Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

It continues to be my goal to read the books of as many indigenous authors as possible this year…and to read content that will increase my knowledge, leading to better understanding of issues related to our Canadian indigenous peoples.  I have a desire in my heart to be a part of the mechanism that contributes to change, following a formal Truth and Reconciliation process.  The formal process is a mere stepping stone…the work, by all Canadians, is yet to be done.

I am grateful to have connected with author, Sable Sweetgrass, through an on line book club that Sable established and then on to a group book circle at the Forest Lawn Public Library once a month, with the gathering, Chapters and Chat, sponsored by the Aboriginal Pride and 12 Community Safety Initiative and led by Michelle Robinson.  Books offer inroads to powerful ways of viewing the world and understanding, whether non fiction, fiction, theater or poetry.  We owe it to ourselves to become educated.

This month’s read, Wenjack by Joseph Boyden, was selected as much for the weight of issues surrounding its author as for any other reason.  We decided we really wanted to have an honest discussion about appropriation of content.

The aesthetic of the book is beautiful…lovely paper, interesting and welcoming format, gorgeous illustrations and attractive associations with the natural world.  Based on the historical events of a young boy, Chanie who, in fact, was forced into a residential school system and as a result, died,  the discussion about the issues surrounding the writing of the book became a many layered, and at times painful, conversation.

I was unaware of Joseph Boyden’s reputation as an author, given that this was the first time I have picked up one of his books. Highly successful and recognized as an award winning author, Boyden’s connections with indigenous culture and appropriation of indigenous narratives has been called into question in various ways over many years.  His response has been anything but straight forward and the topic has been explored all over the internet.  An example of one such article can be found in the National Post.

I love books and I love the act of reading and it is for me to be discerning around my selection. As a visual artist, I have had to consider ethical boundaries as I explore certain topics in my paintings and it is important that appropriation is considered as I set up these boundaries.  While I am not fond of censorship, I do think, as artists, there is something refreshing about being true to our own stories.  I found our shared discussion circle to be invaluable as it contributed to expanded knowledge, in a very thoughtful way.

wenjack

 

Deafening by Frances Itani

On the recommendation of a friend back here in Calgary, one of the books I read while visiting my father in Belleville, Ontario was Deafening by Frances Itani.  With a regional setting of Deseronto, Belleville, the railway and the surrounding area, upon completing the book, of course, I had to go and visit the places.  Itani’s novel, placed during World War I, is exquisite.  A Winner of a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, I was captivated and motored through this one at warp speed.

Grania, the protagonist, emerges from a bout of scarlet fever as a child, deaf.  The novel evokes a real sense of what language means.  As stated in the Goodread’s summary,

“A magnificent tale of love and war, Deafening is finally an ode to language-how it can console, imprison, and liberate, and how it alone can bridge vast chasms of geography and experience.”

In published reviews, it appears that a lot of readers lost interest as Grania becomes involved with Jim. I think the author is successful in steering clear of sentimentality and introduces Jim as a device to talk to the reader about war, its impact on the small community and how the concepts of lost communication express a similarity with loss of hearing.

At the conclusion of this book, I thought this was my favourite book of all time…but, you know and I know, this is just until the next one!

My father humoured me and visited the grounds of Belleville’s Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf with me and I went, on another day, to Deseronto in order to document some of the places mentioned in the book. Why?  Just because I could.

The school for the deaf has a beautiful campus including several stately brick buildings and wonderfully groomed grounds.

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Deseronto…

The places of Canada…driving driving driving…remind me of the blessings of our common narratives.  Everywhere, windows are boarded up, mostly in small towns and names are written, as are profanities on the baked painted surfaces of what used to be animated corner stores and bakeries and churches…places where people gathered, all working to get through hard winters and humid summers.

Deseronto captures all of it.  The tea rooms and antiques, the post office, the docks…

I am grateful to have seemed to step into a book.

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Post Office Deseronto

Post Office Deseronto

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St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church Deseronto

St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church Deseronto

I strongly recommend Deafening by Frances Itani.

