My personal tribute to veterans everywhere, beginning with my father, veteran of WWII.
This is a small portion of the flag I fly on appropriate holidays, and sometimes when I just feel like it. It’s the flag that was presented to my mother at my father’s funeral, he a veteran of the U.S. Army and deserving of the honors at the death of a veteran. He’d been cremated so there was no coffin to drape, no taps or honor guard, just a few of his Army buddies were there but in the end it was the funeral director who handed the folded flag to my mother, not quite protocol, but the recognition was appreciated.
My mother gave the flag to me; she had a nylon flag that had flown over the White House that our congressperson had given her and she found it much easier to raise on the flag pole. I could see why—this flag is about 5′ x 8′ and sewn from heavy cotton bunting, and once when it was caught in a heavy downpour it was so heavy it nearly knocked me down as I pulled it from the pole and tried to pile it in my arms; I don’t think anyone would find it an act of disrespect to have tossed it in the dryer, and it did not shrink one inch.
Extremely well-made, and in the USA no less, the individual strips of fabric that make the stripes are stitched together with flat felled seams that fold in all the edges and stitch two seams across the bulk to ensure strength, and this stitched in the same way to the blue field for the stars. Each star is thickly embroidered onto the blue field, raised above the surface on both sides with the thickness of the threads. The hems, binding and grommets are likewise quality materials and stitching. Of all the other fabric items I handle every day, this flag always feels very different to me as I carefully unfold it and attach it to the special pole I have to ensure it doesn’t touch the ground when hanging. Instead of flapping in the breeze or wind, it waves gracefully as if under its own strength. It has a dignity all its own. I am glad I have this flag and will always take care of it in honor of my father who served in World War II.
Alfons J Kazmarski, Army of the United States Technician Fourth Grade, 115th Quartermaster Bakery Company, Asiatic Pacific Theater, India, enlisted 11 May 1942, discharged 21 Mar 1946.
Like so many others in this huge group of baby boomers, my father served in WWII, and like so many who served returned with untold stories and unhealed wounds; it’s actually presumed that the Parkinson Syndrome that shortened his life took hold of him as he fought the fevers of some tropical illness when serving in India.
But because of his service and my mother’s memories, I always felt like WWII was my war too, for better and for worse. But the war was not done when they came home. It changed their lives, and so it changed ours too. At their return, by their industry, the United States was transformed from an impoverished nation of immigrants to a wealthy and productive nation of members who would all win their place at the table, though for some the struggle continues.
And possibly because of the service of my parents’ generation I am a grateful daughter, and I fly my father’s flag with pride, especially on Veteran’s Day.
I’ve been organizing my art exhibits on my gallery and merchandise website Portraits of Animals. I’d intended to also include my November 2017 poetry reading “Walking Around” but couldn’t decided exactly where to add it, on that site or this one. I’d also wanted to record myself during the reading so that I could share that too; failing that I wanted to record the poems and essays.
Well, I didn’t get to either one. But for the anniversary of the event I thought I’d at least share the art and words I shared on that night. The theme was the things I found just walking around in my familiar space; inspiration can be found anywhere. Also, so close to Veterans Day and Carnegie having delivered up so many residents to conflicts over the years, part of the theme was dedicated to veterans and where they are found just in everyday life.
Below is the introductory information for the event, and below that is a link to the exhibit Portraits of Animals including all the essays and poetry and galleries of images. Please enjoy reading through it.
Walking Around: Poetry, Photos and Paintings of Carnegie
November 2, 2017, 7:00 p.m.
Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall
Observations and findings from walks around Carnegie, finding insights in everyday things and events, the extraordinary in the ordinary, including a poetry reading and exhibit of photos and paintings.
It’s been a while since I had the chance to have a poetry reading, and I’ve always included my art and photography because all those inspirations come from the same place. The most amazing things and thoughts can be found just walking around in your own back yard, literally or metaphorically. I’m expanding the boundaries beyond Carnegie’s outline to the surrounding communities and areas along Chartiers Creek.
I read a couple of essays and a dozen poems, each one with a narrative about it, in a room where I’d hung art and photographs inspired by those walks. The poems I read were inspired by my neighborhood and neighborhoods around me, events, and details of daily life in a small town, and the thoughts I’m led to from that starting point. The essays and poetry below are followed by galleries of the artwork and photos, below…
I always enjoy visiting the printer where this poster is on the wall at the front desk because I love reading each section of this poster as a reminder. It’s business-oriented, about working with customers, but the lesson of listening itself is universal and applies to us all in whatever circumstance we come face to face.
