Kind of Blue

The Song is Ended, the Melody Lingers On

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

“I know the timing of this statement will seem a bit odd, my friend. But we so should have slept together that night we were listening to Jazz at your place! Two passionate people. It would have been combustible! I so should have made a move.”

His message came out of the blue.

We’d been colleagues decades earlier, working on an afternoon newspaper. We sometimes ended the workday at a nearby hotel nightclub, listening to singer Irene Myles perform her repertoire of blues and jazz. My favorite was her rakish version of “The Mean and Evil Blues.”

“I’m so mean and evil
Even rain don’t fall on me…”

One night he brought albums (yes, actual vinyl albums) to my apartment. He was schooling me in the jazz classics. If it was a date, I had no idea. I was caught up in the rhythms of jazz.

Cornell Fowler, jazz lover, reporter, political operativeCornell was slender and probably the closest thing Des Moines had to “cool.” I was—well, I’ve never been good at figuring who or what I am. I’ve come to realize I was slender, too, but curvy. My mother said, on the occasion of her 50th high school reunion, “If only we’d known then how hot we were.” I guess I was hot to Cornell’s cool.

I covered City Hall. Cornell wrote about popular culture. His nightclub reviews—including the dank and dirty—tended toward hilarious.

The afternoon newspaper closed. I moved to the morning paper, and eventually to Philadelphia. Cornell went to work for a wire service, had a weekly comedy gig on the radio—and then discovered his true avocation: political operative. He moved to California in 2000 at the request of  Al Gore’s campaign, and was active in Kamala Harris’ first election as San Francisco’s district attorney.

Scrolling through my messages and Facebook timeline, I see we reconnected in 2011. I was in St. Louis, and so was Cornell’s mother. She grew up there, got married there, had Cornell, then the family moved to the south side of Chicago when he was five. Cornell put down deep roots in Chicago, though he still spent summers in St. Louis.

“I hope you’re still listening to great jazz!!!,”  he wrote, in a message otherwise devoted to finding a dentist for his mother. She had returned to St. Louis to be near her sisters. He called the three of them “The Moms.”

“I still listen to great jazz. But my all-time favorite is the woman who sang in the club in Des Moines–and I wish I had a recording of “I’m so bad” that she sang,” I responded.

Flirting about that “jazz night” wound through our messages the way the languid sound of a clarinet insinuates its way into a melody. Like the best jazz lyrics, his sporadic messages were tantalizingly explicit, but teasingly elusive.

You know, when we were sitting in your apartment
l
istening to jazz albums, we really should have…..

Never too late!!!

Then we’d send laughing emojis and drop the subject. This time, we improvised a flirty confection that lifted my spirits during a stressful time. I reread it several times over the next day or two, like a woman tracing her lover’s face in a photograph.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I know the timing of this statement will seem a bit odd, my friend. But we so should have slept together that night we were listening to Jazz at your place! LOL two passionate people. It would have been combustible! I so should have made a move.

Well, wish you had!

You had the hots for my friend and former roommate, Mitch. Still…

Sorry for that brief answer, I was busy slamming a Trump troll with the facts of how much The Cheeto in Chief spent on golf vs Obama.

Now, back to business. I don’t even remember Mitch, let alone having a crush on him–though I remember that he died and you said I went out with him once. I was thinking today that the evenings we spent at the Savery listening to music were some of the best I’ve ever spent. And I think of you often when I appreciate a piece of music, esp jazz!

I so wanted you that night and beyond. A smart, hot woman who liked jazz… it didn’t get any better than that! Pretty sure I kissed you that night and we left it at that.

Oh, no, I think I would remember a kiss!
You know, I was pretty oblivious in those days of what men thought of me or about me.

There’s no question that was a sensual night
Obviously, it’s been impressed in my memory all these years.

That’s funny because one day a few of us voted you the hottest body in the office! Pretty sure it was Kolarik, Perkins and me…

Really? Dammit! Somebody should have told me!

And I haven’t forgotten that evening either.
I can even name the albums we listened to.

Yes? One was Kind of Blue, wasn’t it?
I had those albums for years…I may still have them somewhere!

Very good! The other was the Heath Brothers Live and we listened to some Sarah Vaughan. Good Lord that was like 40 years ago. We still have time.

Sarah Vaughn, you know my favorites are still female singers. One of the things I did in Philadelphia to celebrate the end of my 90-day tryout period was to take myself to see Ella Fitzgerald. And there is a woman I saw at a nightclub in Manhattan (her name will come to me). That was a magical night.

And now, here we are both in California and separated by the coronavirus!

I do remember you told me the 10 essential albums I had to have.

I was a huge Dinah Washington fan. She was from Chicago. But New York has some great singers too… Betty Carter, Alberta Hunter, Ernestine Anderson, Helen Humes… too many to name.

Betty Carter! That’s who I went to see with a friend who was from New York. We saw her second set at whatever was the famous nightclub she sang at. One of my favorite albums ever is “I can’t help it.” I love, love, love that song.

Betty played a voice teacher on a great episode of The Cosby Show. Such a distinctive voice.

I’m so loving our conversation.

Let’s figure out a way to hang out one of these days when it’s safe. Seriously. I still think about that night.

