It is not surprising that in the ever-expanding hustle and urbanization of our country’s metroplex areas the humble hay barn is slowly becoming a standing monument to the past. This old red barn stands testament to a way of life very few of us know. The days of farming and stacking hay in barn to feed your livestock is an occupation that requires us to leave the smell of diesel and gasoline engines for the smell of dirt and manure.
Yet time never stands still as this decaying skeleton of a once proud farmhouse barn can stand testament to. The paint is peeling and the weeds are overgrown. The roof no longer does it’s important rain defying work. This old building once stood as a powerful reminder of a farmers wealth and influence, now suffers from the indignities of old age and the ravages of time.
Once considered to expensive and time-consuming to raise new, this declining relic is now too expensive and time-consuming to level. Perhaps all the farmers have gone. Moved to the city and its bright lights for better opportunities. What then of this old barn. What hollow adventures are left for it?
What if you found that someone used your life’s work, all those endless hours tirelessly sacrificed in the name of your occupation,to represent what it wasn’t originally meant to say? What would you do? Would you merely shrug your shoulders? Or, protest as loudly as you could? Worse, what if you never knew it happened?
It has happened. Mark Rothko was an artist in the same way vein as Jackson Pollack and the other great contemporaries. He was an artist in every sense of the world. He once proclaimed:
“I’m not an abstractionist. I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on. And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions . . . The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.” ― Mark Rothko
But how bitter would he be today if he learned that his
legacy is not the art that he loved creating so much? What if he had learned his art was a weapon of the Cold War?
According to an article in the Independent, in the 1950’s this is exactly what happened to him. Rothko was a Jewish immigrant from Russia who became an important artist in the primitive style of art. Being a Russian living in America during in the 1950’s era of McCarthyism was not easy. But, being a popular artist made him the perfect target for the CIA.
The CIA created several shadow art foundations and worked with many of the wealthiest elitists in the country to make sure that art from the likes of Jason Pollack and Mark Rothko was not only seen but were to become incredibly famous. Why? According to Saunders:
“Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.”
“Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylized and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.”
In an Saunders’s interview with Tom Braden, first chief of the CIA’s International Organisations Division he said :
“We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War.”
There is little doubt that painters like Pollack or Rothko would still be famous names even without the help of the CIA. Help the artists never knew they were receiving. But there is strong sign that perhaps there Abstract Expression style may not have been as popular for as long as it’s been.
Being an artist, this whole subject has me wondering. When I look at my art, What if…? Nah….
The picture of this child’s toy sitting on a park bench reminds me of some of the misfortunes that befall well-meaning parents. Mom or Dad must have stopped for a rest or to take care of the infant and somehow managed to leave this rattle behind. I’d hate to be in their car on the way home.
Bad things happen to good people and many parents can’t afford to buy gifts for their children on Christmas. For this reason, every year we give an unwrapped toy to the Marines for their Toys for tot’s program.
Local toy collections take place until mid December at various locations around the country. The toys are then distributed at Christmas. Over the decades, the Marine Corps has established relationships with local churches, and other community agencies to make this special event happen. They have even teamed up with the Navajo and Hopi reservations to make sure that some of the most disenfranchised children in the country receive a toy on Christmas.
While we cannot officially “sponsor” this charity, one day we will. So, in the meantime, please give an unwrapped toy to the Marines this holiday season.
That wooden door, the great entrance that my heart has clung to for so many years remains shut to me. It stands as a tall solid and immobile barrier to my freedom, and I may never learn of the reasons for it being so.
My entrapment is not a subjective countenance to the strong and unpliable wood. Nor is my spirit captured and enslaved by the sturdy and secure locks that bar the passage of so many a passersby wishing to enter this humble place of worship.
Nay, my present dark circumstances finds my meager soul locked behind this entrance. Looking for a way to escape this church forever. The irony is not lost on me. Even in the days of my life the church always tried every gimmick both fun and fearful in trying to get worshipers though those terrible doors. Little did I understand that once I got here I would never leave!