 

Of all the Places

I ended up thinking about this place today.  I sat with my children, as we do on Sundays, ate a meal and shared stories and as they left and I find myself alone at the table, I feel a certain sadness for the passage of time.  Sundays with Gramma meant a blade roast, cooked slowly, all day long.  Sundays meant cartoons with Grampa on the sofa.  I’m grateful for my family and the memory of places that remain in my heart.  If you are in my family and have a photo of yourself on this front step, please forward it to me, so that I may include it here.

The Mill For Sale As I remember it. Woolen Mill 001 Uncle Bob Moors in Magrath Alberta July 1963

Florence, John and Bob Woollen MillRuth and Roy IMG_5619 IMG_8911 IMG_8912

Woolen Mill

They lived off of the front of a woolen mill, the only one in all of Western Canada.  The evening we arrived at the Magrath Wool, Card and Spinning Mill, was the first time I had ever met my grandparents.  It was a one bedroom apartment with a curtain strung for a bedroom door.  To the right of the front door was a small office with papers and invoices heaped high on a huge oak desk.  Some old black and white photographs were pinned to the bulletin board.

To the left, a living room opened up, with a sofa set before a half wall that was easily called the Wiley Coyote-Couch because every evening after work, Grampa would sit for the cartoons with as many grandchildren as possible nestled around and about him.  The half-wall revealed on the other side, the kitchen where most of the visiting would happen.  My Gramma was the nucleus of this portion of the home.  I still remember her, without dentures, eating a slice of white bread slathered with butter and sprinkled with white sugar.  The sound of her laughter and the appearance of her crinkled face stay with me.

Deep into the living room was a second sofa, this one was a pull-out bed.  My parents would sleep there.  Beside the sheers on the living room window, grew a huge Christmas cactus, dust woven in and out of its myriad of branches.  There was a small electric organ in front of the same large picture window and Gramma would play Aura Lee and Going Home and make my father weep.

The evening we arrived, Gramma met us all at the front door, squealing.  It seemed my father held onto her forever.  She had one of those cover-up aprons on, more like a duster…it was covered in golden flowers and was as soft as can be.  Grampa was called in from the mill…Gramma called him, lovingly, Jack.  Whenever he made his way into the kitchen from the mill, his first gesture was to lift his suspenders up and over his big shoulders.  When he smiled his eyes always filled with tears, it was just the way it was.  He smelled of this wonderful scent of raw wool and wore little pieces of grey and white fluff in his hair and on his clothing.  I loved these two with my whole heart.

The sight of my grandparents for the first time, was indeed, a little taste of heaven.  Having lived on the move so much, it was those memories that I would grow to hold onto and keep in the treasure box of my soul.

Art Speaks, so RUMBLE!

I cherished painting last night at the Rumble House.  Stories from Paris were my first stories of the day because, rising early, I had a coffee in my hand and some free time.  I clicked on the news.  Sigh.  Twelve human beings killed.

In the past, I’ve been appalled with satire that was posted on social media regarding MY GOD…MY JESUS…MY LORD.  There’s no way on earth I could understand the inhuman approach to such disturbing images that got a ‘big laugh’ from the throngs of the Faceless Facebook personae.  At the time, I was struggling.  At the time, my Mom was struggling…she was struggling for breath in hospital, having been afflicted with pneumonia.  No one loves/loved Jesus more than my Mom.  So…how did I feel about the public hatred for Christianity…the insensitive portrayal of MY Saviour?  I felt hurt…attacked…defiant.  But, how did my actions play out?  I expressed my point of view on the subject.  I shared my feelings.  I confronted and even celebrated my faith.  I understood that not everyone sees things my way and that doesn’t make me a lesser being and it certainly is no deficiency in the other.

Given who I am, I doubt that I would truly appreciate the perspective or satire shared by the Charles Hebdo weekly newspaper.  It’s just not in me to poke fun at any person’s faith or ideas.  However, what was accomplished by mowing down the lives of human beings who were simply expressing their opinions in a democratic society, can only be described as shocking and deeply disturbing.  I was left speechless as I thought all day about how much I treasure my freedom to express.

So…what did I paint?

I thought about a few different contexts and melded them.  I knew exactly what I wanted to paint.

