Thursday, January 27, 2011


I sit in the sun coming in the window looking at my hands. They are really old. There are brown spots and dry, tiny waves of creases on the backs of my hands.  If the skin was any shade of green they could be part of a scaly lizard. 

I always thought my long fingers must be from my father’s side. He was tall, therefore it seemed a reasonable conclusion. But then one night I was sitting on the couch next to Nan, my grandmother (Mom's Mom). I held her hand in mine. It was warm, soft and made me feel happy. I looked at our hands together. I held hers up to mine, palm to palm. We matched exactly. 

She had some arthritis. Her index fingers were twisted like cork screws. This made the index nails twist toward the long finger (The FU finger) almost facing the palm. If her nails were sharper she could have opened a bottle of wine. 

My hands looked old (I thought) when I was only forty. Thin skinned. If the hands were arranged in a downward position all the veins filled up. The backs of my hands appeared to be wriggling with earthworms right beneath the surface. I’d raise my hands up in the air and the veins disappeared. Wave those hands in the air. Hallelujah. People think you're nuts if you walk around with your hands up in the air all the time, and your fingers go numb after a while. 

I worked at a advertising studio in the Renaissance Center in Detroit in the eighties. One night many of us were working late. One of the illustrators needed to illustrate a woman's hands. I was the only female in the place, so Mike came into my room and asked if I'd model my hands for him. I said, "Sure". Then he checked out my big hands, looked totally distressed and said, "I'll check Joe's hands".

Oh, well, I never had modeling ambitions anyway.
But know this: I have magnificent hands. They do things. Most important, they feed me. I really like that. They can pick a white hair off a black sweater with no problem. They type. They squeeze the cheeks of my husband when I want to give him big smashing kisses. They can hold a paint brush and move it wherever I want it to go. They are wonderful tools. I should learn sign language, then they could talk.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Name Game

In 1975 when I was getting divorced, my lawyer asked if I wanted to go back to my maiden name. Ahh, well, no. I actually felt closer to my almost ex-husband than my father. But that's another story.

The divorce was final in the summer of 1976. Just weeks afterward, I was in the Ann Arbor Art Fair. The sign on my booth had my ex-husband's last name. People came in the booth, saw the name and asked if I was German. 

Now, there's nothing wrong with being German. I just don't have any. I was a fraud. I was mislabeled. My father's family was all Norwegian. My mother's ancestors were Mayflower English and coal-mining Scots. No German.

Then and there I decided I needed a new name. 

There is a great deal to be said about timing. Right around that time there was an article in the paper on "how to legally change your name". A month earlier or a month later, I would have missed it. There wasn't Google back then.

So what name did I want? My maiden name began with a C. My married name began with an S. By getting married I had moved myself to the back of the line. I needed an A name.

Also around that time I read artist Judy Chicago's autobiography, "Through the Flower". Judy Chicago had renamed herself after a city. A city! The feminist me liked that. No patriarch or even matriarch name for me. A City. 

Which city was easy. I was born in Ann Arbor. I had decided to change my name during the Ann Arbor Art Fair. I would be Lynn Arbor. I was also throwing out my first name, which I won't repeat here. If I liked the name I would have kept it. Besides I was always called Lynn.

The first people I wanted to discuss this with were my children. I told them they could change their names too, or hyphenate. They both wanted to keep their names as they were. My daughter (13 then) was fine with my name change. My son (12) said, "But if you change your name and get famous, then no one will believe you're my mother." 

So I kept my kids last name as my middle name. Now it looks like my maiden name is German. Wasn't that part of the point of changing it? But, hey, you do things for your kids.

Ferdinand Hampson, the owner of Habatat Gallery, wasn't thrilled. What do clients think of an artist with a new name? But I was just starting out, so I convinced him that no one knew who I was anyway.

The biggest hurdle was my grandmother. I sat in the den at my grandmother's house with her and my mother. My mother was always a bit of a rebel, so she thought it was a fine idea. My grandmother was upset. 

"Why not take a family name." she said.