I would love that.
I think about that night, too.
And you really did bring music into my life.

Thanks for the memories—
and the glimpse of a hoped-for future hangout! Stay well!

No, thank you. Speaking of Dinah Washington, here is one of the most sexual jazz songs ever… Got her kicked off of a couple of stations. Talk to you soon.

Written By Dinah Washington in 1948 LYRICS: I’ve got a dentist who’s over seven feet tall Yes I’ve got a dentist who’s over seven feet tall Long John they ca…   youtube.com

Will listen to it with you in mind!

Remember you said that.

I will.

OMG! I just listened–and laughed out loud. No wonder it was banned!

Remind me to tell you, sometime, about a dentist who had me put on head phones and pick out music to have my teeth cleaned, then suggested I should have laughing gas. “But I’m just having my teeth cleaned,” I said, nonetheless agreeing (I had never had gas anaesthesia before!). Despite having just said I wasn’t aware of what men were thinking at that time, I did manage, through the drug fog and throbbing music, to realize I needed to grab ahold of my fleeting wits!

Looking forward to meeting sometime in the future—
and letting go of my fleeting wits!

Is it bad that I’m lying here thinking about drilling you? LOL

No, but I think we should pick a different set for the background music, cuz I don’t think it would be good for me to bust out laughing at the lyrics!

This is her signature tune… 

Dinah Washington What Difference A Day Makes from Give Me Back My Tears youtube.com

Don’t tempt me to encourage you
I can slip into provocation all too easily.

I’m already encouraged! All I had to do was think about our Jazz night. Provocation I can handle.

Jazz vocalist Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues, was the most popular black female recording artist of the 1950s. She had a sultry, sexy voice.

Blues and jazz singer Dinah Washington, 1924-1963, Queen of the Blues

Handle?

Absolutely.

Softly, like velvet?

I will be really glad when this lockdown ends. In the meantime I’m glad I have certain memories to call upon. That’s probably why I’m smiling right now.

Those eyes. Jazz. Perfect.

Here’s a soundtrack to put you to sleep–or not:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emkqc3PIw8E&list=PL19687A45D3E23BA4&index=3

That will definitely be our background music when we finally…
Damn I want you right now, Caba.

I’m smiling, too.

This is a good thing.

‘night, Cornell. Sleep loose…
Needless to say, I’m glad you reached out..

Good night my friend. Sleep well.
Until…

Yes

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

“We still have time,” he wrote.

Except we didn’t. A few days after our exchange, Cornell — fit and apparently healthy — suffered a cluster of strokes.  Three days later, he died.

I was sad, but I was mourning the young man I knew 40 years earlier, when we worked together and shared that “jazz night.” I didn’t really come to know the man Cornell had become until his memorial service. And then, I felt an even deeper regret at his passing.

He was a man with three passions, said a friend at the memorial: His fraternity, in which he had just celebrated 44 years; politics, and jazz. “Don’t forget women,” someone called out and everyone laughed. “Oh yes, Cornell loved women,” said a voice from the crowd.

Cornell Fowler, 1956-2020, loved Jazz, politics, his fraternity and women. He was a graduate of Drake University.

Cornell, 1956-2020

He was, in the words of another friend, “a charming, handsome rascal who loved to raise hell.” He was 13 years in recovery from a drug addiction, and kept his annual tokens from Narcotics Anonymous on his dresser. To his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers, he was “the Golden Goody,” though they wouldn’t say how he earned the nickname.

Maybe it had something to do, in part, with the bronze-y undertones of his complexion, or his eyes that shaded from brown to hazel. He and one of his cousins had a running joke about which of them was the best-looking in their family. Cornell had a lean, unlined face, nicely shaped lips between faint dimples, dark hair cropped close and—most importantly—a warm gaze.

He was usually dressed in workout clothes—his landlady said he had “a zillion tee-shirts” from his gym, Boss Barbell—and an Alpha Phi Alpha baseball cap worn backwards. But he cleaned up nicely, wearing a dark, well-tailored suit.

His story was not what I expected.

He seemed to work the gig economy when he wasn’t involved in a campaign. He picked up jobs at the Mountain View Day Worker Center, managed a Kiwanis Christmas tree lot every Christmas, worked on a crew staging furniture, and consulted for politicians and political causes.

Lately, he’d was actively pushing for Kamala Harris to be Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick. Asked if he might have a job in a Biden administration, he immediately quipped “Minister of Funk.”

Cornell was defined by his friendships, not his jobs. Several dozen people attended his “social distancing” memorial, standing six feet apart on an asphalt parking lot for more than an hour to share memories. Almost every one who marked his passing on his Facebook page began their posts with “I first met Cornell…” The times and places were frequently decades in the past, though their last contacts were often in the previous weeks.

He was an only child, survived by two elderly aunts and a pack of cousins. He apparently never married. Maybe that’s why he forged such long and deep connections.

Which is not to say Cornell didn’t have his struggles, or moments of despair. His landlady found a little notebook in his room. Written in the corner of one page, she said, was this: “Thank you to all the people who said “no” to me. It’s because of you that I did it myself.”

I can’t pretend to have known him well. But he touched me with his grace and energy. And I’ll always have jazz.

