I loved my 3rd grade teacher, more than any other teacher I had in elementary school. I loved her kind face, her gentle manner and the way her eyes would smile before her mouth would even catch on. But what I loved the most about Mrs. Faires, was the way she talked. Her words came out slowly and syrupy almost like she was reluctant to let go of them. I held onto her every word, even the ones I couldn’t understand due to her strong southern accent. She made our unusual circumstances of being housed in a cramped and crowded temporary trailer, more of an adventure than a hinderance, and even though elbows knocked when we did our lessons and I was seated to the sweatiest boy in the 3rd grade, I wouldn’t have changed one thing. We were the only class in the entire school who learned cursive writing, long division and the tales of Sacagawea all within the confines of an aluminum box. Unfortunately, all of the cozy love went out the louvered window when the lesson on apostrophes began.
It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the concept of ownership and apostrophe placement, it was that, unknowingly, I didn’t understand my Alabama-bred teacher’s accent, ironically, the one thing I loved about her more than anything else. When she gave the explanation of ownership, what I heard was “on a ship,” which to this Kansas girl, who could count on zero hands how many times she had actually seen a ship, had to wonder if ships were really important enough to warrant their own grammatical symbol in a sentence.
After hearing Mrs. Faires’s explanation on apostrophes and possession, my conclusions were to use an apostrophe when whomever or whatever was ON A SHIP, or showed “ON A SHIP” as was explained, yet what did “shows on a ship” even mean, short of the visual of people on board a large water vessel. This seemed easy enough until the worksheets were handed out with nary a mention of ships or boats or even water for that matter.
My 8 year-old self, who usually did well in school, was discouraged when worksheet after worksheet was returned to me with an embarrassing amount of red ink on them. No one else seemed to be struggling with the placement of the flying commas but me, so I kept my frustrations to myself and kept searching, for the ship in the sentence. More than once, Mrs. Faires would call me up to her desk and explain, yet again, the “on a ship” concept to me and I would once again share my frustrations of not understanding what “on a ship” had to do with most of the sentences (while unknowingly mimicking her accent.)
I eventually shared my frustrations with my Mom, who knew nothing of the situation as the red-marked papers never made their way home. Not surprising, she cracked the code, as moms often do and reported her findings to my teacher. That accent, the one that had me hanging onto every syllable, had become the culprit to my biggest 3rd grade frustration.
Years later, when in Jr. High, I had a Brazilian algebra teacher who spoke with a such a strong accent that most of the time I had no idea what he was talking about, which given that it was Algebra, could have happened without the accent. I have to wonder if I had had a teacher I could have understood, would I feel more comfortable with the x’s and y’s to this day? Thankfully, my stumble with apostrophes in the 3rd grade didn’t ruin me for writing like my incomprehension of a Brazilian accent did with me for Algebra. Still, after 56 some years, I have to thank Mrs. Faires for bringing a smile to my face when I confidently place ownership apostrophes on the needed words, whether or not a ship is present.
No. I didn’t lose my cat. I don’t even have a cat, but while walking into the grocery store a few weeks ago, this sign struck me so much that I decided I needed a photo of it on my way out.
I hope the owners of the cat haven’t lost hope and better yet, have had their lost cat returned to them and forgot the small detail of removing the sign. It’s hard to lose things, especially things dear to you, and even worse when those things aren’t ever found. My brother-in-law’s philosophy on losing stuff is that when you find it, you’ll love it even more than before losing it. I’ve tested this theory, multiple times, and its valid. It also has you keeping just a little better track of those lost and now found items, partly because you love them even more now that they’ve been found.
So as I wandered through the grocery store where I saw this sign, I couldn’t get the “lost” part off my mind. I seem to be spending more and more time these days looking for lost things and although I know a very big part of this is simply that I’m not present and am doing more than one thing at a time. I suppose age is most likely a factor, then again, this behavior began when I started having kids, so age doesn’t get all of the credit. Distraction and multitasking are the perfect environment for stuff to get lost.
I do too many things at once, a holdover from a time when I had 3 kids under the age of 5. My Mom once found a full cup of coffee in my linen closet.
“Oh, hey, thanks, Mom! I was looking for that!”
No doubt I was talking on the phone, nursing a baby or putting towels away when the coffee went missing, most likely all three. Full cups of coffee are easy to replace. Treasures, not so much. I guess it only seems like it’s the treasures we lose because honestly, who cares about the other stuff, unless it’s something you don’t care all that much about but vitally need – car keys, driver’s licenses, the charger to your phone. It’s the good lost stuff that gets search energy and although much of it I know is probably lost forever, I still find myself randomly looking under the bed or through coat pockets, always with hope.
