Friday, August 6, 2010

Why the scent of turpentine summons the spirit of my Father

Hanging on the wall in the part of our kitchen that is now Ella's one room school house is a painting of my Father's. It is one of my most prized possessions. Not because it is a great painting. It is not my Father's best, however we were together when he made it. He set up our easels side by side at Scales Lake State Park by one of the small lakes just off the road that circles the main lake on a warm Fall Saturday. He painted with oils. I had finger paints. He had just returned from his third war and now the art lessons that had begun two years before could begin in earnest again.  He painted trees by the water. I painted "baby trees" just Autumn colors with no trunks or branches,  swirls of yellow and red and green. I was just seven, but I remember the feel of the plastic paint between my fingers and the paper and the scent of my Father's turpentine.
Ella was asleep on our bed when Rowena presented me a page of her day's homework and shattered my illusion of control over what the future shall be. The exercise was to diagram the "hidden lines" in the painting Bathers at Asnières by Seurat. On the page were two lines that not only perfectly illustrated the internal composition but recreated visual impact of the original through their weight and sensitivity. My daughter has the eyes of an artist. The hands of an artist. She has an artists soul. Until I saw these lines on the page something inside me had hoped this was not true. For a year Ella has told everyone that she was going to going to be a Veterinarian. Yes, please, I thought to myself; be a Vet and your life will be easier than mine has been.
"This is my Son. He's an artist." There was never any equivocation when my Father said this. No parent has ever introduced their Daughter the investment banker or Son the engineer with any more pride.  In the decades since his death I told myself that he just didn't know how hard it is to be an artist. He didn't know about the doubt and derision. I wondered, how the oldest Son of a coal miner that quit school after sixth grade to labor plowing the fields behind the family mule would want me to work through the poverty and struggle to scrape up money for paint? Now I know. Two lines on a sheet of paper later I know. My Father wanted many things for me, but my Father knew me. My life was never going to be easy. I am too deeply in love with struggle and I do not readily accept the things I cannot change.
Ella has a finely tuned sense of Justice. She lives an honest, truthful, loving way and I know that because of this her life will be difficult. There is nothing I can do to ease her way, short of changing the world. So I will do what I can do. I will show her beautiful ways to see the world. I will give her ways to show the world what is inside her. I will set up our easels side by side in a quiet place, and together we will paint the world around us.

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