–30–

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. The most artful lives include close connections, past and present. Cornell Fowler was a master of making and maintaining connections of all kinds. The world is less full without him.

The Song is Ended, from the 1961 album, Unforgettable.  Kind of Blue, 1959 studio album by Miles Davis.

Spray paint, a girl’s best friend!

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

lamp detail after waxing prebuffing

If you see me with a can of spray paint in hand, you’d do well to not stand still. I find there is very little that might not be improved with a blast of new paint.

Spray paint makes some projects so easy! I used a can of hammered copper to revive an old waste basket made of nondescript metal. It looks great. I could even buy spray stuff that would create a patina on the waste basket. Depends how ambitious–or bored–I get. Stay tuned.

In this case, my eyes fell on a faded pottery lamp that, while still in working condition and of good quality, no longer fit the decor. And never mind that somehow the decor had gone very brown–brown suede sofa, brown wood tables, brownish chairs and brown carpet. The lamps (there are two, but I’ve only done one, so far) cried out for color.

I was going for Chinese red, which fit the floral motif on the lamp. I had already tried my old standby, hammered bronze, but that didn’t do anything but put a shine on the brown. The hardware store didn’t have Chinese red, so I picked the next closest thing–kind of a cherry red. Too red. The lamp looked like a floozy.

The hardware store did have antiquing paste wax, which you rub over a flat painted surface to darken the color and add a satin patina. I got kind of a mahogany brown, which I figured would darken the red, make the raised details stand out and not be as harsh as black.

The wax goes on like mud. You let it set for a while, then buff off the excess, leaving more around the details you want to highlight. Definitely easy and a good project for these corona virus days. I’m pleased with the way the lamp turned out, and I’m going to do the second one tomorrow.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. She’s making her mark on the world one can of spray paint at a time!

 

 

Passing on the magic: New adventures for Mr. McC’s topper

 

 

Matt Musial in Top Hat

Matt Musial, sporting current casual formal look of T-shirt and top hat.

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I’ve hung up my top hat. Sold it, actually. It’s gone, gone, gone.

It was a glorious thing, silky and glossy like an infant’s head of fine, soft hair that begs to be stroked. I didn’t need to part with it, but I didn’t need to keep it, either. Our time together had passed.Screen Shot 2019-05-08 at 4.45.37 PM

I’m not a big fan of this whole Marie Kondo metric of judging your possessions by whether they “give you joy.” Joy, like happiness, is an elusive concept. I know a lot of people—millions, apparently—disagree with me, but I think it’s asking a lot of an object that it sparks joy. That’s a pretty high bar. My top hat gave me a giggle or two and served as a sculpture in the dining room, before retiring gracefully to a closet.

All I ask of my possessions is that they play a part in the satisfying mosaic of my surroundings.

Sometimes I sit in a black leather-and-chrome chair to contemplate a mid-century painting of a river that reminds me of my 50th birthday, spent with a friend near Paris. I’m equally happy in my guest bathroom, looking at a $15 painting of a flower, done by a girl with Down’s syndrome. I’m reminded of the weekend I bought it, traveling with a friend, as well as the pleasure of knowing that $15 went to support this girl’s art. It’s a damn good little painting. I wonder where the artist is now.

The thing I like about my apartment is that it represents a medley of experiences—the fat Chinese piggy bank I bought in Taiwan when my youngest brother got married; the Buddha that came from the estate of a good friend; the oak church pew from Sister Anne’s convent. I look at my surroundings as an artwork in progress, and love it when I find something—a painting, a table—that fits into my vision and my budget. 

www.openheartsartcenter.org

Painting by resident of Open Hearts Art Center, NC.

I’ve accumulated things gradually, when I found them and when I could afford them. And I’ve reached the age where, really, I don’t need a damn thing. I’m content in my surroundings. They please me, even if they don’t make me joyful.

Why do I have a top hat?

Now to the top hat. I bought it to be a decorative object. I got a bowler sometime later, and was always on the lookout for a flat-top derby to complete the trifecta. I envisioned them as sculpture. 

Like any art, their meaning was in the eye of the beholder. You could surmise the hat was an allusion to the strength of the American economy, or a reference to Uncle Moneybags of the Monopoly game. Or maybe it referenced dancer Fred Astaire in “Puttin’ on the Ritz”–or possibly it signaled a child’s love of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat.

One thing I like about buying vintage items is imagining the lives of previous owners.Inside of top hat

What stories could my vintage silk top hat tell? I know it was formerly owned by a Mr. E.R. McC; his initials are inscribed in gilt on the inside, along with the purveyor, “Dobbs, Fifth Avenue, New York.” The hat is size 7.5. It’s a reasonable height, not a stovepipe by any means.

Who was Mr. McC? Where did he live? What did his wife wear on those occasions he was wearing his top hat? I know he was a man of means, and that he cared for his belongings. The hat is nearly pristine, with just a bit of fraying on the stitches along the rim. The leather band inside shows little signs of wear–the hat rested lightly on what I imagine was Mr. McC’s silvery hair.

Did the hat give him joy? Who can say? I only know it pleased me. And now it has gone on to another life, whether one of joy or frivolity, I can only imagine.