For one reference, Grampa Moors used to spend hours watching Loonie Tunes, his favourite being The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.  Grampa, after a day in the woolen mill, would pull down his suspenders and turn on the cartoons, laughing in his way (I can hear it right now, as I type),  while a whole row of youngsters curled up under his arm on the sofa while he did.  I don’t think that there was anything more violent in my childhood than watching this miserable, but somehow hopeful, coyote, blown up again and again or clobbered at the base of a huge ravine by a giant boulder.  He always got up.  Something about the aesthetic and characters of this wee cartoon, reached into me yesterday…and I remember the cartoon with a great deal of affection.

Who might possibly paint a portrait of this violence…and make it seemingly banal and even humourous?  OH!  I KNOW!  Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)  This would be somehow satirical…right?  How could I build upon this?  The artist paints an artist painting Wile E. Coyote…hmmm….what if the unsuspecting artist has as his possible undoing,  his own subject matter!  A bit of tension.  I KNOW!  Dynamite!  And so the connections developed…I sought out a reference where the subject is Johannes Vermeer, painting…here it is, Vermeer At Easel circa 1662-1668.

vermeer-at-easelI hoped that I might adjust the composition…and modify, knowing full well that I wasn’t going to be able to pull a Vermeer out of my bum in 2 hours.

So, in the end…I positioned the figure on the panel so that I had that space in the upper third…I KNOW…I will include the word SATIRE, for those people who need it spelled out for them.  It DOES SEEM that a lot of people don’t understand OR appreciate good satire.

In the end, I am grateful for the generous bidding that took place on the piece.  I thank Rich and Jess for hosting on a relatively quiet night…grateful for Jennifer and Andy because I always enjoy a good conversation…for Mike who had some interesting things to tell me about Paris…for Gavin who drove me to the station…for Claire, former student, who showed up for her first paint night and for Robb who purchased this piece at auction, but best of all, the offer of rides/support/coffee and just general generosity. I’m richly blessed by this community. (although the set cost for an adult fare on the C-Train IS ridiculous)

Photo taken by Aaron Feser who is addicted to distraction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this one by Robb or his buddy…not certain…but, I love it!

Vermeer Paints SatireAnd..this piece of You Tube video…just because I love this song almost as much as Jack White does.

A Gift From Kansas

When I returned home after time spent with my father, this past summer, I was determined to interview my paternal aunties about my family.  I had never felt such an urgency to record their stories as I did after losing my Mom, her laughter and her memories.  The thing is…once a person collects the archives, the narratives, the recordings and the photographs, it’s important to sort them into some concrete ‘container’.  They need to take a shape.

This morning, my camera battery is plugged into the wall recharging.  My tape recorder is set to pause at minute 22 of an interview with my Auntie Ruth Rollingson…my ancestral record from Dick Chandler (sent to me by my cousin, Anne) is open to L400 William Thomas Haddow and I am so excited and blessed, I am bursting at the seams!  Auntie Ruth speaks about her memories of my Great Grandmother, Mary Eleanor Haddow’s crocheting and her obsession with good manners and courteous behaviour.  Later, I will publish this recording here, as a part of the provenance of today’s MAGIC!  But for now…I have to write about yesterday’s delivery.

Mary Eleanor Haddow, with her family.  She is center back.

The Haddow Family

The Haddow Family

My grand Uncle, William Thomas Haddow (usually called Tom), married Emma Stafford.  (much more to be said about Emma…as well as her brother Charles, who apparently ended up a well known photographer in Calgary and archived by the Glenbow Museum…but that will have to wait).  Tom and Emma had two little girls; Agnes Mary (Mae) and Edith Emily.  When Edith married Robert McKeown, she received as a gift, a crocheted table cloth from my Great Grandmother Mary Eleanor.

Mary Eleanor Haddow on her wedding day to John Moors

Mary Eleanor Haddow on her wedding day to John Moors

Yesterday, I received a box delivered to my door, from my beautiful cousin Anne who lives in Kansas…you guessed it! Wrapped in tissue, lovingly, and with photographs that provide treasured provenance, the table cloth.  I broke out into tears AND hoots of every sort.  My cousin, Margy, joined me at the feast table as I retold the story for her.  I am so blessed beyond belief.  I ran my fingers over the delicate crochet, knowing that this was made lovingly by a woman I treasure simply through the few stories that remain of her.  I am grateful to you, dear Anne.

