The Yellow Dish

My Mother was a beautiful woman.  She had what we would jokingly call “The Me Book” because she would show it to people and say…”this is me and this is me, wasn’t I gorgeous?

It’s true.  She was gorgeous.  She also had the voice of an angel.  My mother was the complete package.   Beauty, brains, and talent.   Newspaper articles were written about her and called her the “Songbird of the West”. She had her own television show in the 50’s and sang for President Eisenhower at the White House.  She loved the finer things in life and loved the color yellow.  Which is why I am writing this story.

I was the only girl in the family, 3 brothers and a very patriarchal father.   He taught his sons how to hunt, fish, and everything else manly.  I begged my dad to teach me all those things as well.  So I learned how to shoot a gun, catch and clean fish, and even gut a deer, but this story isn’t about my Dad. It’s about my Mom

The yellow Dish
Ann Cardall Bunting
Ann Cardall Bunting
Ann Cardall Bunting
Ann Cardall Bunting

Listen to a soundtrack of my Mother singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow

My Mother died Sept 17, 2013 surrounding by family while a recording of her singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” played.  Death wasn’t new to me.  I watched my husband die in July of 2007.  A nightmare of a night that broke me and my children.    My Mom’s death was peaceful and I’m grateful that I got to be there to witness her transition.

We all cried that night.  All my children surrounded me with love and compassion as I watch my own mother slip away.  Our family believes in an afterlife so we all rejoiced at the reunion she was having on the other side yet grieving for those still left here on earth.

The next few days as we were planning the funeral, my brothers and I got together and started reminiscing about our mother.  Wonderful stories they told, happy memories, loving memories.  I looked at them and said…”We obviously had different mothers”  and I found myself with an enormous sense of relief.  Relief that I wouldn’t have to hear my mother criticize me anymore.

Sure there were good times with my mother and I loved her but what stands out in my memory are the criticism and the hateful comments directed at me.  I was too thin, I needed to lose weight, I was too pale, I had too much make up on,  I was frumpy.   She didn’t like my new haircut,  so I grew it out, she didn’t like that either.   My hair was too straight, so I got a perm.  Now it was too curly.  I never received praise for the paintings I did.  There was always a criticism about what I painted.  I once painted a cantaloupe in a painting and she made the comment that nobody would buy a painting with a cantaloupe in it.   Stupid little statements that were like a stone added to the weight that I already carried.  I was in my late 30’s when my mother said to me one day, “Why Elizabeth, I didn’t realize how pretty you are”.  I’m sure she meant it as a compliment but what I heard her say is that she never thought I was pretty.   The heaviest stone she made me carry was the day she told me I was a horrible mother because my children didn’t walk the path that in her mind was the only path.  I found that statement so ironic since 3 of her children didn’t walk the same path either but she didn’t see the hypocrisy or the hurt that statement caused.  It’s one that has haunted me since that day.

Now comes the yellow dish story.  My mother loved all things yellow.  She had a yellow sink, yellow chairs, yellow couch, and a set of yellow dishes that rarely got used.   She and her husband Ed, took a trip to England and there she found the yellow cabbage set of dishes complete with a soup terrine and a dip plate.   I can remember when she first showed them to me.   She was so excited and they made her so happy because they were yellow.   Years later when we knew death was near I asked if I could have the yellow dish set when they passed.   I wanted a tangible thing that reminded me of how happy my mom was with those dishes.  I never really got an answer from her.  I asked several times throughout the years.  She always reverted to saying it was Ed’s decision since he was the one that bought them.   The yellow dish set ended up in the estate sale when they were both gone.  I could have bought them from the estate but that wasn’t the point.  I wanted my mother to give me something.  Give me something from a place of love and respect.

Mother's Day

Me with my Mom and Grandma

Ann and Ed Bunting

Mom and Ed

Grandmother and Grandaughter

Mom with my daughter, Brooke and yellow wallpaper behind them

Ann Cardall Bunting

Notice the yellow chairs behind my Mom

Since the day she died, I have been trying to reconcile my hurt feelings toward my mother.   I painted my studio yellow in her honor.  I have more yellow flowers in my garden than any other color. I paint yellow paintings.  It’s these little things I do with the color yellow that is my way of saying I forgive you.

Elizabeth Robbins Sunflowers and Lemons
Springtim Elizabeth Robbins
Elizabeth Robbins Studio

Fate or coincidence.

My good friend Shanna Kunz, and I were sitting out on my patio just a few days ago.  We talk a lot about our childhood and how different we were raised.  We talk art, we talk family, we talk about past hurt and pain.   This particular day we were admiring all the yellow flowers in my garden and my yellow studio.  For some reason I told Shanna the story about the yellow dish set.  As Shanna so often does, she listened with her heart and told me that all the yellow I have in my life is my way of forgiving and honoring my mom.

One day later we were invited to a wonderful couples home for dinner to talk art.  As we sat down to dinner, there were green cabbage plates on the table ready for food.   I said  “Shanna, these are like the yellow dish set I told you about only these are green”.    John, our host said, “Did your mother have the yellow ones”.  “YES ” I said.  I proceeded to tell them about the yellow dish set that got sold at the estate sale.   John got up from the table and went into their pantry closet.  He came out with the yellow dip plate just like my mother had.   I said, “Oh my gosh, that’s just like my mother’s.”   John handed me the plate and said,  “it’s yours.”    They told me  that they found it at a garage sale and it was only $5.00.   They said they really didn’t know why they bought it because it didn’t match anything else they had but they thought it was pretty.

I can choose to think that this was just a coincidence or I can choose to think that this was my mother’s way of saying she was sorry for the hurt she caused me.

I choose to believe the latter.

So the next time you see a yellow painting by me, I hope you remember this story and the healing power of a yellow dish

The yellow Dish