But there were two things I loved doing when I went to visit her. My sister and I used to head out across the street to a row house that had a little shop window a few steps down the basement stairs--the Nut Man. He would slide open a heavy wooden "window" and sell us a bag of his salted pumpkin seeds for about 10 cents. They were so thick with salt that my lips would go numb. I loved the salt more than the seeds inside. Then my sister and I would then walk down to the end of the block where there was my all time favorite thing to do--a visit to Mimi.
In the vacant lot at the end of my Gramma's street was a huge white statue of a beautiful, half-naked lady laying on her back. Her profile reminded me of the Statue of Liberty with a strong nose. Her one arm was laid at her side while the other was held up toward the sky as she lay there. She was beautiful. She looked hot to my 7 year old eyes. She was also the only truly large statue I had seen up to that point--a real treat for a budding artist--my Mom always said that I could draw before I could talk. I remember doing my first really good portrait of a Chinese boy in my class when I was six. Staring at this huge white statue intrigued and inspired me... "Maybe I could carve a statue like that some day!"
Now, I'm not sure who told us the story of "Mimi", as she was called, but there was a spooky, scary legend that I was sure was true. We were told that every night after midnight, Mimi would stand up and walk slowly around the streets of Hoboken, and by daybreak she would come back to her vacant lot behind the chain link fence to sleep. But there was more... We were also told that if you stare at Mimi very closely... focused on one thing (her eyes, her hand, her foot) that you might see her move. It might not be much, but just enough movement to convince us that the legend was true.
Well, as I sucked the salt from those pumpkin seeds, I'd stare and stare and try not to blink as I watched the corner of Mimi's mouth or the tip of a finger... and I'm not sure if it really happened or not, or was the effect of all that salt on a seven year old's blood pressure causing my eyeballs to twitch, but I swear I saw her move more than a few times. I was sure the Legend of Mimi was true.
Now fast forward almost sixty years... A while back I was scanning, editing and enhancing some old family photos when I came upon this one of my Dad standing in front of the Italian Pavilion at the 1939 Worlds Fair. As I blew up the image in Photoshop to retouch it, I suddenly had a familiar feeling... It's Mimi! It had to be. She has the same strong nose, the same lack of proper attire and had one arm raised. She seems about the right size, too.... from 12-15 feet tall or thereabouts.
I've done some research and never found a direct connection to my "Mimi" and the "Roma" statue (as it was named for the Italy Pavilion), but in my mind's eye, it's her. I can't tell you the feeling I got when I first saw that photo of my Dad after not really paying attention to it in so many years. And I've got to tell you... Mimi did influence me in my art. After always being known as an artist all through my childhood, I eventually left high school early and got a job as an apprentice sculptor with a studio that designed churches all over the world. After that, I eventually found my way into commercial advertising photography, a craft where my art was ever-present. When visiting Italy my eyes were always drawn to sculptures, especially the ones with strong, proud, Italian noses--just like Mimi had.
Perhaps someday I'll find someone who remember's Mimi and how she got to lie on her back in a Hoboken vacant lot. I wonder what ever happened to her...
Darn.... now I'm getting a craving for some salted pumpkin seeds....
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