Let sleeping cats lie ~

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Despite the recent elevation of Norman Rockwell’s reputation in the art world, he’s still not my cup of tea, and I still see him more as an illustrator (albeit a superb one). But there are definitely things to admire about his art. For example, in his painting “Facts of Life,” which shows a father telling his embarrassed son about the birds and the bees, he has included a sleeping cat (shown above) under the father’s chair, and kittens playing on the boy’s chair. It’s subtext par excellence: a sly way of directly depicting the very topic—sex and reproduction—that is being so earnestly discussed in the abstract. It also cleverly pairs the adults (man and cat) and the young’uns (boy and kittens): experience on one side of the painting; innocence on the other. The boy might well envy the kittens for not having to endure an explanation of what’s eventually coming (pun intended).

This work is in the collection of the University of Kansas’s Spencer Museum of Art. See the full version at https://www.wikiart.org/en/norman-rockwell/facts-of-life.

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Rosemary ~

I find it enraging that although Facebook allows gruesome photos (many of them fabricated or misleading) of aborted fetuses, it recently banned photos of a baby born with a fatal birth defect called anencephaly, in which critical parts of the brain are missing. When the mother reposted the photos, she herself was temporarily banned from Facebook. This video about that baby made me cry, and—yes, it’s a cliché—my heart goes out to this family.

When people ask, I always tell them I have one sibling—one sister. That’s true. But there can be alternative, equally valid truths, depending on how you look at things. This blog post honors my and Carolyn’s other sister, Rosemary, who was born prematurely on April 18, 1960, with anencephaly. She lived about an hour. I was a toddler, 20 months old, and an only child until that day—and then again afterward.

With anencephaly, parts of the brain never develop due to a neural tube defect. In most such cases, part of the skull is also missing and/or the baby’s head is deformed. In the early 1900s such babies were sometimes referred to as “anencephalic monsters.” To my knowledge my mother never saw the baby, although my father did. One of my aunts recalled him saying that the baby looked perfectly normal. Another recalled him talking about defects. Memory is a tricky thing. But the death certificate, which I found online, clearly says anencephaly. Such babies are usually born prematurely due to an excessive buildup of amniotic fluid, which was also noted on the death certificate.

It was a very different time in 1960. My parents, unlike the couple in the video, had no advance warning their baby would die. No photographs were taken. Rosemary didn’t get any kind of memorial tribute such as the video I’ve linked to. My parents, I’m sure, received no grief counseling at the hospital or anywhere else. Relatives have told me that my mother was advised to get pregnant again as soon as possible, and so she did. Carolyn was born a little more than a year later.

I never would have known of Rosemary’s existence had I not asked my father a nosy question when I was in college. My parents never spoke of her. None of the relatives who knew about the pregnancy ever slipped up and let the secret out. I’d like to ask many more questions now, but my parents died years ago. When we cleaned out their house, we found not one bit of evidence, not one scrap of paper, referring to Rosemary. I can’t imagine how badly my parents must have been hurting at the time.

Thanks to one of my uncles, I learned that Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis allowed Rosemary to be buried in a corner of my grandmother’s plot. I’m not sure anyone accompanied my father to the burial; I believe my uncle told me he went alone. There was no service. There is no marker. Cemetery policy might not have allowed one, given the unusual burial arrangement. My parents probably could not have afforded one anyway. Besides, they’d been told by the doctor to move on, not dwell on what happened—to bury Rosemary not just literally, but figuratively as well. That’s my interpretation, anyway.

I’ve decided to check about cemetery policy. It’s ironic, perhaps. Neither my sister nor I, both having decided on cremation, will have a marker when we die. But Rosemary didn’t have a life. Both the least and the most she can have is a symbol of remembrance.