Truly, as a ghost, I know that there are far worse circumstances a soul could find itself in. Yet, a gilded prison is, at least to the prisoner’s point of view, remains nothing but a prison. Yes, that word best describes it. Prisoner. It conjures the right imagery to the mind. I am the lost and forgotten prisoner doomed to anguish behind these doors for all eternity. The thought breaks my heart and fills my being with such sadness.
When I was alive, I did not concern myself with the possibilities of souls in torment, or those religious pursuits of binding your soul to glorious heaven or suffering punishments in fiery hells. I had a life to live. The thoughts of dying before I was old and gray simply did not exist in any form for my intellect. People died around me, for sure, but the odds of it happening to me were remote at best. I thought I would always have time later on to worry about my death. These thoughts were best left for the priests and the elder people trying to undo years of unsanctimonious behavior.
Oh, don’t misunderstand my life choices. I did everything required of me. I attended church, gave alms, and even sang in the choir for a bit of time. Even my dying breath was in service to my fellow-man and the church. Yet, here I am. I’m stuck between worlds and unable to grasp what I need to do to move on.
How did I die? I spent my last mortal moments bringing water to some carpenters and painters working on the ceiling behind the altar. Even though I was 18 years old, I was still a petite sized girl and could only bring the water to the scaffolding, tie a rope around it, and let the workers hoist it into the air on a pulley. Once they finished refreshing themselves, they would lower the bucket and I’d place fruit or nuts for them to snack on and to repeat the process as needed.
It was a hot day and I was quite happy to help these men as they repaired the ceiling to the church. On one such trip with the water pail I must not have tied the rope as securely as I believed. As the fates would have it, the rope became untied awhile it was in the air at the very top of the pulley. I saw a worker grab for it, but the bucket fell straight down like a missile completely crushing my skull with a crimson mist spraying the work-tarps on the floor.
I awoke standing to one side watching my body lying in a puddle of my blood. My neck bent at an odd angle and my poor head had a ghastly concave wound. The village priest was performing last rites and the workers were either sullen or standing with shocked looks on their faces.
I attempted to get their attention and tell them that I was fine. But, they seemed to be unable to either hear me or see me and provided no interaction. I kept trying to speak, long after my they removed my body and the work was finally completed. I screamed and yelled at my funeral, but again no interactions occurred to bring a sense of peace to myself. Finally, I resigned myself to explore the boundaries of this strange fate.
It was during this period that I attempted to leave the church and found myself unable to do so. I can go to the door, but as I’m ethereal, I cannot seem to be able to grasp it or push it.
Lately, I’ve overheard various people complaining to the priest of cold spots in the sanctuary. There are also several rumors about a sobbing that is sometimes heard. People hear the sound of a young women sob and sometimes can smell the pleasant fragrance of roses, my favorite perfume. But they are unable to determine where it comes from. I must admit, these strange occurrences happen at the same time that the idea of staying here for eternity is more than I can bear and I become despondent and sad. I’m sure I’m the cause of these events. Yet, I really don’t understand how.
Decades have past now, the priest who tended to my body died years ago. No one who remembers my death is still alive. I have watched endless baptisms, weddings, and funerals performed behind that sorrowful entrance.
So, if you’re in the church and you feel a sudden chill, think you hear the mournful sobs of a girl, or smell the sweet aromatics of roses in springtime. It’s me. Waiting… waiting for a chance to leave through that very entrance you walked in through.
Enjoy our latest short story about this fireplace…
He couldn’t believe the pain. He glanced at the old stone fireplace with an aching glance and began to think of what he would need to get a fire going. The fireplace looked like it suffered years or even decades of neglect and weathering in these ruins. But the only thing that mattered was it’s use again a fireplace.
He slowly realized that this was a critical moment of his life. But, he was so tired. Every muscle and tendon ached with pain like his stomach. His pain-wracked brain would only wander in and out of lucidity like the waves of the ocean pounding on the shore and it was so very difficult to think.
