Today is my step-mother's 40th birthday. I feel like writing about our history together and why she means so much to me.
Gael first came into my life in 1985 when I was 5-years-old, a year after my father and mother divorced. My father and her met in Seattle where she shared a house with Mudhoney and worked at the Egyptian Theater in Capitol Hill (I believe a Cocteau Twins concert was somehow involved in their meeting). They were heavily involved in the Seattle music scene, my father playing bass in bands that opened for acts such as Alice In Chains, etc. However his bands, Variant Cause and Next Exit, never quite made it to Chains famedom (I still have memories of playing on the drums while joining my dad at band practice). Dad decided to move to a small town near the San Juan Islands called Anacortes in order to give me a more stable upbringing. Gael joined us shortly after and at only age 20 she took me under her wing.
Gael in my dad's studio, Anacortes, 1985
Gael was my saviour in many ways. My mother still lived in Seattle, but she was struggling with her health and didn't feel capable of taking care of me. My father provided for me well in the years we lived alone together, but his main source of income was scrimshaw which was crippling his back, so he was unable to continue for much longer. Gael often worked two jobs while my dad sold the occasional painting for $1,000+ and yet we still spent most of our lives living below the poverty line. Far more important than finances, Gael provided emotional support and an abundance of humour in difficult times. She is a remarkable and talented woman; she can play the clarinet, flute, saxophone, piano, guitar, and has an ethereal singing voice similar to Elizabeth Fraser's. She's also incredibly intelligent; languages and mathematics come easily to her, as does an ability to quickly memorize prose or lines (she's a great actress), and a published writer on top of it all. You can read some of her writing online here and here.
In 1986 we moved onto the isolated Sinclair Island where she diligently homeschooled me for five years. I'll never forget the comforting sounds of her practicing the flute on the bluff, it's haunting notes floating over the waves. Over these years Gael became a mother and a wonderful friend to me.
After Sinclair we started a coffeehouse in Anacortes called The New Bohemian which my parents modelled after the coffeehouses they spent time in while visiting Paris. It became the creative and community hub of the town and often we would have free meals for the homeless and anyone else who wished to join us. The artistic and musical teenagers loved it and it's where Phil Elvrum of The Microphones/Mount Eerie first had his start at age 14. The coffeehouse eventually failed because it was too ahead of its time for a little conservative American town. It became a haven for the outcasts, misfits, and geeks and because of this the conservatives made it their mission to shut it down. The final nail in the coffin was our chef stealing thousands of dollars from us and skipping town.
During the last days of the coffeehouse we were nearly destitute, I recall having to wash my hair in public bathrooms before school and showering at the marina because we had no home anymore. I moved in with my grandparents and then my mother moved to an apartment in Anacortes where we began the often tumultuous process of learning more about each other. All three of my parents became close friends and my mother always admired Gael, saying she couldn't have asked for anyone better to take care of me. In 1996 my parents moved to Antwerp, Belgium and I joined them in 97'. Over the next several years they travelled around the world showing and performing Snarg in museums and music festivals in places like Mexico City and Barcelona. 1999-2002 were spent in Port Townsend where, as usual, Gael became the most popular barista in town and active in the theatre scene.
My parents divorced in 2002 which was a shock to the system for all three of us. In many ways I still feel like I'm mourning the death of someone, or something -- that entity that the three of us were when together as a family unit. My father moved to Torino, Italy for a year and I moved to London. After years of being so tightly knit we've all split off into completely different directions.
My family may have been extremely poor, but because of Gael's tireless hard work and humour and my father's artwork we were the happiest and most well-travelled bohemians I've ever known. Gael was the shining thread that held us together, kept us positive, and gave me a stability growing up that I may not have had otherwise.
Now for the first time in Gael's life she has her driver's license and is working towards a career for herself in stenography and closed captioning. I am very proud of her and happy she is doing something for herself. She's eternally young in spirit (and in appearance, I swear she doesn't physically age), exceptionally loving and generous, and she constantly inspires me to this day.. but the photographs tell more about her than words can.