Let’s hope the man who bought wants to dance like Fred Astaire, “dressed up like a million-dollar trouper.”

 

The Resale Evangelista is editing, clarifying and trying to create a more artful life. It’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-backward kind of process. And sometimes, you have to let go of something you really, really like, but whose time has passed!

You can’t take it with you….

baby book family tree
The Resale Evangelista’s baby book

And you can’t make other people take it, either

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

“I am not done with my things. I love them, in fact, more and more each year, as I recollect the journey that brought us together. … I am also fantasizing about how I am going to pass my things on to my children. Who, I insist, must take them.”

Dominique Browning, 2015

We possess–for a while–and then let go. Things, places. Memories, sometimes. Emotional baggage, if we’re lucky.

I’m at the stage of life, mostly, of letting go. Or trying. (Historically, I’m much better at acquisition, you may not be surprised to learn.) It’s a long process, this letting go.  That’s why, as regular readers know, my mantra is “If you think you are ever going to move–or die–start getting rid of your stuff now!

My mother is much further along in the process. She is disassembling her home bit by bit–a chair here, a painting there.  It’s a painful process and it’s complicated.  In part, it’s  sad that she is old and frail, coming nearer to the end of her life.  In part, it’s sad because family turmoil has prompted her to take apart her house before she really needs to.  And it’s sad because some of the things she wants her children to take are her treasures–the first good sofa and coffee table she bought, her china that is rarely used except at holidays. Like Dominique Browning, she wants to pass along her belongings to her children.  The problem is, we don’t want them.

In the meantime, my son is not yet 30. He and his wife don’t know where they will settle. He’s always been a minimalist. (Is that in spite of me, or because of me?). They don’t want to be burdened by belongings. I can understand that but still, when I see a great walnut dresser at a fabulous price and he’s said they need a dresser, I want to buy it for them. (Okay, I did buy it for them.) My mother gave them her sterling silver as a wedding present. I gave them the Rosenthal china she gave me when I married. Do you see a pattern here? (I did ask if they wanted the china before giving it to them.)

Our material lives–mine, my mother’s, my son’s–have come to a curious junction. My son and daughter-in-law are building their lives; I am focusing and clarifying mine, and my mother is bringing hers to a close. These generational passages are reflected in the disposition and  dispersal of our household belongings.

Who will adopt the family Christmas ornaments?

 

Resale Evangelista Christmas stockings

I just mailed a Santa Claus and an Ebenezer Scrooge stocking to my son and daughter-in-law. The stockings belonged to my parents.  We hung Ebenezer over the fireplace every Christmas, while the Santa stocking sat nearby in a chair. The joke was, my father was Scrooge; the stocking did resemble him a little in it’s fluffy white hair. My mother was the interface between his supposed stinginess and the largesse of Santa Claus. Family history and mythology, writ decoratively.

Did my son want the stockings? Does he even remember them, or are they meaningful only to me? I don’t know and I didn’t ask. The stockings are family history, and it’s his burden to carry them. I, in the meantime, have agreed to take the sofa my mother once had in her formal living room, just as I once accepted the round oak dining table from the house of her great aunt, who raised her. Not my style, but my burden to carry. (Until I passed it to a brother–now it’s his burden.)

How many of us are at this passage, recognizing that life is finite, possessions are ephemeral and yet, some hold meaning we yearn to pass along to future generations?

Let me be clear. Nothing I have is intrinsically valuable. I might have a few good paintings and a couple of pieces of moderately distinctive furniture.  I understand my son may want just a few of my belongings, or maybe none at all. My approach has been to tell him what’s worth selling and what could be appropriately trashed or given to Goodwill. I collect the names of good estate sale agents, should he need one. Luckily, my son did instruct me to keep paintings by a particular artist–he has grown to appreciate her talent.

That’s not the approach of Dominique Browning, former editor-in-chief of House and Garden magazine.  “Why on earth would we get rid of our wonderful things?,” she wrote in a blogpost. “I am not done with living. I am not done with my things. I love them, in fact, more and more each year …  I will cherish them, till death do us part.”

Browning fantasizes–rather aggressively–about passing her belongings to her sons.

“That tchotchke you think you’re going to put out on a tag sale table for $10? … That’s Nymphenburg. It is worth hundreds of dollars. I found it at a tag sale for $10, and pounced.” She imagines herself transmogrified into her stuff, watching over her grown children in perpetuity. “The cells from my sweaty palms, or the eye beams from my covetous gaze, will reside in my things forever.”

Yeah, but….

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

You can’t take it with you, Pt 2 …

So get busy and start getting rid of it–now!

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

“I am not done with my things. I love them, in fact, more and more each year, as I recollect the journey that brought us together. I will cherish them, till death do us part….I am also fantasizing about how I am going to pass my things on to my children. Who, I insist, must take them.”

Dominique Browning, 2015

Browning, former editor of House and Garden magazine, imagines watching over her children through her possessions.  “The cells from my sweaty palms, or the eye beams from my covetous gaze, will reside in my things forever.”

Well that’s creepy.  I picture Jacob Marley haunting Scrooge but instead of chains forged “of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and heavy purses wrought in steel,” he’s shackled to a dining room table and 12 matching chairs.

