Thursday, May 7, 2009


On Saturdays (and sometimes Fridays) I exhibit my art on the Farmers’ Market in Roanoke, Virginia. The market is a cacophony of aromas, sounds and sights that ceaselessly stimulate the senses. The smell of freshly baked bread drifting across the stalls from “On the Rise,” the local bread store; the steady din of voices chatting, haggling, laughing and discussing; the occasional “clip-clop” of patrolling police horses; the aroma of newly popped kettle corn wafting across the area; these and many more provide treats for the nose and ears too numerous to mention.

On The Rise Bread Store

Old World Style Bread

Jan from Walter's Greenhouse

Park Family Kettle Corn

It’s hard to know where to begin describing the wealth of sights on the market. Architecturally, the contrast between old and new is jaw-dropping. On Salem Avenue, a block or so from the outside vendors’ booths, the differences cause visual whiplash. The massive, modern, 21-story Wachovia Tower occupies one side of an entire city block. Just one block down, multistory brick buildings built circa 1900 seem tiny and quaint by comparison. A little further along the same block, these bump up against the ultramodern Taubman Museum of Art – a building that both evokes the mountains and looks as though it might take off and fly over them. The Hotel Roanoke, a striking, historic example of Tudor Revival architecture, sits on hill that overlooks the market. And just a little higher up and a little farther out, the ever-changing and yet timeless mountains provide a path for the Blue Ridge Parkway and its spectacular views of the valley and beyond.

Taubman Museum and Wachovia Tower

Bridge leading to Hotel Roanoke

Back among the vendors’ booths, the goods for sale provide their own feast for the senses. Flowers, baked goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, soaps, jewelry, sculptures, photographs, paintings and just about anything else that can be grown or made by hand provide sights and aromas too numerous to take in as quickly as you encounter them. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the market on Saturdays, though, is the people.

Rebecca of Rebecca's Soap Delicatessan

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Brian Seckinger displays his pottery and photographs
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Linda Jo Staab with her beaded and wire wrap jewelry

'Rockin' shopper, Trish

There are tourists who have come to see the Taubman Museum, and others who are just taking an urban interlude from their journey along the Parkway. There are weekend shoppers from Roanoke and the surrounding area. There are teenagers just hanging out. There are those who are down on their luck and have nowhere else to go between meals at the Rescue Mission. There are conference attendees from the Hotel Roanoke. There are farmers and artisans who display their wares in the outdoor booths.

Deborah from Center in the Square Gallery

And once in a while, a person wanders by who just doesn’t quite fit in any convenient category. Christine was one of these people. I believe the “mold was broken” when Christine was created. She was born in Bahia, (now Salvador) Brazil, near the “Bay of all the Saints of the Savior” on the eve of the summer solstice. I first met her when she walked up to me one morning wearing a Peruvian wool hat she had just purchased from a delightful little shop many of us frequent named “Gone CoCo." She was carrying several satchels or “totes” as she always called them. Inside the totes she carried a lunch of vegetables freshly purchased from the market’s farmers. She also carried a stash of poems that either she, her father, her uncle or her Aunt Stella had written. She would pop one out to serve as inspiration or solace whenever she saw someone she thought needed one or the other – or both. There was no limit to the topics that her poems embraced. Once, she read me a fascinating poem about riding buses, her usual mode of transportation. On that first day, however, she handed me a poem written in memory of her late husband. It was beautiful beyond words. Below is another poem she gave me.


I am ready to fall back to that arrangement of the hours

wherein night is lengthened.

Those exquisite twilit moments

of long, stark shadows transform

the view

into a scissors-cut paper


Memories of childhood's heyday

when staying up late meant

well past seven with cocoa,

apples dipped in honey,

Badger, black-hearted pirates

and the quiet, singing of

"Now the day is over.."

Had we

let it go wasting away?-

invade the darkening room.

Oh delicate, strengthening

maple-flame evenings.

My pilgrim soul cheers, on,

"Fall back!"

After that first day, Christine began to show up at my booth every week. Each time, she brought more poems, and our friendship grew. Finally, one day she confided in me that when we first met, she looked at me and thought, “This woman is going to have a lot of major 'stuff' coming down.” But then she said, "I wasn't worried about you, though, because I saw you surrounded by angels." (I later began to feel that she was, quite possibly, one of them). She then handed me a poem that was written especially for me.

Claire of the Projects

The noise is gone now, the children scrambling at twilight

pushing the curfew in the old neighborhood. Guessing, guessing.

Who would turn up as a headline tomorrow? Catch me if you can.

Claire runs to make one last circuit hoping/not hoping to see ghosts,

the well turned out Mafia mend and their ladies

with the haunted eyes and jeweled shawls.

Claire sees. She sees the in between times and wonders. A train wreck,

a wedding in a country whose name she can't spell,

the grocer sprouting wings.

Her brother sings a song full of runes as Claire looks to the moon, a certain guide.

Telling me of this long ago time, her eyes brighten and

I see the child of the projects has carried them with her

in a gypsy's box of fortunes. Vieni, vieni.

clamor, fresh wind, the "not wanting it to be over" are there

all these years later.

