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symbol

LRK Pisces sculptureAn engineer by training and trade, my father had a firm grasp on reality. He was practical and believed that problems had solutions. He had a fierce work ethic and great determination. At the same time, he was willing to entertain — on an intellectual level — all manner of thought. He was a voracious and eclectic reader and enjoyed pondering the mysteries of the universe.

Among the mysteries that intrigued him were symbols of all sorts. He studied them, sketched them and, eventually, carved them. He had little use for astrology, but its symbols were among those that interested him and when he was about 60 he began sculpting his way through the zodiac.

On my 22nd birthday, he gave me this Pisces sculpture. Balanced on a steel strap above a marble base, the piece stands about 21 inches high. The pair of sanded-to-a-gloss fishes — lemon and orange wood, according to his notes — leap from a teak sea.

Though years, and my father, have passed, and the wood has darkened slightly, the sculpture remains to remind me of his engineer’s precision, his wide-ranging mind…and his love.

December 8

jik to LRK birthday insidejik to LRK birthdayMy father’s birthday and a card holds up the faded mirror of my young self. I don’t know how old I was when I made this card, but I was already coloring inside the lines. The heart and the figure of my father are carefully outlined in pencil, and there’s a pencil line to indicate the floor. I loved coloring, and had plenty of crayons and paper, but wasn’t allowed to have coloring books; I had to make my own designs. (The lesson must have stuck; I have no desire for any of the scores of “adult” coloring books currently on the store shelves, just astonishment at the size of the sudden trend.)

With its little brackets, the table is easy to recognize: it’s the card table in my mother’s studio, the one I had occasion to study most often, as I stood in the doorway, hoping she’d show some interest in me, but mostly just annoying her.

Perhaps the big hovering pink thing is a practice cake, where I was working out the concept of roundness. Anyway, the important parts are there: my father, the cake, and love. Happy Birthday, Papa.

May 30

1962 - DAKIt’s my mother’s birthday. She has missed the party for the last 13 years, but I have little doubt that she’s blushing over candles and attention wherever she is. Although she pretended otherwise, she loved being the focus of celebrations and for years (until it became a Monday holiday) was quietly resentful of Memorial Day, which shared — and put a sobering crimp in — her birthday.

She would be happy to know that I’m thinking about her, and that today I put away the down comforters and covered the beds with quilts her mother made. She would be pleased that I use her Revere-ware pan, her colorful Mexican napkins and her grandfather’s champagne flutes. She would be proud that I write about her, that I contemplate her artwork and examine the many photographs that trace the longitude of her life.

These are hardly gifts at all, small pleasures I can grant her too late. But her happiness, in whatever measure, in whatever dimension, is a gift I imagine for us both. Happy Birthday, Dorothy.

gift

LRK to jik 1997In his sculpture, my father returned repeatedly to this form — the object both joined and separate. Reflecting the natural shape of the branching tree, it suggests relationship as well as the individual standing with arms raised in praise or plea.

This small “WINGED FORM,” as he described it in his carefully annotated and illustrated log, was made from two pieces of black walnut “doweled and epoxied together” and affixed to a black walnut base. My father made it for my birthday in 1997. It was one of his last sculptures and it was the last of my birthdays we would celebrate together.

In addition to the “Love — Papa” signature on the bottom, the piece itself is carefully scribed on the four faces of the lower, joined, section: my initials, J and K, on two sides, 97 and his artist’s monogram, a conjoined LRK, on the other two.

It is conceived and crafted and finished with love, infused with memories and embodied with the calm strength of his warm hands. A gift that transcends time and loss.
. . . . .
LRK to jik, 1997, “WINGED FORM,” 10” high, base 3.25” diameter

May 30: Dorothy’s birthday

DAK self portrait 1982By the time my mother turned 90, my dad was gone and Dorothy’s life had narrowed. Her vision and mobility were compromised and her thoughts didn’t always make it to the end of each sentence. But two things remained the same: her love of food and her love of attention.

There was surely no thing she needed as a birthday gift, so I did the obvious: I took her out to eat. Again and again.

Over the course of several weeks around her 90th birthday, we would make plans to go out to lunch or dinner — not unusual in itself as it was something we both enjoyed and could do together without too much conflict. But when we arrived at the restaurant, she would find, each time with renewed surprise, a small party awaiting her — special friends, close cousins, the women in her writing group. There were eight of these occasions, each at a different, favorite, restaurant, each with different, favorite, people.

Whether she retained any memory of these meals once we left the restaurants I don’t know. But for those sweet hours, her smile wide, she basked in generous affection and felt truly and joyfully celebrated.
. . . . .
Dorothy watercolor self-portrait, 1982

we…

January 22

May 30

jik to DAK at 86May 30. My mother’s birthday.