I get it–and I like it–that belongings may carry the aura of previous owners. But immortality,  much as we might wish for it, cannot be achieved through household goods. Insisting that someone else cherish our things–all of them–as much as we did, is just selfish.

DSCF2277

My late friend Lisa collected quirky plates

When a friend, youngish, died unexpectedly in her sleep a few years ago, her
husband called me an hour after the paramedics left with her body. He was
wailing with heartbreak. The second or third sentence out of his mouth? “What
am I going to do with all this stuff?”

Beside her desolate husband, she left behind a house she inherited from her father, along with all the belongings he had accumulated in a long life. She couldn’t bear to part with any of it, and she’d added 20 years of her own possessions.

She made her husband promise to keep the house if she died first (which neither of them expected). Two years later, he still has the grand piano, a kayak, and the bicycle she grew up riding as a child in Spain.  Not to mention china belonging to her mother and two grandmothers, among many other items.

wood planers

Old wood planers, well worn and probably well loved, await life with new owners

My son’s generation doesn’t want to be weighed down by possessions. They don’t feel connected to things the way earlier generations did, maybe because things are much more abundant and affordable. Besides, my parents had seven children on which to offload their stuff. I have one child and he’s married to another only child. Even if they wanted to, how much, realistically, could they absorb?

Not only do our families not want our furnishings and memorabilia.  No one else does, either.  The market is flooded with the possessions of baby boomers ready to downsize while coping with getting rid of their parents’ belongings. I think about that every so often as I stroll through a thrift store or antique mall, perusing the discarded relics, remnants and treasures of other lives.

Browning scoffs at the pared-down lives of minimalists. “I would like to submit an entirely different agenda … One that acknowledges that in living, we accumulate. We admire. We desire. We love. We collect. We display. And over the course of a lifetime, we forage, root and rummage around in our stuff, because that is part of what it means to be human. We treasure.”

steiff bear w:boxes 2
Steiff Rock-A-Bear, from the Evangelista’s  family  living room, now in storage awaiting the possibility of grandchildren.

Age and family circumstances have made my mother determined to dispose of possessions while she is still alive. She once told me that the living room–embellished with family photographs, travel souvenirs and small, quirky details–was “the story of my life.” Now it’s an empty stage, sparsely furnished.

We may hope that others will love, desire, collect and display the things we imbued with meaning and treasured.

In the meantime? If you think you are ever going to move–or die–start getting rid of stuff now!  Your heirs will profoundly thank you.

The Resale Evangelista is editing, clarifying and trying to create a more artful life. It’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-backward kind of process. But she soldiers on. Please, let the Evangelista know she’s not alone–let me know if you, too, are dealing with generations of belongings. Especially let me know if you have discovered a workable solution!

 

Fabulous Fourth of July: Award-winning art book

granpas beard art

All paintings by Catherine Rademacher Gibson

The Bear on the Stair & other fantabulous stories

“As I was walking through our house one night, a smelly, fierce, roaring black bear appeared out of a dark corner and chased me up the stairs. He almost caught me.”

The bear in question had quite a few teeth and a long, pink tongue which he waggled as he roared at the bottom of the curving staircase.

“I ran as fast as I could, slammed the door on his nose, and leaped to safety deep beneath the covers of my bed. The bear made one last horrible roar and left.”

The words belong to Catherine Augusta Rademacher Gibson, recalling a tale told to her as a child by her grandmother in a little house in South Dakota. The vivid watercolor of the bear is hers, too, painted by Catherine many years later, as she grew old.

“Even now, I get goose bumps when I think of that bear. Mom’s sister, Aunt Clara, told me that I had a wild imagination. She did not mean it as a compliment.”

Though Catherine died in 1996, her “wild imagination” lives on.

Her watercolors and stories have just been published in a book, Glorious Fourth of July and Other Stories from the Plains. Catherine recounted the tales to her two daughters so they would sit still while she braided their hair. Later still, she made what she called “memory paintings” of these childhood stories. They were exhibited, in 1992, at the Mitchell Museum in Mount Vernon, Ill. Her friends told her she should make a book.

bear on the stair artCatherine never got around to following their suggestion. But her daughter,  Mary Gibson Sprague, kept the paintings and remembered the stories. Finally, in honor of her mother, she gathered the work, researched the stories for historical accuracy and, two years later, the result is Glorious Fourth.

I remembered the stories and did not want them to end, I owed it to her to pass them on,” says  Mary, a renowned artist who lives in St. Louis. “Mother taught me to see creatively…from baseball to gumdrops, she paid attention to the world around her.”

Each of the 32 paintings tells a story, recalled from Catherine’s childhood in the early 1900s, about life on the plains of South Dakota and Montana. Glorious Fourth is sure to beguile children, but will also be appreciated by historians, art enthusiasts and anyone who grew up reading Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. In fact, Glorious Fourth is published by The South Dakota Historical Society Press—Laura Ingall Wilder’s publisher.

“The coyotes were so quiet and thin that it was creepy. She barked harder and we walked faster. The coyotes drew closer. Finally, Shep laid his ears back, faced the animals and bared his surprisingly large, white teeth.”