Claire still runs daringly, sees between,

and circles through the shadows before the clocks stike,

back to the angels she once knew.

One Saturday morning, Christine asked me if I could use a trunk. She told me she was down-sizing and needed to get rid of many items. She said she had already given a lot away. Since I have a full house of furniture of all varieties (Woodloft is stuffed with all sorts of eclectic things), I quizzed her about how large the trunk was, what shape it was in, etc. She said she couldn’t provide a photograph of it because pictures were difficult for her to take. So, she asked if I would come to her house to look at it.

Close-up details of Egyptian hieroglyphics

Much to my surprise, when I entered her charming little cottage, I saw one of the most exquisite treasures ever. The dark brown trunk had Egyptian hieroglyphics covering the entire surface.Christine told me that her brother, the famous Robert Janz (, had spent many long hours creating the trunk in 1949. Apparently, he was a bit hyper, and his mother found that having him work on the trunk calmed him down. The hieroglyphics were intricately carved and included many found on pyramid walls. The family used the trunk for years as they traveled from place to place. Trunks were used in those days in place of suitcases. It was an amazing work of art. I offered to pay Christine for it, but she refused. I offered to barter with her for it, but again, she refused. Finally, she allowed me to take her to dinner and quilt a custom tote for her with her favorite saying – "How did you know that the only way to hold me was to let me go?"

Picture of Aunt Stella painted by Halit

As I was leaving, she showed me a picture of her Aunt Stella, her mother’s sister. Stella had an incredible life and was also a poet. She was born in Texas in 1903. She traveled a great deal, and on one trip, she had gone to Bulgaria to visit a friend who was a missionary. On the long steamship voyage back, she met a man named Halit from Turkey. She and Halit married and settled in Texas. Later, they moved to D.C. where Stella worked at the Smithsonian. They finally settled in Providence, RI where she worked at Brown University. Stella was a popular figure at the arts club there for her cartoons and volunteer activities. The picture Christine showed me was of Stella holding a yellow rose that Halit had painted of her. The painting was dark and mysterious, having the patina of old European paintings. She insisted I take it with me since I had wall space for it. That was debatable, but this gift was so unique and personal, I was proud to say yes.

When I later told Christine that I had placed the trunk and painting in the same room, she was delighted. She told me that the two sisters – her mother, Della, and Stella – would be proud to be “together” in the same place again through their prized works of art. Apparently they had lived at opposite ends of the US for most of their adult lives and always said that one day they would be together again.

Christine gave me one of Stella's published books on poetry. It is entitled The Wizened Harvest. Here is an entry:

Love makes advances slowly,

Wildest, joy and doubt

For years on premises of heart

Play in and out.

Love's going has no caprice

The heart is certain, soon

Accustomed and embittered

In an afternoon.

As Christine continued to down-size her life, she told me she had decided that she no longer wanted her car. I didn't even know she owned one since as far as I knew, she rode the bus to the market. I offered to help her sell it. She said that was not the way it worked; that she believed in “paying it forward.” She wanted no money for the car, but wanted to give it to a deserving person. To make sure the recipient deserved her gift, she said he or she had to answer 3 important questions. When I took her to a Goodwill store that afternoon, she said she was thinking about donating the car to Goodwill if she could not find a person who could answer all of her questions properly. I mentioned that my brother, Jim. needed a car, and Christine asked to meet him.

I asked Jim and his wife, Rose, to come to Woodloft to meet with Christine and me. When they arrived, we seated ourselves around my kitchen table. A sense of expectant curiosity kept the other three of us on the edge of our seats as we awaited Christine’s questions. The first question: did Jim know the name of a certain opera and could he sing it? The opera was “Xerxes.” Christine’s late husband sang to her and she loved one song in particular from this opera, “Where’er you walk." Jim, an actor, knew the opera and the song, too. Fortuitously, he had sung the song many times during his career (and I had never heard of the song OR the opera). The second question: could Jim drive standard transmission? He could. And the third question: well, curiously, none of us can remember the third question anymore. But Jim nailed that one, too. Success! Christine downplayed the gift of the Geo she gave Jim that day, saying it was just a golf cart of a car. But it has done its job well and made a difference in Jim’s and Rose’s life.

My sister-in-law, Rose, Christine and my brother Jim with Geo

Paying forward. What a wonderful way to live. I heard recently that a customer at a coffee shop drive-thru decided to pay for the person behind him in line. The next person thought it was a good idea, too, and my understanding is that 160 cars played along (and paid along) before it ended – one small step for some people, one giant leap for courtesy and amicability!

Although Christine doesn’t live in Roanoke anymore, she’s still around – fortunately for all of us. Her blog may be found at: .

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  1. What a marvelous reunion! I will never be able to thank you enough. I didn't remember the photo by the car. I cherish it! and your wonderful work.

  2. I want to move to Roanoke and sell my things at the market. It looks and sounds wonderful! :-)

    Your story about Christine is very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I found out about your blog from Rebecca's post in Facebook.

    Stop by my blog sometime,

  3. Thanks for sharing this story. It was facinating and I actually read it twice. I also found out about your blog through Rebeccas facebook page. p.s. You two are so lucky to have a market that is so authentic!


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