Friday, May 09, 2008

La Guitarra - A Song for Mother's Day

Outcasts and girls with ambition
that's what I want to see

- Pink

Margaret was a dear friend of my mother's. A master teacher, and two decades older then Mom, she mentored my mother when she began her career as a science teacher in the early 50's. The two remained friends until Margaret died in the late 60's.

Margaret had married a older man, an widowed officer she met in 1917, during her war service. He went on to do very well in business. They loved to travel together and saw much of the world between the wars. Her husband passed on when he was in his 60's and Margaret was in her early 40's. They had not had children so by midlife, Margaret was a woman of independent means living in a time that glorified young women and dependent mothers. Rather then marry again, or party to no particular end, she choose to go back to work and teach on the East Coast. This is how two strong minded women would meet and form their friendship.

My mother loved to tell me stories about her as I was growing up; how she traveled during summer break and brought back handcrafted art from Africa, India, Asia and Europe to show to her students, (1), how she learned to speak Italian, French and Spanish in her 40's, climbed mountains in her 50's, learn to ride a horse for the first time in her 60's, and continued to do and learn and travel well into her 80's. I met her once when I was 8 when she came out to California where we lived. She brought me a present, a sweater she'd made for my favorite doll out of brightly colored, hand-dyed wool she'd bought from women weavers in Guatemala. I kept it for years. It was in my treasure box, long after the doll itself was gone. It was Margaret who bought us kids our subscription to National Geographic. I would look at those photos of other people and places and dream of traveling the world like Margaret. Growing up as a girl in the 1960's, a time when women were told that their place in the world was at best, horizontal, I found Margaret and my mother to be the inspirations I needed to sing my own heart song, rather then echo the perky, simplistic little ditties the culture wanted us to sing. (2)

So, it was with Margaret in mind that I walked into a music shop yesterday and bought my first guitar. I turn 50 this month. My guitar lessons start that same week. This something I've always wanted to do but never found the time for. That's the beautiful thing about getting older, you can pick wonderful, new adventures to have with each succeeding decade. (3)

I talk to my mother on the phone every day. She is 81. This week she began her new training for her volunteer work in a cardiovascular ward. This spring, she and her lovely dog, Sally, started their training together in a Veteran's hospital. Picture a tall, slender gray haired woman in a pink coat walking a sassy Dalmatian in her matching harness. They grace the halls, greeting the men and women there, and giving them something other then pain and boredom and yet more physical therapy to think about. Well done, Mom and Sally.

Margaret, you never had any children of your body, but you do have children of spirit. Today, I would like to honor those who have a kinship of spirit. Here's to those who inspire us to sing our own song at every stage of life.



This guitar image is by the Mexican artist Hugo Rodriquez. I love the way he paints the same guitar image over and over, but in a different way each time. His work reminds me of the ways in which Monet would revisit the same subject, like haystacks or train stations or ponds, and give us a new vision with each work, each change of light. Such artists remind me to keep looking.

You can read more about his work at the Guitar Festival website.


(1) This was long before multiculturalism was fashionable. Some people thought her art collection was primitive or quaint. She saw it as a way to broaden her student's horizons as well as her own.

(2) Years later, when I heard Pink's song, Stupid Girl, I thought, "Margaret would have loved that". When I watch Mona Lisa Smile, it reminds me of what Margaret and Mom were up against.

(3) In my late 30's and throughout my 40's it was all about building a business and working in community and taking care of my family. I still do many of these things but now I can give more time to music and travel and art. Like many women, I've had several careers and I'm looking at retraining for the next one. I like to work and I've always worked hard. I also feel compelled to give back. I know how lucky I am to have choices.

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