Swanning

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother is not a collector, I inherited the gene from my dad and from his side of the family. His mother loved to attend auctions here in the city and stuffed their house with carpets, furniture and trinkets. She loved costume jewelry – in many ways I am her successor. My father was an accumulator as well, garage sales, auctions. He was a man who liked stuff. While there were no toy or photograph collectors, I’m sure Pictorama readers realize that this is the category I fit into – and at least in this way I take most decidedly after the paternal side of my family. (I most recently wrote about Dad’s passion for silver in a post here.)

My mom on the other hand is not especially interested in things. She can be discerning about what she likes and prefers, but generally speaking my mother just lived among the stuff my father accumulated without being especially engaged with it or the acquisition of it. This is not to say she didn’t enjoy a trip to an antique shop or flea market – she would pick up this or that. However, she does not possess a deep affection for the items of the world, nor the acquisition of them.

Undated snapshot of my mom.

A scientist at heart my mother’s passion lies deeply embedded in the natural world. As a result I grew up with a cheerful allotment of pet cats, dogs and fish. (Two past posts addressing this roster of pets and my early life can be found here and here.) We had a vegetable garden which she planted and tended and we lived on a river where we enjoyed a passing parade of waterfowl and aquatic life. Her father was a devoted fisherman and repaired outboard motors and made fishing lures for extra money, so she knew the waters of the area well. Much of the idyll of my childhood I have shared with Pictorama readers was shaped by my mother’s views, knowledge and interests in the nature world of the seashore where we lived.

One Thanksgiving, several decades ago now, my mother noticed a flock of swans in the backyard and became intently interested in them. Before long she was feeding them as well as watching them, along with the geese and ducks which also made our river inlet home at the time. Eventually an injured one turned up and she found someone to help heal it. Slowly she became involved with a loose network of people who were knowledgeable and would help when an injured swan or goose would cross her path. I remember visiting my folks and finding that I was sharing the guest bathroom with an injured swan overnight. (He was a noisy neighbor that night!) Strangely (to my mind anyway) mute swans are an intensely political and controversial issue for people who live on or near the shore. Other than to acknowledge that it is, and that clearly my mom falls on the side of protecting this wildlife, it is not my intention to tackle that topic.

For today all this is to say that on that November afternoon my mother recognized and embraced her spirit animal and although she loves all birds (and in fact all animals) she is deeply and especially attached to swans. She has devoted much of her time and energy in subsequent years to caring for them and defending them with all the resources she could marshal. In recent years, no longer living on the water and now mostly confined to the house, I say she still wields a mighty phone and computer. Her now tiny yard remains a haven for song birds who attracted by and enjoy bird baths and feeders, as well as a garden designed to feed them and the insects. (I wrote a little about her gardening in a post here.)

While living on the waterfront those many years mom photographed the swans, along with geese, ducks, other birds and of course our cats. Those photos proliferated on the walls of the house and my father, the accumulator, brought her swan related items and in that way she became an inadvertent collector of swan stuff. However, when the time came to downsize into the house she lives in now she shed most of it without regret. I think she rather enjoys living a more pared down life.

Therefore, as her birthday approached this year, it was never my intention to purchase items of this sort for her. However, much like those first swans years ago, these presented themselves to me in recent weeks and I found myself purchasing first the pin and then the photo. The pin hails from the British jewelry dealer Mia (IG @therubyfoxes or therubyfoxes.com, my most recent past post of an acquisition from her can be found here) who told me that five flying swans is the symbol of the Nordic countries, swans of different types being the national birds of both Finland and Denmark. Although unmarked, esthetically it appears to be made in one of those countries. Mom was never much of a jewelry wearer and wears none now really, but I think she will like having this, perhaps on a piece of ribbon, pinned up near where she likes to sit most days.

Meanwhile, a week or so later when following a sale by my Halloween supplier, the Midwestern Miss Molly (IG @MissMollysAntiques who I gave a nod to just last week in a post here), I stumbled across this early photo of two swans and again I answered the call and purchased it for mom. There is something about the reflections in the water I think mom will especially like. Later today I will pick up a frame and tomorrow I head to Jersey to see mom, slightly in advance of her birthday later this month.

Sometimes when I run in the mornings I see geese or ducks here on the East River, flying by, and I email mom and tell her they were waving to her in tribute. It felt like these items also arrived on Instagram pointedly just in time for her birthday this year. Maybe although dad is gone, he is still finding a way to send a few swan items her way.

Aim

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For cat lovers I have to apologize that I am continuing my non-cat jag for now. As I am adjusting toys later to redistribute to our new shelves, I am sure I will find some items to take us back to the land of very old toy cats and photos. Today’s post meanders to more memoir than photo as you make your way into it.

This photo came as part of what I now think of as a speed-buy on Instagram. (You are quietly minding your own business drinking coffee, watching an HGTV rerun or writing a blog post when you get a notification – maybe you’d like this photo? And you are off and running for an undisclosed amount of time for a photo sale.)

We have (Kim’s job actually) adjusted the contrast on this photo a bit – I am afraid she is somewhat faded. The photo has long been affixed to this bit of gray cardboard and having been printed on thin paper to begin with, photo and cardboard are definitely merged permanently into one now.

