After the Rain
After the Rain
The year 2015 was one that I would gladly take back. And I would not ask for a refund. It was a year aged in grief and sadness and longing for what will never again be. It was the year I lived in a tiny box with a large red ball of grief. Everywhere I turned, I bumped into that ball; I was constantly brushing up against its sharp-edged, salty, tear-stained hide. You can still see the marks it left. But . . . it’s 2019 now, and with time, the room has grown. The room is much larger now. The ball of grief is still here, and I still run into it, just not all the time. It’s still painful when it rubs up against me, but the ball is no longer larger than I am, because like the room, I have grown.
After the Rain, painting by Mom
The Greatest Generation
This month would have been my mother’s 90th birthday. My mom was an artist from the Greatest Generation. She worked in many mediums, but watercolor was her favorite. She called the painting above “After the Rain.” It's a painting of hope. John F. Kennedy’s mother, Rose, was criticized for laughing about something a year or so after John Kennedy was assassinated. When questioned about how she could laugh, she replied, “Even birds sing after the rain.” That painting hung across from mom’s bed and she saw it every day when she woke. Now, it’s next to my bed, which is covered by the sunlight and shadows quilt she made for me—a quilt that has some 5,000 diamonds of fabric sewn with king-size love.
Mom's sunlight and shadows quilt
Mom painted. She quilted. She worked in stained glass. When she wanted to make pottery, she built her own potter’s wheel. She took, developed, and retouched her own photographs. After buying tools, she taught herself to mat and frame her paintings. She built and recovered furniture and took courses so she could repair our cars. One summer, she changed the shocks on my 1972 Plymouth Valiant.
She did copper enameling. She made corn husk angels and felt unicorn babies in walnut bassinets. In fabric arts, she smocked, embroidered, and crocheted. She sewed clothes, curtains, and toys for my brother and me. When I found a one-day-old kitten abandoned by its mother, Mom sewed bags full of rice that we microwaved to keep him warm. She made sibling size bags and a mom-cat size bag.
Mom feeding the kitten
Mom gardened. She was a tennis champion. Once, she shot a bottle cap out of a tree from 100 yards. In addition to her tennis trophies, she won ribbons for her art at juried shows and county fairs. As a teenager, she won first prize in the local Michael Dowling Award Contest to design an Easter Seal stamp.
Mom holding her Easter Seal design
Self-reliance, Grit, and Compassion
She taught me about self-reliance, grit, and compassion. She was fiercely protective and wise and good. And she wasn’t perfect. Sometimes she drove me a little crazy (I’m sure I returned that favor). I can still hear her saying, “Well, I wouldn’t have done it that way.” Judgment implied. And she was usually right, although I didn’t always acknowledge it at the time.
One day, a pipe under the kitchen sink rusted through, flooding the kitchen and the basement. Rather than call a plumber, Mom went to the library and checked out a book on plumbing. She went to the hardware store where a male clerk told her that she would be back. Women always were. "It took a woman three trips," he said, "to get everything needed for a simple home repair." Sure enough, Mom had to go back later that day. But she made a point of taking the third trip to a different store.
She was a lifelong learner before the term became popular. She read constantly. Her degree was in journalism, and later she went back to school and completed a program for publication specialists. Raised in the Great Depression with a dictionary as her only toy, she loved words. I cherish memories of her reading Little House on the Prairie to me while we snuggled on the couch. When I was nine, she introduced me to To Kill a Mockingbird, cementing my love of literature. Books were the only material things that were unlimited for her kids. We conserved on clothing, food, and utilities; but books were necessities. Look up the word frugal in the dictionary; her picture should be next to the word.
The Soul of an Artist
She educated herself in art. People used to say ridiculous things about how naturally artistic and creative she was. Mom was a fantastic artist, but she got there through an industrial work ethic. As often as she could, she attended painting classes and workshops. She amassed a library of art instruction books and videos that she read and watched. She practiced and she designedher paintings and planned her stained glass work and quilt patterns. Then she practiced more. She went to museums and art shows. Her legacy includes notebooks filled with sketches and color tests.
We used to play a game when we were out walking. I’d point to a color in the grass or sky or on a bird and I’d ask, “How would you make that color?” She would stare at the color and her brow would crinkle in concentration and she reply with something like, “cadmium yellow, burnt umber, and a bit of Paine’s grey.”
She didn’t try to sell many paintings. They were like her children and parting with them was hard. It was easier for her to give one to a good home than to sell one to a stranger. I’ve photographed some of her work, including sketches from her notebooks and put them on Shutterstock. Digital copies of her art are out in the world, making people happy one download at a time.
Mom valued independence. She lived on her own with her dog, in a cottage that she hired an architect to design (with her input). Her cottage was a converted garage that nestled into the pine trees seventy feet away from where I live. She paid cash for the construction.
When she began her career, she was once told that even though her work was far better than that of her male counterpart, there was only one salary increase available. The raise, her boss informed her, was going to her male coworker because he would one day have a family. If that happened today, she would not stand for it. I imagine her taking action, saying, “The patriarchy isn’t going to fight itself.”
As a supervisor, she looked out for her employees. One day she came home fuming because a car mechanic had tried to take advantage of one of her staff. The woman owned a Volkswagen and had been charged some $400 to winterize her car. When the woman bemoaned the cost, Mom asked for the invoice. It showed a charge for radiator fluid. Mom marched that woman over to the car repair shop and got her a refund. She knew that the woman’s car was air cooled.
Pain and Suffering
Mom lived twenty-four grit-filled years with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA brings pain, joint deformity, a host of necessary-evil medications with their own consequences, as well as physical limitations. At 61, she won a tennis trophy one week and a day later came down with a vicious flu. Within two weeks, she was crippled. The day she came home with a diagnosis, she said the doctor had told her that RA would take 15 years off her life. Her mother lived to 102. Mom passed at 85. The last years of her life were spent in healthcare roulette.
The medications trashed her immune system, and she caught cryptococcal fungal pneumonia. For weeks, we gave her daily, debilitating IV treatments at home (handy to have been a paramedic). We started with a sedative cocktail to help her get through the worst of the anti-fungal drugs. She developed allergies to many medications, with horrible reactions like red man syndrome, where her skin peeled away from her body. She had that three times because a doctor felt that the prophylactic use of the antibiotic she was known to be allergic to outweighed the risk of infection. We saw her through many hospitalizations. At time or two, during the worst of this, she asked to be allowed to die. Later and in better shape, she did not remember those moments.
She Knew Who She Was
She was compassionate. Again, in the dictionary, if you check under compassion, I’m sure you will see her photo. She loved greatly. And she was interested in everything. She listened with intent. Growing up, she had dogs and horses. My brother’s allergies prevented her from having a dog until he moved out. Once he did, Mom loved a series of Golden Retrievers and finally, a Goldendoodle. Each was the best dog in the world.
Mom with the best dog in the world
She knew who she was. I will forever be grateful to her for being her wonderful self. She left me a with a love for art, independence, and stories. That’s the thing about mothers. They’re the only ones who always, without fail, no matter what, want to hear their children’s stories.