He left Valencia on the eastern coast of Spain what seemed a lifetime ago with a cargo hold of European firearms and the promises of riches to come from trading with the natives of this accursed land. Slowly, with a gathered force of effort he fought back the pain of his wound to start gathering small wood logs and twigs for the cold stone fireplace.
He sighed as he placed another log on the fire. Constantia, his wife, warned him not to go on this irrational voyage. She told him the money was not important. She wanted him to settle down, run a small shop in the city and have a family. He knew better though. Once you had the money, all those things would be easy.
The chances of becoming rich by bringing goods from Europe into Tejas made the risks palatable. Further, if you played your cards right, you could double your money by bringing back exotic animals like parrots or buffalo and strange manners of foodstuffs, and gadgets that the rich courtiers of the king were always looking to outbid each other for.
He envisioned her black flowing hair accented by pearls and gold. Yes indeed, he thought, a man could become exceedingly wealthy and life would be fabulous. The kindling caught flame and passed its blaze to the new log. Together they cheerfully burned and filled the remains of the room with the cheerful glow of dancing flames.
He sat in front of the growing warm fire gnawing on a piece of jerky, trying to keep his mind off of the steady pain in his midsection. As he glanced at his drying sweat and blood soaked shirt when suddenly he thought of finding El Dorado out here. That mystical city of gold always seemed elusive and yet just over that next hill. Man’s ability to suffer through living the hells of the desert with its native demons all looking to scalp you for trespassing on their land was astounding. Greed is a killer.
It was a sudden revelation; he sat on this dirt-covered floor in an old abandoned mission house with an arrow in the gut because of greed and now he was thinking of El Dorado! He cursed and struck the ground with the ham side of his fist. The hot pain in his midsection and a coughing fit of fresh blood instantly reminded him of his reality. He stared angrily into the fire as he placed his knife in the coals.
The fire and pain conjured up many of the old stories he heard from the sailors on board ship. They would often spend an evening on top of the deck singing raunchy ballads or enjoying the day’s rum rations. Sometimes they would just sit and tell-tale tales of the famous El Dorado under the moonlit sky with the stars seemingly like bright diamonds just out of arms reach. Most of these stories involved the motif of lost men, gold paved streets and diamond-encrusted towers. He could only sigh again with a depressed moan that foretold of the darkness that was to arrive soon. Many a Spaniard bought into these tales of riches and adventures and eagerly went to their deaths in this primitive wilderness. He knew he would soon be one.
It was his own fault, he had ignored the warning at the port that the natives where rebelling against the crown in the Northern areas of Mexico. Greed had taken hold of his brain and made it feverish with desire for gold. He had convinced himself that he only needed to hire only half the guards necessary for the trip. The reports were that the natives were always happy to see merchants bringing goods to the missions in this wilderness. He had convinced himself that nothing was going to happen and the extra gold made would be worth the risk. What a fool!
Poking the fire with a stick, he instinctively knew that he had to seal his wound. The pain was already intolerable and he could feel the arrowhead creating fresh bleeding every time he moved. It had to be taken out. There simply was no other option.
By now the edge tip of his knife blade was starting to glow with a life of its own. He painfully chuckled to himself. He thought of the sheer madness of the act he was about to do. He must clutch the slippery blood soaked arrow shaft with both hands, carefully slide it out in one fluid motion, and then press a red-hot piece of steel against the wound before he passed out or bled to death.
Until the moment he grabbed the slippery arrow shaft he never realized that it is possible to actually see pain. It’s like tunnel vision of your sight as throbbing circle the darkness and black begin to creep towards the center of your vision. The world swam in a thousand colors of purple, reds, and hot white blues. He felt the wet shaft slide out in a flash of white-hot pain and immediately became seized in a wrathful coughing fit with a horrid copper aftertaste of fresh blood.
“First part is done, now to…” he rasped as he reached for the glowing knife. With a prayer on his lips he thought of Constantia and stretched his shaking hand towards the knife. As he grasped the handle, he could feel his brain swimming and the world went mercifully jet-black.