Collaboration with my mother, Shari Coats, for 'When I Was Your Age', a collaborative project conceived and organized by Mary Laube. For more information on the project go to artistsandelders.blogspot.com/ or marylaube.com
To My Daughter Mary
I was born and raised in a relatively small and rural town in California’s Sacramento Valley. Yuba City had lots of farmers, and the son of one of them was my high school sweetheart, your dad. We married the summer after we both graduated from college, and moved to Palo Alto, where he started work on graduate degrees in law and business at Stanford and I got a job at the local American Red Cross Chapter. Palo Alto was more cosmopolitan than Yuba City, certainly, and I loved living there. But when I was about your age, and your dad had finished his four years of grad school, he took a job offer in Chicago and we moved way across the country to live in a truly big city for the first time.
I was both very excited and a little bit nervous about this big move. I had found a new job too, at the much larger Chicago Chapter of the Red Cross. Before moving we took an apartment-hunting trip in April of 1975 and found one we liked and could just barely afford, but I endured a few days of walking around in my light California clothes, freezing in the Chicago spring weather. Later, of course, I learned to dress for a very different climate.
We drove our little yellow Fiat out to Chicago that summer, and started a new life. We thought we might stay for a year or two and then come back home, but Chicago became our home for a very long time indeed. I learned to navigate the public transportation system and we sent our rather impractical sports car back to the farm in California, where it wouldn’t be ruined by the salt on Midwest winter roads. We learned that having a car in the city could be expensive and inconvenient, as there was always the problem of parking, whereas public transportation was easy and reasonably priced.
Early on we became members at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world’s greatest art museums. One of the perks of membership was being able to visit a rather grand room on an upper floor of this beautiful museum where only members were allowed. I loved getting dressed up in a suit and stockings and heels, going to the museum to look at Beauty and Truth, and then walking up to the Member’s Lounge for a complimentary cup of tea or coffee. At first I often felt like something of an imposter—as if someone might challenge my right to be there. I looked considerably younger than I actually was, and was inwardly a bit unsure of my social graces. But no one ever challenged me, and I was able to sit as long as I wanted to, with a book and my elegant china teacup (no Styrofoam in that world), reading or looking out at the Chicago skyline in all its architectural splendor, making believe I was a woman of the world.
I’ve seen many other cities and museums and skylines since then, but when I think of myself at your age, that memory of the Member’s Lounge of the Art Institute is one of the first that comes to mind. Maybe it’s because you turned out to be an artist yourself. I hope you enjoy life at this age, and that you have wonderful memories of your own about this time of your life. I’m quite sure you do and you will.