In addition to writing poetry, Grandma went through a period of painting. I’m not sure when she started, but I do remember that she painted up through my teens. For many years I was horribly embarrassed by the artwork that Grandma would bring as gifts when she came to visit. They were too simplistic and sometimes abstract for my teen brain to understand. Besides, I didn’t think they were very…good….
This all culminated one summer when she brought an entire suitcase of paintings with her and informed my mother that she was going to set up out in front of our house one Saturday to sell paintings. Our house was on the corner of the highway (which serves as main street in Bellevue, Idaho) and a very busy arterial, so there’s tons of traffic. Grandma figured she could sell paintings to some of the tourists who drove by.
I remember that it was a hot August day. She was excited as she took all of her paintings out and carefully displayed them in our driveway. She then sat in a chair and waited…And waited.
She came in a few times during the day to get lemonade and get out of the sun, but she spent most of the day out there. One nice young couple stopped by to see what she was selling. I thought she was going to attack them the way she leapt out of her chair to greet them. They were sweet and complimented her on her artwork, but they weren’t in the market for any art.
At the end of the day she hadn’t sold a single painting. Exhausted from sitting out in the August sun, she slowly returned each painting to the house. It was painfully obvious even to me at the height of my sarcastic teens that Grandma was seriously disappointed.
Grandma didn’t paint much after that. And she never mentioned that day again.
As I got older I started to appreciate Grandma’s paintings more and more. In fact, I think some of them are very good. Maybe they aren’t the most skillfully executed paintings in the world, but they capture the world through Grandma’s eyes. When you’re one L short of normal you see things a little differently than most people.
Though Grandma was unable to sell her paintings, she clearly never lost faith in her own ability, because she’s hung onto them all these years. She’s given a few away as gifts to friends and family, but she’s still got stacks of them in her room. Some nights, when I’m sitting on the edge of her bed talking to her she’ll point at one of her paintings:
“…and I like the way the water goes through the desert there…”
“…that dog started as a drip of paint off of my brush. I just gave ‘im a tail and legs and made ‘im into a dog.”
That pretty much sums Grandma up. Sometimes things happen that you can’t control, like the paint dripping off her brush. You can ruin the painting by trying to dab up the paint, or you can decide to create something new out of it.