I know it’s been a while, but you’re never far from my thoughts. And with Mother’s Day coming up next week, followed immediately by your birthday on the 15th, …
I know it’s been a while, but you’re never far from my thoughts. And with Mother’s Day coming up next week, followed immediately by your birthday on the 15th, well… I thought I’d send you a note.
I don’t know if your “ears were buzzing” (as you were fond of saying), but I have been talking about you a little more than usual lately. I just attended the opening of an art exhibit created by one of my colleagues, Barbara Winfield—and many of her miniature multimedia collages reminded me of you.
I read about Barbara’s exhibit right here in the River Reporter last week and until now, never really thought about the simple fact that you both share a first name.
Her exhibit, titled “Mad Ads and Funny Phrases,” features advertising from a bygone era—one that you inhabited, lived through, grew during, and emerged from, so yeah—you’ve been on my mind. In retrospect, it seems fitting that your favorite totem was the butterfly.
Born in the ‘30s, married by 18 and a mother by 1952, your life, as with millions of other post-war brides, seemed idyllic. At least, that was the illusion created by the advertising world that you occupied, and which the “other Barbara’s” artwork is focused on.
Winfield’s pieces are layered, not simply because they are collages, but in meaning as well. By combining the very cool illustrations found in magazines during those decades with incisive thought, biting sarcasm and clever social commentary, Barbara (her, not you) has discovered a way to telegraph her thoughts about social mores, homemakers, women’s rights, male chauvinism and the dizzying speed with which all of that changed while you were changing diapers.
Like many of your generation, you were expected to run a household, nurture kids and wait “hand and foot” (your words, not mine) on an alcoholic husband, but plenty of husbands/fathers were less than sympathetic to the plight of women everywhere—many of whom still struggle today.
I don’t know the innermost secrets of the other Barbara’s life, but even the casual observer of her artwork can glean where she is coming from, where she’s been and maybe even where she’s headed. That’s one of the fascinating aspects of a creative life, which you taught me at a young age, because you were a talented artist yourself.
One of the things I admired most about you was your willingness to tackle any medium, be it clay, watercolor, sculpture or even clothing design—which wasn’t your strong suit, IMHO. Now that I’m thinking about it, neither was sculpture, but that didn’t stop you from trying. You certainly excelled at some forms of art, but there were a lot of blunders along the way, mostly because you were unafraid to “take a whack at it.” I like to think I’ve carried that lesson with me in my own life, although truth be told, I’m afraid of a lot of things.
I know you had fears as well, but it was only on rare occasions that you’d show it, believing instead that you had to shoulder the burden alone. Now I share that notion, sadly, as I continue navigating a world without you, and suddenly without my faithful four-legged companion at my side.
I’ve learned, albeit slowly, to accept help when offered, to lean on people who proffer a helping hand, but because of that pesky alcoholic family dysfunction that was hidden behind closed doors, it’s not easy. Our picture-perfect split-level, ultra-modern house that you and dear-old-dad built in 1967 as a way of expressing our newfound misguided middle-class status hid secrets, and much of that bubbled to the surface as I perused Barbara’s artwork—hers, not yours.
Since Barbara (Winfield, not Fox) and I are not only co-workers, but friends as well, I’ve shared some plot points of my family life with her over the years. I have this column, and the generosity of publisher Laurie Stuart, to thank for providing me with an outlet to express many (undoubtedly too many) personal thoughts over the years.
Unlike the man of the house, you were very supportive of my creative pursuits, but I was shocked to discover that you had carefully preserved everything I’d ever written up until the day you “shuffled off this mortal coil.” Only then did I discover boxes of poorly written essays, short stories, reviews of plays (the good, the bad and the ugly) I appeared in during the actor phase of my storied career, and even an old TV Guide that featured my name during what Andy Warhol famously called my “fifteen minutes of fame.”
Were you the perfect mom? Of course not, and it’s no secret that I was hardly a model son, but you were mine, and I was yours, and I cherish the relationship that we had. Was much of it an illusion, as the other Barbara’s exhibit illustrates? Unquestionably, but I’ll defend it, and you, until my last breath.
Is there life after death? I don’t know, but the idea of seeing you again is tantalizing, even if it is nothing more than a dream. On the off chance that there is, I’m writing these words. Happy Mother’s Day. Give Dharma a kiss for me.
Barbara Winfield’s “Mad Ads and Funny Phrases” is on exhibit at Domesticities and the Cutting Garden, in Youngsville, NY through May 30.
Ask “the Google” (as Barbara Fox would say):
Q—What does “shuffle off this mortal coil” mean?
A—To die, as written by William Shakespeare between 1599 and 1602 in his famous play “The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here