We Are The World

Without the tea bag for size reference, you can’t tell that this piece is 25 inches long. That’s about 25 million tea bags long. I’m not good at math.

Twenty years ago, a very kind and adorable and lovable man asked me to sew something for him. Specifically, he asked to sew an embroidery of the school house at the Farm Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

Cooperstown is a small village in update New York (that means it’s practically in Canada) that is famous for being the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But this wonderful man, my Uncle Rolly, who I loved very much, was not a baseball fan, so when he went to Cooperstown it was all about the Farm Museum.

Which is weird. Uncle Rolly was a life-long, born and bred, New York City boy; so why he loved the farmer’s museum is a mystery but there you are. Life is mysterious.

For some reason, Uncle Rolly became smitten with the school house there:

He came back from Cooperstown, in 1997, and he had a vision that this school house would look sweller than swell as an old-timer “sampler” embroidery. Uncle Rolly loved early American art.

So, in 1997, when I was 41 years old, I designed and sewed this sampler-type depiction of the school house at the Farm Museum for Uncle Rolly. I was not especially inspired by the subject, being as I was a world traveler and all, and he wanted something about the hick boondocks of upstate New York . . . but for Uncle Rolly, I would do anything.

P. S.: I can’t believe that it was 20 years ago. I for sure as shit can’t believe that I was 41 years old TWENTY IMPOSSIBLE YEARS  AGO. But there you are. Life is mysterious.

My first true cat love, Woody Robinson, died in 1996; so for a few years after his departure for the Rainbow Bridge, I used to “sign” all my embroideries with a little Woody Robinson. That’s Woody, above.

The reason that I have this embroidery hanging on my dining room wall is because my dear sweet Uncle Rolly died three years ago, on September 20, 2014, (you might have read my post about how I did his obituary for the New York Times) and he willed that every piece of art that I did for him would come back to me. This is one of the pieces I got back. There are six so far: I’m still looking for the Hebrew alphabet that I sewed . . . that has gone missing. (Yes, I can read and kind-of write Hebrew. Let’s discuss soon.)

I miss my Uncle Rolly, who wasn’t my real Uncle Rolly due to his being the husband of my step-father’s sister, but who told me that he would always be my Unlce Rolly no matter what, and was the most lovable relative I ever had through all my parent’s many marriages and divorces and half-relatives and step-relatives. For example, my mother divorced her Uncle Rolly-relatated-husband in 1970, and in 1997 Rolly was still my favorite relative.

Uncle Rolly didn’t like cats, AT ALL, hard as it is to fathom — he really, really didn’t like cats. But he let me bring Woody Robinson into his house on multiple occasions. He said, “I love Woody because you love Woody.”

Woody Robinson, with embroidery of his favorite violets, page 67 in When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

That just shows you what kind of man he was.

I wanted to do this blog because you, Dear Readers and I, being (mostly) women in the world have experienced the despicable, abhorrent, disgusting, vile behavior of men in our private and public lives. EVERY woman alive today has a story. I have stories. OK, I have about two stories, and they are just the run-of-the-mill tales of old men kissing me on the mouth and telling other people in the workplace about it and having them say to me, “Oh, yeah, that’s what [fill in name] does.”

I’m ecstatic that women are telling those stories and naming names. It has to be done.

Men who have denigrated us, men who have loved/validated us.


P.S.  When Uncle Rolly met Top Cat,  Unce Rolly thought T.C. was a nice guy . Then I told Uncle Rolly that on our second date, Top Cat brought presents for each of my five cats.  Uncle Rolly (who, remember, detested cats), said to me: Marry him.

Have a great weekend, my dear Warrior Readers. I know that each of you have more than survived male entitlement: you have prevailed. Because WE ARE WHO WE ARE.