Sinclair Island, 1986
Planting carrots on Sinclair Island, 1988
Gael looks so beautiful. I'm the tomboy looking uncomfortable in the pink frilly dress. Sinclair Island, 1988
Gael and Dad
Katy and Gael, Sinclair Island, 1990
Sinclair Island, 1990
Gael and Dad on San Juan Island sailing trip, 1990
Uncle Greg (looking very 80s) and Gael, Anacortes, 1990
Gael and I on Halloween, Sinclair Island, 1991
(Gael's practicing her best vulcan stare)
Seaside, Oregon, 1991
Gael, Dad, and I, Anacortes, 1991
Gael and Dad performing at The New Bohemian on Halloween. Anacortes, 1992
Framed at The New Bohemian, Anacortes, 1992
Making an italian soda at The New Bohemian, Anacortes, 1992
Behind the counter at The New Bohemian, Anacortes, 1992
I always associate Gael with rings and liquid eyeliner. Those rings are etched into my memory.
Portrait of Gael made by my Dad, 1994
Dad and Gael, Anacortes, 1994?
(I used to love showing this one to people and saying, "They're my parents!")
Annick, me, and Gael in Antwerp, Belgium, 1997
Gael and Guy. Antwerp, Belgium, 1997
Gael and I at a party, Antwerp, Belgium, 1997
Polar Opposites. Antwerp, Belgium, 1997
I love this photo. This was taken at our local pub, The Cuveeke, where we would drink with the locals until dawn. After about 1am most of our drinks were free, either given to us by the owners or bought by the locals who became good friends with us. I don't remember the name of the very typically Belgian looking gentleman to the right, but he was also a regular.
Gael and Ludwig jamming at The Cuveeke. Antwerp, Belgium, 1997
Ludwig ran our local friterie and became a good friend. We used to sing karaoke with him until the early hours of the Belgian morn.
Antwerp, Belgium, 1997
Gael and I spent the day making paper cranes and she handed them out to businessmen on the street.
Gael and I (Dad and Chan in the background). Antwerp, Belgium, 1997
Gael has fascinating feet. Around the table: Neil, Annick, Dad, Chan, and Guy. Antwerp, Belgium, 1997
Gael and Neil in Antwerp, Belgium, 1997
As a geisha for Halloween, Anacortes, 1998
Backstage pass photo for Benicassim in Barcelona, Spain, 2001
Port Townsend, 2002
At my bachelorette party, Port Townsend, 2002
Gael with a Bebop stole, Port Townsend, 2002
At a friend's wedding, Anacortes, 2002
At the Kinetic Skulpture Race, Port Townsend, 2002
Macsen and Gael (as the proud mom) at my wedding, Port Townsend, 2002
Gael and Kirsten at the Pisces Party, Port Townsend, 2003
Visiting me in London, 2004
Pints for the girls, London, 2004
A few from before I knew her...
Growing up in Pullman, WA
Gael, her sister Sharon, and her brother Steve.
(I know, I cheated, it's a few hours past the bday deadline in this timezone, but in it's still bday-time in PST!)
Rare to come across others from Ana. :) The New Bohemian was open from around 92' to early 94', it was located on 5th in the block of buildings across from The Majestic. I think there's a self-help bookshop or something there now.
Thank you.. even though we're not blood-related or similar in appearance we were always asked if we were related, perhaps because we share a lot of the same mannerisms.
(For a second I thought you had called me "gnome" which was what my parents called me when I was little.. I was wondering how on earth you knew that. ;)
naomi, this is such a beautiful, thoughtful tribute to a special person in your life. over the years of reading your journal, i have developed an idea of how amazing gael is, but reading the whole story nearly brought tears! you are both so lucky to have had each other in your lives...
i especially love the closeup sepia tint photo of her.
happy birthday gael! :)
I miss her, too.
I hope we can all get together again someday.
by the way, did you ever receive any gifts from amazon? For all I know because of the mix-ups you may have received 3 gifts now.. if so then happy birthday, merry christmas, and happy valentine's day. ;)