This photograph shows the table cloth in use sometime in the 1940s and includes young Anne, with her mother, Edith.

Photograph provided by my cousin, Anne.

Photograph provided by my cousin, Anne.

This next photograph shows Edith’s son, Gerry, enjoying a Christmas feast some time in the mid 1950s. An exceptional photograph…with a very special table cloth.

Photograph provided by my dear cousin, Anne.

Photograph provided by my dear cousin, Anne.

And this morning…warmed by Christmas light, the beautiful gift of a table cloth, to be treasured forever as a special remembrance and reminder of the power of family and of Christmas love.  Your generosity amazes me…I cry as I type these words.

P1140479Now, this treasure has been tucked away, to be kept safe for future generations.

 

Meeting David Bouchard

It was a magical thing to be a guest teacher where David Bouchard was doing an author’s presentation for the students at Cardinal Newman School here in Calgary. As a classroom teacher for 35 years, I had a love for books that contain life lessons and that hold the narratives of ordinary people. I wasn’t very satisfied with the movies I captured on my small camera, given that his presentation took place in a gymnasium. However, here at home, I’ve discovered some clear and representative videos.

David Bouchard’s short biography is available on his extensive website and most of David’s titles are listed here.  We received two stories yesterday morning, Rainbow Raven and Papa Lost His Lucky.  Amazing stuff.

I treasure listening to stories…always have.  A polished presentation, David’s stories captivated the very young audience seated before him and they contained rich histories for the adults in the room as well.

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David Bouchard: Author and Speaker

David Bouchard: Author and Inspiration

Where are you, Eleanor Witbeck?

Somewhere in our interview, Auntie Eleanor told me that she received names from both of her Grandmothers…Mary Eleanor Haddow Moors and Mable Burrows Elliott. Eleanor Mable, of anyone, brings to mind my own Gramma Moors.  While our time was so short, I have to say that I absolutely loved having Auntie Eleanor all to myself.  It seems that when families get together, they are all about LOUD and CRAZY…so much food…so much laughter and fun.  On Tuesday morning I reveled in having quiet conversation with this dear dear soul.

For a zillion years, Auntie Eleanor and her beloved husband, Uncle Ted, hosted our family reunions.  There was always a campground bustling with fun of every sort, a family program in the afternoon to show off just what an insanely talented family we have, big meals and candy toss.  So many golden memories come from our family reunions.  In the days of being a wee little thing, my most precious recollection is of our Grampa Moors sitting on a chair all by himself…his huge family sitting perfectly quiet in front of him on the grass.  His eyes watered with his smile…he tapped his toe…held both hands on his knees…his racing cap on…looking out upon his family…and sang Froggie Went a Courtin’.  He knew all of the words.

John Moors Hanging With a few of His Crazy Grandkids

John Moors Hanging With a few of His Crazy Grand Children

Auntie Eleanor told me that she didn’t remember much of anything.  Hmmm…funny…as we connected with one another she spilled out all sorts of little narratives.  It was pure magic.  That evening, I slept out at the farm…all alone with Max.  It was funny, but at the same time frightening because it was dark and perfectly silent.  I wanted to go out and buy myself a snack, but I was afraid to leave.  As I write, this sounds ridiculous.  My second cousins, Kecia & Mack and their beautiful baby, Maverick, delivered chips, dip and a can of pop and just hung with me for a while…that was awesome!

When they left, I took photos of the photos on the walls.  I felt surrounded by the spirits of my ancestors…very powerful experience indeed!  Thank you, Auntie Eleanor.  I love you.

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George Elliott and Mabel Burrows Elliott

George Elliott and Mabel Burrows Elliott

My Great Grandfather, John Moors

My Great Grandfather, John Moors

My Great Grandmother, Mary Eleanor Haddow Moors

My Great Grandmother, Mary Eleanor Haddow Moors

This…from my beautiful cousin, Margy…daughter to Auntie Eleanor…a treasure to me in my deepest soul…this free write is something that she wrote ages ago.  I cried when I first read it, but it sort of captures what happens when our family gathers.  While the shape of our family changes over the years as we lose precious members and gain so many new babes, the love remains the same, forever.

