A wonderful tradition in my family is to write a letter to those we love on birthdays and other memorable occasions. This is a letter I sent to my mother on her birthday, August 7, 1979. We lost Mom on December 23, 1993, in her 86th year. We were going through some files and found this letter titled: A Portrait Of A Lady. I am sharing it to brighten the month of December by remembering her in her glory. Our parents both died in the month of December, and we struggle not let their deaths darken this time of year.
She was amused as she thought of the daydream, the recurring vision she enjoyed in the quiet hours when she was neither awake nor asleep. What a delightful dream. What fun it would be to really have an experience like the one she had in the old Victorian house. The best part of the dream was that it returned. In fact, she could start the dream and experience the fun of it at will. If she was interrupted by the telephone or someone at the door, she could stop the journey through her mind-created pleasure, attend to her business, and then return to the living room, stretch out on the sofa, and restart the dream where it had been interrupted. Marie enjoyed exploring her mind, and this latest discovery was a source of unexpected joy. If anything bothered her at all about this new source of mental entertainment, it was the fact that this dream vision was too real. It was so real that she could almost believe that she was there, exploring chests full of dolls and clothes in the deserted attic of that fine old house.
As an artist, she belonged to that small minority of really talented people that saw the world with a creativity and freshness that was perception in its pure, uncontaminated form. Over the years, she had delved into almost every type of creative endeavor. If she could use her hands and mind to carve, paint, model, or form in any way a thing of beauty, she created it. Her home and the homes of her family and friends abounded with creations that made others happy just by looking at them. It was not a surprise to her guests to see a cute mouse made from a weed seed and a garbanzo bean, wearing tiny wire-rimmed spectacles and teaching a classroom full of even tinier mice.
All who knew Marie reveled in her latest porcelain fashion dolls. She was a maker of heads from a lump of clay. She fired the dolls with delicately painted brows and eyes. She dressed each creation in exquisitely fashioned clothing from some affluent era of French, German, or American history. At Expo 67 in Montreal, she was honored as one of three great living artists in porcelain.
She was in tune with life in the purest and most un-affected way. She never put on airs as some artsy people do. She delighted in portraying life on Earth through the most childlike and pure perceptions. One would assume that anyone as gifted as she would be in their own world, removed from reality, nurtured by creativity. This was not the case with Marie. She was as adept at the transactions of the business world as she was at providing a fine and warm home for her husband and children. She was tough when it came to economic issues, and she had the gift of being able to sort the good deals from the bad. When this practical acumen was applied to her creations of art, or her collections of antiques and rare things, success of an aesthetic and an economic nature soon followed. “How amazing!” others exclaimed, “How does she do it?” She really didn’t know, it came so naturally.
It would be correct to assume that anyone so tuned into the beauty of the world would love plants and growing things. Her home and gardens blossomed with so many different types of flowers and plants that it seemed to some, more of an arboretum than a house. No self-respecting plant would dare not grow to all its beauty in her home. Her green thumb was an energy that plants understood. Sometimes things nurtured by her spirit were not as welcome as flowering bougainvillea or clematis…things like mealy bugs and red spiders. Everything prospered and so she decided that everything had its place and could live – if it kept itself under control.
To describe Marie and her world is to describe a remarkable woman. It is not too surprising that she had other gifts that had not fully developed. Adding all of her blessings together and analyzing the results, is it surprising to learn that she also had the ability to “see” things with her mind’s eye?
Marie had the habit of awakening about 3 each morning. Her body rebelled at being prone and she was forced to get up, take the cat, and move to the couch in the large living room where she could be more comfortable. In the beauty of the pre-dawn morning she let her thoughts play with ideas she would soon transform into dolls, paintings, and miniatures. She loved this time all to herself, in the quiet eagle’s nest home she and Ed had built on the high mesas above Happy Canyon.
