My Memoir: “Life is Art” ~ Judi Cain

(Outline version in celebration of my 77th Birthday)

invitation

For the past 16 years, I have talked about, thought about, and even written snippets of my Memoir. I’ve had a very adventurous life so far, and I have stories to tell! I believe they are stories that will inspire and entertain. During the past few weeks, the realization that I am not really 40-something, as my mind wants to believe, but I have actually lived 77 years! And this has made me want to celebrate in a way that I have never done before. I want to celebrate the Joy of Life and my connection with the Ultimate Creator through appreciation of the Gift of Creativity.

One of my lucky numbers is 77. So is 44, the year of my birth. And 11, and 22, 33, 55, 66, 88, 99, 111, 222 . . . . and so on, to infinity. Oh! And 13 is also one of them! Having a lot of lucky numbers gives me many reasons and occasions for celebration!

The first plan I had for my 77th birthday was to create an event on Facebook and invite all my friends to join me at Kanapaha Veterans Memorial Park in Southwest Gainesville on the afternoon of my birthday. We would have met in the center of the park where there is a big coral rock, surrounded with a circle of somewhat smaller rocks. We would all stand in a circle around the circle of rocks and be very still and quiet and listen to the sounds of Nature until we could be in tune with it – until we picked up on the Rhythm of the Universe.

I would have brought the two baskets full of rhythm instruments that I’ve collected through the years – maracas, tambourines, rhythm sticks, and lots of others I’ve found at craft shows and thrift stores, the most interesting of which is a zydeco tie that one plays with a thimble!

The baskets of instruments would be placed on the ground in the circle, and as each person felt the rhythm of Nature, they might pick up an instrument, or perhaps they might have brought one with them. Or they might simply start snapping their fingers, or clapping, or humming softly. We would continue to accompany the sounds of the birds, the rustle of the leaves, the soft whispers of the wind, the vibrational sounds of locusts and all the other subtle sounds of Nature, and gently accompany Her rhythm with our own.

Kanapaha Veterans Memorial Park, Gainesville, Florida

But then there’s Covid. And Covid ruins everything!

So I have decided instead, to write an outline of my Memoir to share on my birthday as a celebration of the wonderful life I am living.

And for anyone who likes the original idea of the Celebration of the Rhythm of Nature, I invite you to find your favorite place in Nature, wherever you are, around 4:00 pm (Florida time) on Wednesday, September 8, 2021, (or any other time you feel so inclined) and listen to the sounds and the rhythms of Nature and celebrate your own creativity in whatever way seems most appropriate with the knowing that we are doing this together, even though we are not gathered in the same location.

You may feel inspired to sing, or play instruments, or write a song or a poem. Or you may want to draw or paint or sketch or take photos. Or you may feel inclined to dance or meditate or pray or just look at and listen closely to all the miracles of Nature that surround us and connect us.

My cat, Stitch and I will be on my back porch, surrounded by a wonderful cathedral of trees, at that time. And if you can’t make it at 4:00, any time will do. We’ll still be connected!

Memoir notes Part 1: In the beginning

(This is not intended to be an actual memoir, rather an outline and notes relating to my path to become an artist)

Down on the farm 1946 – 1952

My early childhood was the happiest time of my life. I said this to my Mother once and she said those years that were so happy for me were the hardest years of her life. I am grateful for the sacrifices my parents made, but I feel so fortunate to have lived in that little two-room shack, with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no plastic toys, and no distractions from my connection with Nature. My toys were dirt and sand and flowers and seeds and moss. I got to walk the cow path every day to bring the cows from the pasture. We waded across the small creek that flowed behind our house and watched the birds build nests in the trees. I was thrilled to have a brand new pack of eight Crayolas on the first day of school, and the opportunity to draw whatever I wanted on the back of my spelling papers – after my lessons were done.