We humans come equipped with this magical ability to take our experiences and turn them into words to share with each other the important things we take away from daily life. Because each of us is unique, we all have different things to say, and of course we will rarely fully agree with one another.
Each of us has something to say which is important to us, and we say it so that others hear and understand how we feel. But if we don’t actually listen to each other, how does anyone know who we are, or what we need? We drive each other farther apart by not actually hearing each other. We just end up yelling at each other, and insulting each others’ ideas. Insults are not derived from listening, and they certainly don’t foster discussion.
We expect others to listen to us, but what if we don’t give the time and attention to what others have to say? You may find what another says false, despicable, even criminal, but it’s their view just as strongly held as yours. If you want to counter another’s view, if you want to try to change their mind, how do you create a convincing reply, start a discussion, find a reasonable middle ground, if you don’t actually listen to the words they use to describe how they feel?
And even still, the best we can chiefly accomplish is a compromise. Getting one’s way, forcing your views on someone, may seem like a win, but it’s a superficial win. But humans also have another remarkable ability: negotiation. Discussing the details with full understanding and finding areas where we can give and receive to find a middle ground is truly the winning position.
I have some strongly-held views and opinions, there are some lines I will not cross, and there are also views and actions which I feel are so wrong they need to be stopped. Finding that middle ground is only achieved by listening.
I paddled the canoe around the bend,
and was faced with the effortless beauty of the panorama,
the trees in all their colors, the sky with changing clouds,
the water moving and reflecting simultaneously,
all perfectly arranged,
I realized that my creations are but raindrops in a puddle,
wisps of cloud that change and dissipate
my solitary accomplishments borne of great effort
would never equal this one solitary scene
or the one I would have seen the day before or the day after
evolved on its own, no one to frame it and display it and promote it
as it quietly exists through the day.
We humans sometimes get to think everything happens because of us
but these trees and grasses and hills arrange themselves
and create great beauty effortlessly
simply in the process of their everyday existence.
So I did a painting that can never match the original
so that I may remember my place.
Sloping hills blaze with autumn color at a rocky, rippled bend in Chartiers Creek, yet on the horizon deep gray-purple clouds hover; although the day was sunny I remember it being distinctly chilly with a sharpness to the breeze, especially on the water in a canoe, and winter is literally on the horizon.
For two reasons the scene was reminiscent and inspiring: first, that I rounded the bend to see this natural splendor in all its detail, brilliant color, fluttering leaves, rippling water, changing clouds, happening all on its own with no help from me or any other human ; and, second, it was an example of that “change of season” with the gray-purple clouds of winter arriving on the horizon, two seasons blending into one another. I needed to share this image, and it was so moving that the inspiration also became a poem, and the title for my third annual poetry reading and art show at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Change of Season.
And again, no, I couldn’t paint while paddling, and my little digital photos didn’t do the scene justice, yet other than wading down the creek and setting up an easel in the middle of the water, there was no other way of painting this. To take the scene from the tiny digital image to the full-size painting took a good bit of memory and visualization; it’s a good thing I’m very familiar with scenes like this. I don’t often work at this level of detail, especially at this size, but in order to share what I took from this moment, I found myself worker ever deeper into the minutiae of the scene so that others, viewing it, could hear the light lapping of the water, watch the clouds move, feel the warm sun on your back but the chill wind on your face, and the glory of those tree-covered hills.
You really have to get into “the zone”, though, while working at that level on the painting, letting go of your space, yourself, to get back to that moment and all your perceptions from that time. I still go there when I look at the original, which was purchased and made a gift to Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall and hangs in the Reception Hall.
In the mini-ecosystem in the valley along Chartiers Creek, the color show begins a little later and the trees keep their leaves a little longer, perhaps because of the extra humidity along the water through the dry heat of late summer. The diversity of species is generally much greater in both the trees and the understory brush and grasses, which encourages a greater diversity of foliage color and shape. When the show begins, it’s absolutely breathtaking and it gets more stunning every day until a November storm rips the last of the leaves away.
