Forgotten Art: Meadow – Watergate 5

A reply to: A letter from Mr. Watergate


Dear Chancelor,

I’m so happy to get your letter and so sad to hear the news about your mom. I’ll try to stay positive so that my thoughts and feelings can boost yours, which seem to be hopeful.


It’s a challenge for me. I lost my own mom and aunt to cancer nearly a decade ago. Both passed within a few years of each other. It still hurts.

I looked up Joyce Brown’s story. What an inspiring woman! I think it’s wonderful that you’re going to help your mom meet her.


I’m also happy that learning about your mom’s condition has inspired you to encourage your father to become a part of Milagros’s life. You see? Right there, that’s something positive coming out of this situation.

I’ll keep thinking good thoughts and sending them your way.


Your letter has really inspired me, Chance.

I love what you say about bad things happening as a means of “getting people to stand up instead of sitting down.”

I suppose if that happens, then maybe the events aren’t necessarily bad! Or at least, they’re not all bad. They’re events that happen: how we respond can determine, in part, if they’re events that bring about goodness or events that defeat us.

I don’t want to be defeated by the cruel acts that others do or by those random events that cause ripples in life.

Instead, I want to stand up and make a change!

So, that’s what I’m going to do.

Right now, I’m thinking about two different ways I might be able to, maybe, make a difference or at least a contribution.

Yesterday, I received a visit from one of the women who works for the refugee services group that brought Jena over here. She was doing a check-up to see what questions I might have or what assistance we might need.

As we were talking, she began describing the work they do.


“Why, last year alone,” she told me, “we brought in 346 refugees from Syria.”

That was in addition to Pakistani refugees, like Jena and others from her camp, and from people who came from all over the world.

“Where do they live? How do they get work? How do they get settled?” I asked.

“That’s where we come in,” she said. Their organization gets them places to stay and helps find them jobs. The people who volunteer and work for Windenburg Rescue also help with language-learning, filling out paperwork, navigating the bureaucracies, and learning the culture.

“We can always use more volunteers!” she told me.


So, that’s one thing I’m thinking.

Then, I’m also thinking about maybe possibly helping out at a transitional shelter for women and children.

You see, my friend, who’s now my brother’s best friend and new room-mate, used to live at House for Hope here in Windenburg.

It’s a place for women and their children who need to escape domestic abuse.

My friend dropped by for a visit the other day, and she was so full of enthusiasm.

“Your brother’s given me a chance!” she said.


She went on to tell me about some of the other women living at the shelter.

“It’s mostly believing in themselves that they need,” she said. “You have no idea how emotional abuse erodes self-confidence. Year after year. It’s insidious. And I’m not even talking about domestic violence.”

My friend noticed one of my easels in the kitchen.

“I’ve always wanted to paint,” she said.

“Have at it!” I encouraged her.

I showed her where the canvases and acrylics were stored, and she got to work. I watched her paint, offering encouragement and answering her questions when she asked, and it was amazing to see her joy grow as she completed her painting.


“You’re an amazing art teacher,” she told me. “The women and kids at House for Hope could really use someone like you.”

So, Chance, here I am, thinking of two ways that I can help others, ways that I can stand up and make a difference.

I know I’ve made a difference in Jena’s life–and she’s made a difference in my life. And now I want to take our good fortune and pass it forward. I’m only going to choose one volunteer position to start with because I want to be sure to have enough time and energy for Jena, my own painting, and my work as a folklorist. But I will be choosing one in the coming days.

And then, I’ll be out there, trying to make a difference. But I know already that the real difference will be the changes that happen in me. Doing things we call “good” is funny that way: It always helps us most of all!


Chance, next time you hug your mom, give her an extra squeeze from me.

Sending you and yours all good thoughts!

Your pen pal and friend,


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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Watergate 4

A reply to: A letter from Mr. Watergate


Dear Chance,

I must have read your letter five times! I have almost a photographic memory, so to reread something is sort of silly for me, since I can just remember it. But still, there’s something about casting my eyes over your words that makes me feel warm inside.

Where do you work? I suddenly realize I know hardly anything about you!

I don’t work for a company–or even for money, actually. Well, I paint. And I earn a small profit from selling my paintings to galleries and at art fairs in the city. But I don’t have to work for money.  I’m really fortunate in that my father’s business was very successful. I inherited the family home, and along with it, a nice stipend that covers all my expenses, and then some.