My mother laughed.  My mother had a point. I didn't want to be Lynn Dick, even though I loved a lot of Dicks in my life. It just wasn't what I was looking for.

"How about Kerwin?" Mom said. She did this to torment my grandmother. Kerwin was my step-fathers name. He was Irish and Catholic. This was actually worse than being black, Jewish or Asian to my grandmother.

At that, my grandmother was fine with Arbor.

But then she said, "But who will you be related too?" Which set my mother and I into a fit of laughing. My grandmother, a good sport, laughed too.

So I went to count, paid $35, filled out papers, stood in front of a judge, raised my right hand, and swore that I wasn't changing my name for any fraudulent reasons.

The only problem with my name is that sometimes people think my first name is Ann. But I can live with that.

If you want to change your name in Michigan here's a link.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Black Sheep

My Great Grandmother was heard to say that every family has black sheep. She was referring to her daughter, Great Aunt Minnie (Margot). In a big family with eleven kids there's plenty of room for at least one black sheep. 

Minnie told her husband she was the youngest, but she was actually number eight. Seven years older than my grandmother who was the youngest. She outlived her husband, Ben, by a few months and died at 91, a sweet young thing of 84 in his eyes.

hat blocks
For many years they had an apartment in Highland Park that was nested behind a huge Sears and Roebuck store. It was an old dark brick building with a courtyard in it's middle. A statue of a young boy peeing was its center piece. I loved that statue. Serious art pees, right?

The apartment itself was on the second floor with deep set windows where she had a collection of scruffy plants in odd ceramic pots shaped like frogs, Easter baskets and cupids. 

The best part was the dining room. It was a gloomy room, but this was where she made hats. The table was filled with hat blocks shaped like faceless heads. I loved watching her steaming felt with a tea kettle and pinning it on the blocks forming the bases for her hats. She was probably the most creative person in the family, also the craziest. 

She'd put all their dirty clothes in the bathtub and they'd stay there until my Great Aunt Betty would come and take them home and wash them for her. 

At 52 (real years) she had bleached blond hair and loved wearing shocking pink. Back in the Roaring Twenties she roared. She danced on tables and was quite a party girl, or so the story goes.

She'd walk me to the grocery store and tell all the boys bagging groceries that when I was a little older they'd all be dying to date me. I was mortified.

She had a parakeet named Joey. Joey pecked my head and pooped on me. I hated that bird.

Once when I had spent the night with her, Saturday afternoon was quickly approaching. My father was coming to pick me up. Minnie didn't want me to leave. She said I should hide.

I was really ready to go back home. I was sick of the bird and she was done making hats. But she was insistent, she wanted to keep me. 

She told me to go down the apartment building's backstairs, the dark, scary backstairs, out the back door of the building, walk across the parking lot and get lost in Sears. I was afraid of the dark back stairs so she walked me down, opened the outer door and gave me a little push. 

What do you do? I couldn't get back in. So I walked to Sears and roamed the aisles. Was I going to have to live in Sears my whole life? What would happen when they closed? Would the police hunt for me? With big dogs? Was she planning to come find me?

And then I saw him. My very tall, furious father. He took me by the hand and lead me out of the store. He knew this wasn't my idea, probably by the look of relief on my face when I saw him. He took me home. 

Although I saw her at family gatherings, that was the last time I was in Minnie's apartment. I was seven.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hairy Memory

After a series of mini strokes, my grandmother's memory began a descent into oblivion. She forgot everyone's name but remembered good manners. She never forgot to say, "Thank you, Honey." 

It was ok being "Honey". I never minded sharing the name with my mother, daughter and granddaughter, or with the young black man with cornrows that was one of her caretakers. I especially liked that he was "honey", too. 

My grandmother was as prejudiced as my uncle Bubs (her brother). It covered all ethnic groups and religions that didn't match her white Presbyterian self. Once she proudly told me that an Asian couple, driving down her block, had pulled over and asked about a house that was for rent nearby. She was proud of her quick thinking, and said, "that house has already been rented".

