Love is how you stay alive even after you are gone.

OIHM-1

I’ve been a member of the Orcas Island Historical Museum for a few years now. I joined after spending a weekend circumnavigating the Island by car to visit resort properties and locations owned or managed by members of my family in days gone by, as well as spending time perusing the museum archive files doing personal research.

Last year, I donated money to purchase a commemorative a brick for the walkway of the Orcas Island Historical Museum in Eastsound – Orcas Island, Washington. An act of love and personal tribute to my maternal grandparents and a dream they shared years before I was born. Leif Henry and Ruth Odell Erickson relocated with their four children, the eldest being my mother, from Bellingham to Orcas Island, owning and operating Waldheim Resort in Eastsound in the 1940s.

I had no idea where the brick was installed. As it turned out, their commemorative brick was part of the latest installation, which I literally stepped over following the path from the sidewalk to the entrance of the museum to inquire about it’s placement.

Although this engraved brick is a special tribute to my beloved grandparents, it brings a flood of memories of my summertime visits to the San Islands – vacations and reunions during the 50s and 60s with our extended family who still lived on Orcas. Several generations – great grandparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins beach combing for shells and driftwood, building bonfires, clamming, crowded together is cozy cabins, cooking meals together, cracking jokes, laughing, playing cards, reading books, boating, swimming, horseback riding along the lake…. Recollections that spring to life as if only last summer, reminding me how much I still love those who are gone, but remain so deeply rooted in my heart and fondest memories.

 

Love is how you stay alive even after you are gone.

Moments – Denial

Denial  

On December 30, 2012, after a one-hour trail run in the forests overlooking the Puget Sound, followed by a 75-minute Power Step class, I returned home, thankful for my strength, entered the kitchen pantry and took a lulu of a step.

The emergency room doctor returned with x-rays, shaking his head.

“No, this can’t happen now.  You see, I am in the process of moving from my house of 23 years and I have a major exhibition of my work opening in five days.”

“Look at me!” he said.

I was trying to bargain with the doctor, “This just can’t happen, especially now.”

“Look at me,” he repeated like a doctor.

I did, then eyed my bare and swelling and bruised legs.

“You have a broken left ankle and a foot broken in three places.”

Denial had kept me in my place in the Middle East, and now I was trying to get it to work in the Pacific Northwest and on my legs.  This time it was different…I couldn’t bargain with the fact that something was broken.

From 2006-2010 I lived and worked as an art professor at a women’s college in Kuwait.  I survived those years because for the most part, I denied the inequity of being a woman there and how it was breaking me. Two years later I published a book on this experience, Suitcase Filled with Nails: Lessons Learned from Teaching Art in Kuwait. In April 2013, it was republished by Booktrope Publishing and includes images that were featured in my exhibit I attended in a wheelchair.

Moments Contributor – Yvonne Pepin-Wakefield, artist and author of Suitcase Filled with Nails – Lessons Learned from Teaching Art in Kuwait

Happiness Teeth

Christie LeeDents du bonheur” (happiness teeth) as the French call them, are what dominated my expression every time I smiled and laughed as a young girl. I did not consider the most prominent teeth in my mouth to be “happy”! I was gapped-toothed with a slight overbite until the age of 14, painfully shy, and covered my mouth when I grinned.  Somehow the photographer for our eigth grade class photos managed to get me to smile with hands folded in my lap.

By the time I was a sophomore in high school in 1962, my parents thought it best to sent me to an oral surgeon that summer to remove the tough, muscular webbing forcing my two front teeth apart (diastema). I got up out of the dental chair wearing an awkward dental appliance to wear day and night to slowly coerce my two front teeth back and together. I still remember the sensations of pain and pressure, popping that pink, hard-molded acrylic into the roof of my mouth, the metal bar sliding over my teeth. I only took it out to brush it and my teeth, and to eat. At the start of my junior year, while taking a lunch break as I worked on a project in the art room, I slipped out my retainer and quickly wrapped it in a piece of paper towel from off the roll by the sink. I remember the sinking feeling, then panic, at home later that night, the moment I said, “Oh, no! What did I do with my “bite plate?!” I rushed back to school the next morning to rummage through the trash, but it was not to be found. My parents couldn’t afford to replace it. That was the last I saw of my retainer, which left me with a lasting, although ever so slight, twist to my left front tooth – the kind of subtle difference one feels when you slide your tongue across your teeth. But like everything in life as I was discovering,  things are rarely, if ever, “perfect”.

Over time, the habit of covering my mouth eventually stopped and I became less and less self-conscious; shyness took much longer to overcome.  As a youth, I let something as small as the space between my two front teeth take up significant space in my life. I wish I had met happy gap-toothed kids along the way. I might have understood that it was okay to be different, I could be happy being “me”.  As I matured, I grew to appreciate inner beauty and countenance more than physical appearance, with a growing awareness of my own.

The beautiful actress Amanda Seyfried shares a similar experience growing up:

“I was super-outgoing until I was around 10. I got a bit older and started getting shy. Way too shy. I felt so extremely ugly. When I look back, I was not ugly …I was cute and had a gap in my teeth. But I wish I could have enjoyed that part of my life and be more confident.”

Other gap-toothed women known for their unique beauty are Anna Paquin, Lauren Hutton, Condoleezza Rice, Brigitte Bardo, Esther Rolle, Madonna, Natalie Cole…. I imagine that for many of these women and men, it never dawned on them when they were young that they were pretty or handsome. For others, what makes them different may be their eyes, their nose, their ears, their height, their disability…. We have an opportunity to reflect back to each one we meet what makes them uniquely special, even beautiful.

If you have a similar experience, please share it with us. Leave a comment.