On the Subject of Snowmen

Will and snow coyote

I was looking through my old papers, and found an essay I wrote for a class I took many years ago. It was dated January 11, 1987! Since we’ve been snowed upon, I thought it was timely to post it here. This is a picture of my son (around 3 years old), and our snow coyote sculpture.

I believe that the world has gotten into a terrible rut in the building of snowmen. I mean, how many snowmen have you seen in your life? Oh sure, a few brave souls have built a few truly gorgeous snow-women, but is that really breaking away from tradition into new territory? I think not.

One cold, snowy day, I decided to take a survey of this very important issue. I walked around the neighborhood noticing the subject matter of the local snow artists. Out of the 25 yards I passed, there were 11 snow sculptures. Ten of these were snowmen, and one of them definitely a snow-woman. I decided to go home and do something to correct this deficiency in diversity.

My neighbors were shocked and amazed as my snow coyote took shape. Complete down to the button on the end of his nose. In the next good snow, we made a snow rabbit. The next year, a snow lizard.

The technique used in these sculptures are no different that those used in the common variety of snowmen, although special care must be taken in the formation of the muzzle. Ears, also, can be a problem in some species of snow creature sculpture.

Now that the snow season is upon us, I believe it is time for us to break away from the ordinary, and into higher realms of creation. Evolution, so to speak, into a higher art form. It is time to put those mittens on and be inventive!

Authors note: Although I have since retired from snow driven art, I still adhere to the premise of this piece. 

Ankh Wennefer

Sarcophagus Ankh-Wennefer

 

     The air was damp and cold as a girl and her mother got off the bus and began walking past Stadium High School. The huge castle-like structure fascinated the girl. At ten years old, she was very fanciful, and the building looked nothing like a school to her. In her mind, the battlements and towers spoke of a different era. Knights descended the stairs in complete shining armor. ‘Ladies in Distress’ leaned from the windows. Filmy, wispy fabric blew from the tops of their conical hats. She and her mother always passed this way on their trips to the museum. It was a kind of gateway into the past. The spell had begun to work.

         They reached the corner and turned downhill. From here she could see the waterfront. Heavy fog drifted over the water. The girl scanned the sound for old tall ships, schooners and frigates. She had seen sailboats out there before, and if she squinted just right, she could see the pirates that manned them.

Soon they were passing the huge round stadium. She thought she could hear the lions that must be pacing in their cages. Hungry lions growling, waiting for …

The girl and her mother walked up the marble steps and into the silent museum. They tip-toed past the huge albatross that guarded the steps leading to the most important room: The Egyptian Room. Although it was summer, her teacher awaited. Maybe today he would tell her the answer she longed to hear. Maybe today …

The morning was overcast as we finished things up before driving south to Tacoma. We were meeting Will and Stephanie at the Tacoma Historical Society to celebrate my 59th birthday in a very unique way, with a very unique individual.

Ankh Wennefer was back. Come back out of the oblivion of the storage section, out from under the blanket put there to protect him from the dust which had filtered down since the time I saw him last.

A ten year old girl. Does he remember her? Does he remember the tentative wave from the doorway? “Until next time,” she had whispered. Not knowing of course that the next time would be 49 years later. Was he willing now, to impart the answer to the question she had asked so many times while sitting next to him, just the two of them in the Egyptian Room.

The feeling of anticipation mounted, just as it had all those years ago. Maybe today. Maybe now he would consider me worthy. The student, still eager to learn, returns yet again to sit at his feet.

Will and Stephanie had arrived before us, and we exchanged hugs. Stephanie, still trying to understand her future mother-in-law, stood with gentle patience, having been briefed by my son on why this is such a momentous occasion, such a perfect celebration for my birthday. This birthday. We enter the museum together, a different building, but with the same air of mystery of time gone by. No albatross guards the wide stairway leading to the 5th floor, so we pass unchallenged. Becky would join us later after taking a business call in the car.

The displays were magnificent, each building up to the next in an interesting briefing on life (and death) in Egypt. Beautiful amulets, maps, hieroglyphics and pictures lined the walls and filled the cases. So close, I could almost feel their texture, but safely secured under glass. Ages old, yet once treasured. Once a part of someone’s everyday life, perhaps a method of worshiping the god they held dear. Their rosary. Other pieces possibly were a part of the funerary garments used to send them safely on their journey.