My Patagonia hat. The hat I actually bought in the El Calafate airport in Patagonia when I realized it was going to be colder than I had anticipated. It’s not a color I would have ever bought, but it fit and instantly became a favorite. I wore that hat for 4 years and then it was gone. I actually wore it to bed when I had a bout with the flu, not because my head was cold, but because it made me feel better. When I realized it was gone, I retraced my steps, not many as I was sick and only left the house once, but had no success. I ended up having to make up my own happy ending for the hat to give me the needed resolve. I took it off when I got into my car in the store parking lot and it fell out as I was shuffling bags of groceries. Someone who did not have a hat on that cold winter day found it and has been wearing it ever since. That story makes me happy, but I still miss my hat. I’m sure I could find another just as great, just as warm, just as wonderful Patagonia replacement hat, but honestly, I’ve not even looked. It wouldn’t have come from the gift shop at the airport in El Calafate, and that’s the part that makes me sad.
My ring. My silver ring with the Peruvian symbol of Mother Earth on its long rectangular front. Gone. And probably never to be found, but I can’t say that I have lost all hope on that one. It disappeared after I was at an out of town wedding and for years I insisted it was in the back seat of my son’s car (who drove to the wedding). He insisted it wasn’t. The car was sold last year and he insured me that he did a thorough check before letting go of it. I’m sure he did. I had been in his car several times since the ring went missing and every time I was in the back seat, he’d remind me that it wasn’t there after seeing me subtly digging my hand down between the seats. So with the car possibility out, my only other sliver of hope was attached to either my washing machine or the dryer, thinking that maybe I had left it in a jeans pocket when doing the laundry. I got my answer on the washing machine when I had to have it serviced and the serviceman told me he had found some things in my washing machines mechanism, which was the cause of the malfunction. I held my breath with anticipation. Four rusted pennies, a bobby pin, and a hunk of something gross that I actually dug through with a screw driver before it was disposed of, but sadly, no ring. Ironically, my now son-in-law was living in Cusco, Perú at the time and I gave serious thought to directing him to the very store where it was purchased to inquire about another one for me, but I didn’t know my ring size and it was starting to feel a bit like a wild goose chase. Besides, would a replacement really fill the bill? I’m not sure.
I’ve emptied drawers, moved furniture, gone deep underneath my car seats with a flash light (a word of caution on that one – there’s some scary stuff under there) and have resorted to my Catholic friend’s advice of calling on Saint Anthony for help, but I still have a handful of treasures that remain on the missing list.
I just finished reading a book about a man who collects lost things (most bordering on trash) and makes up stories about their history and how they became lost. It was creatively clever and creepy at the same time, especially that he had a room in his house where he stored all of the lost “treasures.” Reading that book had me wondering where exactly my things have ended up. Did someone pick up my ring and wonder what in the world that was on the from of it and where it came from? I guess my hat was kind of self explanatory.
The best way for me to deal with what seems to be a growing list of lost treasures is to simply let them go and move on and hope they have all found a nice home, but then I see a lost cat sign and rings and hats and even a lost coat come to mind as I fill my cart with groceries.
Included in the lost item searches and the incredible amount of time I have wasted looking for them, ( my phone being the current champ), I have to include in that time sucking list the many things I’ve looked for that don’t exist. Case in point, one of my favorite Christmas wreaths. After wasting a lot of time digging through Christmas boxes while muttering…”who loses their Christmas wreath????”, I remembered. My wreath became a nest and the home for a growing family of robins early last spring. Those kind of finds feel good. Case solved. Move on and go buy a replacement. Or there’s the time I spent far too much time looking for a bracelet that I had forgotten I had given to my sister. Again. Case solved. Move on. My sister, Susan, can attest to the amount of time and energy I dedicated to items I “lost” while on the Camino, only to be found moments later in the bottom of my pack. It seems impossible to lose something when you only had a dozen or so items you were traveling with, but it happened and far too often. On one of our last days of walking the Camino, when that lost item was my passport, I realized from her frustrations with me that this was indeed something that happened far too often especially given that none of those “lost” items were even lost at all. By the way, after finding my passport, which wasn’t at the bottom of my pack, but rather on the counter at the pilgrim office in Santiago, I came to love it even more and take far more care with it than I used to.