The last ten years of her life were spent in a nursing home, primarily being cared for by black nurses and aids. There's a certain grace in this. She was treated tenderly by her caretakers. 

I think that along with forgetting all our names, she also forgot about race…mostly. Although, once when Jamal left the room she whispered, "he's colored, you know." But it seemed more  an acknowledgement rather than a condemnation. 

It's a shame to have a stereotype image of a person, especially your own dear grandmother. There are always so many fragments that don't fit into the puzzle of the whole being. 

In high school I had two boyfriends. One played bagpipes, the other was half Jewish. I was sure my Scottish descended grandmother would prefer bagpipe boy. But, No, she said that the Scot didn't show me respect. He picked me up in a ratty t-shirt and hadn't shaved. If he cared about me, he'd shave and put on a nice shirt.

The other boy, sweet and shy and half Jewish was tall, dark and handsome. Hmmm, do you think that influenced her?

One day when I visited her in the nursing home, Jamal was brushing her hair, long, long white hair. Her hair was almost to her waist. Kind of cool, but it looked like a chore. So I said, "Maybe next time I should bring scissors and give her a hair cut." 

"Oh, no," he said with a horrified tone, "I love doing Jeanie's hair. It's beautiful." He gently held out strands of fine long hair, wispy as wind, showing me it's beauty. 

A few days later I was at the nursing home at lunch time. I wheeled my 96 year-old grandmother down to the lunch room, where she immediately started singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," She knew every word of the song. 

She was quite surprised when I told her I was her granddaughter. Actually she didn't believe me. She giggled and said, "Noooo, you can't be my granddaughter. I'm not even married yet." 

She was sweet and giddy. I loved her. And she looked adorable in cornrows.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Number 26

I woke up this morning and realized that once again I had forgotten a card. So today's blog will be a Story to replace a card. Here goes:

Once upon a time there was a woman who was lonely. She wanted someone special in her life. Since she worked in advertising she decided to put a personal ad in the Free Press. After a time she received from the paper two thick manilla envelopes filled with letters.Twenty-seven letters. 

She numbered them, because she was known for being organized. And then started reading and dividing the letters into two piles. The pile to the right was the "don't respond to" pile. There were a couple convicts, bad spelling, presumptions, poor penmanship, bad grammar, and some really weird thinking.

On the left were some interesting possibilities. 17 letters. So many men, so little time. 

The letters contained phone numbers, so she began calling. Some gentlemen that she spoke to moved into the pile on the right, for reasons often more subtle than penmanship. Gently, she told them it was nice talking to them but made no plans to meet. She had their numbers, they did not have hers. (this was before caller ID.)

So now there are 11. Eleven meetings in 10 days. Some she met for coffee at bustling coffee shops. Some she met for wine in busy restaurants. She had a nice time meeting these guys. They were all charming, nice people. A couple of them thought she was a little weird, too arty (she could tell by the look in their eyes). Oh well.

She was down to the final two, number 26 and number 11. 

She arrived at the restaurant wearing a red scarf, it was a cold March night. She was meeting number 26. This was the one who was baking a cake with his teenaged daughter when she had called him. He was the one with the great voice. A voice like heavy rocks rolled in a velvet lined tumbler. A nighttime dj voice without the slop.

There was no one in the lobby with the faux pre-Revolution decor. She stood there. She stood there in the red scarf. And then the door opened. A man came in, then his wife, then two kids, then a man with a red scarf. Number 26. "Oh, my goodness," she thought, "a hunk. I don't have a chance." Not having a chance meant, oh, well, just be yourself and have a nice time. 

And so she did, and he did too. He was a architect, a designer. Creative. She was a graphic artist. A designer. They understood each other without being competitive. When she said something she thought was funny, he laughed. He laughed. He got her. Click. 

After hours of talking he walked her to her car. He kissed her sweetly on the lips.

The next night she met number 11. A very good guy, in fact, a potential future date guy, but there was just one thing wrong. She had already met her Number One.

Five years later, they married on January 2, 1995. 

Today is January 2, 2011. 

Happy Sixteenth Anniversary, Number One.