• Marilyn Gardner Woods

You Take my Breath Away...

Updated: May 17

The stirring, captivating, and extraordinary music of Eva Cassidy floats through the air in my home as I write. I have listened to her songs non-stop since first learning of her genius which I’ll share with you at the end of my story.

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In the manuscript I continue to struggle with on the path to publication, (working title - A Pandemic Fairytale) one section is polished not only to my liking but to my editor’s. And she’s a taskmaster. What I wrote (excerpt below) was inspired by the poet, W. H. Auden.

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"Auden’s poem, “Musée des Beaux-Arts,” came to mind, perhaps because my daughter-in-law had first introduced me to his poetry. I read this particular poem from the book she loaned me when my docent training class studied the Renaissance Old Masters at the San Diego Museum of Art at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Twenty-plus years ago. To me, the poem demonstrated what had become a strong belief of mine—that art has the power to illuminate universal, enduring truths that sometimes go unacknowledged.


Written less than a year before WWII began, the philosophical poet who loved combining close observation with nonchalant musings, wrote of his time in a museum gallery filled with works by celebrated pre-19th century artists, specifically “Landscape with The Fall of Icarus “by Pietra Brueghel the Elder, the greatest Flemish painter of the sixteenth century:


“About suffering they were never wrong,

The old masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window

or just walking dully along…”


Since that moment, Auden’s elegiac message highlighting the strange, contrasting human experiences that are part of the fabric of life—one person suffers terribly, another carries on regardless with some ordinary activity—has stayed with me and at times inspires my writing, my work as an art educator, and hopefully my everyday life.


Somehow the poet’s message had escaped me in yesterday’s frenzy and frolic. I dove back into Flemish art and the work by Brueghel which had inspired Auden. Also, into a bit of mythology.




Brueghel’s inspiration—the story of Icarus and its warnings of the dangers of hubris; how he got carried away, flew too close to the sun which melted his wings, and eventually fell to his death, drowning in the sea surrounding the island of Samos. Four centuries later, poor Icarus’ sad end inspired Auden to ponder lyrically about bystanders going about their lives as anguish unfolds around them in “Musée des Beaux Artes.”


And in turn, his masterful piece on humanity and its suffering—about the lives of those who suffer and those who do not—has stayed with me all this time."




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As both the war in Europe and pandemic fears escalate (my next-door son just tested positive for Covid) it strikes me with blunt ogre-ish force that fairytales are happening also...

Like the magical and unbelievable ending to the Kentucky Derby for all involved with Rich Strike and his historic 80-1 odds win which at the same time also shattered the dreams of many owners, trainers, jockeys, and participants in the world of horse racing. Me, I won a hundred bucks in a pool with my visiting girlfriends!


After the houseful of lovable and exhilarating company over the weekend, my family let me recuperate alone on Mother’s Day. I insisted. Multiple times, my next-door son invited me over during the day. Instead, I reveled in the San Diego Padres baseball game which exploded in yet another fantasy finish.


Padres catcher, Jorge Alfaro, although not a regular in the starting line-up, found himself at bat in the ninth inning with his team down 2-0 against the Marlins. Earlier that day, Alfaro called his mom at her home in Sincelejo to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. Although he wasn’t scheduled to start, she had a message for him. “If you’re not in the lineup, just be ready, you’re going to hit a home run today,”


The Marlin pitcher hung one in the fat part of the strike zone and Alfaro deposited it straight center field, a mammoth blast that won the game for San Diego.




In all my post-game excitement, I thought of another baseball player's Mom, not nearly as ecstatic as Alfaro’s on Mom’s Day. In Mother’s Day and Baseball which I loved reading to my grandsons when they were little guys playing t-ball, there’s a story about Cleveland Indians pitcher, Bob Feller’s, Mom’s Day escapade.


"Bob Feller was scheduled to take the mound on Mother’s Day, 1939, as the Indians played the Chicago White Sox in the Windy City. Feller gave his mother a train ticket to Chicago and a ticket for the game. She had never seen him pitch a Major League game. She would finally get to see him pitch in the big leagues!

Mrs. Feller was seated in a box seat just above the Indians’ dugout, enjoying the game, when things went terribly wrong during the fourth inning. Bob Feller hurled a fastball over the outside corner of the plate. White Sox third baseman Marv Owen fouled a line drive into the stands. The ball struck Mrs. Feller between the eyes, breaking her glasses, and knocking her out cold. With seven stitches in her face and two black eyes, Bob’s mother spent the next two weeks in a Chicago hospital."


A good Mother’s Day for one baseball-loving mom…a not so-good day for another mother.

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Early the next morning after my amazing Mother’s Day alone, my next-door son tested positive for Covid-19. Not amazing for him, but for me, good that I didn’t opt for his mom’s day hug…


My daughter and I also decided that after a very busy weekend, we’d had enough celebrating and would not get together on Mother’s Day. My one-and-only son-in-law is over-worked, tired, burnt out and stressed. More than of many of us, he needed a day of rest.


He works in commercial construction and like many, he didn’t take one day off throughout the pandemic. Business amped up for his company. His workload increased, supplies were in short order, staffing became a huge problem for him, and he never got a break.


Many belly-ached about having to quarantine. However, many of us also found a new kind of life in that confinement. A time to think. To re-evaluate our lives. To rest. To discover a new idea or plan or dream.


My son-in-law never stopped down. He never enjoyed those odd lazy days with no commitments. Those leisurely afternoon naps. He kept on truckin’ and he still does.


Nice that as a mother, if you’re lucky you end up with beautiful people who marry your children.


Good things, sad things, stressful things, romantic things, and happy beautiful things have happened in my week just as Auden wrote…” how suffering can happen while someone else is enjoying.”

*****





I discovered the emotional story and beautiful songs of Eva Cassady late on Mother’s Day. As I played her music over and over, I puzzled how on earth her mega-talent could have been barely recognized in her lifetime. She’s often referred as the “best singer you never heard of.” Eva, shy and acutely self-critical, died of melanoma in 1996 at the young age of thirty-three. She is on many people’s radar recently and rumors of documentaries and films are rampant.


You can get acquainted with this magnificent songbird here and her music here.


And finally for us hopeless romantics, you can you-tube my new favorite love song “You Take My Breath Away,” which oozes with tenderness and emotion…


"Sometimes it amazes me How strong the power of love can be Sometimes you just take my breath away..."


You’re welcome.



 

Thanks for introducing me to Eva Cassidy. I just downloaded several of her songs. What a nice treat. Thanks again, Darlene


Shared your post with Jeff. He immediately bought some Eva Cassidy, which we listened to this evening while sipping Sancerre, and slurping oysters! What a magic trio, many thanks for the introduction. Jane


Layers of emotions:

Mothers’day solo and baseball joys, & Auden;

“ it is allways something” BR



Wow Marilyn. I always look forward to your writings and this one really moved me! Thank you for introducing me to Eva as well!

Anne M.


Playing Eva Cassidy right now. ❤️ DH in Horseshoe Bay, TX


Delia


Loved this Marilyn! Listened to Eva Cassidy and loved her rendition of Songbird. Your baseball story reminds me of many Padre games, little League, Pony baseball and our local playing fields at Lake Murray. Thanks for the beautiful memories of baseball years.

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