On the flip side of the lost of course are the found and is it possible that if the finds outnumber the losts, the lost will remain lost? You know, karma-wise? Many years ago, when I was living in Phoenix, my sister, Robin, and I found a lock box (unlocked) in a small storage shed behind our apartment unit. It clearly had belonged to previous tenants and was accidentally left behind and from the age of it, it looks like it could have been several tenants ago. We checked in with the manager of the apartment complex and she said it was ours now. The box was filled with sterling silver souvenir spoons; a collection that included most of the states, along with some random ones from other countries. At a time when we were both living paycheck to paycheck, often coming up short, that, and the high price of silver at the time, were the perfect combination and honestly, a dream come true for the both of us. As much as I wanted to keep the beautiful set, neither one of us really could afford that option and so I started shopping around Phoenix for the highest bidder. As I recall, the spoons brought around $300, but it felt like thousands at the time when funds were so very tight for the both of us. My only regret is that I didn’t save one of spoons, perhaps the Arizona one, simply for the memory. I’ve often wondered, while looking for my own cherished items, if the owner of those spoons ever wondered what happened to them? Did he/she give up on the search or did they simply forget about them? If I could, I’d reassure that previous owner that the spoons were sold to the owner of a very nice antique shop in downtown Phoenix. I chose his shop over several others because he had a number tattooed on his forearm arm and when he saw me looking over at his rolled up sleeve, he offered me a chair and shared his story with me. Even the memory of that day seems so random to me — sitting in an antique store in downtown Phoenix, selling found souvenir spoons to a Holocaust survivor with a story to tell me. The spoons ended up in a much better place than a metal storage locker behind a garden apartment. Those spoons became the proceeds that bought my airline ticket to the next place I called home in Alaska.
So if karma hasn’t quite evened out on the lost and found in my life, that’s OK. Maybe the ring and the hat are like my souvenir spoons and are helping someone else out.
Oh, and the cat? Well, the sign is no longer hanging on the door of my grocery store, so I’m going to assume that there was a happy ending. I’m also concluding that its owners love their cat even more now that it’s been found, because that’s how it always works.
I finished the making the book for my friend from Ecuador yesterday. Well almost and not quite. Upon what I thought was the completion, I ordered just one copy to check for mistakes then took it over for Marta to check it as well before ordering the 12 books that she wanted. I was very pleased with the end result but given the history thus far on the project, knew not to relax just yet, a hunch that was totally correct.
Marta was standing at her front window waiting for me when I arrived, a gesture that I’ve become quite fond of, and has me on my punctual toes each time I visit. Her living room looked like she was expecting company as she had moved all of her kitchen chairs into the room, and each chair held one of her original paintings as well as stacked, and paper clipped papers of text. There was a system here and I knew not to question although I was somewhat surprised as I had already reassured her multiple times that I had the paintings and the text pages in the proper order. I thought we had already jumped that hurdle.
Inhale. Exhale. Patience. Or paciencia, in Español.
She loved my “sample” hard copy book, much to my delight, yet still walked around the living room checking my page order with the stacks of paper on each chair. She did find a couple of small mistakes, errors in her spelling on some of the Spanish text and I agreed that I would keep the book with the mistakes as my own, would make the necessary corrections then would order the 12 books she wanted. She wanted to pay me right then and there, but I insisted we wait until she had all 12 books in her hands and was pleased with them. We agreed to meet for lunch once she received the books and she could pay me then. So last week, as agreed, we met at a neighborhood restaurant that she liked that ironically happened to be French and enjoyed the lovely French cuisine while conversing in Spanish the entire time. The language section of my brain, opened up then got confused, as I was “merci-ing” in the middle of a totally Spanish conversation. I felt very European.
That was last week. Since then, my friend has found things in the book she wants to change, which means another order and unfortunately, a big expense for her. I tried to talk her out of it as the books are not cheap, but she insists that they be perfect and said she will only publish one book in her lifetime and this was it so it just had to be perfect. She apologized for having pushed me to get them done so quickly but said she was nervous she wouldn’t make it to her 80th birthday, a comment that I have argued more than once with her. When the book was finished she told me she was relieved and will not worry about dying before December. I don’t know how to say “stop over thinking the dying stuff” in Spanish but gave her a smile that communicated my thoughts and she smiled back. I’m starting to understand her humor and she mine.
That was a few weeks ago and the same process of ordering, proofreading, correcting and re-ordering has now happened, twice. Last week, I think we finally reached a point where we’re both satisfied, but my fingers remain crossed and my breath held.
This has been far more of an ordeal than I ever thought it would be when I signed on, but it has been about so much more than a book of paintings and text. Last week I spent 2 hours conversing in Spanish with my new friend and felt so comfortable with it that at one point I actually forgot that I was slogging through a language that wasn’t my mother tongue.
