... I think. On the beach with my artist mother Lou, working on a giant sand-toad:
From the musty depths: me in Colorado at age six. No doubt taken by my mother, who loved to paint twisted trees and the beings residing therein.
My mother, Lou Ponder Rogers, Artist, and me.
I will tell you a tale, the one that stands at my beginning.
My mother was the only child of a woman called Granny. Granny had virtues, but like many witches in tales she was not easy to live with, and tended to eat people right up, if they let her. Especially little children, especially the only one who was hers. Granny had perhaps already eaten her husband. No one is sure.
So rather than be eaten up, my mother as a young girl took to dwelling in the wild wood within. She painted what she saw there:
She had not the eyes for the world as most know it, and little understood what most learn early, and was wise in ways most never see. She thought she would dwell alone within forever. But then one day a bright thing happened. In a gallery of her paintings she saw someone looking who understood. He was a painter, he loved Van Gogh. Sometimes he painted portraits of himself:
He was warm, and reached into her world, and held her heart in his hands. He asked her to come live with him in a house he had built in the woods by a river, and be his bride. And she did. It was a new thing, entirely.
Yet there were things she did not know (as in every true tale). She did not know that he was drawn down, sometimes, into sorrow. Down into the Underworld where no one could follow.
But he did not stay long there, and it happened only once in a while, and no one told her anything about it. So she thought all was well, and that her life had blossomed, and that the story would stay the same story to the end.
She and he painted together, and did other things, and soon she was round and full and there were to be three of them. She did strange, small real things she had not anticipated, like cook and change diapers. She was not sure she was good at it, but she wanted it. One day in January, she and he went out and took pictures of themselves with their baby, handing the camera back and forth between them.
Happiness was present, in that moment, there.
But, the dark below began to call him. Things began to crawl up. The things that beset painters, that whisper at three in the morning asking how you are going to live, with your new wife and your new baby, on paintings. Things also from darker places that we can but guess at.
She found him crying.
They had an old shotgun, though they never used it. Now she had to wrestle it away from him. She made him lie down to rest. She did not know what to do. She did her best. At last, he fell asleep.
Because she needed to think, and because the forest was her own world, she went to walk there. When she came back, he was gone. Her baby lay in its crib, staring silent at the ceiling. No one knows what it was thinking. Or whether he whispered anything to his child before he went.
She looked everywhere, and did not find him. Everyone looked everywhere. At last the police were called. They came with bloodhounds. The bloodhounds led down to the edge of the river.
For two weeks she searched in the woods where he had painted. She hoped and thought what she might do to make things well, and how she had failed, how she might understand him better, how she should not have gone for that walk that night, how if there were yet time she could fix it. She could not throw away the clippings of his hair, swept up. At the end of two weeks, a fisherman found his body on the water. It was a day in May.
So we were set on a rough sea in a lifeboat two alone, she and I. Through all the years of my life she was there, unfailing, though often the stars were covered over, and there was little to steer by.
She found a safe and wild harbor a year ago in June, when I closed her eyes with my hand.
Amidst the broken edges of the world that slice the heart, may we find solace, dear friends. Our work is love.
“The Ancient Cloak”
by Lou P. Rogers,
a.k.a. Villiers, Dyson and Vaughn
a.k.a. Greenwood, Wingfield and Underhill
a.k.a. Marl Jones
Sculpture by Mabel “Mabs” Gardner (my paternal great aunt). She was a fiery soul, a gentle sculptor, and a genuine expatriate in Paris after WWI. She went to France with the Red Cross during that war, and by WWII, was living in her studio in Paris.