Becky soon caught up with us, and shared this moment with reverence for the stories I have told her. She knew about Ankh.

As we turned a corner in the exhibit, I recognized a face. A reconstruction of what the forensic artists believe he would have looked like. Yes. There was his name under the bust. It was the man I knew. My mummy. I had waited so long to look into his eyes.

I must admit. That moment had the same impact as if I had walked into a room and found George Harrison standing there waiting to greet me. It took a moment for me to walk up to his face. I longed to reach out and touch the cold, white plaster. High cheekbones, wide mouth with full lips, a large, straight nose, eyebrows pulled down into a thoughtful frown. Serious, just as I knew he would be. His eyes were gazing off into the next room, and I knew he was waiting for me.

He was alone when we entered the room. I recognized the sarcophagus that he lay in. Rows of colorful hieroglyphics silently told his story, along with directions for his afterlife. I wonder if my name is listed. If somewhere in these directions, he was instructed to finally give me the answer to my question as a part of his priestly responsibilities in the afterlife. Although the display is housed in a different location, although the sarcophagus is closed and I can no longer see him lying in front of me, I take my place beside him in exactly the same spot that I had always chosen. Waiting for his words, for the answer I have patiently waited. Once again, I whisper the question while no one is looking.

“What is the meaning of life?”

As I wait, I look around me. His life surrounds his death. He had trusted in his belief structure. He had fulfilled the obligations placed on him by his community and his faith. He had lived a full life, right up until the accident that caused his death. He had given of himself to the cause he believed in, expecting as much of himself as he could give. He had believed in honor, and had trusted his god to provide accordingly, expecting an afterlife that would be gentle with him.

No different than me. The words from the Book of the Dead that he had chosen for his last journey covered the wood of the sarcophagus. Were they much different than from a book that I would choose? What have I learned from my life to give me meaning for my journey? Perhaps the same words, written differently, but with the same meaning. Life, interpreted differently by each of us perhaps brings us to the same meaning.

What is the meaning of life?

As I stood quietly beside his glass shroud, I am overwhelmed with the desire to understand. To understand the stars we stand under at night. To understand the look of love in a lover’s eyes. To understand the passage of days: good days passing into bad days passing into good days. To understand the eternal questions of faith, how bad things can happen to good people. To understand the differences and similarities in people within their cultures. To understand where I end and others begin. To understand this place called earth, and our journey here. To understand.

To understand.

I leave the room, with tears threatening. I try not to let the others see just how this has affected me. I try not to show just how painful it is to say goodbye. This may be my last chance to visit him. I hope, somehow, he knows what he has meant to me. That even in death, this priest has reached out to me and has changed me in ways I have only now begun to realize. But I will not say goodbye. Never goodbye.

On my way out of the museum, I stop in his room one last time. I realize I have four words to tell him. I do not tell him, “Until next time,” as I had whispered shyly as a child. The grown woman has another message for him.

“Thank you. I understand.”

The following picture is a CT scan of Ankh.

Rest easy, my friend.

May the afterlife be everything you hoped for.

Ankh Wennefer

The Grassy Knoll

On Memorial Day of 2010, we visited the Grassy Knoll in Dallas TX.

I needed to go there. to see and experience it for myself.

My son asked me to write about that day so many years ago,

How I remember it, how it changed me.

Johnson sworn in 1963

 

NOVEMBER 22, 1963

It was a day that began like any other, but ended like none I have ever lived through before or since. Most people of my generation remember where they were that day, what they were doing, how they found out. It is marked in our minds as a day set aside, one that made no sense at all. And as such, it was a day that defined a lack of control over our lives that has haunted me ever since. All the possibilities, dreams and promises of Camelot came to an end that day. President Kennedy had been assassinated.

I woke that Friday morning, dressed, grabbed my homework and headed for my sixth grade class at DeLong Elementary School. Our teacher had given us an assignment, and we were busy working on it. Between 10:30 and 11:00, someone knocked on the door. The student seated closest to the door performed his assigned task of answering. The secretary of the school asked to speak to Mr. Selforse.