As I was driving home from that last visit, I realized that the many trips to her house to do and re-do were far less about the book that we were jointly creating and far more about the friendship that was developing. I think about Marta and I smile. It’s been a synchronistic connection that I think we both needed and the timing was impeccable.
The book, by the way, is a lovely story which showcases Marta’s love for her children as well as her love for trees. She represents each of her 6 children as golondrinas, a bird that is common to Ecuador, who one by one leave the nest and find their tree to begin their lives as adults. Many different trees are represented, including a saguaro cactus, which represents her son who lives in Arizona. One of the paintings shows one of the birds returning to the mother with the text “trata otra vez” (he tried again). I was that kid. I get it. No doubt her children will be very touched by the paintings and the story that accompanies them, especially given that they haven’t yet learned that she know how to paint!
Sometimes getting to the prize at the end of the proverbial tunnel isn’t what you thought it would be. I’ve got a new book to add to my growing collection of books I’ve made, but the gain here is not in the pages of that book but rather was the added gift of an unexpected friendship. There is always a purpose behind our chance meetings with people and some of those relationships continue as they are needed in one way or another, while others fall away. I’m hopeful that the friendship I’ve found with Marta will continue far beyond the pages of a book.
Last night, over a pizza with extra mushrooms and pepperoni, I carefully listened to the life stories told to me in Spanish by a woman from Ecuador, who at the tender age of 20, moved to Kansas City with her Ecuadorian, soon to be doctor, husband. After having 7 children with him, she divorced and raised the children as a single mom, remaining in Kansas City. She’d only interject with English when she’d see my head tilt and brows knit in confusion over a word or a phrase, then seamlessly, would fall right back into her native tongue. When the waitress came over to our table to see if we needed anything and I quickly responded in Spanish, my immediate reality hit me and I had to marvel at the beauty of sharing these moments, with this women, in Spanish, in Leawood, KS and over a pizza.
I met this lovely women a few years ago as she was my teacher at an evening Spanish class I was taking. After the 3rd class, she called me at home and told me she thought I was too advanced for the class and would I rather come to her house and just converse once a week? Of course I would! I’d much rather speak Spanish while sitting on someone’s couch than at a desk with a notebook in front of me! And that’s how I got to know Marta. After a few months of weekly Spanish at her house, I ended up taking a trip to her native Ecuador with her and 3 other students. It was interesting getting to see the country through her native eyes and frustrating at the same time as they were 78 year-old eyes and we didn’t exactly share the same philosophies on travel and adventure and how many more museums to we have to, I mean get to go to today?? But that’s another story.
I didn’t hear from her after the trip until a month ago when she emailed me and asked for my help with a project she was working on. Her children are throwing her an 80th birthday party in December and to thank them, she was in the process of putting together a short story of her life told in paintings and brief text that she wanted to make into books and could I please offer up the tiniest bit of help with the project? I hesitated, and with good cause, but hung onto the words tiny or “muy pequito” more specifically. I really didn’t know Marta well as she was fiercely private so was both surprised and flattered with her request. Flattery won.
I agreed to meet her at her house, a short 10 minutes from mine, where she would show me what she was working on and how I could help. In my mind, I thought it would be a giving an opinion on fonts or text placement kind of thing, which I was more than happy to help with. I’ve got to add that when I returned from Ecuador, I made a book of photos from the trip with some text and gave a copy to Marta, so any hopes of saying I didn’t know how were lost on that piece of history. When I got there, she took me to her spare bedroom/office where she had 20 8 1/2 by 11 sized paintings carefully laid out on the sofa bed, all of them with the similar theme of trees, birds and a lot of blue sky. They were quite lovely and all hand painted by Marta, who told me she taught herself to paint on the heels of this project. Inhale. Exhale. It was far more than an opinion she wanted and I was in too deep to walk away. She begged, she pleaded, she insisted on paying me for the work, which at that point, seeing the size of the project, I already had a number in my mind to charge her. I looked at her standing proudly in front of the 20 paintings that depicted her life, carefully placed on the bed as a display for me and wondered how in the world I could say anything but yes. Yes, of course I will help you.
She was so excited that I said yes and began to explain how she wanted the book by showing me her handwritten copies of stapled and stacked papers, far more confusing than it needed to be, then explained how she learned to paint, again, far more explanation that I needed, but I was committed at that point, so let go of my need to grab the explanation and be on my way, and allowed myself to be present in a moment that was not just about me making a book. There was something else in the makings here, and although not quite sure what that something was, I was willing to stay the course and find out.