This area of the creek is approximately below Rosslyn Farms, between Carnegie and Crafton. In this area, the creek’s channel was widened and dredged deeper and the banks made more sloping through the Fulton Flood Control Project, allowing all the runoff from upstream communities to flow ever faster down the valley to the Ohio River without overflowing the banks or backing up into Carnegie, as had happened prior to the Project. Also, many of the trees were removed from the banks up to a certain level. Still, even with that modification, the channel remains beautiful and inviting in this lovely and unseen area of Chartiers Creek.
I actually wrote a poem about the scene before I did the painting, so inspiring was that particular moment.
Twenty-eight years ago today I signed the mortgage on my home and got the keys, came back and stood on the front porch completely surprised it had actually happened.
Single women in their late 20s didn’t buy houses too often in the late 80s, especially not fixer-uppers. I was regularly asked where my husband was, what he thought and why I didn’t wait until I had one. I was also told, literally told, that I didn’t want a “house” because I was a girl and it would be so much easier to buy a condo because then there would be someone around to fix things and take care of the yardwork–I might not know what I was getting into and I should be careful.
I chose this house specifically because it was a fixer-upper, so I could turn it into what I wanted without having to pay for a bunch of things other people thought were improvements, like new wall-to-wall carpet and fresh paint. I never cared for wall-to-wall, and I can apply my own paint, thank you. And I’d been taking care of my parent’s house for years, inside and out, and rented a house for five years where I learned all the ways an old house needs love.
That house was due to be updated by the owners and I had to move out. Rent was so expensive in the late 80s and felt like a waste of money when a mortgage payment was less for more. I also had six rescued cats and wasn’t about to give up any of them for anyone’s lease. In fact, I wasn’t going to have anyone tell me how I was going to live. I’d paid my way through college, always worked full-time plus at least one part-time job, paid off my parents’ mortgage, paid to put my father in a nursing home, bought my mother a car, I didn’t feel I could continue with my master’s and any other degrees so I was at least going to have a house.
I had a savings and was easily approved for an FHA loan for no more than $30,000, and after looking for several months and finding a realtor who actually helped me look for the house I wanted instead of one more expensive because “you’ll be making more in a few years” or “you’ll get married and be able to sell”, I looked at just a few serious, good houses and found this one, and knew this was it. The house was small, but I walked into the back yard with all the trees around and the deck and felt right at home. The seller just didn’t know it yet, and still wanted $39,000.
A few weeks after I’d seen it I drove my mother to see it. As we drove up the street I saw fire trucks and people milling in the street. “I think that’s near the house,” I said. “In fact, it’s at the house!” The owners had moved out nearly a year before and the tile in the basement was picking up so the realtor had advised removing it and painting the floor because it looked bad and wasn’t going to stick anyway. The man attempted lifting up the glue with gasoline, with the hot water tank still lit. He survived with serious burns to his hands, and the house survived too. He quickly agreed to my offer. I spent some time with FHA issues like lead paint and leaks, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. The basement was professionally cleaned and repaired and there was a brand new coat of plain white paint on the walls for the smoke damage.
I spent my first year or so undoing some of his other good ideas, like the gray smoke warped and stained wallboard and amber light fixtures in the bathroom, and the metal casement windows that had been painted and sealed shut with homemade plexiglas storm windows that completely covered the window openings and bolted to the wall. Between that and the unkempt back yard, I knew these people seriously did not want the outdoors to come in. I tossed open all the windows and doors when I’d been working on the FHA compliance and let the air inside.
I have heard by anecdote and small bits of proof that this little place was originally a two-story addition to another house on the corner. My realtor had told me this, a few older neighbors, and a customer service rep a the electric company who had grown up across the fence from this house. He was very young when they built the foundation and took the two-story sunroom off the wood-sided mansard-roofed Victorian on the corner and set this house on it; there is a two-story porch there now that is exactly the size of my house. My house is 15 ft x 22 ft, the joists run the short way as if they had attached to a house, it was clearly two rooms up and down because the walls don’t match upstairs and downstairs, and the pipes go up to the bathroom in a square bump-out in the corner of the kitchen. The roof does not have a soffit and fascia. The back wall sags a bit, and I presume that was the side attached to the house.
It was intended to be a starter home, inexpensive, easy for me to do a few repairs myself to save money, then pay for a few updates then sell it for a larger house where I could stay and run my business and do my artwork. I guessed I’d be here about 10 years. But the stress on my hands from all the fixups I did early on worsened the tendonitis and other damage in my hands from setting type and working on computers, and I decided to turn toward my art career instead.
