4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I’ve been busy. You know, busy with that other thing I do besides being a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, blogger (that still feels so weird to type), runner, and an auction volunteer, plus butt wiper (generally not specifically related to auction volunteer, but you never know…) and so on. This other thing is the thing I told my Dad I wanted to do for the rest of my life when I was just five years old.
“When I grow up I want to be an artist,” little Jennie Groeber, age 5, said.
“You’ll starve,” he replied. Which is sweet in its way, but perhaps not what I was hoping for.
So when I can manage it, I’m also an artist, and right now my art is printmaking. (I’m happy to report that my father’s prophecy was for naught by the way. I’m rarely starving.)
My prints will be part of an exhibit next month at a local museum. It’s more of an historical museum than an art museum, old toys and trains, clothing and dolls.
There’s a room in the museum from the 1600’s and if you tour it around Halloween, you’ll carry an electric candle and enter this dark and musty one-room house to find a woman hunched over, or should I say, inside a fireplace, stirring a pot. And as you stand there in the near-darkness, corralling your kids into a dank corner of the room, they explain about the Murphy-style rope bed that folded down each night for the parents with the pallets around their feet for their kids. Next to the kitchen table. Next to the fire. On the dirt floor. Of this one room house. But where’s the toilet?! Exactly.
It puts things in perspective, I tell you.
The show to be hung next month is made up of modern artists influenced by the collection. With my woodcuts of old children’s clothing, it seemed a perfect fit. They saw my work and made connections to their collection of children’s clothing… Except their clothing is from when Little House on the Prairie actually happened, and my clothing is from when Little House on the Prairie actually aired.
So I asked to see some of the pieces that they had in the collection for the sake of authenticity. And I fell in love: with the wee baby armholes, the dresses for boys, the total absence of both pink and blue, the seriousness of these precious garments, all truly lived in, mended and stitched by some other mother’s hand, like my mother did to my clothing, and I do to my children’s clothing. But this mending goes back four generations.
When I asked if the curator knew something more about the provenance of this dress, she could tell me very little except that it was a mid-19th c. garment. The child who wore this dress is gone. Her mother is gone. Her grandchildren might even be gone.
Memento mori, loosely translated, is Latin for “Remember you must die.” It’s a conceit in art often represented through the use of a skull, rotting fruit, a timepiece. Tick, tock, tick, tock.
It’s both a horrible thing and a beautiful thing, this reminder of what is permanent and impermanent. The child, even though we hope she grew to be a grande dame, has passed. And I know nothing of her. I can find nothing about who she grew up to be, what she did, who exactly she loved.
But I am comforted then by the smallest detail. There, right along the armhole of the sleeve, you can see them. The tiny stitches where her mother mended this treasured dress, they remain. That this child was cared for by someone, someone who stitched and coddled and somehow fit two chubby baby limbs into the tiniest armholes imaginable, that is what carries me. The caring and mending, that evanescent love, that is what remains.