Thursday, January 16, 2014

Virginia Chrisman-Jones

My mama, Virginia Chrisman-Jones
I was discussing with a friend this morning about how art is so subjective and so hard to describe in words. Many people try to describe art just as they constantly do love. With both, they can describe superficial qualities and use words to make themselves sound smarter and more sophisticated or experienced and wise but when it comes to describing the real qualities of either, words usually fail them. The true meaning of real art or real love is elusive and certainly very subjective with always a touch of mystery thrown into the mix.

When I lost my one and only pregnancy at 29, I felt as if a light went out inside my soul. I knew the moment my baby died and it felt as if part of me had died also. But something was born from that, I developed an odd ability to sooth crying babies and frightened animals. It was hard to put into words how I did this but I said something to my mom one time about what I'd learned, "Love isn't just an emotion, is it? It's an actual thing, more energy than solid but it is a real thing, not just a feeling." And my mom responded, "Oh, honey, you're just figuring that out?" with that smile of hers, full of love and I realized then that she'd been blanketing me with that real love for years. No, I can't describe it in words because like real art, it doesn't exist on that plane of understanding but it is real none the less.

Thinking about what my mom said to me reminded me of something. Mama was special and so wise. She was orphaned at 13 and had to quit school and go to work to support herself. When she came to Loudon to work in a mill her brother managed at 17, her shoes were tied together with string because the soles had come lose. She was always beautiful and loving and never resentful or spiteful....or any of the other things that people do with the excuse that they've had a hard life. She did however always feel less than other people. She felt her lack of education made her dumb. My dad made her feel worse about herself because he was an arrogant and angry man but even he couldn't break her loving spirit. I wish I'd told her how smart, how wise I thought she was. I remember an argument I had with her over her support of Ronald Reagan. I said it was idiotic to support such a phony. I made her cry. I've always regretted those words but when I said them, I never realized how deeply they would cut and how I could never take back that pain even with an apology. I've known some very educated people in my life, degrees out the yang-yang from the most prestigious schools, but none of them were as intelligent or as wise as my mom. She had a wisdom that was soul deep and her soul's depth was unfathomable. 

When she passed away nearly 24 years ago, I thought about what she'd said numerous times about her isolated life, imposed on her by my father for all of those years. When she was young, she was vibrant, full of life and so popular, people loved her. She said to me once that the only people attending her funeral would be the friends of her children. She was so wrong. The chapel was packed. Person after person came up to tell me how deeply she'd touched their lives. Many told me that the only time they'd felt loved in their entire lives was when Mama smiled at them. She had a gift, she had a wisdom for love and caring. My friends were at her funeral but they remarked on how the crowd that came to honor her spilled out into the foyer and how grown women and men were weeping openly. The minister who spoke at her funeral, spoke of her love for her children, her devotion and he too openly wept. I always knew that my mom was special, I knew that I not only loved her but that she loved me more than anyone ever would, but I realized at that moment just how lucky I'd been to have not only known someone as wonderful as her but to have her in my life. Jenny Jones, I still love you and miss you every day but the lessons you taught me are still growing inside my heart.

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