My mortgage was sold through three corrupt mortgage companies from 2003 to 2009 and it’s been difficult to keep up with their bizarre requirements. I’ve been involved in a class action suit as well as gone to court and had several modifications. Finally in 2014 I was moved to a very nice mortgage company who lowered my payment as soon as possible, then offered me a settlement after reviewing my history with the other companies, and I managed to pay it off two years go.
It’s my little place. It’s a little small for all the things I want to do, but some days the world is too small for all the things I want to do. I’m happy to celebrate. It’s one of my early accomplishments, and it’s an anniversary I always remember, just by enjoying my home. I took a hiatus from improvements when I decided to focus on starting my business, and that was extended by caring for my mother for a decade. Now it’s time to get back to business.
Here’s the first photo I saw, and what my house looked like the year before I bought it. We’ve come a long way.
Thank you, whoever was the person who made the autumn decoration I purchased in the Family Dollar this week. Out of all the piles of things scrambled in displays as I headed for a roll of tape it completely caught my eye through the blinders I usually wear in stores like that, made me stop and focus on this display of little sprays of autumn leaves and ornaments, and I immediately wanted one.
I don’t usually purchase this sort of imported item, made cheaply and sold for next to nothing. I don’t like to support that cycle of enslaving people in foreign countries to fulfill our need to have stuff, not that my lack of purchasing on its own really makes a whole lot of difference, but I don’t want to give any energy to it, and don’t want it in my life, and I want you to have a job that keeps your health and safety in mind and pays you a living wage. I rarely shop in these types of discount stores too because they make this cycle of cheapness and enslavement necessary, and don’t necessarily treat their own employees very well. I do my best to protest this cycle financially, socially and politically. But for just a quick roll of tape on a busy day, one place is about the same as any other.
But perhaps I was meant to be charmed by your skill and talent in this little bit of decoration, as it truly is lovely and well made. I make things myself so I know what goes into them, and most often with these decorative items the workmanship is barely sufficient for the thing to hold together until you get it home, let alone through a season to be kept for future years as used to be a tradition. Now we anticipate that we’ll throw something away and get a new thing the next time we need one, filling up landfills with cheap stuff, and if it doesn’t last the season, well, we didn’t waste more than a dollar and change.
Your skills, though only Impressed me after the little things caught my eye, and of all the stuff I passed walking quickly through the aisles your creation made me stop, look, visualize, and consider making something similar. I picked up each one of the dozen little flower picks and decided, of all things, that I would buy two and add them to the autumn entrance to my home I’d been imagining in place of the ribbon I’d been considering shopping for.
I juggled all 12 for several minutes and chose two with bright autumn yellow and rich harvest orange and carefully paid for them along with my tape and carried them home. I wrapped the wire stems, carefully wrapped in dark green floral tape, around the top rung of the salvaged wooden chairs I decorate for the seasons, adding flowers as they mature or I find them in my favorite greenhouses, but I haven’t done much, sometimes nothing at all, for the past few years. Your ornaments gave me the incentive to follow through with putting my own small mums from cuttings into pots and fluffing up all the plants I keep from year to year, tired now after the summer, and visiting the family-owned businesses to find their own hand-grown bargain chrysanthemums, the ones they’d started from cuttings and fed and watered and trimmed all summer to be perfectly shaped and covered with buds that would bloom over several weeks.
Mostly, though, I was impressed with your talent at composing colors and shapes and textures with this limited choice of inexpensive materials, to make something beautiful. I know it’s unlikely you have the opportunity to use your talent as your career, or even to make other beautiful things when you choose to do so, as I do. I doubt you have the opportunities and choices I do, but I wish you did. I can’t imagine myself in your place, the frustration and unhappiness I would feel. I have given up many things to serve my creative efforts but that is my choice and my life is not deprived; you have had these conveniences and niceties taken away from you, or simply never had them.
So I don’t think my purchase has changed your life, but I hope the energy I send you in truly admiring your work will put some ripples of change into the universe. I think of you each time I look at these little ornaments, and I send love and support your way, that maybe someday you will have the opportunities I have, and your life will be different, and you will be able to fulfill your potential as an artist.
Bright yellow sunflowers are for sale in the grocery store.
A tiny woman bent over her cart can’t reach the cheese she wants on a shelf above her head. A middle-aged man in shorts and a tank top holding a loaf of bread veers off his course, easily reaches to get it, drops it in her cart, they smile and he continues on.
