Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day two hundred and thirty six ... Pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

This is the face of an angel.

Or, I suppose, whatever the earthly equivalent is of a truly and utterly kind individual who is as pure of spirit and motivation as anyone could possibly ever hope to be.

She is my mother.

She was, is, and will always be the light of my life and the reason I am what I am.

She taught me to be kind to all creatures.

She taught me that a little effort put forth with true and good intentions can overcome whatever adversity may fall in our path.

She taught me how to love fully and without condition.

She taught me how to laugh with wild abandon.

She taught me how to cry until the loss of tears makes you so thirsty you may faint.

She showed me how to believe in myself first and foremost, and know that I am doing what I believe is right, regardless of what others may profess.

She taught me how to suck up every little bit of the day and night and to never look back too long if you're moving forward; you may trip on your future if you do, and it's best to try to stay on your feet.

And she taught me about the tomato.

Yes, the tomato.

Red, round, firm, bursting with flavor, and really, only truly at it's best at the end of August. 

It was, by far, her favorite food.

We'd eat them any number of ways: stewed, simmered, whole (cherry tomatoes anyway), juiced, wedged, sliced, or right out of a brown bag--salt shaker in one hand, and juice dripping down our chin.

If they were sliced they were usually salted, and topped with chopped, sweet onion. It's a Polish thing, and quite delicious.

I remember, for a long time, I used to peel my tomatoes. Still, to this day, I don't really know why.

But my mother, Judith Ann Johnson, loved her tomatoes.

So, in 2005, when I found out that there was a tomato festival held every year on the last weekend of August not more than a few miles away from my home, I just had to plan a day of it.

My mother was ecstatic.

She didn't mind that it was raining a bit. She liked the rain. It kept the earth alive.

She came up with my Aunt Lynda, and we piled into her car.

I had gotten the directions a bit screwy and we had a hard time finding the place (it's called Red Fire Farm and it's located in Granby, MA).

But once we got there, it was like watching a little kid in a toy store where all the boxes are open and not an adult in sight.

We must have tried thirty different kinds of tomatoes.

In the picture above, she has a piece of tomato on a toothpick and is moments away from delighting her palate.

Some samples were better than others, but even then, they were all good. So it's hard to judge.

My mother and I have a familial affectation that I find endlessly and utterly amusing.

When we put something edible in our mouths and our taste buds decide it is exceptionally good, we raise our eyebrows in such a way that I cannot do voluntarily. It's a simple extension of the brow coupled with a widening of the eyes and a half-smile--part satisfaction, and part sublime approval. I must have done it ten thousand times. Sometimes I notice it; sometimes I don't. I notice it more now since she's been gone, but I eat a lot of good food and I can only pay so close of attention.

I would have never needed a DNA test to prove she was my biological mother.

I would have only required a juicy piece of fresh, end-of-August tomato, with a tiny sprinkle of salt. 

She was me.

That rainy August afternoon, I kept close by my mom as usual. She wasn't a fast walker, but that's not why I shadowed her.

I just felt her pull.

She was a magnet.

She radiated love and everything and anything that was within the earth's atmosphere was affected and drawn towards her.

I would keep an arm around her.

I would hold her hand.

I would rub her shoulder.

I would playfully tussle her hair, which bugged her to no end, because she would always have her hair done up when she came to visit her boy. She was a lady in the truest sense.

Sometimes I would just take a piece of her clothing--a denim vest or a blouse--and just rub the fabric between my fingers, as if to derive some of the magic that was contained in its fibers.

She was that special.

And she knew that her boy was, too.

When we would go to puppet shows (which was often) she would insist that I go up and talk to the performers as they were packing up. As a shy kid learning social skills daily, like the rest of the world, I just wanted to take the easy way out and go to the car and go home. But she had a plan. She wanted me to learn to approach and talk to those people who did what I loved, so that I may one day be like them and love what I do. She felt my unease at this but she would persist. And as I grew and turned into a performer myself, I developed a sense of belonging in the world of the magic makers that may have never formed had I just sat in the crowd and then walked to the car and gone home. I would tell them how great their show was and how I wanted to be a puppeteer when I got older. They would invariably smile and thank me and ask me if I made puppets. I would say yes, and we would rap about foam rubber and google eyes (yes, I have a history) and fleece, and cardboard, and needles and thread. I would tell them of puppet shows I had put on at my school. I would ask them to show me their puppets and, more often than not, they would let me hold them, or put them on my hands and hold them up behind the stage while my mom took pictures, much to the confusion of the kids and parents who were headed to the back of the auditorium.

I would talk to the magic makers away from the curtain they worked behind.

And it got easier to do the more I did it, until I finally became one myself.

Last night I played in an annual show in my town where local bands adopt a persona and style of famous artist while adhering to a theme. 

It's a big production, and every year we are always somewhere in the middle of the evening.

Last night we went on last.

As I was packing up my guitar, two boys and one girl who couldn't have been older than ten approached the stage. The lights were now on, the proverbial smoke had cleared, and it was obvious that the show was over.

"You were awesome!," said one of the boys.

"Yeah, you're a great guitar player," said the other one.

Meanwhile, the girl--nonplussed--just stood next to them and chewed her gum.

"Thanks," I said. "Do you play?"

"Yeah," said one of them.

"What do you play," I asked.


"Cool," I said. "Keep it up. The world needs more rock stars."

"One year, my school came here for a field trip," said one of the boys, "and I got to get up on that stage and pretended I was playing."

"That's awesome," I said. 

"Yeah," he said, "it was."

I heard an adult call their names from fifty feet away. I shook their hands and they took off, running.

Sometimes I wonder what it all means--why I do what I do.

The feeling of uncertainty can be overwhelming. It can really derail a person or, at the very least, take some of the well-earned wind from their sails.

And then you do what you do--what you've done since you were as young as you can remember--and it makes you feel alive. It makes you feel useful. It makes you feel sure of yourself.

And every so often, as you're putting the tools of your trade away, you see you standing there, looking up, exhibiting the same wide-eyed innocence and youthful determination that once filled your soul. You see the only kids who were bold enough to approach the stage and talk to you and tell you how they want to be like you someday, and make people applaud and whistle and scream.

And you realize that not everybody has the courage to do that.

Not everybody has been shown that if you see someone doing something that speaks to you, approach them and tell them so.

And for that, I thank my mother.

And every time I pick up my guitar and put the strap over my shoulder and plug it in I think of her and how she made me believe in myself.

And at the end of every show, the puppeteer steps out from behind the curtain. Sometimes he shares the secrets of his craft for a minute or two before he packs it all away, gets in his car, and moves on to the next show.

And he closes his car door and the self-doubt fades away like the summer day's hot air out the open window as he drives towards the exit gate past the rows of empty parking spots that were full only an hour ago.

And it's enough to keep you going.

It's enough to live on for a while.

It's enough.

Thanks for reading.


PS: Summer's almost over. School's right around the corner. Now go, have a tomato, and tell someone who does something that you admire how you feel.

It may make a bigger difference than you think.



Running Hard Out Of Muskrat Flats said...

Tell someone you admire how feel about them?

This post moved me so very deeply. You know me, rarely am I at a loss for words, but this one left me speechless. "So thirsty I may faint."

You are truly an inspiration to me and so many other folks.

Love you, my brother.

david santos said...

Excellent posting, my friend, excellent!!!

Anonymous said...

If only I could have read this on my birthday....very special.