Sunday, July 7, 2013
Only the glasses and the soft gray hair sticking out from under the red turban where familiar as I approached the figure in the Aladdin style shoes, the bright, teal, billowing pants and the elaborately embroidered rich, orange tunic bent over a flower bed.
“Mrs. Rhodes?” my tentative 7 year old self asked. Mrs. Rhodes was our next door neighbor. Her husband had died years ago—they were artists who had lived in the city and moved out to this small old house next to our larger old house. I spent so much time in Ms. Rhodes’s house that I am sure I know it better than even my own childhood home.
From her tiny kitchen came the best bread, cookies and jams. In the kitchen we would sit at little table and have tea and cookies most afternoons. She would tell me about her travels—she had been everywhere. She had this beautiful Bauhaus teapot she picked up in Paris that was on a shelf above the table along with an eclectic collection other housewares from around the world—an ornate patterned dish from Turkey, a beautiful ceramic baking dish from England, a clay pot from somewhere else. Every piece had a story.
She had just returned from months aboard where she had gone to Turkey and Greece with her travel companion, an equally old and robust woman. They had, of course, stopped in the Island of Rhodes creating quite a little commotion due to her last name. But today’s story was about Turkey. She smiled at me with her gardening trowel in hand—“Do you believe it?” she said, “this is what farmers wear in Turkey.
I did believe it, because I believed everything that Mrs. Rhodes told me. She was a wonderful teacher and I credit my love of books and art to Mrs. Rhodes even more so than my own intellectual and artsy family. She was excited to show me her new found Turkish skill—spinning yarn with a spindle top. She brought back one for me too so we could make yarn together. She learned from an old peasant woman in a small village in the hills--Slowly out of a piece for fluffy lamb’s wool a string of yarn would appear created by the spinning motion of the top-like spindles at our feet. Mrs. Rhodes could not wait to knit something with the homemade yarn.
And that was the thing about Mrs. Rhoades—she was always traveling, always learning and always excited to teach a new skill to someone else. The best skill she taught me was to be a fearless traveler—people around the world are interesting and interested and it a big beautiful world full of amazing things to learn from people and it is all so much fun. I asked her once—why did she travel so far away? Why did she always go overseas—did she not want to see the United States? “Perhaps when I am older” She said.