I knew I’d be there until next Tuesday if I didn’t tell her I had to be somewhere else, so with the paintings and the papers, all organized into two folders, we said our goodbyes and I almost made my exit when Marta came running out the front door and stopped me and handed me a lucite in-box from her desk, insisting that I put the paintings, the paintings that were safely tucked into a folder, into the box for the drive to my house. She said they’d be safer that way.
While driving home, I glanced over at the clear lucite box that contained a 79 year-old woman from Ecuador’s life story, told in paintings and brief text, that was riding shot gun in my car and knew I had made the right decision. This gift, created for her children and to be given to them on her 80th birthday celebration, no doubt was going to be a gift for me as well, and to that, both out loud and to myself, I said gracias.
My first task at hand was to photograph the paintings, which had given me the most angst about the project as I didn’t want to lose one brushstroke in the copying process, but they turned out beautifully and I began the process of digitally putting them into the book format, along with her pages of text. The ease of the project ended quickly when I got an email from Marta saying she wanted all of the paintings back because she wanted to make the birds darker, which were in every painting and represented important pieces of her life. I knew there was no arguing with her so told her I’d be over “around noon” on the following day. I pulled into her driveway at 12:10 and noticed her standing at the front window waiting. My irritation with her request that seemed unfounded, melted at the sight of her anxiously waiting for me. It made me think of my grandparents who would drive an hour to see me dance in a 10 minute half-time performance in my high school gym. They always looked little and vulnerable and more excited than anyone else in the room to see me. I found myself more than willing to hear Marta’s explanations of the small changes she wanted to make and how she was going to make the birds darker in all 20 of the paintings. I’m finding my Spanish again with each visit and she’s finding someone to use her Spanish with and I think in the process, we’re both unexpectedly finding a friendship.
After about a week of working on the book, and two more trips to her house with worries and suggestions, I brought over the final copy via my computer for her to look at before ordering. She was thrilled! Well… mostly. There was one painting that she wanted to tweak just a little bit and then I could come back the next day and get it. Or, I suggested, the tweaks could be done as I waited then I could carry the wet painting home in my car, oh so carefully. She hesitated and said she’d do it now and I could take it home with me and in the meantime, would I like to go eat pizza with her tonite at a pizza place nearby that she liked? My first thought was to say no, I have to go, but then thoughts of her sitting by herself at a trendy and likely busy pizza parlor came to mind and I graciously said yes, of course yes. It was over pizza that I heard about Marta and her seven children and both her happiness with being here and the longing for her Ecuador. I am both blessed and honored to be a very small part of the celebration of this dear woman’s 80th birthday.
The warmth of such an interesting and delightful evening quickly faded when Marta emailed me later that night and said she wanted all of the text size changed as larger text is just nicer to read. She didn’t seem to understand that the actual book would be larger than my computer screen but that didn’t matter. She wanted it changed and needed me to come by her house, at my convenience, of course, ASAP, so she could explain. She ended the email telling me that because she had shared her history and her family’s history with me, “we are now friends.”
Marta (on the right) with her childhood friend and me in Cuenca, Ecuador
And so, with my new friend directing me, I continue to work on this project, that in reality was completed a while ago, while realizing that this is less about the book and far more about what is going on between Marta and I during the process of making this book. These really are the moments, wrapped up in a package so cleverly disguised that it hardly seemed like a gift, let alone one I’d want to unwrap. It has been the unexpected treasure of friendship inside wrappings of frustration and annoyance, that I never saw coming. For that, I am grateful and say gracias, muchas gracias mi amiga, Marta.
Everyday, since January 1, 2014, I have been taking a photo and digitally putting it into a self-publish book. Some days I’ve had a plethora of photos to choose from and other days I’ve struggled to come up with the one photo that will represent the day, more or less. I’ve given each photo a date, the number of days into the year it represents and a caption. By the way, today is day #146…
It’s been an interesting journey that has brought on challenges that I had not expected, which surprisingly has NOT been to remember to take a photo and digitally upload it into the book on a daily basis. Initially, I tried to outdo myself daily, each photo upping the last, most of them scenic, none of them boring, but 146 days into the project, I know now that the days that I think I’ve got nothing, are the days that I find myself slowing down, listening and simply observing and I’m always surprised with what I end up with. They are usually the days with the photos I’m most proud of.
The process has given me a different lens to view my day through (pun intended)… and through that lens, I’m finding the beauty in places and situations that I never noticed before….