Learning To Love You More




Assignment #14
Write your life story in less than a day.

Sandy Roumagoux
Newport, Oregon
Email Sandy



I was born in 1940 in Yakima, WA. I was the first in my family to be born in a hospital and I was a "change of life" baby. My parents were in their 40's and my three older sisters were 12 to 18 years older than I. My father was a manager for John Deere Co. and he lived and breathed his job. My mother was the classic housewife. The first nine years of my life in Yakima were out of a Norman Rockwell painting. My father's interests decided the family's interests. He was a championship trap shooter. He shot a single barrel shot gun at clay pigeons. The "pigeons" were clay disks about the size of a salad plate, a forerunner of the Frisbee. At his weekly shoot at a gun club he would shoot a 100 clay pigeons, I would follow my father carrying his shell bag and putting the spent shot gun shells on my fingers for castanets.
World War II was an a constant undercurrent during these years. Ration books and coupons would be counted before any trip to the grocery store. My sisters would dance around when there would be extra coupons for meat and eggs. My father's obsessive scrap metal drive for the war effort filled train carload after carload. I was vaguely aware the war had ended when I ask my mother why she was hanging the flag on the porch in the middle of the day and not on a holiday.
My life centered on ice skating. My dream was to be a star figure skater. I started lessons with double edged skates at the age of three. The outdoor skating rink was right next to the slaughter house so the smells of blood and guts permeated the music played for the skaters. Listening to the song, "Dance Ballerina, Dance," mixed with the smells from the meat packers seemed normal.
My sisters were interested in drawing, so everything they did I wanted to do and I pestered them to teach me. My art instruction for the first 16 years was to copy illustrations of women from magazines like "Good Housekeeping," and "The Saturday Evening Post." One exception to this art instruction was when I would draw with my best friend. She and I would take figurines from her house and make a small still life and try to draw them. My first experience with envy and jealousy was when my friend drew a horse that looked like the figurine horse and mine didn't. One successful drawing incident happened in the 2nd grade when I refused to draw a tree as a cylinder with a ball on top. I took my brush and drew trunk and limbs and put on leaves. The teacher was astounded since I was not seen as an exceptional student and besides that I was left handed. The teacher showed the entire class how clever I was. I think that is when art became more important than ice skating.
The next ten years were a hasty exit out of the Rockwell painting life style. In l949 my father decided that instead of selling farm equipment to farmers he wanted to be a farmer. My parents purchased a small grains farm in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Leaving sage brush country for the soggy valley was a major blow to me. The irony is that I now live on the stormy wind and rain soaked Oregon coast and love it. This is the hardest decade to write about because so much happened so fast. The strongest memory is of isolation. No kids my age on other farms were nearer than five miles. I rode the school bus 30 miles round trip from 4th grade until graduation from high school. I learned my best dirty jokes during these rides and was introduced to kids who lived with child abuse and abject poverty. One boy doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire to escape his father's beatings.
My parents decided that I was becoming much too fond of art and thought that the life of the artist was too closely connected to the "Bohemian" lifestyle. To cure this they carted in my aunt's piano and found a music teacher. I was to make everyone proud by becoming a classical pianist. I studied piano for the next eight years. At first, I thought it was a great deal of fun to play for people and have them clap enthusiastically after a recital, but as the pieces became more and more difficult I thought this takes a lot of work and I would rather be drawing.
I was rapidly growing into a first class nerd with an attitude. I discovered that wit and sarcastic humor were a powerful weapon. I thought Elvis Presley was ghastly as a singer and performer and that Pat Boone was far superior (It hurts me as much to admit this as it would anybody who might read this.). I spent grades 7th through 12th living the life of the jaded ugly duckling. I took all of the pre college courses and every art class and acting class available. My biggest ego reinforcement was acting in school plays. My favorites were character parts. Most of my clothes had fine silver dust on them from the powder put on my hair to make me look old.
Boyfriends were somewhat limited because I lived so far in the country and my parents were anything but friendly to the male sex. The last thing they wanted was for me to marry before the age of 40, preferably never. I received the lecture of don't get hooked up with some man and throw your life away. I, of course, couldn't think of a better plan of action than to get married to escape from home. I fell in love during my sophomore year. He was two years ahead of me and I thought he looked just like Tony Curtis. To fast forward, I saw him a couple of years ago and he looks like hell, way, way old and not at all like Tony Curtis. I also discovered he named his eldest daughter after me. To continue, he owned a l956 Ford Convertible and had he said the word I would have followed him anywhere even though he lusted after Elizabeth Taylor.
Life on the farm was drudgery. My parents believed that we had to do all of the work ourselves. I was taught the "pioneer" way so that I could exist off the land if I had to. Butchering chickens, hogs and cows were part of the farm experience I could never adapt to. Dunking headless chickens in boiling water in order to pick the feathers off was a hated task. The smell of wet feathers never leaves the memory. One special wonderful memory is my dog, Ginger, a Lassie look alike. She lived 13 years and I miss her even today.
I started college with the dream of my parents firmly in place. I was to be the first college graduate in our family and I was to make them proud. They had decided that I could change my career from pianist to politician. I had become a frothing at the mouth liberal during my high school and beginning college years. I was very active in Young Democrats and many weekends I would be in parking lots plastering unsuspecting cars with bumper stickers. I canvassed neighborhoods and would cart candidates to and from speaking engagements. My favorite politician was U.S. Senator Wayne Morse. Meeting and talking with him during those years was an absolute thrill and privilege.
I started college at Willamette U. in Salem, Or but transferred after a semester to Oregon State U. because of the cost of a private school. I also discovered to my dismay that all students at Willamette were required to attend Chapel every week. My religious beliefs were going a major overhaul and I didn't want to be bored silly attending a required sermon every week.