The clerk and her customer are trying out each others’ native languages mixed with their own and giggling at the outcome.
A very pregnant woman in a sari tries to lean over her cart to organize her groceries, her thick dark braid bound around with glittering gems; her daughter clutches the wire edge and her liquid brown eyes look up to search her mother’s face.
A young man tells the person behind him in line he’s happy with the toaster, he can afford it and carry it home to his new apartment on his bike.
An older man in shorts and a plaid shirt is assuring another man similarly dressed that if his wife sent him for naan, this was the stuff.
One late summer morning in the grocery store I was surrounded by peace and love, nothing historic, just the everyday interactions among strangers that are so beautiful. The photo of the sunflowers is the very one that I took that morning while standing in line, which inspired me to record it all and write a poem.
I read this at my poetry reading, “Walking Around”, last November. I just realized I never shared the entire reading anywhere, so I’ll hope to do that for the anniversary this year.
I thought Cookie
was being stubborn, contrary,
when she wandered away
into the overgrown garden
sauntering at her own pace beneath the stems
of fallen burdock and grasses
and through the forest
of tall goldenrod and asters
where I couldn’t follow.
She sat calmly among grasses and blooming beggar’s ticks
and when I arrived at her side, irritated,
skirt prickly with stickseed and burdock pods,
I reached to pick her up, bad girl,
and turned to see what she studied,
and saw my garden awash with sun
majestic tufts of goldenrod backlit by beams of light
humming with hungry bees finding
the sweetest autumn nectar for their final meal,
white poofs of sow thistle holy in their radiance,
and the first calico asters, my favorite
dappled with passing drops of sun
against the backdrop of dark silhouetted trees;
so much to love in a sweet autumn morning
so much I would have missed.
Cookie gave me many gifts in all the years she was with me, including the visual discoveries from this particular morning in September 2011 which led to a poem and insights beyond what I wrote that morning, and remembering that morning and other mornings I came to the end of a stage.
I have also recorded this poem with a slideshow of photos. You can listen and watch it here or on YouTube.
Memories From That Time
My sincerest wish as I remember Cookie is that all of you who read what I write, each of you who has a relationship with one or more animals, that your relationship is as deep, complex, satisfying and, if your species or breed allows it, as long-lasting as was Cookie’s and mine. I could never feel that I have any regrets, that Cookie and I “missed” anything but we lived as full a life as a human and cat could do. It depends on many things often beyond our control, but I wish those things for everyone who loves an animal, now and always.
I first published this poem on September 26, 2011, right after I wrote it, inspired by a morning much like today, and these September mornings with Mimi and her explorations have reminded me very much of those mornings with Cookie, when we knew her time was finite. We had been together at that time 19 years, and it was a wonderful 19 years of memories.
Shortly after I lost Cookie in February 2012, to honor her I followed through with my idea of recording some of my poems along with slideshows of photos and art. Below is the text I had included with this poem when I first published it with the recorded version.
The last weeks have been working through a series of “never agains” as I remember and let go of the unique things Cookie did—stepping into a warmed pasta bowl while my back was turned; quietly climbing her way into any spot in the house despite her disabilities; loving every cat who was in the house when she came here and all the ones who came after; greeting everyone at the door with sincerity and making them feel welcome.
I have also been resuming everyday activities I had been intentionally avoiding somewhat or completely, those that Cookie and I enjoyed together and I now do alone or without her—sitting in the kitchen after dinner to crochet or read with all the cats around, where you see so many photos of her interacting with my crochet materials; visiting the deck and back yard each morning regardless of weather to feed the birds, drink coffee and take photos; and gardening, from starting the seeds in the basement to getting dirty out in the soil.
Much to the joy of the household, I’ve begun to take a break after dinner again so everyone can walk on me and test my crochet projects. Until yesterday I totally avoided my deck except for the first few days in February when Mimi joined me, only filling the feeder outside my office window, and yesterday I spent my first full afternoon in the yard without a cat in many years.
And this morning I sat outside on my swing with coffee and crochet, a Sunday morning ritual whenever the weather was nice enough (nice to me and Cookie was anything above 40 degrees and no heavy precipitation) as I remembered all the years she had gone off to explore the yard then come back to climb up on my lap and have a nap, just Cookie and me doing things we enjoyed and each other, best friends.