I was taught to draw a house by drawing a rectangle topped by a triangle on each end of the top, the triangles connected with a line at their tops. I was taught to draw a tree by drawing a brown rectangle with a green circle on top. I was allowed to color pictures that were mimeographed in purple lines on plain white paper. I was not allowed to waste paper by drawing on a clean sheet. I was allowed to draw on the back of my spelling test – the only one that didn’t have school work on both sides. I was taught to be very careful, to stay in the lines, color in one direction and not to “scribble.” I was told not to press too hard with the crayons or I might break them. I was taught to carefully peel the paper back when the point started to flatten, but not to peel too much of the paper away – that the paper protects the crayon from breaking. That box of crayons had to last all year!

I always got my assignments done as quickly as possible, so that I could draw “pretty pictures” while waiting for the others to finish their assignments. The teacher looked over my shoulder and said “You might be an artist when you grow up.”

I didn’t know what that meant. “What is an artist?”

Moving to the city, then to a small town 1952 – 1956

Then, when I was ready to begin 4th grade and my little brother was ready to start school, the world became larger. My Dad accepted a job at Douglas Aircraft in Tulsa. Being a peanut farmer was not working out. He wanted more for his family. He liked to say that we moved from “two rooms and a path, to three rooms and a bath.”

It was a traumatic change for me. I was so disappointed that it was not at all like the Dick and Jane second grade reader book, in which they lived in tall buildings waved at each other through windows and talked to each other with tin can and string “telephones.” There was no cow path to walk, no stream to wade in and no flowers to pick. There were streets and sidewalks and a little park about 3 blocks from our house with swings made of chains and a metal seat instead of rope chains and a wooden seat like my Dad hung from a tree at our place in the country.

The school I went to in fourth grade was huge compared to the little white school house I attended in the country. There, we had one teacher, in one room for the first 3 grades – all 18 of us! In the new school, in the “city” there was only one teacher for the entire fourth grade! And my brother, a “boomer” was in one of three first grade classes!

It must have been traumatic for my parents, as well, because half-way through the school year, my Dad found a little house to rent in Collinsville. It meant a longer drive every morning for him to go to work, but everyone was happier in the small town.

The school was much smaller and I was eager to make new friends. I remembered that when I was in first grade I learned to sing a couple of songs by “Little Jimmy Boyd.” The teacher liked my singing so much that she asked me to sing at the Christmas program. I sang “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus,” and “The Angels are Lighting God’s little candles.” Mom made me a pretty. light blue satin floor-length dress, with little pink ribbon roses on the scalloped collar. I sang on the stage all by myself and I was only six years old!

On rainy days, when we couldn’t go out for recess, I sang all the songs I knew for the class. Singing made everyone happy, even on rainy days, so all the kids liked me and that made me happy. I also drew pictures and gave them to my classmates. Sometimes someone needed help with spelling or arithmetic and I loved helping them and they liked me when I helped them. It was so nice to make new friends.

The school photographer came and took photos of each kid in the school. I copied my brother’s picture on the back of my spelling paper and soon my classmates were asking me to draw their pictures. I got lots of practice copying photos and the teacher told me that I might “be an artist someday.”

I didn’t know what an artist was, but I knew that she meant that I was a “good drawer,” which is what my classmates told me.

In Collinsville, my Mom found a little church for us to go to on Sundays and she made friends with a family who had a girl my age and two boys who were closer to my brother’s age. Our families got together on Wednesday nights and my Dad and Thurman could watch boxing on the black and white TV. My Mom and Tommie would make dinner and all us kids would play outside until dinner time so we wouldn’t be too noisy while the boxing match was on.

We went to church every Sunday morning and it was so much fun to be in Sunday School class with my new best friend, Bryanna.

During the sermon we had to be very quiet and my Mom let me bring my Cyd Cherisse paper dolls with me so I could make paper doll clothes for my “pretty girl” paper dolls. The little old ladies who sat behind me and watched me draw the frilly clothes told me after church “You’re going to be a fashion designer when you grow up!”

I didn’t know what a fashion designer was, but I liked the sound of it.

Our sixth grade teacher was always my favorite. Every day after lunch she read to us from Mark Twain’s books. She started with Huckleberry Finn, one chapter each day, and then Tom Sawyer. That was my first introduction to literature and I was hooked! It was much easier to go to the library in this little town than it was in the other places we lived.

