on this anniversary, I recall she was a painter –

a modern one.

I keenly remember she had easels, oils, brushes, palettes and of course…her “TV” coach. She used a small room in the basement as her studio. I can still see her… standing and gazing, the window bright behind her, a palette knife in her hand.

In an old suitcase, I have a collection of her canvases, Heaped with layer upon layer of colorful dabs of oil paint. Now that I’ve retired, I’ve decided to liberate her work, frame some of her originals and hang them around my house. Many of the paintings have detailed sketches and notes accompanied by bits and pieces of her handwriting. Curvy, legible cursive I look at over and over again. Because, I don’t want to forget her.

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What is it that pulls me in to the vivd energy of the images? I touch the raised peak of dried oil paint and trace along the ridge until my fingertip rests in the dip of a valley. It is here my mind begins to wander…how did she hold her brush? Was this stroke conscious or random? Did the lavish, rich dabs of paint bury her difficult times?

I look at the vibrant colors she chose and decide she had a secret life. On the outside there was so much dark and dismal unhappiness, more pain than joy. But here, in this decades old suitcase, there is evidence of a separate world. A world in which she was an energetic and dedicated student. It appears that she had the wish and will to carry out a focused plan – in detail and consequence. Her brush strokes of thick and purposeful paint, rise up in bursts off the canvas, full of her life and spirit more than twenty years later. This is her legacy, the world she left behind – a vibrant cache of her potential, the other person she could have been.

Enough time has passed that I’m not angry anymore. I am able to open the suitcase and look through her paintings and drafts with patience and empathy. Most of the paintings are of cheery and dramatic flowers. Her attention to the light, the shadow and the dropped petals surprises me. In spite of her ever present depression, I am pleased to see she was able to illuminate and manage the darkness in these images, if not in her own life. Maybe, she entered into these expressions searching for beauty, maybe it is her way of letting me know she was trying hard not to give up.

Flipping through the collection, I notice the landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes. Sadly, I remember how she was afraid to leave the house. Could it be, that in these paintings, she was pretending to travel? Trying to escape to New York and Colorado – safely, without having to manage the paralyzing fear and nagging anxiety of leaving home. I take it as a message – she was fighting back, she was working on moving herself, she was still in charge of her dreams.

If she were around today, you can bet that I would make sure she was never without fresh, vibrant, cheerful bouquets of flowers! On holidays I would bring tubes of yellow ochre, rich copper blue and the most vibrant reds I could find. Maybe it could be a way to fight the depression together.

Once in awhile, I regret that I was too young to understand it all at the time. I needed to run away from it, and she needed to make something out of it. My life has been touched in so many ways by hers. I am grateful for the gift I have finally come of age to discover. In my heart, I treasure each painting, each attempt to bury the burden and replenish the hope.

Thanks Mom, and I miss you always.

 

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