickshaws were standing. Ravindra asked how much. I believe the driver replied 150 rupees. Ravindra hand flew up in a gesture of negativity, “No.” We stated to walk down the street. The Auto Rickshaw driver cut us off blocking our way. He accepted Ravindra offer of a third of the original amount. Wow. I thought to myself. I had been seriously overpaying. (150 Rupees = US$2.40, 50 Rupees = US$0.80)
We headed off to the metro station that did not require making a connection to get to Noida. The metro car was packed with people. Ravindra’s eyes flashed and he started making gestures to the men sitting in front of where we were standing. One of them jumped up to offer me a seat.
Off at one of the Noida stations where Ravindra retrieved his car. Shortly after we were at his house where I met his gracious wife, Shyamali. Both Ravindra and Shyamali made me feel so comfortable like I had known them all my life.
That evening, we went into New Delhi to an art gallery reception where Ravindra knew most of the exhibiting artists. I then realized that he was a well known artist in Delhi and beyond. He introduced as an Contemporary Artist from San Francisco. I had fascinating conversations with a number of artists and greatly admired the marvelous art. I thought I had died and gone directly to Art Heaven.
The following day as Ravindra drove me to the metro station so I could visit the Akshardham Temple, his car stopped in the middle of a busy intersection. We both got our as vehicles swirled around us .
The last evening I was in Noida, Shyamali and I went to Ravindra’s studio in Greater Noida where over 90 artists have live/work studios. It was huge. Three floors and all with very high ceilings. He holds curated exhibits there frequently. One had just closed. I was able to see Ravindra’s sculpture and paintings both of which I really liked. The first two floors can be either work space or exhibit space. The third floor has two bedrooms. Each floor has a bathroom and the top two floors have kitchens. I was nearly in shock as my studio is quite small in comparison.
I was also quite content that Shyamali went to the studio as she often is at home caring for her frail and elderly mother. She was glowing happy as we chatted of art and matters of the world
“You know, Janet, I help a mentally challenged boy by teaching him how to make clay models. Here, have a look at these.” Ravindra pointed to a long shelf filled with excellent models. “First I do one as an example and then he does one.”
I added compassionate to my growing list of Ravindra’s qualities. Up to that point I had his attributes: artistic, energetic, helpful, assertive and very open. We had some similar experiences in that he had lived and created art in Italy and I had lived and created art in France.
A short time later, a number of artists arrived. We had snacks and drinks and conversed in-depth of art. I then visited several of the other artists’ studio and saw their work. It was all so wildly contemporary. I saw block prints, mixed media, screen prints, oil paintings and watercolors. I think I may have gotten bruises from pinching myself asking if this were not a dream.
On the day I was to leave India, Ravindra took me to New Delhi to see some of the major art venues of the city. While in one of those venues on the third level, we noticed an office chair partially blocking one of the artworks.
Ravindra asked the Security Guard, “Why is that chair placed in front of the art?” The guard just shrugged.
Next Ravindra moved the chair to the doorway of that exhibit space and then out into the hallway. I believe that someone from that venue approached Ravindra to speak with him privately. I did not hear what was said but the chair stayed in the hallway.
I totally was in agreement as the chair was in fact a distraction to seeing the art. Clearly placed there by someone who did not have a clue about art. Add speak up for Art to the attribute list.
Drinking Chai sitting on a wall by a sidewalk near some of major art venues. It was a pop up chai drinking venue–that is everything was brought in cups, thermos. It was most delightful. As we were chatting and drinking someone recognized Ravindra. They had a brief conversation and I was introduced. Afterwards, Ravindra told me it was someone he had not seen in 30 years.
It seemed wherever Ravindra was there was action. He truly is an amazing person, eccentric as are most of my friends.
Sometimes you feel you have lost something really important in your life but in the end it provided the motivation to change. I remember a time in my life when I had moved to Honolulu to be with a new partner. “The man” and I had met the previous year and he had made several trips to Colorado to entice me to move to Hawaii.
My daughters were freshman and junior in High School. My older daughter had just returned from being an exchange student in Denmark. I discussed at length with my daughters the possibility of moving to Hawaii. We talked about the pros and cons. I told them to let me know what their decision was. I emphasized that if they did not want to make that move, we would not. The next morning they told me, they were good to go.