The book tells tales of menace—a circling pack of coyotes, cyclones, and an Indian who showed up unannounced, but only wanted to borrow a needle. There are stories of everyday entertainments—dancing the Mazurka on the parlor rug, telling ghost stories during a thunderstorm, ice skating on empty lots flooded by the Watertown Fire Department. And then, of course, there was mischief—but I’ll leave that for you to discover.

Catherine was a master of composition and color. These watercolors, painted between 1986 and 1989, are edgy and fresh—a mash-up of Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse, with a dollop of Keith Haring. They are as alive as stained glass windows on a sunny day.

She studied art at the University of Minnesota, met and married her husband, Verne Cyril Gibson, and graduated in 1929. Verne—known as “Gib”— took a job as an engineer with the U.S. Lighthouse Service, which became the U.S. Coast Guard. With two daughters in tow, the family followed his assignments to lighthouse stations around the country, finally settling in San Francisco. Catherine painted when she could and joined the artistic community in every place they lived.

granpas storm artWhen Gib retired, Catherine could finally paint full-time. And, during the last few years of Gib’s life, when he was ill and housebound, she made her memory paintings to pass the time and cheer him up. In doing so, she created vivid images and stories that made the past come alive—and seem magical.

“During the making of this book, I realized these stories are more than a collection of one family’s anecdotes,” says Mary Gibson Sprague. “They belong to any family that ever had the imagination to move from place to place in search of a better life.”

If there is one trait that defined Catherine Augusta Rademacher Gibson, it was imagination.

“One day, Dad came home (and) the back seat of his car was soaking wet, while, oddly, the front half was completely dry. He said he had driven home so fast that the line storm could not get past him…my daughters decided that I made this story up. I finally painted a picture to show them how it happened. They said I made the picture up, too.”

Glorious Fourth of July is available from the South Dakota Historical Society Press, 900 Governors Drive, Pierre, South Dakota 57501, www.sdhspress.com

The paintings of Mary Gibson Sprague can be seen at marysprague.com

The Resale Evangelista cannot recommend this book highly enough. You will love it if you are a child, an art lover, a historian, or someone who grew up in the Midwest with the Little House on the Prairies book. Heck, you’ll love it no matter who you are.

 

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Saarinen tulip table begged me to buy it

Knoll Tulip Table by Eero Saarinen

Tulip Table by Eero Saarinen for Knoll

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

When is an impulsive $500 purchase not as stupid as you’d think?

When the object of desire is an iconic mid-century Modern piece of furniture. When you know the general vintage price range is $1,000 to $1,500 and you will never be willing or able to spend that much. And when you stumble across the piece in a reputable store at a price you can afford, at a time you actually have the money.

That’s the story of my new 42-inch dining table, designed by Eero Saarinen for Knoll in the late 1950s. Saarinen was the Finnish architect who designed the St. Louis Arch, as well as other notable buildings and pieces of furniture.

I know, I know, I know–I don’t need one more damn thing. But what does need have to do with desire, anyway?

vertical tulip table with orchids

Knoll Tulip Table

Saarinen designed the so-called Tulip Table (and complementary chairs) to get rid of “the slum of legs” beneath a table top. The top–either oval or round–is balanced on a slender cast aluminum column that swells at top and bottom to provide support and stability. The design was immediately popular and immediately copied–still is, by any number of companies. Knoll still produces the original, in a number of sizes and materials. New, mine would cost about $2,200

Reader, meander a little with me. When I go back to St. Louis, I naturally make the rounds of my favorite thrift and resale shops. (This summer, to my dismay, I discovered  the two best clothing consignment shops had closed.) Then I hit a couple of antique consortiums and, finally, MoModerne, on Watson Road.

MoModerne, I have to tell you, is pretty pricey–for my pocketbook, too pricey. I can only afford to lust over the collection of mid-century Modern furniture, art, lighting and knick-knacks. I go to see what I should be watching for in my cheaper haunts.

So there I was, with my friend Susan, admiring the freshly upholstered, low-slung sofas, the Eames chairs and a couple of Sixties Pop tables. I ran my hand over the Tulip Table, then looked at the tag. “Wow, $500!” I whispered to Susan. (It’s that kind of place–if you’re not feeling soigné enough, you whisper.)

But we moved on, circled back to admire the table once more and left.

I drive to St. Louis. It’s cheaper and, more importantly, faster than flying. There are two problems with driving. The first is, I never leave home when I say I will and I always stay longer than I plan. The second is, nature does not like a void. A void as in the empty cargo area in my Subaru. I leave home empty and I inevitably return home full.

And so I went back the following day to buy the table. I have a philosophy. If I go back to get something I’ve previously passed over, and it’s gone, that means I wasn’t meant to have it. The obvious corollary is, if it’s still there, I was meant to have it. My table was still there. And it came apart and fit perfectly in the Subaru.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. When she can, she carpes the diem. This time she just carpe-ed the table. 

(Note to Latin grammarians: The Resale Evangelista couldn’t make heads nor tails (nam caudae capitibus uel) out of the directions for conjugating carpere (the infinitive of carpe), so she just made up her own. Deal with it: Vita est brevis. If you need to know more, read Seneca.)

