The Owl and the Pussycat

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When I was small, a friend of my grandmother’s who owned a book shop gave me a book for Christmas,  “The Owl and the Pussycat”, that came with a set of two stuffed animals.  It was in French, as most of the little baby books and records that she and Tisolay gave me were.  I loved them immediately.  At some point, during the time that the nuns of Sacred Heart were teaching us to write chancery script, they must have assigned my class a penmanship exercise where we could pick our own subject, because Tisolay and I found it 30 years later, a loose-leaf  sheet with a drawing of the owl and pussycat’s wedding, in the attic among a roll of drawings of mine that she’d carefully packed away.

It was then that I did a second drawing of The Owl and the Pussycat, one of several projects that I dragged Tisolay into after my granddaddy died and I realized, like a knife in my heart, that she had lost her will to live and was trying to follow him.  I made my visits more frequent, and anything that brought her closer to Granddaddy became an epic adventure: a big attic-cleaning and ‘discovery’ of forgotten trunks of Granddaddy’s filled with mementoes from his childhood and their courtship years together… reading her love letters to him, found in the trunks, aloud to her, and then his to her (she  surprised me by melding the two together in chronological order so they could be read as the two-part conversations that they were)… sorting through the bureau drawers crammed with old photographs, and recording the stories that came pouring out of her with each one, . . . and drawing the things she loved.

She loved to watch me draw, had ever since I was a child.  When we found my little Owl and Pussycat penmanship exercise, I started a still-life drawing of it together with the little book and the two stuffed animals.  True, it was less an expression of her tie to Granddaddy than it was to me, but they were all, in one form or another, wordless pleas for her to realize how much she was still needed down here by me.

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Sept. ’64 – I love how the shadow of Tisoley’s head, caught while snapping this picture, is touching mine.

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For reasons I don’t remember, though it was probably at Tisolay’s suggestion, I had the two drawings matted together, side by side, and gave it to my mother.  That year, 1995, was a very bad year for me, the year I realized that all my years of graduate school, of running from project to project, garnering awards and learning how to do a diverse number of things, were nothing more than a string of attempts to tell my mother the big cosmic, “No, I’m NOT!” to her unspoken “you’re a worthless thing” ;  a string of accomplishments on a resume for a job that I was never meant to have.  For the life of me, I do not understand why I gave this to her and not Tisolay, who’d always been the one to keep my childhood things.  When my grandmother died and my mother, failing to break her will, threatened to sell her half of the family home I adored, my safe place in childhood and my home during Tisolay’s last years, out from under me if I didn’t relinquish my half of the money, investments and possessions Tisolay had left me, I became fixated on the emotional wrong that her having this thing represented, and my lawyer got it back for me.

In setting up the still-life shot above, looking at the pure-hearted, unknowing child who I barely remembered being, I was startled by a flash memory of being inside her head, of it all still being so fresh, the gravity that I somehow grasped of how anathema to nature it was for a mother to resent motherhood so and not liking her child, the wide-eyed  confusion as to why nothing I ever did made it stop, and the secret silent despair over what I saw as my future, a gaping black void with no bottom.

I had not yet developed the protective shield and energizing force of anger; or been warped by it.  I had not yet forfeited the future that was mine to create, my oyster, to the fear that kept me instead looking back over my shoulder, running from the reproach of a ghost whose approval turned out to be, had it been a penny, not worth stooping over to pick up.

But this is an upbeat blog about recuperation, appreciation for the present, and letting go of the chains from the past, and I tell you this only so you can know something of what it is I’ve spent most of my life trying to recuperate from and the opportunity that this little still life gives me every time I walk past it to address the unwanted anger that I must somehow keep from overflowing onto the lives of my loved ones.   It isn’t easy, and since the damage that Katrina did to my faith in the goodness of people, it is harder still.  But still, every time I walk past, I bless this memory, as well as this little girl who was so good and her sainted minx of a grandmother.  And I try . . try . . to bless the tortured soul of my mother who could not help being who she was.

 

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Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my little world for a while. As with all of my photos and text, all rights to the material in this post are reserved. © postkatrinastella.com

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