This, in itself, was strange. Usually, if a student was needed in the office, the secretary would announce their name over the loud speaker, and the student would be excused. We were all waiting to hear who was in trouble, when Mr. Selforse let out a loud “Nooooo!” His eyes immediately began to tear up. Everyone’s eyes were riveted on our teacher.

He turned to face the classroom, obviously overwhelmed by emotion. “There has been an assassination attempt on President Kennedy,” he announced. He went directly to the large TV that hung on a bracket from the ceiling. He flipped it on, turned it to a news channel, then returned to his desk. Walter Cronkite announced that President Kennedy had been pronounced dead in a Dallas Hospital. I was told by friends that the teacher cried. I can’t say, because I didn’t look. I kept my eyes on Walter Cronkite, and watched him take his glasses off, and wipe a tear.

My mind could not wrap around what I was hearing. How could he be dead? I had just seen him two months earlier while he was in Tacoma. Who could do this thing? The broadcast droned on, telling and retelling what they knew so far. As the day went on, people who had been at the scene told what they had witnessed. The motorcade made its way down the street. President Kennedy waved at all the people lining the street to greet him. Jacqueline, beautiful as usual, sitting by his side, wearing pink. Shots rang out. The world stopped.

The 11 year old girl, watching TV in her classroom in a small school in Tacoma, WA suddenly realized how fragile the world really was. All the dreams he had talked about just two months earlier in her home town were not to be realized by him. In moments, three shots, and everything was changed. Nothing was as it had been just one hour before.

It was like everything was happening to someone else. I could picture the United States, seen from space, everyone in their places listening as one to the events that were taking place that day. All of us were being thrown into a future that no longer felt safe, or certain. I suddenly felt so much older, like my childhood had been ripped out of my heart. I suddenly became aware that vibrancy did not guarantee continuance. Goodness did not guarantee safety. And that sometimes paths just end. I wished I could go back to the day in September when I had attended his speech at Cheney Stadium. Maybe if we could just start over at that point, something would change, and none of this would happen. But, in life, there are no do-overs. I watched the newscast, watched them tell and retell his last moments, and each time the result was the same.

The only other assassination that I had learned about at school was that of President Lincoln. I began wondering if this was how those of his day had felt when they learned of his death. My mind was busy thinking of any similarities that would help me make sense of the two events. Later, I discovered that others had done the same. There is a feeling of safety in cataloging similar events. It somehow means that things don’t just happen randomly. Forty-seven years later, and I’m still not certain of the validity of that thought. I find that I sleep better though if I believe it’s true.

I don’t remember much about the rest of the day of school, or whether we were let out early. I do remember that by the time I got home, Mom had the news on. It was unusual to find her in the living room, watching TV. I almost always found her in the kitchen when I got home from school. “Did you hear?” she asked me quietly. I could only nod. I sat down next to her, and continued watching. A sixth grader, but I remember holding hands with my mother. We were still there when Dad got home. He had heard about it at work. Mom went in to make dinner, but none of us were really hungry, and we were allowed to eat in the living room where we could continue to listen to the story over and over.

From time to time they would show pictures of Jacqueline. One, in particular, made me cry whenever they showed it. The picture was taken on Air Force One, and showed LBJ, Ladybird, and Jacqueline standing together while he was being sworn in as President. I’ve studied this picture as an adult, and I think what I was reacting to as a child, was how lost she looked at that moment. The full grief had not hit her yet, I believe she still felt numb. But her eyes looked dazed. Like she had just seen what she had feared the most. She still wore the beautiful pink suit, her pink pillbox hat gone. Across the skirt, she wore the blood and brain matter of our President, her lover, and husband. There have been times in my life that I have worn that same look. I understand it now. But at the time it was bewildering to me. I had believed that all adults controlled their lives, and if something bad happened to them it was because of something stupid they had done. Walking into a busy street, carelessness behind the wheel of a car, perhaps buying the wrong train ticket. Now suddenly I realized that things and people could be taken from you by no fault of your own. I felt powerless to stop it.

