My credentials are listed elsewhere but here I’d like to share with you an experience that has made me who I am today as an artist.
My grandmother was the first one to teach me about magic, although we didn’t have a name for it then. She grew up in the 1890s on a farm in Bad Ax, Michigan, where there was so much space between each farm, everyone had their own piece of sky.
Gram came to live with us just after WWII ended and it was the happiest time of my life. Evenings she’d come to my bedroom to tell me stories, her hair that bluesish-gray-old lady-color and wearing a blue housedress that made her look like a head floating in a sea of Azaleas. I’d move over so she would have room to sit next to me on the bed and she’d begin a story.
“Well, I never told you about my dad”—she looked at me with her blue, always watery eyes— “Back in Bad Ax, when my father got kicked in the chest by a cow, the doctor told my mother and sisters and me that it was just a few crushed ribs and dad would be up tomorrow morning milking that cow.
“We was all tired. I let the doctor out the back door, then I climbed up to my bedroom in the attic. My room was right next to my dad’s, you know.” Gram nodded to me. “When I got to the top of the stairs, moonlight was coming in the open window and I followed the light over to my bed and crawled under the quilt, thinking I was so glad Dad’s right next door cuz maybe he’d need something during the night and I’d hear him. All of a sudden my eyes shot over to my dad’s door.” Gram swallowed. “Something, oh dear, it was like grayish/black gas seeping under the doorframe. Looked like steam, like from a kettle, only it had this big dark shape. Well, I yanked that quilt right over my head and peeked over the edge.” Gram bolted up and the bed bounced. “Then the dark thing shot up like one of them hot air balloons. It floated right over to me and stopped above my quilt.” Gram waved at the air and the dark shape hovered over our room. “Dear, dear, I was scared. You could see the rafters right through the darn thing.” Gram’s eyes shifted right, then left. “Then something pulled on the shape. It flew across the room and out the window, like some vacuum cleaner was sucking it right outside. I tried to get up, run for my sisters, but my legs wouldn’t move.”
“Then I heard a voice outside the window,” Gram leaned toward me. “It was the sound of someone singing in church. I knew no one was out in that yard cuz my sisters was all in bed, you know. So I slipped out of my bed and started crawling across the floor to the window. When I got to the ledge, I pulled myself up and peeked outside.
“A half-moon was shining over the roof of our barn and all them stars”—Gram shook her head— “Oh, dear, there was more stars than spaces between them. Then I looked back at the barn. The barn doors was wide open. Black and empty as someone’s mouth froze in the middle of a song. That big oak tree was standing bout halfway between me and the barn doors. All of a sudden that singing I heard before got louder.” Gram shifted on the bed. “Then louder and louder, the sound mushrooming in the sky, like there was tens, hundreds of voices out there in some choir, rolling over and over each other and coming right at me.” Gram’s eyes shot to the ceiling. “I looked up at them branches at the top of the oak tree. The voices was coming out of the tree,” Gram’s voice cracked, and for the first time I understood there were places in our lives where words could never go. “I never heard anything so beautiful,” Gram choked out. “I knew it was my father’s soul sitting up in the top of the tree singing goodbye to me.”