25 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan

    Oh Vivian you made me cry. I think I love Uncle Rolly for his wisdom. (I don’t think he really detested cats, he was so considerate of them and I know he did that because he loved you but still… You were indeed lucky to have Uncle Rolly in your life, I do love his obituary. Woody Robinson looks just like our dear Chester who crossed over in early 2014, still missed even though we have brought Clive into our home and hearts. I have a thing about eastern calligraphy, just love it, I did a four year diploma in western calligraphy and practice far too seldom. Last weekend Sydney held an ‘open’ where building in the CBD were open that are not normally open to the public. Many times I have walked past the Great Synagog and thought I’d love to see inside. So we did as it was open to the public. It is very beautiful and has a beautiful blue ceiling with 1700 gold stars painted on it. It signifies religion lighting the way. I would love to see your Hebrew sampler when you find it. I have a story too about men in power, I went for a job interview at a tv station when I was about 18 years old, a friend who I went to school with and worked there called me a liar and said the exchange never happened. I think that sort of denial happens a lot. Have a great weekend.

    • Vivian

      Wow. I just looked up the Great Synagogue in Sydney and it’s amazing! It looks as if it was transported, atom by atom, from middle Europe. I wold never have thought that something like that cold be built in the far-off land of Oz.

      I hope that shit head who called you a liar is re-thinking their (his?) attitude to sexual harassment, looking back on their (his) life and friendships and maybe remembering the incident you described and is feeling like a slimy piece of wombat turd for doubting you.

  2. Love the sampler so much. Love the little Woody Robinson by your signature. Love the sound of Uncle Rolly. What a lovely post . And also, I’d like to say that when I was at the Women’s March in January and there were people quoting and waving signs with Maya Angelou’s “I Rise” on display I was cynical. I did’t mean to be, but even all of those bajillion women crowded around me didn’t feel like enough to wage war on the grabby handed men who are perpetually in positions of power. But after all the whistleblowing in Hollywood and Washington, and after Tuesday, well, I may be one-one-hundredth less cynical about what women can accomplish and their ability to rise in the face of adversity.

    • Vivian

      Isn’t it glorious, watching women get on the war path? We have to support all those Warriors who are naming names and telling their stories. I mean, if they can do it in freaking Alabama, they can do it ANY WHERE and EVERYWHERE.

  3. Love your stitchery:)I do remember that post..amazing what we remember!
    I am like your uncle w/ cats..severe allergies did that to me..but when my friend lived across the street and traveled..I loved making sure Zak was fed..had a clean place and I talked to him..lol I did..every visit!..it’s not a dislike of cats..it’s what they do to me..:(
    I have had to go outside in minus temps to catch my breath..wheeze all night..and fear I could not catch it again.

  4. I’m pretty sure Uncle Rolly didn’t really love cats deep down; from what you have said he seems to me like a man who said what he meant and meant what he said. But what a gift that he could recognize that YOU loved cats and give that love its due.

    I have been so saddened by all the many stories. I’ve been somewhat bitter from birth so I’m not really surprised by any of them, but saddened because it has not really been my experience and I wish all women could say that. Almost universally I have known/dated/married men who did not denigrate or pressure me. I have always attributed this to some weird combination of a lot of self confidence + having very short hair for most of my dating life, which seemed to be a built-in filter to skim off all men who cared only about long hair. (Oh: and I had a lot of plain old good luck.)

    I am totally on board with your whole post except the reference to your Warrior Readers. Talk about a tired male/violent/controlling trope: the “Warrior.” Can we find some other word to denote strong women that doesn’t just co-opt male Warrior imagery? How about Citizens? Maintainers? Those Who Endure? None of those are catchy, I know, but I wish we could find our own, better option. Discuss.

    • Vivian

      Why not Warriors? Who said that being pro-active, noisy, demanding, revolting against the status quo, and being an everyday all-around shit kicker isn’t feminine? Women have been told to sit down and endure, put up, stop complaining, and make nice for eons. It’s time to cause a little trouble, and that means willing to fight against tradition and expectations. Like Warriors.

  5. Bunny

    Your posts are usually funny, spirited, up lifting, informative, charming (I could go on and on), and dare I say whimsical, but not usually MOVING, as todays class was. Thanks, I needed a good cry. Its always nice when you have someone like an Uncle Rolly in the family, and can look up to him, and have a friend at the same time.

    Happy Friday, and hearts out to all the Vets…

  6. Kirra

    Thanks for this lovely moving post about your uncle, he sounds the best! I remember reading your great obituary for him. Your embroidery is amazing. I love the flowers and cat, dear Woody Robinson, the most. I like his advice to marry top cat, but also impressed by top cat’s presents for your cats!