Tents, trailers, cars and campers, sleepless nights, babies screaming, pancakes in the morning, soothing. eggs, bacon and parade, duck pond, and the creek, stinky suckers float on by, laura screams, we’re all insane.

Family in one space, generations multiplied by genes of persons past, I don’t wonder anymore, your ears, your lips, your skin.  Aunt Ruth,  always here, feelings, love, connections, Our family made from all that’s good and all that made us strong. move over now, get me cake, this program will be long.

God has made us one, you have my eyes, energies, blood that pulses through our veins, we are the same, different, strong, loving arms embrace, come and sit, you are so beautiful, sit down, spend some time.

pains, children, love, divorce, disease, wisdom, who is who? great aunts and uncles, getting old, sadness seems to flee away by memories of love, hope, hearts and blood flows through our veins, with all the world we stand apart, brought together by our hearts.

how is it that we fit so well? friends are in, so are we, they feel right, everyone will it better, united, open, fresh and new, old ones, young ones, blessing on the food,

dig in, bottomless pots of heaven sent. salads, salads, feed my sheep, in a line we go to graze on carrot cake, barbeque beef, Mom exhausted, wouldn’t have it any different. chinese salad, pasta too. Baked beans, grandpa, chocolate cake, belly ache, fruits and greens, bowls of color, left over food, feast continues far past noon.

Kids with tap shoes, clogs and strings, made up songs they will sing and family grins, French, english, hip hop dance, pride, laughter, sweet, kind, upside down on the table, puppets talking, let’s go on, parts and pieces glued together, flexibition, poetry, babies sit on grandma’s knee, Aunt Jackie holding two or three, there’s jamming in the kitchen

Here’s the show, the drums, the sticks, music played, with energy, and laughter fills sacred air and hence the divine, togetherness, thrill of thrills, here we go, old times, gay little eskimo, a froggy went a courting go. sit still, quiet say the mothers. tradition has it place.

rodeo and competition, candy throw, run and play, peanuts for our uncle bob, coffee on, he drinks the pot. cousins, sisters, aunts and uncles, grammas, grandpas, brothers, hope you make it, distance time, life beginning, life change and happens, who is sick? and who is able? what age are you now,? heart to heart, eye to eye who’s your Father? never mind, I see it in your smile.

Now stand quiet, hold it still, seems the same, just new faces, children, family, other races, permeates, with resounding pleasure. Cecil’s boat, and strong wind, take it home, no fun again. disappointed children.

freedom to be who you are, who’s your partner? who’s the star?, who affords such a car? circles, squares and dirty looks, just be forward, don’t be shy, get another plate, here we feast together, have a smoke behind the barn. I’m sure you’ll find another.

fishing like they have been given, grandpa moors, river banks, lakes and roadside fishin. breeze, smells, don’t stay long, mosquitos, flies and black eyed suzannes, come back just in time for seconds. adults sit in shelter, wait, guarding home, home, always there’s forever.

genes, talents, eyes, hair, lips and disguise, I fit in, so do you. come back and stay awhile, you are a puzzle piece, without you there, I wonder why.  I have your butt and you have mine, Moors they say, what about this nose I carry, it’s a guess, it’s from genetics, blood and cells, make impressions, we are tied with heart of hearts, we are strong, weak and needy, we have life, we have freedom.  Life is good, we’ll meet again if God is willing

John and Florence Moors

John and Florence Moors

Where are you, Ruth Rollingson?

My Auntie Ruth is a force not to be reckoned with!  She is a very strong woman who has a sharp memory and a very particular type of wit.  Ruth holds strong opinions about most things (it runs in the family) and articulates them with emotion and power.  A woman who puts family first, she loved spending extended periods of time in both Peace River and New Zealand.  With fondness, she talks about branches of her/our family who are separated by a huge physical distance as though they could not possibly be held any closer in her heart.