 

 

 

Memento Mori

 

Ceci's purse

Carpe Diem: Lessons from a grande dames’s purse

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Ceci Lowenhaupt wore her elegance like a Chanel suit. Even in old age, even when her memory was caught in loops of the past, her silvery hair was always coiffed, her lipstick immaculate, her fitted jacket embellished with a silver brooch.

“Hello, dear,” she would drawl when she greeted me—even in her final years, when I’m quite sure she no longer remembered my name or even how she knew me. She had the husky voice of a former smoker. 

Ceci, in another era, would have been recognized as a grande dame. She liked her vodka martinis, presided over the St. Louis Print Market’s annual art sale, and insisted on a particular table in her favorite restaurant—sometimes even when it was already occupied.

I became acquainted through her daughter and my friend Alice, when Ceci was in her 80s. She held tickets to the St. Louis symphony, but needed a companion, in her later years, to accompany her. We went to dinner first and for drinks after, before I took her home.

Ceci was 97 when she died last year.  Alice and her sister-in-law emptied Ceci’s rambling apartment with the grand piano, the Japanese prints and multiple sets of china. Last week, a package arrived at my doorstep. Ceci portrait_0002

It was one of Ceci’s purses. A structured purse of deep green suede and walnut-colored leather, with a complicated clasp and a hand-stitched handle. A Ceci purse, made in Italy, in perfect condition and still redolent with the smell of leather. A purse for a grande dame.

There’s a thing called “memento mori.” The Latin phrase means “Remember that you have to die.”  The idea originated as a medieval Christian theory that we should live our lives by reflecting on our mortality, so that we can escape the temptations of our transient earthly existence.

Plato introduced the idea in his writings about the death of Socrates, saying that a thoughtful life is “about nothing else but dying and being dead.” Cheerful.

The ancient Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger (How ancient? Really ancient—he was an advisor to the Roman emperor Nero) offered a pithy summary in a collection of 124 letters that may or may not be fiction:

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”

Ash Wednesday is the modern Christian reminder that earthly pleasures are fleeting, and we should focus our thoughts on the afterlife. Does this sound familiar: “Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” That’s what the priest says while inscribing your forehead with a cross of ashes.L0058632 Brooch containing human hair, Europe, 1701-1900

So anyway, memento mori take various forms, most of them rather gruesome. Tombs decorated with skulls and cadavers, chapels whose walls are covered with bones, and even clocks or watches inscribed with the motto “tempus fugit”—time flies. Victorians created memento mori out of their loved ones’ hair, weaving or braiding it into rings, lockets and bracelets. Mourning wreaths were elaborate concoctions of flowers, leaves and branches composed of hair from multiple deceased family members.

Ceci would not have approved. I never got the sense she had mortality on her mind. No, a more appropriate phrase for her philosophy would have been joie de vivre, joy of living. She never lapsed, in my limited outings with her, into contemplation of life after death. She certainly never renounced the pleasures of an earthly life!

Even when her short term memory lasted no more than a minute, Ceci retained an air of elegance. She might not remember what she’d ordered for dinner—or even that she had ordered—but ask about her family history and she’d launch into detailed histories of her immigrant grandparents. The manners and mannerisms of a grande dame were so deeply ingrained, they carried her gracefully through her age of decline. I can only hope to do the same.Grande dame Ceci Lowenhaupt of St. Louis

I laughed when I opened the package that contained her purse. It was so Ceci—and so Alice to know that I would  love it. The idea of memento mori popped into my thoughts, with visions of those awful hair wreaths. I knew  immediately that wasn’t Ceci.

When I contemplate the purse, I think of life—a vibrant embrace of daily pleasures. Ceci had her faults, but I never knew them. I’m free to follow her example: Carpe Diem. Seize the day!

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. When she can, she carpes the diem.

 

 

 

 

The Hungry Squirrel

This squirrel is inadequately afraid of humans! Squirrel, I am a threat to you! We are enemies! Please get off my bench! Oh, god! Oh, god! Don’t touch me—oh, god!

― John Green

Tanya Barrientos Birdhouse 

Tanya Barrientos’ DIY squirrel-proofed bird feeder

 

Who among us has not witnessed the hunger of squirrels, their unrelenting quest to sate their voracious appetites? 

John Green [The Fault in Our Stars] was accosted by a hungry squirrel while eating popcorn on a park bench in Washington D.C., an unnerving interaction caught on video. The squirrel was not only not frightened, it placed a paw on Green’s knee to demand an edible morsel. 

I have seen a squirrel hang upside-down by a toenail in order to suck nyjer seed from a backyard finch feeder. I swear he had a tiny straw for sucking the rice-like seed from the minuscule portals in the feeder. Some say squirrels don’t like nyjer, but go on to suggest lacing it with capsicum [hot pepper] to discourage foraging. Why not just leave a bottle of Sriracha on the feeder?  

A squirrel’s Id is succinctly captured by author Kate DiCamillo in “Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures,” the 2014 Newbery Award-winning tale of a girl [Flora] and a squirrel [Ulysses]: 

Not much goes on in the mind of a squirrel. 

Huge portions of what is loosely termed “the squirrel brain” are given over to one thought: food. 

