Artes y Artesanias

Healing through the Arts

A Purse of One’s Own

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One of several one-of-a-kind tea storage boxes created for Silent Auction -- Women's Center of Greater Lansing, 2012

Wooden box, torn paper, found jewelry, bronze acrylic, sourced lettering & embellishment

My introduction to collage came in the 1970s when I was living in a small town in the Cascade mountains of central Washington.  It was a difficult time both emotionally and financially.

My new husband’s work schedule changed monthly as he moved from days, to swing, to night shifts. To keep busy during the long cold winters, I subscribed to a craft-of-the-month club.  Christmas ornaments, collaged storage boxes, and embroidered pictures sprang into existence from my hands.  Crocheted Granny Squares joined together to make vests and my potted plants found themselves suspended in macrame holders.  Decoupage — the cutting out and gluing of little pictures and sayings on to flat wooden surfaces — became a favorite pastime.  Within the financial limits of a young couple just starting out in our careers, these activities made it possible for me to continue to exchange presents with friends and family.

I became very active in our community theatre group and soon found myself appointed Theatre Arts Director at the high school where I taught French and Spanish.  Rehearsing, painting sets, and sharing laughter with students and friends filled the evening hours of his swing shifts.  Inevitably, however, each shift change caused a crisis at home, where I was expected to readjust my activities to fit my husband’s ideas of the appropriate way for a woman to spend her time.  Sick and frightened tightness twisted in my gut as I heard myself promise time and again to change and be good…..if he would only just be patient through the end of the run of whatever play or musical was in production.

As long as he was working, our combined income was just enough to cover expenses.  I could never predict, however, when someone on the job would do something to make him decide to quit.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul, I managed to stretch my salary to keep us afloat during the weeks to months it took for him to decide to go back to work.

On bi-weekly trips to the larger chain grocery store, my cheeks burned with shame as I heard my mother’s words echo in my head:  “My Pa never went on the dole during the Depression.”  Each time I exchanged food stamps for ground beef, potatoes, noodles, rice, canned gravy, iceberg lettuce, ripe tomatoes, and Green Giant Niblets corn (the latter being the only vegetables he ate without fussing), I wanted to just disappear into a hole where no one could see me.   My husband, on the other hand, jumped at the offer from the owner the town’s  independent grocery store to run a tab, much as one might do on a night on the town.  While bar tabs come due at the end of an evening, the grocery tab continued on for a month at a time.  It fell to me, just days before the arrival of my check, to figure out how to pay cash for cases of pop, beer, and whatever else had struck his fancy.

It was best not to remind him of how difficult it was to balance the books.  He was never physically violent, but the wounding words cut deep into a Spirit already damaged by psychological abuse in my family of orgin.  Through it all, I prided myself on managing to keep us afloat financially.  As I rotated paying late among our regular debts, our credit rating miraculously escaped ruin.  The month the tab included a can of “Reindeer Meatballs” pushed me over the edge.  My pitiful uprising precipitated the first of several of his trips back to his home state in Massachusetts where, in his mind, he would find work and respect.

Power  Alice WalkerFast forward nearly forty years.  That relationship is a dull memory that only resurfaces when I take the time to marvel at how far I have come.  As I remember other despairing women and men I have been privileged to know in the intervening years, I hope that the art I create and the skills I have learned to heal my own wounds, will be shared  in ways that stir their Souls.

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