Wars are Won and Lost but the Greatest Battles are Fought Within the Heart

Standard

“Americana” 16×20 acrylic on canvas

When I was a child, I’d sneak a flashlight into bed and read under the covers. Somehow my mother always knew what I was up to; but before she did, I had many an adventure.

I’ve always loved to read. I worry that today people are so plugged into their smart phones, games, and movies that they miss out on the thrill of imagination and the deep emotional connection only a good book can bring.

Of course, people once said that eventually libraries would be obsolete and that children would forget how to read. Then along came Kindle, and now probably more people read than ever before because they have a lightweight device they can slip into a backpack or purse, take to the beach, or read on a plane. And what of the libraries? They adapted.

“An Open Book” mixed media on canvas (SOLD) Prints available

Libraries today are centered on the new technology to make research and information gathering even better. They’ve transferred the old video movies onto DVDs or online experiences. And fortunately, the patrons are there in throngs.

The regional library I go to is always busy from morning until night. The library also sponsors early voting and other community events from art shows to guest speakers continuing their reputation as the prime learning and information center in the area.

Books can take us out of our comfort zone. They may jar us, rattle our cage, and challenge our perceptions. Books may actually change us. Good literature can enlarge our souls and make us better people. In the same vein, negative or poorly written books not only waste our time, but may make us less than what we can be because they appeal to our baser nature.

“Victims of war” — Innocent children.

I just finished reading a beautifully written book on my Kindle called “All the Light we cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. It falls into my favorite genre, historical fiction; but it is far different from any war story I have ever read. The exquisite character revelations and subtleties are sublime. I could hardly put the book down and I hated coming to end. I became so close to the lead characters that I laughed and cried with them. I felt their fear and their pain.

images (2)

In my lifetime, World War II slashed an ugly gash across the world, although, I was too young to remember it. My father worked at the shipyards in Bremerton, Washington, repairing ships that had been damaged. He was a welder. He was a giant. I rode astride his shoulders and felt that he could conquer the earth.

My mother washed our bedding and clothes in the bath tub by hand because they couldn’t afford a wash machine. She hung our clothes on a wooden rack in our living room around a hot oil stove.

After a bath, my older sister and I would crowd around the stove in the middle of winter to warm ourselves. More than once, I dropped my towel and burned my bottom bending over to pick it up.

A fox hole and a gun, his only protection.

A fox hole and a gun, his only protection.

We shopped in a warehouse that had sawdust on its floors. We used our ration book to decide what we could buy and then tried to make our purchases last through the month. Remembering how it was and what we experienced could still not compare to the people and countries that were occupied during World War II.

You think you know what poverty is try boiling potato peelings in a pot without meat and squeezing the last bit of nutrition from them as your meal for the day. And when fresh water is not available, try drinking from the saved water in your bath tub or a few pails set aside for that purpose.

Survivors of German Prison Camps after World War II ended.

Survivors of German Prison Camps after World War II ended.

When a sweet orange or a loaf of bread comes your way, you are filled with tears of gratitude. Most of us never experience real hunger. There is always someone somewhere who will provide for our needs. Not so during war when imprisonment, danger and scarcity makes it almost impossible to conduct business or to plant or harvest.

images

Even in war times we have a choice to act with integrity and gratitude. There are always those who use the chaos to their advantage. They take from those who have and they hurt the weak and vulnerable. May that never be said of you. If your character and who you are sink to the lowest levels of human behavior, then the real war has already been lost.

My dancing heart; ravings from a ballet wanna’ be

Image
dainty-diva-carol-allen-anfinsen

Dainty Diva, mixed media on canvas

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to become a dancer. My friends took dancing lessons. Why not me?  After begging and pleading with my mother, she finally consented.

I was ecstatic until I climbed the steps of Ms. Movita’s back porch, opened the door and descended down the steep wooden steps into her basement studio. Fear and insecurity welled up inside and turned me into a speechless vegetable.

I’d been here before. I’d watched my friends do pas de bourrees’ and plies’. I knew the names of all their moves from First to Fifth Position, Sautes’ and everything else in between.

I watched the first class dance to the beat of Ms. Movita’s piano which she playfully pounded while tapping her gigantic pink ballet slipper up and down in time with the music. If a student had a problem, she’d leap from her seat and demonstrate the proper foot position all while banging on the piano. Her fingers flew over the keys, her head nodding in cadence. She’d repeat this exercise until the student got it right. In her class, no child was left behind.

Ms. Movita’s hair was carrot red and tied in a lump of curls on top. When she sang out commands to her troupe every vibrant part of her was fully engaged. Students whispered behind her back, but on the floor she expected complete obedience. There was no-nonsense or sloughing off in her presence. You either did your best or she asked you to leave.

I waited in the parent seats until it was my turn to join the class. Since I was a beginner, she added me to a group that had been dancing only a few short months. The first 30 minutes were spent on ballet and the next 30 minutes on tap dancing. She had agreed that I could dance in my stocking feet until my mother could purchase the needed shoes. How long was this arrangement to last? I had no idea, but my heart was prepared to dance forever.

When it was my turn to perform, I felt like an over-baked pretzel; stiff and unbending. It had looked so easy for the other girls. They smoothly folded into fifth position and fourth. Would I be able to imitate their perfection?

Every night in our living room, I practiced pointing my toes, doing my plies’ and stretches. My parents applauded while straining their necks over and around me to watch their favorite T.V. programs.

After school, I walked to Ms. Movita’s house so I could watch the other student’s lessons. Her door was always open. If I could hear the piano, I knew a class was in session. I let myself in and quietly took my place on the sidelines. Then I’d go home and practice what I’d seen.

And then tragedy struck. My youngest and dearest uncle Vern was killed in an automobile accident. He had served in World War II and survived Hitler’s rampage only to come home and get killed in an auto accident when someone ran a red light. The irony was overwhelming.

Vern was my father’s brother and the baby of the family. The sorrow and agony suffocated everyone. I cried for days, remembering how he walked into our house singing: “It’s only me from over the sea, I’m Barnacle Bill the Sailor.” He’d lift me up on his shoulders and I thought he was strong and invincible.

After the funeral, things went from bad to worse. A wave of darkness and negativity crept over our household and into the neighborhood. This gloom invaded every aspect of our lives. All of a sudden, my mother had no money for dancing lessons let alone ballet and tap shoes. There was no time for frivolity and play. We wept on the inside even when we weren’t crying outwardly. Part of all of us died that year.

After school, I still visited Ms. Movita’s classes. The twanging piano and the lively students picked up my spirits, but they also saddened me. I realized I would never become a dancer.

One day, Ms. Movita asked me to leave. She said the open back door was only for dancers, and that the chairs were for parents and new students. I was crushed and disappointed. In defiance I danced even more at home. Ms. Movita, my mother couldn’t stop me! No one would stop me from dancing.

Later when I had a family of my own, I was still dancing in the living room. In our culture, dancing was considered frivolous and money for lessons was out of the question. I danced to the music, anyway. I told people it was good exercise and that it helped me stay in shape. When the children were young, they danced in wild abandonment with me. As they grew older, they thought it was silly. They teased me whenever I’d try to dance the latest craze. I’d become “old hat.”

Finally, my dancing shoes were put aside. I vented my creative energies into writing and painting. But I still have a dancing heart.