She treasured that first vision of the storm-weathered Victorian house with its banging shutters, broken windows, and topsy-turvy furnishings scattered by winds and other types of vandals. She played with the thoughts of exploring that old museum of a place – handling the old fabrics still hanging in the closets and opening the old tin-topped chest in the attic. She could be a ghost walking the narrow hallways and entering the bedrooms, library and parlor. She knew the house well because she had experienced it so often since that first dream-like vision weeks ago, just as the pink of the dawn flooded into the family room and crept across the ceilings into the living room where she daydreamed. She had come to feel a warm flow of love for the old woman who had sequestered herself in that house for over fifty years until she had died in the 1950s. She could see the old woman opening the front door and motioning her to come inside. She knew that the old Victorian lady was her guide on the visits to the house.
At lace club or perhaps at doll club, after the formal meeting, talk would turn to some newly discovered little shop jammed full of junk from the past. Anticipation would fill her entire being. She would get the address of the New Antique Boutique and plan her first visit. She imagined that at least she would find an old fashion doll or some other relic she valued.
During the last several years, she had become involved with miniatures. Years before she had created a miniature house in a three-story, circular pie display case. Making the furniture and art works for her tiny house had been a real challenge, one she loved. Now, with the miniatures becoming the rage among collectors and artists alike, she was back at it again. She made tiny fruit for tiny hand-painted platters. She carved and shaped and looked so long into the tiny objects that the real world seemed too large and unreal. She involved her husband in projects which required tools smaller than any carpenter’s took kit could provide. Together they made tiny windows that actually opened, and parts of houses, castles, and structures that were tiny exact replicas of the real things. Together, they worked on their small and delicate models until they created masterpieces which could fit on the dining room table or a stand in the family room.
As she entered the most recently discovered second-hand shop. She was caught by the sight of a table piled high with miniature doll house furniture and other assorted stuff from the world of small and delicate. As she began to handle and admire each piece, each tiny object, a warm and nurturing feeling came over her. An apricot and cream feeling she loved. But suddenly, as she perused a miniature portrait of a lady with silver hair, she felt a cold, chilling force rush through her body. The lady in the miniature portrait was the lady of the Victorian house in her dreams.
She knew it was important to be calm and, if anything, to look uninterested so that the salesperson who ran the store would not assume that she would pay any price for objects on the miniature table. It was very difficult. As she looked over the furnishings scattered over the tabletop she began to recognize each one of them. There, in that tiny tin-topped chest were the dolls she had played with in the quiet morning hours. Only now, the dolls were less than half an inch long. In the cabinet, the china lay broken and tumbled where it had fallen when the cabinet was tossed on the pile. Heaps of tiny garments lay wrinkling, their satin and lace covered with dust and powder from the dressing table – the smell of spilled lilac perfume permeated the clothing. Kitchen utensils were scattered and mixed with books from the library. A fine Persian rug lay rumpled over an early Edison phonograph and a stack of cylindrical wax records. The tabletop was the scene of a tragedy. What had once been a great home’s furnishings was now a pile of damaged junk.
Marie held the tiny portrait of the gray-haired lady. She turned to the shopkeeper and asked, “Wasn’t there a doll house that came with all this stuff?” He looked over at her, smiled a tired dry smile, “You wouldn’t want it lady, it’s in the back but it’s badly damaged.” “Is it Victorian?” “Yes, kinda Victorian, I think, but it’s in such rotten condition it is hard to tell what it was.”
In the very early morning when she spends her quiet hours alone, thinking and planning, she often gazes over at the fine Victorian dollhouse that she restored. It has a very special energy about it, and if she lets her mind play among its fine furnishings, she can experience the happiness of its ghost – that fine old lady she has come to know. After spending time remembering how she had come into possession of the miniature, how she had been led to it, and how she had so lovingly restored it, she let her mind wander to other things. She laughed inside with joy and anticipation as her mind’s eye began to focus on a new dream. It was about a fine old castle in France.
It is important to remember loved ones as they lived and not focus on when they died.
My father passed on December 7, 1988. You can find some of what I wrote about him at www.edwardmberger.com.