And Mrs. Carroll started a 4-H Club for the 6th graders and with Mom’s help I learned to sew. I was also in 4-H club in the first four grades. My first project in first grade was a head scarf. The fabric was carefully measured. It had to be exactly square. I learned to pull one thread out on the measure line and the space where the thread had been was where it would be cut, nice and straight. When all four sides were perfectly squared, the next step was to pull more threads to make a fringe on each edge. The next project was a white cotton men’s handkerchief. Once again threads were pulled to make the handkerchief perfectly square. Next each edge had a 1/8″ fold, which was pinned, then ironed to stay in place. Then it was folded again to 1/4″ to complete the hem. Again, pinned in place and ironed, then slip-stitched (each stitch had to be exactly the same length) and the corners were perfectly mitered. I won a blue ribbon on both projects at the state fair! But all that was first grade.

In sixth grade I made a fully lined, two piece wool suit, with a kick-pleat in the straight skirt. It also won a blue ribbon at the state fair. But I hated wearing it because the wool was itchy on my skin. I was told that sewing skills were important in case I wanted to be a fashion designer. I thought “If this is what being a fashion designer is – all those tiny stitches, and measurements? Then I don’t want to be one.”

But we had a black and white tv and I discovered Jon Gnagy. On Saturday mornings he taught me to draw. I learned some things about drawing basic forms, shading and perspective. I didn’t have any art materials except a number 2 pencil, and notebook paper, but I learned a lot with what I had. That year for Christmas Santa brought me a Jon Gnagy drawing kit with real drawing paper and real charcoal and a book of drawings to copy so that I could learn his techniques! When all the paper was gone I drew on paper bags and wrapping paper and of course, the clean side of my school papers. I used every last crumb of the charcoal sticks.

Just as we were starting to feel at home . . .

Moving to Missouri

Junior high and high school 1956 – 1962

I’m not sure how it happened, but we were going to move again. It had something to do with Douglas Aircraft merging with McDonnell Aircraft and my Dad had accepted a job in St. Louis. The job started before school was out so Mom, my brother and I stayed in Collinsville and Dad went to St. Louis and started his new job. He stayed in an apartment in St. Louis until he found a house for rent in Pacific, Missouri, a small town about 35 miles west of St. Louis on Highway 66. We moved soon after school was out. It was a quiet little family neighborhood and we spent the summer getting to know our neighbors.

Then it was time for school to start. I would be in 8th grade and I would have to make new friends. Maybe I would even get to have an art class?

On the first day of school, I was so excited. Mom had made me a new navy blue taffeta circle skirt and I wore a white blouse with pretty lace on the bodice. I wore two can-cans under the skirt so it stood out nice and full. Mom went with me to the principals office to get me registered and the principal walked me upstairs to the 8th grade classroom and introduced me to the two 8th grade teachers – Mr. Edington and Mrs. Kase. Everyone in the class stared at me as I walked in. Mrs. Kase introduced me to the class and told me to be seated at an empty desk in the back of the room. As I walked down the aisle toward my seat, my taffeta skirt rustled and the crinolines made it take up the whole aisle and knock papers off desks as I passed.

Rabbit McPherson said “Hey! Your skirt’s too short.” Another boy said “God! You’re skinny!”

Everyone laughed.

I could feel my face burning and tears forming. I was well liked at all my other schools. Why were these boys being so mean to me?

“It’s ok.” I thought. “Once they get to know me, they’ll like me. When they see how smart I am and I can help them with their homework and I can draw pictures for them and I can sing. Then they’ll like me.”

You can imagine how that worked out! I made friends with some of the girls, but the boys were not even interested in being friends.

Adolescence is a hard time. Especially in a new school where your classmates, most of them, have known each other since first grade. And I was the new girl. Tall, skinny, brainy (we didn’t use the word nerd yet) and awkward. I didn’t know any dirty jokes to share on rainy day recesses. I didn’t even understand what they were saying! I was a loser!

And I still didn’t get an art class!

But I did get a oil paint-by-number set. I had never seen a real oil painting before and the kit included real oil paint in tiny little cups with numbers on the top. I painted the scene exactly as the instructions directed, matching the numbers on the canvas board picture with the numbers on top of the caps. And was thrilled to discover that when the painting was complete, there was still enough paint left over for me to make a painting!