I’m a folklorist. Did I mention that? Yeah, I guess it’s not really a high-paying career! In my junior year at the university, I had doubts about my future as a folklorist. This was right before my dad passed on. I told him I thought maybe I should switch majors to finance or business or even education. Something practical.

He said, “Are you nuts, Greenie?” My dad called me “Greenie,” his nickname for Meadow, since, you know, meadows are green. “Do you know how many accountants there are in this world? How many business majors? How many teachers? The world is overrun. But how many folklorists are there?”

He said vocation isn’t about money or even earning a living. “I’ve got you covered, Greenie,” he told me. “So that means it’s your responsibility to make a contribution in the way that only you can.”

So, that’s what I’m doing with my life. I guess that’s why I adopted Jena, too, so I could share some of my good fortune and so that, maybe, when Jena grows up, she can make a contribution, too.


What do you feel your contribution is, Chance? You wrote that you had unfinished business. Does that tie into your contribution?

I think it’s wonderful that you’re considering writing. You have so much to share with the world.

I know you made a big difference in my life, through writing to me, and you also made a difference to Jena’s life. Maybe your contribution to the world will be to be a writer!

Think of all the people you can inspire!

Writing is interesting. My uncle Jasper is a literature professor–well, he’s retired, but really, once a lit professor, always a lit professor. And he is always talking about how “words change us.”

I have to admit, that’s true. So, if you become a writer, you’ll be able to change people for the better through your writing! You’re so wise, and you’ve learned so much through experience and even mistakes, so facing up to those, writing about what you’ve learned, that’s bound to change everyone who reads your stories, essays, or poems.

Thanks for asking about Jena! She’s doing so great. Each day, she seems to learn a hundred new things, and as she gains confidence, she becomes happier.

Congratulations to your sister on her upcoming wedding! I’m so happy for her! Will you wear a tux?  And yes! I’d LOVE to see wedding pictures! I can’t wait to see pics of all your family.


You said you wanted to know about my life. It’ so boring.


I mean, it’s not boring to me. To me, it’s fascinating and very fun.

But when I think about writing about it… would you be interested in hearing about the wild blueberries I picked for my yogurt parfait, and the cow who lives around the corner whose milk went into the yogurt?

I could tell you about the old woman who raises the cows and makes the yogurt and the stories she’s told me about her grandmother, but those interesting stories are someone else’s life, not mine.


I could tell you a story from my childhood.

My dad was a big name in the alternative energy field. He’s the one who introduced wind power to Windenburg. He used to have to travel to the city often for conferences and to meet with partners, and he often took my brother Norman and me with him.

“Meet me back here at six o’clock,” he’d say, as he’d leave us at the entrance to the park. Then off he’d go to the conference or meeting, and Norman and I would have free run of the park. For adventurous kids like us, it was bliss!


One summer, we were hooked on collecting stuff. I wanted to get as many different snow globes as I could. They fascinated me! Each one seemed to hold its own world, and I invented stories about the people who lived there.

My brother collected rock concert posters. He sold them at auctions and made a lot of money! He’s always had keen sense of entrepreneurship!


One day, we had such great luck! I found a snow globe in an old box, and it was one I’d been looking for forever, with a little diorama of a dinosaur, and it was so weird to see the snow falling on the brontosaurus, like the Ice Age.


Norman found about ten posters for a Flaming Lips concert. We ran from block to block to block, picking up his posters from telephone poles and bus stop shelters and cement walls.

When we stopped, we didn’t know where we were.


“Are we lost, Norman?” I asked him.

“Of course not!” he said. “We’re in the city! You can’t get lost in the city!”


But we were lost. We had no idea how to get back to the park.

Finally, Norman said we had to split up. He told me to stay where I was, in this central square-type park, and he’d go exploring, and when he found his way back to the main park, he’d bring Dad back here to the square to pick me up.

At first it was fun to be there by myself.

I found more snow globes.


I watched this woman who pretended she was an astronaut statue. That was really fun.


Everyone I met was really interesting!


I made a really good friend with another kid. We played together on the bars, and even though I never saw her again, I’ve always thought of her as one of my best friends!

It’s funny how we can have “friends-for-a-day” and they somehow stay with us forever.


