Airing My Dirty Laundry: I was a Nude Model
Lady Godiva by John Collier, 1898, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, England
When I became a teenaged bride, I envisioned myself as an adult. I was a married woman, excited to be starting out in life and enjoying a sense of liberation. Reflecting back I recognize that, in fact, I had barely graduated from the 'kids' table" at the annual family reunion and my perceived independence was just a matter of geography rather than maturity.
I lived merely two blocks down the street and around the corner from my parents by the time I was 20 years old. Furthermore, I was now the mother of an active toddler. Not only was I without a washing machine and dryer, the only car my first husband and I owned was unreliable at best and frequently inoperable. Even if I'd had a pocketful of quarters to spare at a Laundromat, I didn't have the means to get there. The solution was frequent trips to my childhood home to use my parents' washer and dryer.
This was an arrangement that my mother found very satisfying. My dependency on modern appliances and lack of transportation guaranteed regular visits with her only grandchild. At this stage in life I recall harboring disappointment that when I had 'left the nest' I hadn't actually flown very far at all. It felt much more like I had just dropped out of the tree rather than taking flight.
Every two or three days it was necessary for me to push my son down the road in his stroller while simultaneously dragging a little red wagon behind me (loaded with a carefully balanced diaper pail and sack of dirty laundry). We must have been quite the sight.
Ironically, it was on one of those laundry days when I was standing in front of the washer that my mother asked me, out of the blue, to model for a painting she wanted to do ... minus clothing.
I froze where I stood with an armload of dirty clothes suspended above the top-loading machine. My brain refused to accept what my ears had registered. Gradually my elbows and fingers unlocked and I was able to drop the load into the mouth of the appliance.
"Are you listening to me?" she asked.
Ever so slowly I turned my head 90 degrees to peer at this strange woman who looked and sounded exactly like my mother. Yet how could this be? The mother I knew was an extremely modest person. Once, when I was being a semi-rebellious teenager, my mother had effectively shamed me to the core with a single laser-beam glare from across the room because I had shortened the hem of one of my dresses above the knees. All my friends were sporting mini-skirts while I wore clothes more appropriate for a middle-aged woman. So, who was this woman and was I even in the right house?
The seconds ticked by without me uttering a sound. She repeated, "I want you to pose nude for a portrait I want to paint."
My gaze was fixed, but my insides fluttered as I tried to process this.
"I promise nothing will show," she added.
I quietly mulled that extra bit of information over; a nude painting with 'nothing showing'? I didn't understand the point. Besides, why would she want to have a painting of her daughter unclothed and where on earth did she plan on hanging this masterpiece?
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