Memory and it's loss--survival, endurance--“The Tiki Room,” is a vision both elegiac, and horrifying, chronicling the struggles of two lives intertwined.
The landscapes are stoic, small town New Hampshire, during the 1950’s, where I lived with my beloved grandparents, contrasted against the harshness of life with my mother, and my husband’s story in Bosnia and the diaspora.
The coalescence of these environments, and some of the tragic consequences, have been passages filled with destruction, loss, and renewal.
Old Home Days, Candia
The dining room was the most elegant room in my grandparents home. The walls were papered dark maroon, peopled with Chinese figures on junks, calmly sailing deeply colored seas. I often wondered who they were, where they were sailing to, and if they were friends of mine. I thought they were as I wandered among them, touching the long mahogany table as I traveled around the braided rug, careful to stay on one line, circling in until I could go no farther, blocked by the table, towards the core, the center of the room.
One wall held an inset china cabinet with Nana’s precious collection of cobalt blue vases and glasses. Sometimes I got to hold them. I wondered how any color could pull me so far inside. Who put the touches of gold around the edges of each piece? The vases came from somewhere remote and perfect I was sure, a place so ancient and regal that there were no questions left to ask.
On the other side of the room, next to the door that led to the barn, was a little chair and table, connected to each other, where Nana sat to talk on the black telephone. Her telephone conversations were full of the local gossip. She gasped or tsked-tsked at the news. She made plans. Her meetings for church suppers, Daughter’s of the American Revolution, and Old Home Day all started from there.
Old Home Day was an important time in Candia. Weeks of preparation were needed to get everything ready. All the ladies of the town put on their best flowered-print dresses to attend. Children rode bicycles traipsing rolls and rolls of crepe paper behind them. Huge floats stuffed with various colorful shapes and designs rolled down the hills past the residents of the town. Many ladies had labored for hours to hide the chicken wire skeletons of the floats with crepe paper inside dark wooden, comforting barns that smelled of hay and grain. The local beauties smiled and waved as they floated by. Octogenarians were honored for being old.
Then we had a Town Picnic where we ate salads, composed, egg, or crab. Composed salad is a mixture of Jell-O and mayonnaise and marshmallows. It sits on a plate and jiggles. I was always afraid to eat any of it.
The name of the day always gave me a sense of melancholy, a longing never to be filled.
My Nana was big on Old Home Day, she worked tirelessly along with her friends to make the floats and decorations for the parade. I went along as her companion, too young to be much help, but old enough to wander around the yard and barn by myself without being too much bother.
The day I ran away from the barn, I was very angry about something, probably something I wasn’t allowed to do, or touch. Or maybe it was because the little dog I got to see once a year, the one that belonged to a little old lady, had died. It didn’t seem right somehow, I only got to see the dog once a year and now he was gone. He looked just like Toto. Whatever it was that made me upset, I was steaming with resentment and determined to get away from the people that upset me.
I was never coming back.
A short way into my runaway field I noticed there were rows of plants that seemed to go on and on. Corn, long, tasseled, green, tomatoes, flowers, and other plants I didn’t know all stood in quiet calm. I heard a noise just ahead of me, a noise I’d never noticed before. It seemed to be calling me to come after it, but as soon as I got close to the gentle rasping sound, it stopped. I moved forward determined to catch that melody, to understand what it was telling me. I moved farther and farther away from the barn, from all the old women, deeper into this mysterious place, following the voice that called me.
The garden seemed to go on and on, there was no end to it. After I had followed that sweet sound that tickled my ears far enough to realize I’d never find the source I paused and looked around me. Overhead the light blue sky had a few passing clouds, perfectly round and white, moving slowly by as the sun warmed me. I had to stop and see where I was, where I had landed. I was in the middle of the garden now, the middle of the green rows of plants. The air was calm and still. I could smell sweetness coming from the rows of plants, the scent of herbs and growth. Everything was silent, the whole world had stopped to see this moment, this garden.
I wondered who had called me into this place. Who made that noise?
I felt like I was in the center of the secret. My anger was gone, I’d forgotten what I had been angry about. I could only stand and look around me at all the light and green and peace.
The sweet soft rasping started up again.
I stood there for a long time until I heard my Nana calling for me to come back, it was time to go.
Everything held a secret for me then, each object, each piece of cobalt blue, had something to tell me, something that would make me understand. I just had to wait and listen and I would hear it all.
I have often found myself listening to people tell their stories. People who had never talked about their past would suddenly stop what they were doing and tell me extraordinary things, painful things, that brought a deep silence to my mind. Still, I felt a voice inside of me that wanted to respond with my own story. I never allowed myself, until now, because it felt selfish to mention that I had suffered too. The silence created barriers of anger and sadness within me that were hard to breach. That I broke through that barricade by writing has been one of the great surprises of my life.
I started out as a visual artist, the painting on the cover is my work, and in other media such as fireworks, and performance art. My work has been seen throughout New England and internationally through artist exchanges in Macedonia and Croatia. Currently, I am the Director of a Public Library in New Hampshire.