Like apples of gold in pictures of silver, a harmless phrase in a Christmas post this week resonated and knocked me down.
It brought me back to the first time I had ever visited an art museum. I remember walking up those gorgeous white marble stairs. The first gallery to my left opened with a huge Monet. Gorgeous. Around the first turn were a few pieces by Picasso (I think). Odd but compelling. Interesting.
But the next corner stopped me cold, stole my breath and crushed against my knees. My face was wet with tears that had spilled out before I could stop them.
The culprit painting was by Camille Pissarro and titled Haymaking at Éragny, (1892). I saw my mother there and she was beautiful. Dressed modestly, in a dress, wearing an apron, working with humility and perfect posture. My mother had died a couple of years before. She was invisible to nearly everyone, it seemed. Indeed, at the end, she was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and I think she felt invisible to herself.
But she was fine and I missed her terribly. Pissarro had preserved her image a hundred years before she was born and presented her nature in fabulous faded colors. I know how hot and scratchy haying time is. If it was hot and scratchy when I was a little girl, I imagine it was miserable in 1892. But those women, I imagine, like my mother, were singing or whistling as they raked. They were not bowed.
This week, I read a startling phrase in Anne Lamott’s Facebook post from December 16: “the days of death by cookie.” I’ve thought about the words every day since.
This thing that I do, week in, week out, that I love dearly, that I write about and foist on my friends, may not be nearly what I think of it.
Anne is a pro. She knows what she’s doing. She positions words with great success, like a knife next to my wrist, in this case.
I do not wish to be in this spot. Questioning whether the thing I love is more of a nuisance than a gift — a quirky, social custom people tolerate because they feel they should — feels awful.
My mother disappeared too soon, but she did not flail resistantly as she vanished. She remained poised and graceful, and she persisted in her work.
It’s good that the holidays are here. There’s so much real work that needs doing. I think I’ll take a break from Friday morning posts about cookies and such.
I’ll still make cookies, of course. In season or out, cookies do more good than harm. But I’d like to find a more productive use for my rake.
Come and get ’em.
P.S. Today’s cookies are “Roughly Cut Chocolate Chip,” the best chocolate chip cookie recipe I have.