I’ve been sharing daily photos and stories from previous years because so many more readers have found The Creative Cat in the past few months. We see a lot of Cookie from last year, including a number of photo essays of her adventures outdoors. I photographed her excessively all through the years, but the extra postings were intentional. I knew what was coming. I knew because Cookie knew, and let me know.
From January 2011, around the time my mother died when Cookie grew weak and lethargic for no apparent reason, we presumed it was because she, as usual, was carrying part of my stress. She recovered, but I saw in her expression a realization. She kept slipping back every month or so, losing a little ground in between and even having a few close calls with her kidneys, and we decided we’d treat every symptom we could and enjoy the rest of our time together.
She stole her last month, January 2012, right out of the jaws of death as after Christmas 2011 she was again lethargic and anorexic, and worst of all suddenly lost use of her hind legs, her body temperature kept dropping and her heart rate increased; her blood tests were frightening. That truly was to be the time but she fought it off, a little adjustment in medications helped but mostly it was her working very hard for just a little more time. We saw her in January looking and acting like Cookie, but I saw she had little control of her hind legs, her body temperature remained depressed, she had increasing difficulty breathing as her heart grew more enlarged and her heart rate slowly increased.
Cookie needed a little help getting started each day, but once she was going she was Cookie again, until that last day. The previous afternoon, warm for February 1, we went outside, a treat since that was usually reserved for mornings only during the week, perhaps we knew. She had no interest in exploring but got herself onto my lap as soon as I sat down, curled up and purred. We went in with the memory of that warm sunny afternoon. The next morning I had to carry her outside for the first time in her life, and as I sat with her on my lap she did not revive as usual, ready to explore even just a little, just remained curled on my lap purring.
Though it was still winter the birds were singing their spring songs, our friends the chickadees and cardinals and wrens who we’d fed and watched all winter. During a brief silence a song sparrow landed in the forsythia just a few feet away from us and sang its familiar three-note-then-warble melody several times, and I knew it was singing to us, and I knew what it meant. It was February 2, that magical cross-quarter day when winter finally begins to turn into spring, a time of transition where death falls away and new life begins. They were singing her home.
I am so grateful that I could just drop everything that day and spend her last hours with her, monitoring her condition and managing her discomfort with the advice and materials given to me by my veterinarian, sitting with her on my lap in the studio, our favorite room, ready to call my veterinarian or run her to the emergency clinic at a moment’s notice if the need arose. In the course of that last month there were many things I wanted to do for her but simply could not afford and tried not to be regretful in those last hours, thinking they would have made any difference or bought any more time; they were superfluous in her condition, and likely would only have made me feel better, not Cookie. What she wanted was me, and that I could give to her.
At 3:00 the next morning, February 3, lying next to me on the floor with all the other cats around, she opened her eyes and found my face, put her paw on my hand and held my gaze for several seconds, comforting me, thanking me and saying goodbye; she stopped breathing about an hour later.
Always with us
Loss is never made easier or less painful by any amount of experience or knowledge, but the long, slow goodbye of that last year was sweeter than words can describe. Relationships like Cookie’s and mine are rare but we who have experienced them know they never end, not even with death. Cookie has visited me in spirit, but she is always with me as well, just as she was for 19 happy years.
For two years I maintained a shop room in Carnegie Antiques owned by my friend Judi Stadler, and Cookie was my shop cat there. The shop was difficult to manage with other things at the time, and I was holding on to my shop in the last few months because of my memories there with Cookie while she was too ill to go with me, and then after she had died. On the day, at the moment, when, I regretfully and emotionally decided to close my shop and take it all home, the back door of the room lightly blew open and I felt Cookie enter, could see her hobbled little gait as she walked a circle around my feet, one of her lifetime habits, and her tilted face looking up at me half orange and half black, her green eyes with gold flecks; she was with me as I walked all around the building remembering all the places I’d seen and photographed her in the times she’d been there with me. As always, she appeared at just the right moment with her comforting and practical manner. I should only hope to meet a human with half as much wisdom and willing compassion as that little tortie cat.
We haven’t seen the last of Cookie. She will still show up in new postings of prior daily photos, and I’ve had a few paintings of or including her that I’ve been planning for a while. (And it’s true, I still feature her photos both old and ones I’ve since found in my archives, and I’ve created new merchandise with her images.)
And the passing of an animal companion like Cookie has always meant for me the coming of a time of transition and personal growth. Cookie led me to the door and opened it, it’s up to me to walk through and do something when I get there.