This week she shared some of her narratives and I treasured every moment of the time we spent together.  As I delved deeper into the paternal side of my family history, I wanted to hear, first hand, the recollections of two of the matriarchs of the family, my Auntie Ruth and Auntie Eleanor.  It is with great fondness that I recall visits out west while my own military-family seemed to be, every couple of years, on an east-west migration.  Auntie Ruth and her family were a big part of what it meant to be ‘a Moors’.

Many hours were spent in friendship and family…teasing one another…complaining…and typically, exploding into laughter.  I am so happy for the previous interviews that my second cousin, Danielle, has worked on and the beautiful family album that contributed so much to our chats early in the week.  Several of these photographs are borrowed from this treasured resource.

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St. Mary's

St. Mary’s Dam…Ruth swimming with friends…

Family Reunion St. Mary's Dam...cousin, Linda in foreground...Gramma Florence Elliott Moors with her back to us.

Family Reunion St. Mary’s Dam…cousin, Linda in foreground…Gramma Florence Elliott Moors with her back to us, likely late 1960s.  My own mother’s face, just slightly above Linda’s arm…

I am so grateful for our conversations, dear Ruth…and look forward to connecting some of these narratives with the research I have already documented.  I love you.

Lincoln

Given that I was schooled in the United States for a good portion of my education, included in the curriculum, were bits of American history.  As I sat watching Lincoln last night with some of my sister-friends, I remembered writing a report in Grade three about some of his accomplishments and, of course, this morning, dug through my sorted archives and found this crayon illustration, all that remains over these many years, of my report.

Abe LincolnI’m certain that the memories of these lessons and the experience of the then-patriotic sensibility of the citizens that surrounded me, caused me to feel more attached to the narrative.  I remember the morning pledge…hand held over heart and the flags flying from poles in the neighbourhoods where I lived.

From Wikipedia: Lincoln is a 2012 American historical drama film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as United States President Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln.

I think that it’s important to remember that the film is in the genre of historical drama.  As such, it can feel long at times.  Some of the reading material that I choose takes on this same sensibility, but my interest in the context overrides my frustration with the historical detail and seeming analysis.  Other films that have had these sorts of moments, but have been more successful are The Iron LadyJ. Edgar and Nixon.  I think that in these, devices such as flash back and a more intimate psychological development of the protagonist, created more empathy in the viewer.

Steven Spielberg gives us some idea of Lincoln’s personal struggle in the scenes shared between Lincoln and Mary.  Lincoln’s admission that he wish to crawl into the ground next to his son Willie every day of his life comes out of one of the most powerful of these scenes.

I don’t think that anyone can deny that the basis for this story is a powerful one and that it represents a concept that citizens of the world continue to struggle with and that is the sense of lawful equality among all people…dignity…and justice.  And because this is such a huge concept, at times, this movie does not feel LARGE enough.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

 

Justin Townes Earle: Rooted

We took in a workshop and a Main Stage performance with Justin Townes Earle.  His work smacks of memory as I recall times spent listening to Guthrie.  After some time with his lyrics and with his melodies, one becomes deeply connected with his story.  It creeps into everything.  He doesn’t have to narrate anything.  The music is raw.  I think he’s a brave musician.

When he did say something, it evoked a huge response inside of me, particularly when he introduced the song, Mama’s Eyes.  To paraphrase,  he said that it was his Mama who raised him as a young boy.  It was his Mama who raised him as a young man.  He explained that she didn’t do such a great job.  And then he said, “But, you see, it wasn’t her job.”

I am my father’s son
I’ve never known when to shut up
I ain’t fooling no one
I am my father’s son

We don’t see eye to eye
And I’ll be the first to admit
I’ve never tried It sure hurts me,
it should hurt sometime

We don’t see eye to eye
I was a young man when
I first found my pleasure in the [Incomprehensible]
And I went down the same road as my old man

Yeah, I was younger then
Now it’s 3 a.m. and I’m standing in the kitchen
Holding my last cigarette
Strike a match and I see my reflection in the mirror in the hall

And I say to myself
I’ve got my mama’s eyes
Her long thin frame and her smile
And I still see wrong from right

‘Cause I’ve got my mama’s eyes
Yeah, I’ve got my mama’s eyes