People, like music, seem to have a certain effect on the spirit within. Some people seem to bring out the best in you, just like a great piece of music. In my life, Lebby was my piece of jazz music. She was the music of life.
Lebby was my bohemian. Her large, gold-hoop earrings dangled loosely around her thin neck. Her printed dress oozed many colors, each one bleeding into the other, her cigarette held in her long fingers, nails painted. Just like in the fashion magazines, Lebby exuded exotic; the epitome of sophistication; an Andy Warhol wanna-be. She was a sixties beauty with her dark hair cut short, much like Twiggy’s, and big sunglasses on, the ones that covered most of her face. She took long hauls of her cigarette when she would look out into the street from her chair in the living room.
She was my bohemian; a rhapsody in color. She was older than I was by eleven years and I yearned to be like her. I wanted to spend time with her, this mysterious young woman named Lebby who lived in our house. She had arrived years before as an infant, my mother’s sister’s child. And she had stayed, here in Montreal. As time went by, though, she decided to leave us for good and move back to Toronto with her mother. When she would come back to Montreal to visit I would show her my wardrobe, new clothes handed down to me from various friends of my mother’s. I would stand on the bed singing “Second Hand Rose”, modeling my latest outfits, and she would laugh and clap and tell me I looked fabulous.
She would talk to me about her adventures in Rio de Janeiro. She lived there for a year with her husband at the time. Their relationship didn’t last long and before I knew it she was living in Scotland and sending me fabulous makeup from London, England, the top fashion haven of the world. Not to mention it was the home of the Beatles.
“I’m never getting married,” I would tell her on our visits. This, after listening to her and her girlfriend ruminate over their love lives. “Oh, and I am never, ever having kids,” I would add. She would laugh and light another smoke. “Sure you will,” she would tell me. “Don’t listen to us,” pointing to her girlfriend, “we are very bad examples.” But I didn’t think so at all. I thought Lebby was the bee’s knees, the bomb, the crème de la crème. She just had this very provincial air about her. She was also very sweet and never made fun of me or thought I was too young or too naive. She made me feel grown up and smart.
When I would visit her when she lived in Ottawa she would take me to parties – parties in restaurants. I felt like a celebrity, because for me it was only celebrities that partied in restaurants. The people at these parties were different, too, with foreign-sounding names and they all talked with accents – German and British. My bohemian, that was Lebby. She could sit with the well-to-do Ivy League crowd or the hip and wild crowd.
She introduced me to the symphony, I might have been twelve at the time. I was sure I was going to be bored but I wasn’t. I had never been to a concert before. The music was overwhelming to me. It was just so powerful and loud and it jumped out at me. These small lessons in life with Lebby were delivered with love as gifts. They were tokens of joy for me that continued into adulthood.
As we grew older, our lives moved in directions neither one of us could have probably imagined. Yet the connection we had, deepened as we aged. As it turned out, we both became as traditional and ‘white bread’ as the next person. We both married and had children. But although our lives were mired in tradition and mediocrity, there was still that bohemian living within us that would emerge and transform us both.
Living with an alcoholic for several years certainly sent me down a path I would never have imagined going down. A path where light was muted and the shades were drawn. Without Lebby’s support, that path would have been more treacherous than I could have handled. Yet we muddled through the mire and dirt and ghostly skeletons in our closets. And we were transformed, emerging from that path, our spirits whole.
“What should we do for our ritual, Maaaa?” Lebby would ask over the phone. She and I had taken this journey together. It was a journey of discovery. Our rituals helped us see things more clearly and grounded us as we tried to find meaning in our lives. Having given up on her corporate job, Lebby now embarked on her passion – she started to paint. Using different techniques and mediums, the color was no longer printed on her gorgeous dresses but appeared now on canvases.
The two of us were sitting in her living room one night, the heat spilling into the room even with the air conditioning on. It was hot. The humidity and heat just seemed to bring out a ritual for us that night. I grabbed a huge stainless steel bowl, cold and lovely to the touch, and on that hot night I started to sing. I didn’t sing anything in particular, words just came out in that kind of sing-song sort of way. The bowl seemed to sing too, beneath my touch. Slowly, the sound from the bowl and my singing grew louder and louder. Lebby joined in, grabbing a pot as well. Before we knew it the two of us were caught up in a sort of ritualistic drumming session with stainless steel. It didn’t matter what we were singing, what mattered was the pounding of the bowls, the irresistible desire to smack the hell out of them as loudly and as powerfully as we could. We became the music. Like the symphony of years gone by, we were the music. The jazz of life.
Lebby is still my bohemian, and the music of life continues to play on. Her hair has changed to grey but I would prefer to say it’s silver. She stands at her easel and studies her work; immerses herself in it. Her studio is filled with light as the sun shines through the glass windows. A paintbrush is now in her long fingers rather than a cigarette. The smell of garlic is in the air, as there is always something cooking in the kitchen. Music is playing quietly on the CD player in the background, the sound of Neil Diamond, or is it Paul Simon? Art books are piled in every corner of her studio. Gold hoops have been replaced with delicate studs. Each day I am thankful that I have this lovely woman in my life, a woman who watched me grow up and who connected me to things that I would not have otherwise known about.
Lebby looks at her canvas and splashes orange across it. “Isn’t that just the most scrumptious color Maaaaa?” she says out loud. “It sure is,” I reply.
Photo courtesy of Martha Farley – all rights reserved