Daily Post: But No Cigar!

The prompt, to write about a time when “things came this close to working out…but didn’t” immediately made me remember a night in New York City when I’d just returned from making a movie in Mexico. The time, December 1985, and the place a Christmas party at my agent’s offices.

I’ve never been particularly great at parties and in New York I’d perfected the art of wallflower, hugging the sides of the party, rarely speaking, watching. But at this Christmas party, it was impossible to go unnoticed. My agent at the time introduced me as Janet-who’s-just-come-back-from-making-a-movie-in-Mexico as if I were a trophy rather than a person.

I must say, the introduction created a stir and everyone wanted to talk to me, the “everyone” being mostly other actors. I don’t remember any directors or producers although there might have been. I was too overwhelmed with questions and comments and hosannas to catch any names.

Everyone wanted to know who were the stars, who wrote the script, who directed, who were the stars, who produced, who were the stars. No one asked about Mexico.

Old Man Laughing
Old Man Laughing

I’d fallen in love in those six short weeks – with the people, the land, the sky, mountains, kindness and generosity. One night, I was blessed by a Mexican healer who was also my hairdresser, a curendera (who would later, after I moved to Mexico, become my mentor), and another day after I’d finished shooting, I’d driven into the countryside by myself and met extraordinary and ordinary Mexicans who all opened their arms and homes.

But at the party, no one asked about Mexico. And I felt pinned to the wall by their questions. I was on the brink of whatever measure success meant, and I hated every minute of it.

Over the next year, I kept returning to my friends in Mexico City whenever I could and finally, after one two-month stay escaping the bitterness of New York winters, I simply stayed. I didn’t go back. And I lived in Mexico for three years.

I stayed because I convinced myself there was film work I could do in Mexico through friends and contacts. And I did do more work. Many U.S. productions came to Mexico to shoot because it was cheaper and sometimes I worked as an actress and sometimes as a crew member. But I never went back to New York to live.

When I finally left Mexico, I moved to Washington D.C., essentially ending a serious film career although I have done film work since then in bits and pieces.

The second part of the Daily Prompt question was “Would you like the chance to try again, or are you happy with how things eventually worked out?”

Would I go back and redo the choice? No. Although each year when the Oscar season comes up, I feel a ping. I do like to visit New York and would even enjoy a summer-long stay; would I go back and redo the choice to return to the States from Mexico? No. But I’d go back to visit or live a few months in Mexico. Am I happy with how things worked out? Absolutely.

Fate and free will are interesting concepts, both in the thinking and in the living. I’ve thought about this often in my life of journeying and changing and layering careers. Which part is fate and which free will?

If I’d stayed in New York or even Mexico, I wouldn’t have married Cliff and I’m happier now, in our 1924-built Waldo home and with Cliff than I’d ever be just making movies, even in Mexico. Now, if I don’t feel like talking at a party, I smile while Cliff stands beside me, holds my hand, and carries on the conversation.

If you’d like to try the prompt yourself, go to http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/daily-prompt-close-2/

Grandparents in the Grass

Grandparents’ Iris

The question for someone who writes memoirs is, of course, “Who am I?” My answer at the moment seems to have evolved into, “I’m my grandparents.”

The wind in a willow began the whole thing: nothing soothes like a willow, in or out of a breeze, but in a breeze, it’s magic. And then too, we had a boggy stretch in the yard, maybe an underground stream, that seemed to need a water-soaking sort of plant. We planted a willow.

The next spring, or the one after, it seemed a most reasonable thing to create a flower plot along that section, beginning with circling the willow and running twenty-five feet or so beyond. My son did the heavy work, plowing up the heavy Missouri soil with the rotor tiller, adding mulch and compost, tilling again. My job is planting. I planted iris and peonies. Not just any iris and peonies, mind you, but Kansas iris and Kansas peonies.

The flowers of grandparent memories. This is how that all came about.

My cousin Howard, who looks just like Grandpa Sunderland, white beard and all, dug up some peonies at his house and gave them to me. I’d planted them in a back garden but they didn’t get enough sun to be really happy and I knew I needed to move them. It was Howard who first told me who I look like. We were out to dinner after I’d first moved to Kansas City and I said, “Howard, you’re one of the oldest cousins and we know you look like Grandpa Sunderland; who do I look like?” And he reared back in his chair, raised eyebrows and all (Howard is a very low-key person so that’s about all that happened to telegraph surprise), and he said, “Well, Grandma Sunderland, of course!” I laughed out loud. “So Grandpa and Grandma Sunderland are having dinner together,” I said.

That was the peonies part of the garden that developed around the willow. Kansas farms always had peonies. We had peonies, Grandma Sunderland had peonies, but she also grew yellow iris.

The iris part comes from years and years of smelling purple iris whenever I saw them, hoping to smell the telltale Kansas smell of grape soda. It never happened until one spring when I was up visiting a farm neighbor, Zita, and her iris bloomed all around the garage, both yellow and purple. I smelled the purple and they smelled like Grandpa Joe’s.

Grandpa Joe Ellis was my mother’s father. I remember him tending his iris and roses. I have roses, too. Grandpa had a huge backyard in Barnes, Kansas, stretching all the way back to the ditch before the railroad tracks. He also had cherry trees and peach trees and apple. And a garden. But the grape pop iris? They smelled like home. As a kid, I love that grape pop!

Zita said her iris needed to be separated anyway, so after blooming she dug up the roots and put them in plastic grocery bags for me. Bags and bags. She separated the yellow from the purple and the hybrids in yet another bag. All told I had some eight plastic bags of iris rhizomes. Stephen finished the garden tilling and I planted. Kansas iris at one end, hybrids at the other, transplanted peonies in the middle. They were all outrageously gorgeous and prolific and early. No peonies and iris for Memorial Day this year.

I cut peonies and iris, arranged them in vases around the house. More bloomed. I took some to church. And every time I walk into the backyard, I remember grandparents.

I didn’t ask enough questions of my grandparents when they were alive and I wish I had. Did you? How do you retrieve your grandparent memories?