We stayed up late watching TV, and got up early Saturday morning to continue. Now there were pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man believed to have fired from the Texas School Book Depository. Much of the coverage that day were pictures of the scene and descriptions from those who had witnessed it. A real feeling of unreality began to form. Some of the reports were contradictory. My father picked up on those and couldn’t understand how several people who had witnessed the same event could hear and see different things. Judging from the pandemonium that occurred following the assassination I could understand the panic and confusion the witnesses must have suffered.

Saturday melted into Sunday. The TV became our link to Washington DC. The President’s coffin arrived on a horse drawn caisson to lie in State in the Rotunda of the Capitol, on the same spot President Lincoln had lain almost 100 years before. We watched as people from all over the world, dignitaries, presidents, celebrities all paid their respects to JFK. Jacqueline, dressed all in black with her face covered with a veil, knelt by the casket with Caroline. One by one, people filed past the casket, crying openly, for hours and hours, the entire day.

By evening, a news bulletin was aired. Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot. He died shortly after arriving at the hospital. Now there would be no answer to the question the Nation wanted to hear the most. WHY.

Monday was declared a National Day of Mourning, so Dad and I were home. The State Funeral began that day. I will never forget the sound of the drums as the caisson once again carried the casket. Only this time, it made its way past the Lincoln Memorial, and across the Potomac to the Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands of people walked behind it. I was so impressed with Jacqueline as she walked in her black heels, keeping pace with the caisson that carried her husbands’ body. Everyone walked behind her, silently.

There was something else I had never seen before. A black horse with no rider was a part of the procession. In the stirrups were black boots, facing backwards. A symbol of a fallen leader.

I had never known the meaning of mourning something. But I realized that day what mourning meant. So many levels of loss, only one of them was my childhood. The world was never the same for me after that, it never felt secure for me again. Like the earth had shaken right out from under my feet. The drums beat all day. I felt mesmerized by them. I closed my eyes and let them enter my heart, until their beat became mine.

c.2010 Fai Marie Dawson

Kennedy Comes to Tacoma

I wrote this while I was in Dallas in June of 2010. I finally had gotten a chance to visit ‘the grassy knoll,’ and was saddened once again recalling the events of 1963. As a sixth grade student in Tacoma, I had been among those listening to his speech in September, then only two months later, he was gone. This is how I remember it.

It was on the news. President Kennedy was coming to Tacoma. He would be stopping at Cheney Stadium, and would be addressing a crowd there of students and local politicians. The park was just six blocks away from our home, and I was so excited.

School had started up again, and I wished all this was happening in August when I could have stood along 19th Street and waited to see his motorcade go by. Just a glimpse of the President! But no, I would be sitting at my desk at DeLong Elementary School in Mr Selforse’s 6th Grade Class. At least the windows faced south in the direction of the baseball park, and even though I wouldn’t be able to see it from where I sat, I could at least daydream through the window in that direction.

Soon, we were told that certain students would be chosen to attend, and I was beside myself with anticipation. I would sit and look at Mr. Selforse and send mind messages to him to choose me. I have never known for sure how the selection was made. Maybe it had something to do with grades, maybe it had something to do with potential, but in the end it may be determined that it had something to do with mind control. Somehow my name was one on the list chosen to attend the President’s speech. I was beyond excited! My mother acted as though she knew that I would be chosen all along. My father reacted with, “Why would they chose you?” Point was, I didn’t know. It was chance, it was magic, it was Karma! It was wonderful!

I spent days figuring out what to wear. I studied pictures of Jacqueline in “Look” magazine, and couldn’t find anything in my closet that would look like something she would wear. She was beautiful, I was 11 years old. But in my 11 year old mind, maybe he would smile at me in the crowd if I was pretty enough, so I strove to dress me up a bit. I chose my green and blue plaid skirt with nylons and my blue fuzzy sweater. I thought it looked good with my eyes. Maybe he would notice. If not him, then this agents might. I slept in hair rollers the night before, hoping to coax my straight hair into the “flip,” which Jacqueline had made popular. Unfortunately, the next morning, I could only get one side to actually flip. If I flipped the left side, the right side would fold under. If I worked on the right side, it would flip, but the left side would fold under. I ended up by molding it into shape with tons of hairspray. I don’t remember having asthma symptoms before this time, but I do after. Interesting. Finally I was ready to go to school, and walking through the fog on that September morning made both sides of my hair go limp. But I still looked sharp for an 11 year old, and those of us lucky enough to be chosen were ushered into the Cafeteria to wait to walk to Cheney Stadium. I didn’t know many of the other students that were chosen, and I walked in silence anticipating the days’ events.

