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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention


Chasing Matisse: The Book

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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention

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July 2, 2003


I slept very little for days. There was too much awful business to do, decisions to make, and I wanted this memorial for my mother to be personal and dear, a celebration of her life. But I was wrung out. My body clock was whacked, and my brain wouldn't work. Who knows what I said? I didn't recognize people I'd known all my life.

We were excited to see our pets, Snapp and Cleo, but they had mixed reactions to us. Before this, when we went away on a trip, feline Cleo usually acted mad when we returned. This time she couldn't have been more thrilled. Snapp the dog, who was usually beside himself when we came home, gave us a little snub which, of course, hurt our feelings. We may have left, but we hadn't abandoned him. Had we? In truth, I think all the children whether human or animal felt alike. We hadn't given them up, but we'd left all the same.

I was overwhelmed by all the people who came to Mother's visitation, a custom some people don't like, but I think gives a chance for people to register a death and express memories and feelings, give and receive support. It's a way to begin processing, accepting, and dealing with it. My mother's friends and neighbors told me story after story that she'd never disclosed about herself. They all added up to how much good my mother did. You could count on Bobbye was the theme, but the variations included how much people loved and respected her and would miss her just like me. It was really wonderful for my Little Rock friends Thom and Buddy to make the drive up.

Her funeral was grand with the McAlister tartan up on display, flowers cascading everywhere, and the church I'd grown up in filled with friends and family. It felt intime as I stood up to deliver the eulogy I so wanted to give to honor my mother publicly. Mother would've been so pleased with all of the above as many people told me afterwards.

My mother would've been proud. I think the desire to please your parents never goes away, and it wasn't always easy to please Bobbye. She'd devoted herself to us when we were young children and dealt as best she could with the young widowhood and independence she was forced into when my father suddenly died. But it was tough, and she didn't get support from people she should have. Difficult years followed. When my younger brother Brent died, this was another terrible loss for us. Mother could've become bitter, but she grew and mellowed, and she and I forged a different relationship. She appreciated my caring heart, work, and hardships with my own children. She expanded and evolved to support gay rights and causes, when it had once been problematical for her to accept that her son was gay and died of AIDS. Her liberal Democratic political views were an area we always bonded in, and as I'd matured and she'd gotten older, we'd each seen the other more clearly and forgiven old hurts from the past. She'd been sad for Jim and me to leave for Europe. She'd valued our not being far away. I hate it that my mother was sad and lonely (even though I believe this is partially a function of age or, at the other end of the spectrum, can happen any time throughout life), but I believe that she felt this way more often than I would like to admit or think about.

While we were in Arkansas, we visited with friends and family and that felt solid, strong, and good. We shopped for items we needed. I love buying French products too, but some things and stores just aren't as good. It was euphoria to be in Target.

We were in Arkansas for almost two weeks, and then it was time to return to chasing M. Matisse. I still felt exhausted and was on the verge of freaking out. I had to leave much undone at my beloved mother's, and the thought of dismantling her house was almost more than I could bear to think about. In fact, the two homes I once had and adored will be gone in less than a year. This is major psychological trauma to deal with-on top of the fact that My Mother Is Dead and never got to come and see for herself and enjoy the nice life we have here (even though I believe she is bathed in the light of God, surrounded by joy, peace, and her loved ones).

Friend Patti drove us to the airport in her newly-restored 1964 Mustang convertible. Otherwise, I would've wept and wept. But the wind blowing through my hair in that cool car was a tonic. It was difficult to leave and hard to stay in Arkansas. France reclaimed me.

We arrived in Marseilles the next day not knowing where we'd spend the night. The Hotel de Cacharel where we'd left all the belongings we'd been hauling all over France was full. I called our next stop along the way-Cassis and the Mahogany Hotel de la Plage. I have never been more delighted than when the helpful clerk told me they had a garden room. Jim, being a dear and a trooper, would drive back to the Cacharel to retrieve our stuff the next day. Cassis was only 30 minutes from Marseilles, smack dab on the Mediterranean. We'd take a little R & R.

When we arrived we had a large and lovely room of Provencal deep red and gold, brick floors, lovely products, and a bath. Oooh. The Mahogany was directly across the street from a wonderful beach, and the view was magnificent! We had an elegant dinner at the Mahogany's sister hotel's Jardin d'Emile restaurant right next door. I savored a most delicious vegetable flan and fish, while Jim relished hot chevre and lamb with artichoke hearts. It was Easter, one of Mother's favorite holidays. Mine too. Should we have stayed and enjoyed the holiday with our family? I don't know. Bret had left for Virginia. She'd already missed a week of school. Blair would've been happy to spend more time with us, and it would've been nice to be with my brother and his family. We've spent many Easters together, and dying eggs is always a big event. We draw pictures and designs on the eggs with crayons-artistic, funny, social commentary, whatever-and we dye by the dozens. But Jim and I both felt pressure to get back and continue our adventure and journey. He has a book to write, a deadline to meet, and we were already behind.

While Jim drove back to the Camargue the next day, I slept late and then packed up our suitcases to move to a room with a view of the sea. Our garden chambre was luscious and larger than the new one but didn't have the view of the Mediterranean-water in hues of milky to deep emerald green by the shore, and as the liquid became deeper, ponds of deep purple spread over the cobalt sea. I walked to the village and bought a bottle of champagne, which we drank when Jim got back as the sun was setting, and the sea reflected the copper of the mountain it lapped up to. The moment was serene.

Life goes on. The world evolves, and so do we with love and laughter and new beginnings. But life also stops. It will never be the same again, and this hits me at the oddest moments. At such times, I feel the loss of Mother empty in me. It can never be refilled. I am sorrow. I am like my children and pets: My mother did not abandon me, but I am abandoned as well.

posted by Beth on July 2, 2003 | View All Diary Entries

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