When my friend found out that I was waiting for my brother, she told me that I’d have to wait forever and that he might not even ever come back.

“You can’t get to the park from here,” she said. “It’s way far. It’s Forbidden. So, you’ll have to stay here. I’ll bring you snacks, like cookies and stuff, because I live in that building there, and you can sleep under the cardboard.”


I didn’t want to do that.

So, I decided that, even if it was Forbidden, I’d find my own way back to the park.

I ran in the direction of the sun, for I had a pretty good idea of east and west, and I knew the park was to the west, and when I got too tired to run, I walked, and I must have run-walked all afternoon.

When it was just starting to get dark, I found another outdoor square, all lit up with beautiful paper lanterns, and there, walking through the square was my uncle Jasper!


I was never so happy to see anybody ever before in my whole life! Seeing him meant I wouldn’t have to sleep under cardboard that night!


“What are you doing here, all by yourself, Meadow?” he asked.


I told him all about the big adventure and about getting lost and about Norman heading off to get found while I waited in Lost-land for him to return and how he never did.

“We’d better get you to the park,” he said. “We don’t want anybody worrying over you!”


We made it back just as Norman was reaching the park entrance and my dad was walking out of the conference, so nobody even had a chance to be worried!

It seems scary when I think about it now, but at the time, I had so much fun exploring, and I had this amazing trust that everything would always work out right.


Sometimes, I think that trust in life, or in the universe, or in the Rightness-of-Whatever, was misplaced, just a naive childish belief in goodness.

I mean, there is so much badness in the world.

I think about Jena, and what her mom experienced, and about all the terrible things that happened in the world that landed her mom in that refugee camp in the first place.

And then, I think about Jena sleeping peacefully in the next room, and I think about all the beauty that surrounds me everyday. And there’s Mozart!

And, I guess I just have an unshakeable trust in goodness.

After all, I’ve got you for a pen pal!


I hope I didn’t bore you forever, Chance.

Enjoy your sister’s wedding!

And good luck with the writing!

Much love,


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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Mr. Watergate 3

A reply to: A letter from Mr. Watergate


Dear Mr. Watergate. Chance.

I like that.

Dear Chance,

Do you feel that names are significant? I do. Because Meadow–it’s so who I am. Quiet. Outdoors. Green. Wait until you learn more about me and you will see how green I really am.

And because Chance. I feel like I’m taking a big chance writing this letter to you, just like you took a big chance in your last letter to me.

I just read it. I know I should really take a few days to process it. And I will. But I wanted to start my reply now.

Ok. I really will take my advice, set this letter aside, let my feelings settle a bit, and then write back.

See you in a few days… I mean. Not really. But in my mind’s eye when I pick up this letter again.

Hi, Chance. I’m back.


I needed to take a few days to process everything you wrote. You are really brave.

My uncle likes to say that “Virtue is easy for the virtuous.” What he means is that if someone is naturally good and usually does the right thing, then, for them, being good is no big deal. It’s just them living their lives the way that’s easiest for them.

He says he has greatest respect for those who work for virtue. “That takes the real courage,” he says.

I think that’s why he likes my brother so much! LOL!

I kept thinking of this perspective while reading your letter. To face your mistakes, especially with your children whom you love so much, that takes real courage. And then to own up to those mistakes with me, someone you barely even know, that takes even more courage.


I respect you so much.

It must feel hard when you see that the pain felt by you and your ex-wife was spread onto your children. Pain is strange that way. Sometimes I think that it’s like a virus–all pain wants to do is grow and spread, and it will use other people to do so.

I wish I knew a Vitamin C for pain! You know, something that will kick the pain out of our systems so that we don’t have to spread it, unknowingly, to others.


It’s possible that for me, painting is my Vitamin C.

After my dad died, I was in a lot of pain. My mom had died a few years before, and I still wasn’t completely over it. I mean, I didn’t cry a lot, but my heart had this stitch in it that wouldn’t go away. Then when my dad died, I literally thought my heart was split. I even researched if a person can die of a broken heart. And you know what? They can.

My uncle Jasper saved me then. He was grieving, too, for it was his brother who had died–and way too early. But he pulled himself together and started spending a lot of time with me, and he taught me to paint.

That opened up life for me again, and now, I paint nearly every day. It helps my brain settle out and relax, and then I can see beauty again.