The average squirrel cogitation goes something like this: “I wonder what there is to eat.”

Thousands of words have been devoted to magazine articles and blog posts on how to prevent squirrels from reaching the bird seed. 

A large segment of the bird-feeder industry specializes in products meant to discourage squirrels from raiding the nuts and seeds meant for birds, not–as actress Sarah Jessica Parker has described squirrels–“rats with cuter outfits.” They include baffles, devices that will spin the interlopers into the air, greased poles and cages that will exclude squirrels but admit birds. I can assure you, these tactics and devices do not work.

Squirrels are undeterred. 

So am I. I consume, but my hunger is not sated. What is it I hunger for?

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. Sometimes, it’s a puzzle.

 

 

Gone, bit by bit

Books and photos and stuff … oh, my!

steiff bear w:boxes 2

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I had reason yesterday to look under my couch with a flashlight. Tip to anyone inclined to do the same: Don’t. Under no circumstances should you look under your couch more than twice a year. Especially not with a flashlight.

The beam of light revealed a harsh landscape of down feathers, dust and various unidentified crumb-y looking things on the hardwood floor. No dead bugs, dirty socks or other major debris, so that was a plus. No money, either—a negative. Anyway, I was looking for my cat, whose tortoise-shell coloring provided the perfect camouflage for hiding under the sofa.

Normally, I clean house only when I’ve exhausted all other forms of procrastination. I do make my bed every day. Whoo-hoo! Lately though, I’ve taken an incremental approach to housekeeping.Not a room at a time, that’s too much commitment. I do just as much as I can, then quit. Doesn’t matter if I’ve dusted but haven’t vacuumed. Next time.

"Kobayashi Issa." AZQuotes.com. Wind and Fly LTD, 2017. 28 May 2017. http://www.azquotes.com/quote/692401

I’ve found cleaning takes a lot less time this way and, overall, the apartment is generally cleaner than under my previous system. The old way, in which I aspired to clean a room at a time or the whole place, took way too long. Mainly because of my need to notice the place was dirty, deny the place was dirty, anguish over my sloth, go out and buy new cleaning supplies, and even, in extreme circumstances, sit down and write something. Then I got around to cleaning—maybe.

This incremental thing doesn’t come easily. I’m definitely an instant gratification gal. It has been said—infrequently, mind you—that I have the attention span of a flea. As a kid, I didn’t mind cleaning the kitchen because, with seven kids using the kitchen, the mess made it easy to see progress. Although it really burned me up if, while I was cleaning, someone came in and started making a peanut butter sandwich or poured a glass of milk. Any progress I’d made was spoiled.

Finally, I’ve realized that, yes, progress can be made inch by inch. Incrementalism works in writing (though a deadline really helps). It worked for me in building an art collection over the last several decades, one flea market or thrift shop find at a time. I’ve heard it works in creating an exercise habit, or losing weight, though I can’t testify to that. And it works in getting rid of stuff.

Decluttering can be done gradually. Don't stress about doing it all at once. Just start.

Storage locker bound

The number of my possessions, compared to three years ago, is significantly reduced. It took me two years, but I finally condensed the contents of a three bedroom house with a full basement and a double garage to one ten-by-ten storage locker. (Alright, there was another, smaller locker for a brief time.) I now live in a two-bedroom apartment. Besides the ample closets and cupboards, the only additional storage space is the shower–yes, the shower–in the second bathroom.

Last week, I tackled the shower storage. I need a place for the cat box, so the shower has to be cleared. Besides various boxes of books, it contains two tennis rackets, a basket of tennis balls, a large stuffed Steiff bear that converts to a rock-a-bear, a plastic bin that I believe contains tools (too soon to tell, it’s at the bottom of a stack) and two sets of diving fins, goggles and snorkels, which I bought at Goodwill, intending to sell. (I don’t do that anymore. At least, not much.) Oh, and a box of Max’s children’s books, which I kept, as well as a box of his comic books, which he chose for me to keep.

The bad thing about incrementalism is that it creates temporary disarray, which can easily turn permanent. In order to empty the shower and get rid of stuff, I have to take that stuff out of the shower. I’m doing it a box or two at a time.

Volleyball signed by Olympic champion Karch Kiraly

Goodbye volleyball & comics!

So far, the diving gear, a shower rack and some books have gone to Goodwill. The comics and a signed volleyball will soon be reunited with their rightful owner.

As regular readers know, my number one rule for streamlining and creating a more artful life is this: If you think you are ever going to move—or die—start now! If you do that, the good news is that you don’t have to do it all at once.

When I was a kid, one of seven ages 1 to 12 years, my mother had a cleaning lady who came in twice a week to restore order in the house. My mother would leave her with the kids and return to find the house clean. Once I heard her ask, “Mary, how do you do it?” Her answer was maybe my first lesson in incrementalism: “Honey, I just start.”

So I’ve started on the storage shower, disposing or dispensing of its contents. Good thing, too. Because when I was searching for the cat, I had to look under the beds. And you wouldn’t believe how much stuff was packed beneath them!

Tortoise shell cat with golden eyes

Marla, the disappearing cat

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. She’s saying Goodbye to All That Stuff (well, a lot of it) in the process.

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