Oregon State was my undoing so to speak. My first term there I met the nerd of my dreams, soon to be my husband, who was an engineering student who wore his slide rule on his belt like a six shooter (This is pre computer age). He was a pocket protector trend setter. Our two daughters have told me that they can NEVER remember when their dad didn't have a pocket protector. In fact, our elder daughter bought him a leather one for dress.
From the age of 19 yrs. through 39 yrs. I was living life with every minute counting. At the age of 19 with my parents' dreams for me dashed, my husband and I started life together with a daughter born 8 months after our marriage to be followed by another daughter 3 1/2 yrs. later. My husband decided to change his major in his senior year from engineering to education. I was working to "put hubby through" and raising the kids. I also was painting every Tuesday night under the guidance of my mentor, Paul Gunn, an art professor at Oregon State U. He wouldn't let me quit the art and would push me to take two week summer classes even if I had to sell the kids. Without him I would never have believed I had a talent for art. He died two years ago and speaking at his funeral reduced me to a pile of sobbing blubber.
I continued to work as hubby would teach for awhile then decide to go to graduate school. First was the master's in mathematics followed by the Ph.D.
My jobs ran the gamet from production line worker at a food processing plant to Bookstore Manager at a community college. And again, all the time I was painting and painting and painting. I started to enter juried exhibits and to look for a gallery and to find places to exhibit. Meanwhile our kids were growing, were smart and showing a definite interest in music.
A huge geographic change came when hubby accepted his first university teaching professorship at the Univ. of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Picture a U-Haul truck loaded to the max, pulling our l963 Volvo, with hubby, me, our two girls, two dogs and one cat in the cab of the truck and you have us in our move to the south. It was now my turn to return to school so I completed my B.A. and my M.F.A. in painting, printmaking, drawing at the Univ. of Arkansas. It was a surreal experience to have both kids in college with me at the same time. They both decided to choose the life of the starving musician, with the younger one ending up with a PhD. in cello performance and music history and the older one with a B.M. in piano performance.
During the years in school I learned to multi-task as never before. I would take the kids and their friends to music lessons and while waiting in the car I would be studying with a flashlight. While in graduate school, the art faculty decided to "honor" me by giving me a teaching fellowship my first year. I taught beginning drawing, design and figure drawing during my entire degree program. Two male models wouldn't model for me because they were dating my daughters. After I received my MFA the art faculty offered me a tenure tracked position on the faculty. It was at this time when I looked at my life and my husband's life and became aware that I had been so goal focused, that I had failed to notice that my husband was not only depressed but an alcoholic. Denial is a powerful coping skill and I think I am one of the best at it.
Enter AA---I started out thinking that this organization was useless and ended up thanking them for saving his life. This period in my life has to be labeled as "get real." Facing life, making gut wrenching decisions, consumed me. The first decision I made was to turn down the offer of the tenured position and move back to Oregon and live on the coast. University living had lost its sparkle for me. Teaching takes so much time and although I thoroughly enjoyed it, my frustration at not spending more time in the studio was driving me nuts.
My husband wanted time to decide whether to follow me so I loaded another U-Haul and alone headed West. Our daughters were following their academic careers, one at the Univ. of Arizona and the other at Portland State Univ. in Oregon.
All of my colleagues and friends thought I was absolutely nuts to not only turn down the position but to move West. They all argued that if I were determined to move, move to New York. That is the only place in the U.S. to get recognition as an artist, they said. Since many of my friends had moved to NYC and I had visited their studios, I knew they were probably right. But, I can not live in huge metropolitan areas. After a few weeks in a large city I start to hyperventilate.
The isolation I experienced in a negative way when I first moved to a farm turned out to be something I crave as an adult. I also had this idea that I needed to return to my roots in order to take the next step as a painter.
Fortunately or unfortunately for me, at the time I was looking for work to support my art habit, a new community college was established in the area and I applied and got the position of Dean of Instruction. What a hoot! For five years I worked harder and longer than I would have at any university teaching job. I discovered that what I had thought about college administrators or administrators in general was true because I was now one of them. To keep my sanity I painted from the time I left work until 3 a.m. This concentrated time in the studio shifted my work in the direction I was searching for, combining dark, twisted, political humor with a figurative style.
I turned in my resignation for a job most people would kill to have. The president of the college couldn't believe I would just quit. He would not announce my resignation for three months and came to my opening at a Portland gallery where I was showing at the time to try to talk me out of it.
I was trying different galleries to see which ones would take a chance on my work which doesn't have the highest retail sales because of the subject matter when I met my other mentor. I don't think he knows that he is my mentor. He is the same age as my elder daughter and he has the same birthday as I. His name is Paul Arensmeyer and he looked at my work at the gallery where I wanted to show. His words about my work were so wonderful and helpful and encouraging that I felt I could conquer the world. Paul is my favorite artist and I am convinced a genius. I had admired his work long before I had met him. Mentors make a difference!
After a year, hubby decided to move west to join me. He ended up with a great job as the math guru for the same community college I worked for and retired early a couple of years ago.
I have almost used up my allotted time for this assignment. I will end with saying that it is the beginning for me. I now have, much to my amazement, a new 900 square foot studio in my back yard. I can now paint on the l0' x 7' canvases I always wanted to and I don't care if critics or galleries don't like them or can't sell them. I and the visual language are connecting and I feel like I am just learning how to paint.