    People and family (whoever you really connect with) are so important to us, as humans we need that connection to others. Sometimes I feel this gets lost in the world of economics and power.

    I was raised with a strong feminist mother and philosophical father so I’m not surprised by what has happened but I am also lucky that personally nothing truly bad has happened to me, maybe because of my upbringing.

    These are not nice things to talk about, so often they aren’t, and I do feel that you need to be strong and warrior like to address them (even just mentally), as Vivian said it does need to be discussed by society. And unconcious male entitlement exists in many places.

    My favourite men are: my partner who I met in second year of university and have been together ever since, my dad who I can always talk to (we love a good debate over an issue), my vague younger brother, my Grandpa who due to being old has quite different views sometimes but who always has a good joke or commentary to make, my uncles and cousins and some fabulous colleagues/friends. Plus being a teacher I get to meet many fabulous boys who will be good men in the future.

    • Vivian

      You are very fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful men, by fate and by choice.

      And by the way, CONGRATULATIONS on the YES vote!! I know you were on the right side of history on that one, and it’s a big, big win for humanity.

  7. Uncle Rolly was right. (And Top Cat was a wise suitor!). I love that your connection and closeness to Uncle Rolly didn’t change just because the family dynamics did. When you have a good person in your life, you keep that good person and that’s that. And boy, does he sound good. And kind. (And everyone has their cat exception! Some just take longer coming around than others.)

    I love seeing Woody Robinson as your signature cat. I remember stories and illustrations of him from the very first time I read Wanderers. (Yes, I’ve read more than once.) And I love how you included him in the embroidery. Oh, we miss them, don’t we? Even when loads of others come along, no one takes their place; the heart just gets bigger to let the newbies in.

    The news this week is grim and so twisted. Roy Moore is the last straw, both what he did and how people are reacting to it (or not or with the “if, then” qualification.) It keeps getting worse. And the blame the victim… good grief. Someone finally gets the nerve and courage to come out in the open and people jump on her?

    I’d rather think about your Uncle Rolly or the nice and kind men I have known in my life who were good people. Not without flaws, but genuine human flaws that don’t hurt anyone. There are so many good ones…

    • Vivian

      Uncle Rolly was the best of the best. Unlike all those Alabamans who will still vote for Roy Moore because a creepy lying pedophile with hardly the brains to understand that the separation of church and state is the bedrock of American democracy because Roy More is a “godly man”. I guess all those Christians in Alabama worship a pervert god.

  8. Becky

    I loved this post. I went back and reread the obit. What a wonderful tribute….I felt like I knew him after reading it and felt he was someone I would like to talk to. It was interesting his interest on the little schoolhouse…..what a gift of love for you to do the sampler for him. And I love, Love ,love that Woody Robinson is part of the signature. (Steve reminds of Woody). Your heart breaks when a beloved furry side kick leaves you, but I feel like they still walk with you through life. My first dog was so calm, and I know she is having a good laugh over the antics of Katie.
    I admire these strong women who have come forward. But what a quandary that so many of these creeps have lost their jobs, and one of the biggest abusers is still getting secret service protection.

    • Vivian

      Strange, isn’t, how upright and moral the Republicans are until they have to show some backbone or some courage in their convictions. Even the ones who get in front of Congress to denounce the hypocrisy and mendacity of their party won’t NAME NAMES. Well, that’s what happens when you’ve been appealing to the scumbag nut jobs on the far right: you become beholden to their stupidity.

  9. Those embroideries are beautiful. (But is there really a tea bag in that top picture? Why can’t I see it? Am I blind?) Uncle Rolly sounds like a special guy. It’s amazing the impact that such people have on our lives, whether they’re aware of it or not.

    • Vivian

      I usually put a tea bag near my art works to show size, tea bags being a more universal measure tea inches or the dreaded centimeters. But no, there is nothing wrong with your eyes — there isn’t an actual tea bag in this post — but watch for the next one. Tea bags are back.

  10. What can I say, I am a slow learner at removing abuse from my life, but you give me courage and I am learning. We stand together as strong women. I am so happy you have Top Cat in your life and wonderful memories of Uncle Rolly.

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