I salvaged the side of a cardboard box and began to paint. The oil soaked into the cardboard leaving a powdery smear on top, which fell off when oil was dry. It was so disappointing. It never occurred to me to paint over the paint-by-number canvas! That would have felt disrespectful somehow.

(NOTE TO SELF: This is supposed to be an outline for my Memoir! I’ll add more stories later!)

High school will be better?

Pacific High school – 1959 – 1966

I really hoped that High School would change the atmosphere or change me. I made good enough grades to please my parents. But I was careful not to make the best grades. I found out that I wouldn’t be able to take art until 11th grade and 12th grade. I sang alto in the choir. It would have been cool to be a cheerleader, but they were selected by vote and no one would vote for the tall, skinny, brainy girl.

I took Home Economics and was president of the Future Homemakers of America, local chapter. I got the role of an old lady in both the junior and senior plays, powdered grey hair and all. That gained me a little acceptance, because the cool kids were in the plays. I did most of the designing and decorating for the Junior prom. But I didn’t have a date. I drew a picture of the dress I wanted for prom and my mother made it exactly like what I drew. I copied more of my friends school pictures. I wanted to be a majorette in the marching band, but you had to play in instrument with the band. The music teacher told me they needed someone to play the sousaphone. I tried. But I was too skinny to carry it around so I learned to plan the glockenspiel (or bell lyre.) After a year of playing the glockenspiel in the marching band, I was finally eligible to be a majorette!. I had been teaching myself to twirl a baton since junior high and I finally made it!

And finally, my junior year I had my first art class! I couldn’t contain my excitement! The first assignment was to find a picture in a magazine that we’d like to paint or draw. Then we could copy it on typing paper. So during those two years of art class I drew and painted, copying magazine photos and my friends’ school pictures. I got to use clean sheets of typing paper! We drew with pencil and charcoal and colored pencils. And I painted with watercolors – not the kind in tubes, but the kind you buy at Woolworths in the craft aisle.

At our senior awards assembly, Mr. Davis, the art teacher presented me with the Senior Art Achievement Award. When I went up to receive the award he said “I am so pleased to present this award to you, Judi. And please, go into art education. It’s so rewarding!”

A few minutes later Mrs. Leiweke announced that I had also won the Senior Home Economics Achievement Award. She said “I’m so pleased to present this award to you, Judi. And please, go into home economics education. It’s so rewarding.”

Everyone laughed.

I assumed it was because everyone knew that I was going to be an artist.

A couple of days later, not long before graduation, Mr. Henderson, the guidance counselor called me into his office. “Judi, what do you want to do with your life?” I was shocked! How did he not know that I was going to be an artist? So I gently reminded him. “I want to be an artist!”

Mr. Henderson shook his head sadly. “Your parents can’t afford to send you to art school. You have a scholarship to state college. You can go there and major in art.”

“But what if I want to be a fashion designer?” I asked.

“Then you should take home economics classes too.” He advised..

So I did.

Southeast missouri state teachers college 1962-1966

My parents drove me to Cape Girardeau in the fall of 1962. I moved into a women’s dorm, Dearmont Hall, third floor. My roommate was a junior, majoring in elementary education. After Mom and Dad got me all settled in they went home and I was officially a college student.

I made friends with some of the girls on my floor. One of them wrote poetry. I was amazed! I didn’t know that there were any people who actually wrote poetry. You see, we never opened our literature books in high school. They stayed in the locker all year while we learned grammar rules from a grammar workbook. I loved hearing her read her poems so much that I went to the library – a huge old gothic building that had thousands of books on every subject, all easily accessible through the Dew Decimal System.

Soon I was writing poetry of my own. But that’s another story for later.

I met with the scheduling counselor and signed up for Drawing One, Design One, Honors English (because of all the grammar experience) Algebra One, Chemistry One (necessary to be a home economics minor) Recreational Games (for physical education) and history of some kind. I don’t remember.

My scholarship only covered tuition and part of my dorm fees. My Mom sent me some money she made from sewing and alterations, and I got a job as a waitress at Tony and Pat’s Italian Restaurant for seventy-five cents per hour. I worked there on evenings and weekends. There are some good stories about that experience.