In our family tradition of handmade cards, this was the ‘card’ I gave her when she turned 86, in 1997. Over some weeks, I had sewed and stuffed the numbers and covered every inch of the surface with fabric paint, concerned that it would be fully dry by her birthday.

Dorothy had already slid quite a way down the slippery slope of dementia, no longer able to cook or drive, requiring my father’s help with shopping and cleaning and the many small decisions that form the underpinning of each ordinary day. But she was still able to express herself, recognized most people and took pleasure in choosing her clothes and working in her art studio. Her ability to gauge time and sequence was damaged, but her birthdays were always an occasion much anticipated and enjoyed.

98And we did celebrate that birthday, somehow. There was probably a restaurant dinner and cake and candles. My father would undoubtedly have given her a small wood carving, sanded smooth, initialed and dated. I don’t remember the particulars except for joking that we would keep the big 86 and turn it upside down and use it again when she turned 98.

But she didn’t make it to 98 and neither did my father. In fact, that would be the last of our birthdays we celebrated as a family. That May, just before my mother’s birthday, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer; he would be gone before his own birthday in December.

Although, in those early days, there was no reason to be without hope — certainly my father’s choices erred on the side of hope — if my mother understood, she was in denial, and I was plunged into a terrible and surprising grief.

But we did what our small family had to do. We pulled together, faced each day with a measure of good cheer, managed the sad business of my father’s illness and worked together to assure my mother’s care in the years ahead.

The progression of her decline seemed to protect Dorothy from a sense of loss — a small gift to us both.

We celebrated her birthday together five more times, each one marked with a special meal and, of course, a handmade card.
. . . . .
jik to DAK, 1997, 12″w x 13″h

Happy Birthday, Pat

PatThere is history between us. There are stories and photographs tracking the years. There is the seldom-shared geography of our lives that seems to make no difference. There is the bracelet I wear that used to be yours.
But most profoundly, there is empathy and witnessing: the presence — emotional, spiritual, physical — at the long river’s-edge of our growth.
And there is love.
Happy Birthday.

my baby rocks!

it’s Jerry Davis’s birthday…

marking time…

happy birthday, mom!Writing, recently, of a lost friend, I saw how the loss focused my vision, my memory and my words. But why should such focus be reserved for epitaphs? When someone dies, especially someone too young, we remind ourselves to live every day, to do and say the things we’ve always intended. But, much as we might linger over the loss, we quickly return to routine.

Today is the birthday of one of my dearest friends. It’s not one of those round-number birthdays to be marked by much hullaballoo. We won’t celebrate together and we may not even talk on the phone.

But here’s what I know: We met almost 40 years ago, when a few of us saw the need to create a closer alliance between the words women and art. We came at it from different perspectives, each pouring our own vision and talents into the pool. From that experience emerged friendship and trust.

She was and is a person of huge intelligence, integrity and warmth, with a passion for art and community. She has an amazing ability to absorb, retain and synthesize information, to honor the vision of others and to be a leader in even the most leader-resistant groups. She puts her money where her mouth is — and her heart.

She holds a profound desire for calm but wages an ongoing war with a chaos of paper, the books and magazines and correspondence and journals accumulating in perilous drifts around her.

She is generous, astute and insightful. She has a wide smile that extends all the way to her eyes. She has fabulous earrings. She can do anything.

Most of the time we’ve been friends we’ve lived in separate cities. We don’t see each other often and we don’t talk on the phone enough. But the feeling of connection, of continuity, of closeness and trust is always there. I am grateful and honored to be her friend.

Happy birthday, Cathy. I love you.
—–
photo by Joseph Hudson

Memorial Day…

Los Angeles National Cemetery

For decades before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act turned it into a Monday event, Memorial Day was May 30th, and it was much more than a national holiday. May 30th was my mother’s birthday — a day as fraught with ritual and importance as anything the government could devise. Today she would have been 100.

Our house was perched on a small bluff overlooking the Veteran’s Cemetery. There, on the other side of a chain link fence, tens of thousands of marble headstones stood in quiet rows amidst acres of grass and towering eucalyptus trees.

My mother and father did not visit the graves of their parents. Their own final wishes specified ashes scattered at sea, with no marker or headstone, no “there.” But on Memorial Day, my father would leave my birthday-hungry mother to walk through one vast section or another of the cemetery, studying the worn markings, reflecting on his fallen comrades and, perhaps, the wonder of his own survival. The ritual walk on Memorial Day was his alone. As a child, I accompanied him once or twice, but I was no more capable of the necessary contemplation than he was of cartwheeling and leapfrogging among the headstones.

He wouldn’t talk about the War. It was his war, and its outlines were sketched for me in the vaguest collection of names and faded photographs. The desert. A patched sleeping bag where a field mouse had burrowed to have her babies. An aversion to the taste of lamb. Patton. Gillam. Europe. He had seen too much and lost too much and spent the remaining 40 years of his life guarding against the invasion of his memories.
—–
photo by Robin Z