My guess is her shooting riding regalia is her own, however clearly she is mugging for the camera. I like her get-up though – perky little cowboy hat saucily askance, neckerchief, divided skirt for riding. Who wouldn’t enjoy such a get-up? Clearly, she is heavily Annie Oakley influenced. I know absolutely nothing about guns so I cannot venture an educated guess whether she is holding it correctly or just for the camera.

In fact, what I do not know about guns is just about everything about guns. Other than the wooden faux rifle of my drill team days in high school (such a satisfying clank as we thumped them down in unison), I believe I can honestly say I have never held one in my hands. This probably comes down to the fact that there has never been the real need or desire for me to kill anything, and that’s pretty much what guns are around for. I had a nascent interest in shooting a bow and arrow and perhaps might have found target shooting, or even clay pigeon shooting, of interest given the opportunity. it is unlikely, although not impossible, that I will ever find out.

My father kept a few rifles in the house. (These were gifts to my dad from my grandfather. Poppy had hunted and fished his entire life and fed his family during the Depression that way.) Evidently Dad also had a handgun in his dresser drawer, although I have to say I only learned of it as an adult and never saw it, and I have no idea where he acquired it from.

It is only because of these rifles that I have ever even seen ammunition for one, although again, I cannot say for sure that my father ever fired them. He was in the army, during the Korean war, so he knew something about guns. These guns were a sore point between my parents. Despite having come from her own father, my mother has a real hatred of guns (she says she fought with her father since childhood about it), and lobbied for their disposal more or less from the time of acquisition. (Were I to call Mom right now, more than fifty years since the rifles were given to my Dad, and mentioned those guns she’d go off on it for a good five or more minutes.) Dad was a very quiet man and I don’t remember his rebuttals if any, but the guns stayed. They sat behind some things on the mantel of the fireplace.

Now I admit, I inherited stubborn streaks from both my parents. (Meaning that I am a virtual mule of a person when I dig my heels in, my own stubbornness, in evidence since early childhood, is a bit of family lore.) Therefore I can only say the guns were a decades long stalemate between mom and dad. As far as I know those guns were only disposed of when my parents moved about four years ago from my childhood home. I have no idea how, as it isn’t like you can just put them out with the trash.

Mom’s outspoken hatred of guns would probably explain why I, as the granddaughter of a man who hunted and fished his whole life, never so much as fired a gun. The fact that my grandfather died very young, in his fifties and when I was still a small child, contributes to that fact. However, my mother’s dislike of guns extended to toy guns, although I do remember a few coming my way despite her protestations – I had nifty silver toy guns I loved, with holster, that I remember from childhood. They were designed to fire caps, but I was never supplied with those. One or two toy guns may have slipped through to my younger brother, but by then (the early 70’s) it was a bit more acceptable to say you didn’t want your children to have toy guns and as I remember Mom pressed the advantage.

More than being anti-gun my mother is really anti-hunting. As mentioned above, Mom has hated it since childhood and she has dedicated much of the past several decades to actively fighting it. First getting it banned on a nearby island (stray spent ammunition would turn up in our yard which was a bit sobering indeed), but then taking it more broadly, even working on a national level in defense of our waterfowl friends. She has received death threats, by mail and phone, as a result. When I consider my mom, long bent over a walker, being called an eco-terrorist in an editorial in a local paper it kind of blows my mind.

While I have said that I have inherited a double dose of parental stubborn, I am the first to say I have never had my mother’s resolute and singleminded vision of right and wrong. My personality tends to be one of always weighing both sides and trying to see more or less down the middle, or at least acknowledge the value of the other side. I envy her certitude in her beliefs, and am in awe of her continued deep commitment, despite physical and other limitations that plague her as she gets older. Betty wields a mighty computer and telephone I always say. (I have often said that if she was more physically able I would, at best, be bailing her out of jail constantly. Born at a different time she’d be a PETA activist, taking over illegal whaling ships and the like. Without question or hesitation, she likes animals much more than humans.)

Mom can dig her heels in on other things. I can remember when we built the house I grew up in the water company denied us a hook up to the water main, and instructed us to dig a well. Because of our proximity to the river she felt well water would be easily contaminated and she took after the water company with a vengeance, at one point staging my father with his news equipment while she took them to task (the cars had big ABC News stickers on the doors in the day in case anyone was missing the point), making them think the story was of national news interest. We got the water main hook up days later and it immediately became family legend.

Needless to say, I learned early on to pick my battles with my mother, and the potential for tangling with her generally kept us three kids in line, although in all fairness she was generally pretty even tempered with us kids. In fact, I often think about her juggling the three kids, never less than two cats, a large dog, and a home on the river which flooded regularly, mostly on her own while my father traveled around the world constantly for work, and I wonder how Mom managed it with as much sanguine as she did; my own nerves would certainly have frayed I think. She did it with energy to spare – encouraging our friends to constantly traipse in and out of the the house, adopting stray animals and sometimes people too. So watch out world, because Betty’s still on the job.