I took as many art classes as I could after signing up for the required courses.

In honors English our first assignment was “Write a half-sheet critical analysis of John Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony.” He might as well have been speaking Russian. I stayed after class to ask him. He patiently explained. And I fell in love with literature. I made an A in the class and ended up with a double major in Art and English, with a minor in Home Economics.

There are many stories to tell about those four years.

Toward the end of my senior year, as graduation was getting near, the Dean of Women Students called me to her office for a conference.

“Judi. You have not signed up for Student Teaching!” She said.

“Oh! But I don’t want to be a teacher!” I laughed. “I want to be an artist!”

“Oh my!” she said. “I hope you understand that you are at a State Teachers College. If you don’t student teach, you will not be able to graduate.”

So I signed up for student teaching.

My assignment was in DeSoto Public School, High School Art. She was an amazing teacher and I loved working with her and learned more from her than in any of my classes in college.

And she was moving, so I was offered the job to replace her for the next school year!

I’m a teacher!

Teaching in Desoto, missouri public school 1967 – 1969

I was the only art teacher in the system. I was to teach Grades 7 though 12. Each student got one hour of art per week. There was no art offered to elementary students. There were seven class periods in a day. They asked me to teach freshman English for two of those periods. That’s how important art was.

(There are stories to tell about my experiences while teaching here, as well about my experiences when not teaching. I was beginning to make art on my own. I was beginning to feel like a real artist)

Charlie and the motorcycle trip

A romantic beginning to my first marriage. He said he was an artist.

We bought a 750 BMW and a small tent, sleeping bags and leather jackets and helmets and rode from Missouri to Los Angeles, camping in National Parks along the way. We visited our friends in L. A., then rode up the coast into Canada, across 3 Canadian Provinces, then down into Yellowstone National Park. We met so many amazing people and saw incredible things. So many stories to tell about this 3 month adventure in the summer of 1969.

Seven years of teaching in missouri public schools. 1966- 1972

Leaving missouri in a vw van, heading to Florida to be a “real” artist. 1973

Quit my teaching job, sold everything except what fit in the van and headed to Florida in October of 1973. Lived in the van in campgrounds. I brought with me the first “real artist” I had ever met. He’s a genius! We finally found an art show in Key West and entered his first six wood carvings in that show. Found out about another show in Titusville and went there. I did $5.00 pastel portraits in the campground to make money to pay campground fees.

While in the campground, waiting for the show in Titusville, we met a group of traveling artists from California who did art shows in shopping malls. We didn’t do the Titusville show. Instead, we joined up with them and did shows from Florida to Maine, camping in the mall parking lots and showing and producing our work in the mall. They already had a portrait artist traveling with the group, but she worked in pastels, so I could join if I worked in watercolors. So I did. (Some great stories relating to these adventures.)

Blew an engine in the middle of the 7-mile bridge on the way to Key West.

Found an abandoned dog in the KOA campground in Homestead. She lived with us for 15 years.

We needed a bigger place to live so we bought a school bus that had been converted to a motorhome. Left the van at his dad’s place in Mississippi so we’d have a vehicle to do art shows there after we finished the Florida Mall tour.

Rebuilt the VW engine using “The Idiot’s Guide to VW Repair.”

Bus blew the transmission on the NY Freeway, somewhere in northern NY.

Broke down in Miami in a friend’s apartment parking lot. Sold the bus and rented an apartment.

Got jobs working for an amazing couple who had a wholesale craft supply business in the height of the macrame’ frenzy.

(There’s so much more, but my eyes are burning and I have to stop. Tomorrow is my 77th birthday. This outline will continue. I will work on it every day until it’s completed, if I live that long. I will be adding photos and more stories.)

3 thoughts on “My Memoir: “Life is Art” ~ Judi Cain

  1. Can’t wait to hear more!
    It reminds me of my certainty as a child: I am going to be an artist!!

    I’m a proofreader, but the only spot that I noticed was: Dewey Decimal

    I’m in love with the number 77, too!
    Hugs and birthday wishes,
    Elisheva

    Liked by 1 person

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