studio chez Rachael: Ask the Girl Arts

Someone asked me recently, where did “ask the girl” come from.

The summer I was 17, before college, I was lucky enough to be hired by my godfather who was the local cherished small-town veterinarian. He knew everybody and everyone knew him. My dad used to say, “Bob could be walking across a desert in Saudi Arabia during a sandstorm, and the first person he’d come across would be someone he knew from somewhere else.”

He was my father’s first friend when my newly wed parents moved up from the New York city area to the Fingerlakes. Before I came into the picture, he often invited them for interesting barn calls such as a calf born with two heads, or to help during late night emergencies, my mom recalls them doing a C-section on a  chihuahua.

When I was born and taken into faith, my father asked Bob to stand up for me. He proceeded, for the rest of the time I knew him, to take that responsibility very seriously. At the tender age of 2, I began riding around the countryside with him to cow barns and horse pastures.

So it was only logical this particular summer,  when his entire office staff quit, that he show up at our house after dark, and around the kitchen table with a cup of cream laden coffee, definitely a sin in my mom’s eyes, the cream, he asked if I was available to work for him starting tomorrow at 8 a.m. Was I?!?! Oh, yeah!

I’m guessing my parents were in their late forties so he must ve been in his late fifties. As I said I was 17.

One of the first quirks I noticed, what with the women’s movement coming on the scene and my being of age to consider myself one, was that Uncle Bob always referred to me as “the girl.” He was very handsome, with a devilish sense of humor, a quick repartee, and an infectious smile. So, I’m sure my youthful outrage amused him no end. He continued to call me and any other female adult by that word. He was, after all, a man of his generation.

When I trained my replacement as autumn and college approached, she was older than I. She also loved him, as did I, and so one year, when I dropped in for a visit, I noted she’d had a name tag created for herself which she wore. It simply said “The Girl”. She also gave me credit, when she qualified years later for her practicum as a veterinary techincian with teaching her well enough that she was able to be licensed in this way.

I’m not sure, but let me tell you what The Girl did at that small animal hospital. For one thing we took in skunks (deskunked in the driveway operating theater), raccoons, cats, dogs, and all manner of small pets, in addition to being a large animal practice as well. I was the kennel person, feeding, cleaning, and exercising all the current boarders twice daily. I also answered the phone. Dealt with salesmen and farmers who’d show up inevitably when I was there alone on lunch. I ‘ll never forget this one short stocky older farmer who stumped in as I was eating my PBJ sandwich. “Want some bag bomb.” he said to me. “Excuse me,” I replied, “I didn t quite hear you.” One thing about the farmer clients, to a man, they found a young blonde female assistant holding a poopy cow’s tale out of Doc’s face, across the board, hilariously humorous. I took no offense. Farming connects a person to sex and the fruitfulness of the earth and all who grow there. So, I was unsure if this farmer this noon was having a joke at my expense.
“Bag Bomb!!”he insisted with a short temper! “Ya know, you rubs it on they tits when they crack and bleed!”

Okay, so now, between the words “bag” and “tits” my 17 year old self was mortified. I blushed scarlet. He grabbed his cap and sort of herded me toward the supply room. We looked at the heavily stocked shelves of ointments and medications. Then I saw it “Bag Balm” in the distinctive square green can. We made eye contact as I grabbed him one. He nodded at me “Bag bomb!” he said emphatically.

Yep, sure was. I own a tin of it, keep it under my kitchen sink. Works really well when a person’s hands get chapped from washing after  lots of painting or in the winter.

Anyway other things the girl did besides sell products and answer phones included developing and helping to take xrays. Shaving and clipping. Cleaning out the pigeon coop. Uncle Bob liked to eat roast squab. I learned how to run the centrifuge, read miscroscopic slides in diagnoses, and to insert an IV, a catheter, or to give an injection. I cooked the instruments in the autoclave. I mopped the hospital last thing before closing. I held mucky tails, horses’ upper lips in a twitch to still an animal who was being tubed for worm medication, I clipped nails, I held reluctant patients. I was scratched, clawed, bitten, andf stomped on. I even did some book keeping and made a few collection calls. In short, there was nothing the girl didn’t do. It never occured to her to say “No. I can’t.”

I loved that man as much as my own father. He ‘d turn up in the coolest places. One summer we were camping on Truro at the National Seashore on Cape Cod and I came to my path in front of my small pup tent to see the word “HELLO” spelled out in sticks. Uncle Bob was on the cape visiting friends, too.

Christmas Eve was always spent, in the German tradition, at my grandparents’ home. Back in that time, nobody locked their doors. So every Christmas Eve when we came home late at night, ready for bed, I’d spy a new present just for me, wrapped enticingly and left under the tree by Uncle Bob who knew to come while we were out.

Years later, when I had a nervous breakdown in college at age 19 and came home, immediately he asked me to come work with him. As we rode around to outlyng farms I noticed he kept a photo of me as a young child of three with my face sniffing a purple lilac clipped to the passenger seat’s visor. As we approached my house, he reached one hand and gently laid it on my knee. I looked over at him.

“There’s nothing wrong with you.” He declared. “You don’t need any psychiatrist, you just need some time to figure things out, where you want to go, what you want to do.”

As it turns out, he was right. Only I ended up needing about 30 years’ time to figure out the obvious, to be the artist and writer I have been since I could first wield a crayon. For a long time, my email handle was “just ask Rache” because that was a variation of  Uncle Bob telling a client, “Just ask the girl. She’ll know what to do.”

and then it evolved into “Ask the Girl Arts” because “girls can and will…do anything!

Included is a photograph sparked by a sister penwoman’s wonderful posting about the evolution of her studio space, a picture of mine. As a kid my folks always made sure I had a play room which was really an art room. My dad built me an easel and a sawbuck low legged table and so many art projects’ glue, paint and dried clay littered its surface, that when my brother came along, he resurfaced it. I was not serious about my arts, like I am today until a few years ago. I dabbled in photography for years, having forgotten the love of paint and brush and drawing. Sold greeting cards of my photos and went to shows, sold a few pieces here and there and then became interested in ACEO cards, pen & inks. I recalled my grandfather telling me to draw without apology so ink it was, to prevent tentativenss and erasing.

By now I work in all media and am in the process of establishing myself as an artist. With this posting is a photo of my studio space in my lovely apartment with balcony for plein air painting overlooking the pool where I swam one day.  In my late marriage, I had a basement studio which actually had decent light, but was always a source of argument because as any artist knows, you have to spread out. Inevitably I d come upstairs to the kitchen or the deck. I tried renting a studio for awhile but the building it was in was in horrible repair,filthy,  smelled of old cheese, and the price for the tiny room was exorbitant. Back to the basement I went. Now my studio is both my balcony and the central area of my apartment. The hub, where things happen. Ask the girl. Or just ask Rache. Girls can do anything. Just believe.


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