Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chapter 34

   My new house. It’s the first one I have owned by myself, and I feel a mixture of pride and panic each time I cross the threshold. Owning a house is a huge responsibility, but I feel up for the challenge. After all, I ran our Dallas home alone for more than a year after Jim died. I can do this, especially since I loved the quaint house so much.
I am particularly pleased with the original stone fireplace — a real fireplace where I can burn real wood. Jim had hated the smell and mess of ashes, so we’d enjoyed the highest-priced artificial gas logs he could find — for both our living area and den. Gas logs are warm, but just not nearly as satisfying as the real thing. I look forward to the cold West Texas winter to try it out. Actually, with this heat and drought, I just look forward to any temperature below 80!
  Getting rid of most of the furniture from my Dallas house has been a way to heal, and to not remember Jim quite as much, not that my heart still doesn’t hurt when I think of him every day. But now that I found the perfect house and completed the additions and renovations, I have decided to furnish it completely opposite from what I’ve lived with for the last 30 years. Out went the Martha Stewart everything-matched-and-everything-perfect style. In are coming odds and ends and interesting, comfortable things, like the lime green chair I’d found earlier in the summer. 
   Not that my Dallas house wasn’t comfortable. When the boys were young and Jim had made partner in the firm – youngest partner ever, I’m proud to say – we’d moved up from the old East Dallas neighborhood to the “right neighborhood.”  Once we’d added the huge den and the clichéd paneled study for Jim, our two-story traditional home, complete with white-columned-front porch was better suited for entertaining Jim’s clients and important members of the church. You just couldn’t invite the Bishop over for dinner with mismatched chairs at the dining room table. Well, you could, but Jim wouldn’t have liked it. So, we lived well, surrounded by designer furnishings, and we entertained fashionably.
   But that was when Jim was alive and loving me and when my whole world revolved around him and the boys. Now he is gone, the boys are grown and I am on my own. 

  For weeks, I have scoured the thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets for older pieces to be refinished, for comfortable chairs to be recovered, and for lots of little eclectic treasures like the wire shelf and the old game board now hanging in the hallway. Sharon refused to let me buy a second-hand couch for the living room, saying couches were like mattresses ... you just didn’t sleep on someone’s discard. So I found a lovely (but unfortunately expensive) non-traditional sofa at one of Lubbock’s finest furniture stores and was convinced to purchase the matching chair because it was on sale. They are being delivered this week. Almost everything else, though, was second- or third-hand.
   The Disabled American Veterans Thrift Store in downtown Lubbock has provided most of my finds, but I bought a few pieces of quality furniture at Aunt Frances’ estate sale early in the summer. Some of them fit perfectly where they were, and nothing else seemed to work in those special places. Like the old telephone table sitting under the alcove at the end of the hallway. I stripped its well-worn painted finish and re-stained it. 
   And when I can’t find just the right treasure to fill a wall space, well, I decided to paint … something I haven’t done since before my oldest son Michael was born. Buying boards and canvas, I delighted in the stretching and priming, the wonder of a blank canvas filling me with both joy and terror. 

