My mother cursed me with windchimes.
Our ancient apple tree hung with them by the dozens. They lined the awning over the front porch, dangled here and there from the dogwood, the crabapple, and the Japanese maple. Our gardens rang with any breath, with any breeze, and during storms, our Eden could be heard for a hundred yards in any direction.
I do not know what the neighbors thought about it, because like so many other things that were different about us, I think that they were afraid to say anything. I would hear the rumors second, third or fourth hand, “They do voodoo. They’re witches. They are with the devil.” Well, maybe but does that make us bad?
Just kidding of course, there was no devil in our belief systems.
But if you were sympathetic, you could almost see where they got it all. After all, we lived in a house filled with snakes and other cold blooded denizens. My father was a one eyed poet with a hair trigger temper and a glass eye that never blinked. I was a long haired kid that had to be forced, kicking and screaming into shoes from April through September, and could quote Horace, Poe and Buddha with equal aplomb. And then there was my mother.
Mother was a red-head, freckled and pale, willowy and lithe, with startling blue eyes that she often hid behind tinted lenses. She dressed like a combination of a Bedouin dancer and one of the aunts from Practical Magic, and was never without her little amulets, talismans and rings.
She ghosted about our gardens with her gigantic floppy hats, taking a cutting here, pulling seeds there, tasting a tomato and chasing it with a rolled up basil leaf before moving across the yard to talk to her nightshade plants and her still young morning glories.
She carried a mug with her everywhere she went in the garden. But what it contained was as variable as the season, the time of day and the mood she happened to be in. It could be sassafras tea, lemon balm and pineapple mint iced tisane, cold coffee or our homemade wine.
She also always carried blades, knives, scissors, or clippers, anything that she could use to harvest with. The most sacred or important plants were cut with a little sheath knife that her grandmother had used on the island when she kept the garden.
In the pockets of her garden dresses, and there were always pockets, were tiny envelopes, felt tipped pens in green and purple, lengths of yarn and chalk line and her ever present cigarettes and matches. Mother almost never used lighters, she said it negated some of the magic.
But you can imagine the image we presented, like rejects from a failed hippie, voodoo, witchy, lunatic asylum mash-up, and so no, nobody ever complained about the cacophony of windchimes, at least not to us.
Mother was a subversive, sneaky, ninja feminist. She was not an activist in the sign carrying, fists raised, and write to your congressman kind of way. No, mom struck at the roots, she talked to children about respecting their mothers, she talked to mothers about respecting themselves, she told women all the time how special they were and in many cases, helped them prove it to themselves.
I remember her saying things like, “How on earth can a man be superior to the creature he was birthed from? And which he needs to birth anymore? Doesn’t make sense to me.” Or “You never hear anyone call it “father earth” do you?” or the scarily correct, “The louder a man is about his hatred for women, the bigger of a momma’s boy he likely is.”
She would not tolerate disrespect leveled toward her or toward any woman that she respected. I saw her come to the defense of strangers in public which must have been terrifying for her because she was a serious introvert with major confrontation issues. I once saw her snap on four teenage boys because they were teasing a girl a year or so older than they were and by the time she was done, they looked like they had all been handed their asses by a titan. And in a way, they had been.
She spoke her mind to me, which was difficult because her mind was vast, complicated, conflicted, obsessive, melancholy, magical and sometimes completely off kilter. She gave wonderful advice that she herself would not, or could not follow. She was life giving and self-destructive, she was a healer that killed herself with slow precision, she was a people lover who was an absolute basket case in a crowd, she was elegant, graceful and almost ethereal when she danced but she preferred to teach others and watch them blossom than to hear the applause herself.
I have had many father figures that made me into many things, naturalist, poet, warrior, outdoorsman, survivalist, biker and chef, but it was the women who gave me temperance and the wisdom to make all of those disparate piece into me.
From my maternal grandmother I learned that strength without kindness is ugly and worthless.
From my aunt Evie I learned that guests were important and to show them comfort and remember the things that they love and they will always return to visit and brighten your life.
From Madeline Modic I learned that gardening is so much easier than everyone else makes it out to be but only if your heart is green and you genuinely care about the plants and their happiness. If all you think about is the harvest, or the flowers, the plants will not give you their all.
From Tonya Guesman, Regine Fougères, Bonnie Mikulla and Mary Duncan I learned that family is more than blood and that you can have as many brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers as your heart has room for.
From Mary Louise Johnson I learned that being different, being a huge personality, being the biggest voice in a room isn’t necessarily a bad thing and if you learn how to control it, it can open a million doors.
From Morgan Llywelyn I learned that a good story can inspire you, guide you, and make you fall in love and then break your heart and make you love it all the more. And for teaching me that you are never too big to write back to a fan.
My Lady Gypsy has taught me to forgive, to cherish the joy while letting the chaff fall away. She has taught me that my vision, my voice and my art are worthwhile and she has taught me to go ahead and follow my whimsy. But most of all, she has led me to a place where I have found myself, renewed, reborn and awake again and for that I am forever grateful.
All of them, plus dozens more (and if you are reading this, I mean you) have taught me that strength, femininity, grace, toughness, beauty and boldness are not mutually exclusive and that I for one am eternally thankful for the women who have made me who I am.
Take care of yourselves and each other…