We left Colorado on a snow swirling December morning. When we arrived in Honolulu, it was 80 degrees fahrenheit.
I was able to buy a car soon so my next project was to get a job. Easier said than done. I was told, most companies do not hire anyone who has lived in the Islands less than one year. I needed to support myself and my daughters. What to do?
Then I was contacted by a major airline to be considered for the position of Sales Representative. Subsequently I had several phone interviews about that position. I assumed they thought that I would be a good fit for the job as I had previously worked for an airline and also for travel agencies.
I was thrilled to be invited to Chicago for the interview. In Chicago, I met a number of the other applicants who had previous experience as Sales Reps for drug companies or insurance companies. I thought that because of my “inside experience” I would be the better candidate.
But no, I was not chosen. I did not get that word until a week after my return to Honolulu. I was disappointed. I was quite intrigued by the job description requiring Sales Representatives to be willing to move every 2 to 3 years. I thought I was qualified for that as I had already lived in San Francisco Bay area, Colorado Springs and in the environs of Paris, France.
I was disappointed but I kept saying to myself that something else even better would happen in my life. I looked at myself in the mirror and made an evaluation. Not bad looking, not movie actress material, but I had a fresh look and a positive disposition. I shook my finger at myself in the mirror and said:
“Watch out world, you may have given me this strike but I will break out one of these days and do something extraordinary.”
What I did decide was that my current relationship was going nowhere, so why stay? Why stay in a place that was so limited in cultural things like great museums, concert venues, an active group of artists. If these things existed there, I had not found them.
As my current partner liked to lie on the couch and watch game shows, that was no life for me. I walked the beaches for hours each day. I had the most fantastic tan you can imagine. Also my teenage daughters were not overly happy there either. They were attending a public high school where for the first time in their lives they were in the minority. The three of us were a family unit. I really wanted our life to be more meaningful.
So after the “We had so many fine applicants for this position, but unfortunately you were not one of them.” (Or words to that effect) That letter, that rejection letter motivated me to make a change for the better. I decided to move back to the San Francisco Bay Area which I had always considered home.
The four month stint in Honolulu was a learning experience for all three of us. When we arrived back in the Bay area, I gave myself two weeks to find a car, a job and a place to live. I wanted to find a good high school with excellent standards for my daughters who were quite bright. They both had been in “gifted programs” previously.
We landed at SFO (San Francisco International Airport) and we were off and running. I got the car right away. I had job offers from a travel agency in San Mateo and a travel agency in Marin County. There were good schools in both areas. In the end I chose the job in Marin County where I had lived before. I found an affordable apartment in Kentfield. Redwood High School in Larkspur had a very good reputation.
“You ain’t been blue” is how it starts. I recall as a teenager playing that record (a disk with grooves that when encountered with a special needle produced sound) over and over again. I would dance and dance around the room singing with the music, getting dizzy and singing louder each time it played. But with every new start I would need to place the needle back to the beginning. The more times I did that, the happier I would become. It was so wonderful that I felt my feet lifting about a foot off the floor as if I were flying.
Once I confided that to my mother. She told me. “You must have been dreaming.”
I never thought that. Perhaps it was some type of trance. After about 20 rounds of Mood Indigo, I felt so well, so free and so completely clear in clear in my mind. next, I would open the dormer window to look out over the Kenwood area of Hyde Park. It was quite a good view of all the old Victorian homes. Some had carriage houses. Ours had a two car garage. It seems many years ago the carriage house had burned down. It was so wonderful to have my own private room.
For many years, the third floor of the house on Kimbark Avenue had been rented. About a year ago, the renter moved out. As I was the oldest, my parents offered the third floor bedroom to me. It even had a bathroom next to it.***
I really loved having my private space. I loved to listen to lots of records. Mood Indigo,was my definite favorite. I also had time to read poetry from my father’s leather bound complete works of Shakespeare. So many poems I totally loved like “Let me not to the marriage of free minds admit impediment” . At that time I was a timid, quiet girl who preferred to be alone with my imagination when I was at home after school and on the weekends. I loved to have Mood Indigo take over my mind and my body.
*** Thinking of that gesture many years afterwards, I don’t really understand why. Maybe the rest of the family did not feel the way I did about Mood Indigo.