Once we had arrived, we were shown where to sit. DeLong students were allotted seats along the first base outfield. American and Washington State Flags were flying everywhere by the podium. A sense of anticipation filled the air, people were talking loudly, and I could hear laughter everywhere. I had never been to the ball field before, and sat quietly taking it all in. I didn’t wear glasses then, but clearly needed them, as I couldn’t see where the President would be giving his speech. It wasn’t until the event started that if I squinted just right, I could see a person standing between the flags. I could tell from his voice that he was not President Kennedy. We all stood to honor the flag.

Soon, it was announced, “. . .introduce to you, the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy!” Everyone was standing. We all sat down as he began speaking. His voice! His accent! He was there! This was no recording, this was not on TV, I was actually hearing him speak. As I looked toward the podium, I thought I could actually see him. There he was, between the flags, behind home plate. From time to time he moved his arms. I tried to pay attention to what he was saying, but it seemed so unreal. From where I sat, he looked so tiny. If I held my fingers up, he would have been about an inch tall. But he was the President of the United States, small enough to fit in my purse.

From time to time he would say something funny, and everyone would laugh. Sometimes he would say something profound, and everyone would clap. I didn’t. I was in awe. The only thing I remember from his speech was that the students that were in attendance that day would be the new generation of America. He challenged us to step up and accept the responsibilities before us to bring change, creativity and guidance to our Nation. Somehow, at 11, I had never thought of this. That someday I would grow up, and become responsible for the direction our United States would be taking. In fact, the whole future of the US would be in my generation’s hands within just a few years. Yet he seemed happy about this, he seemed excited about the possibilities that our education, our knowledge of the past, and our young energy would provide. All too soon it was over, and he left the podium.

It was then that I remembered to look for Jacqueline, but I could not see beyond the podium to view the other people on the stage. I thought that perhaps she had been seated somewhere in the audience, and I quickly looked around me to see if she could be there, but I didn’t see her. In fact, I was so intent on finding where she was, that I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the event. It was like playing a live Where’s Waldo game, only it was Where’s Jacqueline? But I never found her, and it was time to go.

I was hoping to see his motorcade go by as we walked back to the school, but we were told that he had left earlier, while the other speakers were at the podium. I felt cheated—all that searching, and Jacqueline would already have left. I was quiet the remainder of the day. When fellow students asked me what it was like, I felt all chocked up about it. So I answered in one word, “Tough.” Though it sounds silly now, in my world at the time, that word said it all. “Tough” meant cool, mind bending, and wonderful all in one. Something that would never happen again in my lifetime. And yes, something I would share with my children and grandchildren should I ever have them. I felt older than day. I felt challenged with the responsibility of my future. My future had become mine, something I was challenged to build.

When I got home that evening, my mom and dad wanted to know what he said. I don’t know what I told them, but they thought I hadn’t paid attention. Perhaps blown off the awesomeness of what I had been allowed to witness. But it had been such a deep experience for me that I wanted to hold it to my heart for awhile. As such, it made me begin questioning the values and philosophies of the previous generation that had brought us to the decisions our nation had made. The fear of Communism, and the USSR. The Second World War. Commercialism, the political arena. Each of their values went through my young mind as I tried to sort out the dilemma:  if it was up to me, would I have decided this way? It made me very aware of what I did not know, so I began asking questions. Why did the world work the way it did, and why wasn’t it working well? What could be done about this? Kennedy had challenged my mind that day, and made me realize that childhood was a transitory period that was best used in learning how to deal with my world, my reality. It was really the first time I realized that I soon would be flung into the adult world, and I would have to make my way. It was up to me to define what that would be.

c. 2011, Fai Dawson