10-24-2011 A Promise
Sue and I had a relaxing weekend at home. She washed the car, I waxed it. Sunday I pulled the ham radio antenna wiring harness off the bottom of the truck. I’d had antenna wires traveling under the body of the car from the cab to the back bumper where the antenna was mounted.
Getting that ham radio installation finished took me 5 days of full time work, scattered over a few months last winter and spring. And then when it was finally finished, I got bored with it. It is a sad ending to an exciting childhood dream. Turns out there is a reason why there are very few hams: it’s boring. Or, I should amend that: it’s boring if you like your hobbies to combine exercise and adrenaline.
I do enjoy some hobbies that involve sitting still: painting could be considered very boring to some people. It doesn’t get any lazier than sitting at an easel. But there is something so full-filling about creating a painting from scratch that I feel it is worth the stillness.
To have a gift and not use it is simply wrong. I was driving my grandma home from a family dinner back in 1992. She was 99 and still in very good health, living alone with her dog, listening to talking books and sending letters out to her extended family. I had showed my paintings to the family that evening, and grandma was very happy to see me finally taking my art seriously. This pencil drawing from a photo of grandma is one I showed to the family. I had painted in my teens, but hadn’t picked it up again until I was 40.
“Mark,” grandma said, “Will you promise me something?”
“Sure grandma, what is it?” I said.
“Don’t ever stop painting! Life is too short and you have a gift, promise me you won’t stop painting again.”
“Ummm, ok grandma.”
Grandma had a favorite aunt named Florence Carpenter (1842-1920). Florence took my 16 year old grandma to Europe where grandma studied to be a concert pianist. You can find Florence on the internet. She acheived some minor fame as a watercolor landscape painter. She is listed in a book in the library named “100 American Women Painters of the 19th Century”.
I inherited one of great Aunt Florences watercolor paintings. We call it “the blue girl”, though rumor has it that grandma posed for it. I doubt it’s ever been seen in public before. It sits above my mantel as I write these words. She was the last painter in our family. Of all the people in our huge extended family, I am the first descendent since Florence to paint. It’s strange to think of that slender thread of talent weaving down through the generations, like a recessive gene. Why did her talent finally surface, and why did it pick me?
I have a painting underway at my easel. It’s another self portrait: three quarter view this time. I’m tired after work, and not really in the mood, but sometimes the act of painting puts me in the mood, and if I don’t at least try, I’ll be breaking my promise to grandma.