When I was little Mame had an African grey parrot named Kato who hated us children with the zeal of a terrorist, and accompanied Mame everywhere she went, perched on her shoulder. The effect was of a querulous Athene noctua, the Little Owl of Athena, Mame's very verbal daemon. Kato knew some Latin names of flowers (Mame was a well-known horticulturist) and nuzzled her cheek tenderly as she read the paper every morning. He also embarked on theatrical nervous breakdowns when the sole object of his avian affection hosted dinner parties for other humans, during which he'd pull out his feathers and scream expletives at the guests. But Kato adored Mame, and Mame –for his devotion and ability to sing with her in French– loved Kato.
In Mame's greenhouse: slipper orchid varieties from Borneo, massive ferns she'd propagated from spores at Planting Fields, grafted heirloom roses, cascading garlands of winter jasmine. Here and there between the terracotta pots my sisters and I would on occasion find Kato's evil molted feathers. They looked like pigeon feathers, nothing remarkable (I'm in the studio right now and realize they were the exact color of Old Holland Davy's grey oil paint).
And yet somewhere in a shoebox of girlhood wampum stashed under my bed at the farm is a collection of Kato feathers, tied up with a piece of garden twine from Mame's greenhouse. I think I kept them all these years because under my surface-level repugnance toward him, I admired Kato for his deep devotion to Mame (in this way Kato and I had something in common). The grey feathers of the dead parrot who loved my dead great-aunt.
It's a way to hold on to her.
Last week after class I took Maggie to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to see the Titian, ogle the chrysanthemum display, sit in front of the canary in the reading room and wait for him to warble.
PAINTINGS. PLANTS. BIRDS.
It's no wonder why the Gardner is my favorite museum.
I miss Mame often, sometimes so deeply and suddenly a sluice of tears fills my eyelids before I can locate the trigger. One morning last spring in New York the Dutch parrot tulips spilled from every bodega on 2nd Avenue and I fled to tulipless 1st Ave to gather myself before rushing to a studio visit with a famous painter who turned out to be a lecherous faux-spiritualist with halitosis. After he left (thank GOD) I went out and bought myself two dozen tulips on the way to the F train and smiled the whole way home.
The lesson there has something to do with embracing your grief. Also, oral hygiene.
In my experience one passes some invisible threshold around the age of thirty and no longer cares about impressing people in general but wishes to dote emphatically on the people one loves and trusts. I suppose it's just people growing up. I see this happening all around me in my circle of friends.
P. and I are spending our last morsel of expendable income flying to the desert for his 30th birthday later this week after I finish my last class, and I can't wait to celebrate together with our friends in our favorite place on earth. P. and I have been working on a big project that will allow us to spend more time out there, and I can't wait to share more soon.
One last thing. My wonderful friend Kelly made a downloadable calendar featuring successfully adopted cats and dogs, and a clematis-crowned Dolly is Miss November. You can read about Kelly's project here, and download the sweet calendar here. All proceeds go to the Human Society.
HAPPY NOVEMBER, SCORPIOS!