My little Jena comes from a painful background. I think I mentioned she was born in a refugee camp. It’s a really sad story.

But it feels like her life is mostly new, now. I’m sure that, at some deep level, the painful experiences she had in her conception, birth, and first year will be part of a coded memory deep within her soul, but I also feel hope that the healing brought to her by fate will fill her with goodness, so that the pain brings compassion, rather than that spreading virus of accidentally hurting others.


Ugh! I didn’t mean to get so heavy! I guess I just hear in your words that you feel badly about what happened. I also hear such strength and love in your words when you write of your daughters, and even when you write of your ex-wife.

Forgiveness is amazing!

I was thinking about Milagros, too. I think you and her mom chose the right name!

I mean, look at what she’s awoken within you! That’s a miracle that only a baby can awaken.


The other day, my uncle was over while Jena was playing. I’d been watching her and thinking about this wonder she experiences in everything. I realized that the experience of that wonder–that’s part of being human! That’s in all of us.

This made me reflect on how each of us was a toddler once. There are no “bad” toddlers. Each of us was once this tiny thing, full of wonder and joy, looking at the world with eyes that twinkle. This is before the virus of pain infected us, when we are all virtuous, and when being virtuous is our very nature.

My uncle started talking. He says crazy things sometimes, and–confession–sometimes I think he’s a cranky old nut. But then I realized that he, too, was once this innocent baby, looking at the world with eyes of wonder.


I looked in as he was reading Jena a good-night story. At that moment, both of them looked so pure, so full of goodness. Do you think that this quality is inside of all us?


I think that it is.

I think that the miracle is that when you see Milagros, this open-eyed quality of wonder and goodness wakes up in you. Maybe Milagros is your Vitamin C, and when you see her, the virus of pain is cured. She’s your immunization!

Because, look. Having her has woken up so much strength and so much goodness inside of you.

Thank you for sharing that goodness with me.


I think it’s only fair that I share a confession of my own. Not only am I single now, but I have never had a boyfriend. I’ve never had a girlfriend, either. Aside from one crush on a boy in middle school, I’ve just never felt that way.

And I’ve never felt that anything was missing from my life, either. I mean, look: I’ve got family, especially now with Jena. I have a few close friends. I have pen pals! 🙂 And I have my art. I don’t have any missing pieces.

Still, when I read your letter, I felt funny inside. Tingly. That’s why I had to put your letter away for a few days before I could continue with my reply.

Anyway, thank you for being my pen pal and for letting me, too, experience miracles.




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Forgotten Art: Meadow-Watergate 2

A reply to: A Letter from Mr. Watergate


Dear Mr. Watergate:

You are brilliant! A child-development genius!

Did anyone ever tell you that? It’s so true.

Let me tell you what happened, and you will see how helpful your insights were to me.

The other day, my uncle Jasper stopped by.

Jena and I were sitting in the living room, “talking.” As usual, we didn’t have a clue what the other was saying, but we were playing along, both of us trying not to get frustrated by the other’s lack of total comprehension.

Then, when my uncle sat down, Jena looks at him and says, “Assālam ‘alaykum.”


My uncle smiled and replied, “Wālaikum assalām. Ap kaisi hain?”

“Ap se milker khushi huwi!” she said to him.


Jasper turned to me and said, “Your baby speaks Urdu.”

“You mean it’s not baby-talk?” I asked.

She started babbling excitedly.

“Well, that’s baby-talk,” my uncle said. “But before, she was definitely speaking Urdu.”


He went on to say that it was surprising. Urdu is the official language of Pakistan, but it’s an uncommon first language. Punjabi is far more common as the language spoken at home.

“Maybe it has something to do with her being born in the refugee camp,” Jasper said.

But at any rate, we discovered that she does, indeed, speak another language! And my uncle, at least, can comprehend her!

So when you wrote to me, “Toddlers like to repeat things they hear. Jena could be speaking in another language,” you were so right!

Oh, thank you, Mr. Watergate! (Can I call you Chancelor? Do you go by Chance?)

(Ha! That sounds like a joke. “Do you go, by chance?” Never mind. I think I’m getting punchy from toddler-cabin-fever!)