In the misty habit of a rainy afternoon
a single, ponderous drop of rainwater hangs tenuously from the curved tip of a leaf
holding within it the world turned upside down
and a moment later falls into eternity.
In my life as a commercial artist I’ve worked hard to find customers whose work I support and believe in. One of my happiest finds has been my own public library, Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie PA. This is the one I’ve been going to all my life, and my mother and her generation before me; there are even deeper connections as well. In 2016 the executive director who also became a good friend, Maggie Forbes, asked me to write up the story with a liberal spread of some of the many, many photos I’ve taken of the place for one of the newsletters we put together.
September is “Love Your Library Month”, but any month of the year is a good time to love your library.
Fine artist, poet, photographer, graphic designer and Carnegie resident Bernadette Kazmarski has been the ACFL&MH’s “secret weapon” as her artistry has helped tell and document the Library & Music Hall’s story over the last ten years…though her love affair with the ACFL&MH began much earlier.
Though some of my earliest memories are of bi-weekly visits to the Library with my parents, my relationship with the Library reaches back to before I was born. My mother and her brothers and sister attended Carnegie High School; the connection between the Library & Music Hall and students from the high school at the bottom of the hill was fond and deep. At family gatherings the siblings would exchange stories of stopping at the Library after school to study, and the fear of turning a page too loudly and receiving the stern glare of the librarian. My mother often mentioned how happy she was to sing in the chorus of high school musicals that were performed in the Music Hall, and commencement ceremonies were staged in the Music Hall as well.
But I’ll take a step even farther back. My mother’s parents emigrated here in 1912 as very young teenagers. Both were orphans, and both were illiterate in their native language, Ukrainian, and knew no English. Relatives who were here had already found them work and taught them enough English to get started. My grandmother cleaned houses and my grandfather worked at Union Electric Steel and learned to speak English well enough, though not to read and write. But during the Depression their scholarly daughter, my mother’s older sister, taught them to read in the Reading Room of the Library, using newspapers and books that no one could afford to have at home. Their experience confirmed Andrew Carnegie’s vision of the public library giving the working class opportunity for advancement. My grandfather became a shift manager at Union Electric Steel.
When I graduated from college in 1983 I found an apartment two doors down from the Library, and began visiting all over again after a four-year hiatus. I found books in the collection to refine some fine art and crafting interests that have become part of my professional life.
I also bought my first camera in 1983. One of my first subjects was Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall and views around Carnegie. I was practicing with black and white film and the ACFL&MH’s massive, elegant building surrounded by tall trees was a feast for my eyes. I read every book on photography I could find in the stacks. I also began wandering into as many rooms as I could gain access to, peeking into the darkness of the Music Hall, imagining myself on the stage and remembering my mother’s stories.
As the years passed and I developed as a visual artist, I discovered recorded books, listening to stories as I worked. I also discovered Stage 62’s performances in the Music Hall. What a thrill to have a theater within walking distance of my home!
In 2001, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and was housebound. I remembered her love of reading, now lost to cataracts and macular degeneration, and introduced her to recorded books as well. Later I brought her to the Music Hall to enjoy opera performances in new comfortable seats. She and I remembered the sad days of the ACFL&MH’s decline. When she died in 2011 I asked family and friends to donate to the Library & Music Hall in order to “purchase” one of the new seats in the Music Hall with her name on it.
New leadership arrived at ACFL&MH in 2003. Renovations began and I became as involved as I could be, all the while wishing I could add the Library & Music Hall to my list of clients for my commercial art business as well as all the other things I enjoyed about the place. In 2006 Executive Director Maggie Forbes asked me to design the ACFL&MH newsletter. As events and activities at the place became more frequent I undertook more and more design projects to promote the events and began photographing them on my own as well. These projects give me great satisfaction.
In February 2006 I held an annual solo exhibit featuring wildlife and nature artwork in the Reception Hall (now the Lincoln Gallery). In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled “Stories From Home/First Person”, submissions about the place we feel most familiar. Maggie invited me to read those poems and others and display my art as well. February 2007 was the first of five annual poetry reading/art exhibits at ACFL&MH.
The Library has always been part of my life, but even today looking at the shelves of books interspersed with the tall Corinthian-topped columns, I can remember feeling very small standing in the quiet of the big room and thinking it was the grandest place that could ever exist.