Tag Archives: Family

Unforgettable: Memories bind a musician and her mother

Jeanne patty2Patty Peterson’s mother was unforgettable.

Patty comes from what local press calls Minnesota’s First Family of Music. The Petersons comprised matriarch Jeanne Arland and siblings Linda, Billy, Ricky and Paul; nephew Jason Peterson De Laire; and cousins Tom and Russ—all performing musicians and singers. Patty’s dad, pianist Willie Peterson, died in 1969. Her Mom was, Patty says, “a brilliant jazz pianist and singer.” When Jeanne was widowed, Patty “became her pal.”

A popular jazz singer and radio host (Minneapolis Jazz88 FM), Patty performed often with her mother. “We kidded that we were the Jazz Judds,” Patty says. “Mother would say from stage: But we just didn’t have their money!”

Jeanne died in June, 2013. After, Patty and her family spent many hours going through Jeanne’s possessions. There were dozens of glitzy, glamorous pieces of costume jewelry that sparkled in the lights on stage and which Patty wanted to go to nieces and granddaughters. As Patty worked in her mother’s home, she listened to her mom’s jazz tapes. “I’d talk to her out loud, like she was in the room with me. I’d say, ‘Mother, your voice is so pure.’ Or ‘Wow! Listen to that lick you just played on the piano!'” (A lick is an arpeggio, or musical technique where notes in a chord are played in sequence. Yes, I had to look it up.)

Patty PetersonPatty kept asking her mother for a sign. For months, she waited. Her dad had come to her in a vivid dream about 4 months after he died.

Her mom: nada.

One day, 9 months after Jeanne died, Patty returned to her mother’s home. She was sitting on the bedroom floor sorting jewelry when she noticed something under Jeanne’s vanity. Patty had gone through the room earlier. Whatever the object was, she says, “It wasn’t there before.” It turned out to be a child’s book, well worn, with the front and back cover missing. The first page was folded.

“As I opened it, I realized it was Zippy the Chimp, the first book I ever loved.” (The children’s book was based on the life of the real Zippy. Born in 1951, Zippy became one of the most famous performing chimps in that era. YouTube has a clip of Zippy on Ed Sullivan’s variety show.)

What was the connection with Patty?

Patty was born pigeon-toed. “I was so tiny I could walk beside Mom holding her hand, touching the sidewalk with my other hand. With my turned in feet, I guess I looked like Zippy the Chimp. Zippy became Mom’s nickname for me.”

In discovering that book, “Mom found a really inside way to let me know she was still there with me. It’s as though she said, ‘Oh, yeah. I’m here, Patty. I’m fine. I see what you’re doing for my house and for our family.'”

Patty opened the book and found her childish printing from years ago: “This is Patty’s book. I can read this book.” When she read those words, she “felt a rush so strong that I knew the message came from another place … from her. It touched my heart. No one else knew what that book meant to me.”

Patty used to host a talk show that included spiritual subjects. When clairvoyant author James Van Praagh was a guest, he recommended looking for a picture to appear unexpectedly when someone from another place wants to connect with us. For Patty, Zippy was that connection.

Mother of 4 adult sons and grandmother of 4 (5 in September), Patty is no stranger to miracles. Seven years ago, she survived a potentially deadly aortic dissection (a tear in the main blood vessel coming from her heart). Surgery to correct the problem was successful. Patty has become a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, Go Red for Women and the TAD Coalition.

Not long ago, Patty (a pal of mine from afar), was especially touched by something said to her. A woman attending a church service where Patty was singing commented on the  the extent to which Patty shares her time and talents. This stranger said something which behooves us all to remember:

“You really live your gift.”

A lesson she learned from her mother.

TO LEARN MORE about Patty’s music, visit her website.

(Have deceased loved ones reached out to you?  Thanks for sharing your stories.)

Artist Beatrice Wood Makes Our Mom’s (Birth)Day

Beatrice Wood with one of her famous young men, the artist Marcel Duchamp, at Coney Island in New York in 1917. (Photo in public domain.)

Beatrice Wood with one of her famous young men, the artist Marcel Duchamp, at Coney Island in New York in 1917. (Photo in public domain.)

Like most daughters, I think about my late mother often. Especially in October. Mom’s was born on Oct. 23. I treasure the memory of one birthday In particular.

In 1992, Mom was turning 70. She had been slowing down physically. Her left big toe had inexplicably turned up and out, impeding her ability to walk and necessitating clunky shoes. (If you have my book Godsigns, see Chapter 8.) Her normally vibrant sense of humor had dimmed.

To celebrate and cheer her, my sister Anne and I took her for a birthday weekend at a spa in Ojai, California. One night in Mom’s room, we donned T-shirts that read “The B Team.”(Mom’s name was Barbara.) We performed an original song about our mother and, after, wore our T-shirts to the dining room. Other diners (okay, maybe one) demanded we also perform Mom’s song for the group. As faithful readers know (see my earlier column Motown Fan Makes Her Broadway Debut), my sister has pipes! I croaked along, making up in enthusiasm for what I lacked in dulcet tones.

The next day we wore our B Team t-shirts on a guided walk around town.  Mom lagged behind, discouraged about her inability to keep up.

That afternoon I proposed an outing. Suzanne Hilberry, the great Detroit gallerist, had shown me the work of Beatrice Wood. One of the best ceramicists of the 20th century, Wood led quite the life. She had affairs with Henri-Pierre Roche, author of Jules et Jim, and his friend artist Marcel Duchamp. She knew Picasso and Brancusi and many avant garde artists. She was dubbed “the Mama of Dada.” More recently, she provided the model for Rose Dawson Calvert, the 100-year old fictional narrator in the movie Titanic.

I remembered hearing that Wood lived in Ojai. She practiced Theosophy and followed Indian philosopher Krishnamurti, who lived there.

So, I called.

A distinguished-sounding man answered. My heart leapt when he agreed to our visit.

The sweeping Santa Ynez mountains rose above Wood’s low-slung white stucco house. The gentleman I’d spoken to turned out to be tall, elegant, and devoted to Ms. Wood. He guided us to the studio. We found a small woman, nearing 100, thick white hair pulled back. She wore a sari and dripped with Indian silver jewelry. She was writing in a ledger, recording formulas for glazes. She showed us some of her recent clay folk art. “Sophisticated primitives,” she called them. A few of her vessels were scattered on a ledge, though none of the exquisite iridescent vases for which she was famous. (A luster chalice was recently on Ebay for $8,000.)

We asked her about how she had maintained such amazing creativity for so long. (She kept going until nine days after her 105th birthday in 1998.)

She told us, “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.”

Cover of I Shock Myself by Beatrice Wood

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Then, she asked about us. We told her about our ourselves, our families. About Mom’s birthday. Anne said she wanted to bring her mother-in-law back to meet her. Wood said, with a twinkle in her eye, “I’d much rather meet your husbands.”

As we were about to leave, Mom said to her, “You must be so proud of yourself. You’re a world famous artist. Look at all you’ve accomplished.”

Wood didn’t miss a beat. “Barbara,” she said, “all I do is make pots. Look what you’ve accomplished. You’ve raised these two amazing daughters. You’re the one who should be proud.”

I’m always moved by the power of words. Wood could not have created anything more beautiful than her parting words to Mom. Our mother left that studio higher than the tallest peak in the Santa Ynez.

Happy Birthday, Mom, wherever you are.

(Please share your Godsigns stories with me—especially if they’re about chocolate or young men!)