So I’ve been using your other piece of advice, about how toddlers like to repeat things they hear, and I’m using flashcards to help Jena learn English. I keep it simple and fun, like a game (or I try to), so she doesn’t get bored or sad. She still gets sad a lot.


At first I thought that I should learn Urdu, so she and I could communicate in her language. But I did a little research on language development in bilingual children. The experts agree that kids do best if each adult speaks only one language with the child, rather than mixing and matching. It helps the brain keep everything in the right file drawer, I guess.

So I decided that I will speak English with Jena. Jasper, who’s a retired professor himself, says that he knows all about the research, and he doesn’t go along with formalized prescriptions, so he will be, as he puts it “the rebel granduncle” and speak whatever language he feels like with her, even French.

“That way,” he says, “her mind can file me in the category of Uncle Polyglot.” He’s kind of a nut.

I’m in the process of  finding someone who will speak Urdu with her. I hope, too, to find an Urdu School in San Myshuno, if not closer, so that she can grow up biliterate, in addition to bilingual.

Jasper has friends and neighbors who speak Punjabi and Urdu, and he thinks they would be eager to talk with her.

The other day, I went out for a jog while Jasper was here looking after Jena, and I ran into (well, not literally 🙂 ) someone I’d seen a few times at the refugee center when we were making arrangements for me to adopt Jena.

Karim came from the same camp.


He seemed a little wary of me at first. But we got to talking. He’s living in Windenburg now, where  he has a technology job as network-server-something. I told him that I’d adopted Jena, and I asked if he’d be willing to visit sometimes, to talk with her.

He said he would.

So, I’m really excited now! It seems like Jena will have someone to communicate with, while she learns English at the same time! Isn’t that exciting?


I also really enjoyed your insights about toddlers being very emotional. I’d never thought about toddler hormones!

But I guess it makes sense. I’ll have to do some research on toddler brain chemistry and development and the connection with emotional states.

That helps me relax so much to know that at least some of this is a natural process: it’s not all the result of a traumatic first few years or of lingering grief.

She does often seem very happy.


And she and I are enjoying our conversations more than ever!


Goodness! This whole letter has been all about me and Jena and Uncle Jasper! I haven’t even mentioned how much I enjoyed the photos you sent of you and your beautiful daughter. She has your smile!

I have to admit to feeling envy when I see how close the two of you are. There’s always a physical distance between Jena and me that mirrors the emotional distance that lingers between us. I hope at some point that we achieve the easy bond that you seem to have with your daughter. Are you that close with all your daughters?

It’s not for me that I want this attachment (I’m emotionally satisfied by my close ties with my uncle and my brother), but for Jena. I want her to experience growing up with healthy attachments so that she’ll be able to form close relationships throughout her life.

Maybe some day.


Please write me more about you and your daughters and your wife! I’d love to hear all about your life and your secrets for creating happy, healthy family!

Thank you again for your wisdom.

Much love,


p.s. Your idea of a play date for our two littlies is so tempting! At present, I’m limiting my social life to the essential. I want to keep my life as simple as possible so that I’m able to give Jena the attention she needs. Maybe later, once she’s better adjusted, we can think about letting our children play together. I must admit, it would be so fun to talk with you in person! I’d love to hear your words of wisdom straight from your lips!

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Forgotten Art: Meadow-Watergate 1


Dear Mr. Watergate:

The Pen Pal Project recommended you as a match for me. I see in your profile that you have many daughters ranging in age from toddler to teen.

How perfect! With all your experience, you can give me the advice I need!

You see, I have recently become a mother to Jena.


She is my adopted daughter.

She’s a miracle, a handful, and a mystery, all rolled into one!


I have to admit that, as a new mother with no experience with children, especially very young children, I am at a loss more often than not!

Sometimes, we get along swimmingly!


She’ll be happy, cheerful, and cooperative. At these times, it seems that she’s settling into her new home and that she actually likes me! I start to feel that we can be a family.

And then, something will shift. I will find her standing with the saddest look on her face.

What has happened? Why is she now sad? Will I ever be able to figure out her needs and anticipate her moods?


I could really use your insights and advice, Mr. Watergate.

Thank you, in advance.


Meadow McCumber

P.S. If you are too busy to write back, I completely understand! I know that this letter is coming out of the blue. Is it OK if I keep writing to you, though? Somehow, just sharing my worries with someone who might possibly understand, I feel better already.

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