Two notes: If you’ve arrived without a private link, you may only see only one photo with this post. To see the other two, simply click the title above and go to the post page itself.
Also–this post is slightly longer than usual. Due to audio file size restrictions, I must post it in two parts. Sorry for the inconvenience. To listen to this post, please click here:Peaceful Balance 1 Peaceful Balance 2
My Aunt Rosemary painted this family plate for us in 1955. But a few years later, like returning the flag for its fiftieth star, we sent it back so she could add her unexpected namesake niece. (It’s worth noting that she intuitively left space on the plate for this surprise.) Since the plate was glazed, Aunt Rosemary made do with a marker, which is why “Rosie” is a bit worse for wear. (Not that we ever put anything on this plate—it was always on display.)
I’ve just returned from a short visit with the artist herself, the crowning event of a far-flung week of sistering and aunting with more than a few of the plate-faces.
You can see Mary Kay on the left, south of Dad. She turned 74 last Saturday. “Jimmy”(at 6 o’clock), “Rosie”, (at 3) Tom (west of “Rosie”) and his wife, kids and grandkids all joined us in San Jose to celebrate. I’d tell you Mary Kay suffers from Alzheimer’s, but it’s not true. She’s happier than I’ve ever known her. And at present, she still knows and enjoys all of us.
I’ve always loved the spirited freedom of this plate, the trust in the line, the confidence in the eye, and how well she pulled us altogether. While she never painted or exhibited as such, Aunt Rosemary was the first artist I ever knew. Whenever she sent a letter in her bubbling hand, asking how things were in our particular Gloccamora, whimsical creatures appeared in the margins. Intriguing objects filled her home. Most of all, she has an artist’s sensitive heart. She saw to it that a certain chubby highschool freshman took her first train trip alone to Kansas City. “Aunt Rosemary, a cheese sandwich on the train was thirty-five cents! You could buy a whole loaf of bread for that price!” She took me shopping and to wonderful theatre, and truly laughed at my jokes.
There was much to thank her for, and I planned to do so at her ninetieth birthday next May. But when her health took a turn last week, I added Kansas City to my return trip.
Life gave Aunt Rosemary every reason to be bitter. She never was. At eleven, her favorite sister died, devastating her and shattering her mother. Her first husband died three months after they wed, his plane shot down. She married again, (a wonderful man) bore and mothered seven children, (“All angels,” she insisted the other day) but a son died young. She battled breast cancer. Major heart disease. Endured the death of her beloved spouse and lately lost a daughter to cancer. “Worst thing of all, to lose a child,” she says. Still, even now, in the midst of pain and physical challenge, she remains unspoiled, curious, full of faith, lovely to be near. When I asked a few years back how she lived through it all she said, “That is life, honey.”
As the sorrows of the world crush upon us, and the loops and the laps round our family plates change shape and direction, I’m inspired by Aunt Rosemary and her peaceful balance of quiet heroism and delicious whimsey.
She’s like her Kansas City landscape. Solid oaks greet you as you land at the KC airport. At night, heavy dimlit homes blur by like dark confessionals. You think to yourself, things endure here.
But arriving at Country Club Plaza, you’re enchanted by the city’s lightheartedness: shapely Spanish architecture lightened and sparkled and crystallized in Christmas lights. Solid and light, these wide wordless influences. Our beautiful patient elders, our old oakrooted values, with youthful delight caroling through the branches. As it ever shall.
May you feel peace and share peace this Christmas.