Bumblebee Cats and Secret Languages

ink and watercolor illustration of bumblebee tabby cats and clovers - by Jacque Oman ClintonIt’s funny, the language that develops between two people in a relationship. Through time and togetherness, we come to share and redefine certain words, images, and phrases. We inadvertently create a secret code that expresses the nuanced, intimate things that only the two of us could ever understand.

Many a dinner conversation has demonstrated this. On the rare occasion when it’s just my parents and I, things usually go as follows: Mom and I hijack the conversation and begin bantering away in our secret language, laughing and brainstorming until my dad eventually asks “Whaaat??” Then Mom and I smirk at each other and say “Nothing!” in unison as we give each other knowing looks and stifle more laughter.

Yes, secret languages glue us all together.

Hence these bumblebee cats. “Bumblebees remind me of cats.” I don’t know who said it first — my mom? Me?. Maybe it was appropriated from some other source long forgotten now. But in any case, it’s a jointly understood Mom-and-Me phrase. Forevermore, when I see bumblebees, I think of them as tiny flying tabby cats. I mean, is there really any difference between purring and buzzing? Bees and cats — they’re both adorable. And oh so furry. And delightfully plump and round. When I see a bumblebee, I think of my parents’ lumpy old cat, Suki, with her orange-y yellow tabby cat legs. Then I think of my mom and good times we’ve had together, enjoying nature and its wonderful gifts. And I smile, feeling happy on behalf of those lucky bumblebee cats whose whole purpose in life is to buzz around, happily, in the sun, going from flower to flower and getting fat on the delicious juices of zinnias, roses, and the like.

Bumblebee cats illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton - print on Etsy

Prints available on Etsy!

These shared, secret languages speak to us in all sorts of contexts, stirring up memories of special people that have come (and gone) throughout our lives. Hundreds of stories spill forth when we see a familiar sight or hear a certain phrase. These stories weave through our day to day wanderings, flavoring our inner experiences and affecting how we see the world.

I drew this random fruit and fish kebab one day on a used piece of old watercolor paper. At the time, I had no particular meaning or agenda for it (other than to transform the painted blobs — remnants from a previous project — into something worth looking at). But now I look at it and my mind goes on a journey:A sweet and savory fruit and fish kebab. Food illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton. Ink and watercolor.

The fish head reminds me of that time in middle school gym class, when my friends and I had to choreograph a dance to any song of our choosing. The song we chose was  “The Fish Head Song” by Barnes and Barnes. Naturally.

And the octopus tentacle reminds me of that time I went to a Korean BBQ that my friend’s church had one summer. It was in a county park and we ate delicious foods I’d never seen before, including some tentacle-y things that blew my raised-on-Midwestern-food mind. We played tennis — TERRIBLY — on the weed ravaged tennis courts and caught a snapping turtle in the creek using a saltine safety-pinned to a piece of string.

On the 4th of July, I sketched this, based off a photograph from an outing my parents took with their grandkids:4th of July Sketch in pen and ink by Jacque Oman Clinton

I see the American flag and I think of the 21 gun salute at my Grandma’s funeral. And the playing of taps. (Then I think of my Grandma, period, and all the memories surrounding her and her home). I see my dad standing under the flag and I think of September 11th and how happy I am that my dad came home from work that day. I see the Stars and Stripes and I think of my friend, Allie, and her wedding on the 4th of July a few years ago. How happy she was. How life has stretched and changed since then. How she, too, is living in a different state now, growing vegetables in her garden and being a cat momma, like me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that a picture is always more than what is depicted at surface level. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say.

But a word is also worth a thousand pictures. So speak good ones. Make your words count. Share your words, build a common language. And together we’ll write a story — a LIVING story — that grows beyond space and time, to create a world full of meaning, connection, and love.

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