   I had majored in art at Tech, my undergraduate degree in studio art with drawing as a minor. I think I was pretty good at it but slowly gave it up because “messy projects” in the house didn’t work with two growing boys and so many obligations, and because the boys left me happily exhausted at the end of each day. There simply wasn’t time in my life for painting or drawing. 
   Now the garage apartment of my new house is my first real studio. Able to do my wall of windows on the south, I eagerly set up an easel, canvas and paints in the bright new room this past week.   
   Lazily curled up next to the warm window, my new cat eyed my activity with interest. I had posted signs in the neighborhood and the A-J for a week and received no word from a possible owner, so I have allowed the cat to move in. Because the tabby keeps walking into the house with prissy little steps as though she already belonged, tail high in the air, I call her Miss Priss. 
   Normally roaming the neighborhood by day, at night she nestles in a corner of the living room on a soft basket bed. I am glad for the company and this weekend had Campos install a pet door in the back for Miss Priss’ convenience. The cat had stepped through it the first time as if she’d wondered what took me so long. Her steady diet, courtesy of me, her new owner, is starting to show in a fuller figure and shinier coat. 
But I have yet to pet her or pick her up. I’ve tried a couple of times, wanting to take her to the vet for a checkup, but Miss Priss was having none of it, hissing at me and backing away. So, we have an unusual relationship — I feed her and Miss Priss tolerates me. It seems to work for us both.
    Late Friday afternoon, I picked up a paintbrush for the first time in more than three decades, and I asked the cat what she thought. “Should I really do this?” Miss Priss turned her head away and closed her eyes, soaking up the last of the sunshine. “Thanks for your help,” I said, and stared at the blank canvas, wondering where in the world to start. 
   Then I stopped again, suddenly remembering Sharon and Carol coming to Dallas about 18 years before. Marathon shopping and a late lunch at the Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus downtown was topped off by a visit to the Dallas Museum of Art. There was special exhibit of works by members of the Wyeth family, favorites of ours from college days.   
   Halfway through the exhibit I fell apart. Overcome with emotion, I literally wept at the beauty of a John Kennedy portrait, so masterful was the younger Wyeth’s genius of capturing the strength and vitality of the famous face. As I stood there, quietly sobbing, arms folded around myself, my friends were at a loss. 
   “Mags,” Sharon said protectively putting her arm around her waist. “What is it? Are you ill? Do we need to leave?” Carol handed me tissues hastily retrieved from her purse. I was unable to answer and continued crying quietly, staring at the portrait.
   Truth was, I was ashamedly overcome with jealousy. Jealousy of these Wyeth men, that they had this enormous God-given talent and were allowed the freedom to show it to the world in all its glory.   
   I’d once had talent, or so my professors had told me. I could get lost in a painting so quickly — shut out the world and revel in the magical realm of creating. But now it was buried inside me by life ... by family ... by obligations.  Buried so deep I hadn’t realized it was even there any more, still wanting to be used, to be allowed to emerge. For some mysterious reason, seeing this particular painting forced to the surface acknowledgement of my own talent, overflowing and taking control of my emotions and actions. “I can do that,” my head silently screamed at me. “Why can’t I be allowed to do that?”
   Desperately ashamed of my selfish thoughts and my loss of control, I let my friends think I was simply overtired from volunteer work and taking care of my growing family. Sharon and Carol were worried because their normally unflappable friend was, well, “flapped,” but no other logical explanation came to mind, and I didn’t enlighten them. I let them escort me protectively to the outside sculpture garden to compose myself, swearing them to secrecy about my breakdown. They had kept their pledge. I have been grateful, and none of them mentioned it again. Until today.
   Paintbrush still in hand on Friday, I called Carol and asked if she had time for a girl talk. Of course she did, was Carol’s quick answer, and I relayed the remembrance.
   “Does it ring a bell?”I asked tentatively. 
   “Absolutely it does,” Carol said. “I didn’t think you were really exhausted. I think you were wishing you had time to draw, to paint. You wanted to be able to show the world you had talent, too. Right?”
   “How...,” I asked in amazement, “how did you know?”
   “Because I sort of felt the same way, that’s why. Seems to me if God gives us talents and we discover what they are, we shouldn’t waste them. You majored in art in college, I took some classes, and we were pretty damn good, weren’t we?”
“We were. I especially remember your Lincoln portrait.”
Carol continued, “But neither of us uses those drawing talents in our profession. And something else ...”
“What’s that?” I asked.
   “Well, my friend, we artistic types are an egotistical and competitive bunch and when someone gets recognition for something we think we might have been able to do, it rubs us the wrong way, no matter how nice we might be. So, I paint ... and I do a lot of crafts, and enter all these women’s groups contests and local competitions ... and rejoice a little each time someone admires what I do.”
   “Exactly! I, goodness, Carol, I should’ve known you’d understand. Thank you. You know I still didn’t paint or draw after that but found a pretty good creative outlet. I went home that day feeling such a need to do something ...” 
  In the days immediately following the museum visit, I took action to remedy those needs. Late one evening after the boys were tucked in bed, I told Jim of my desire to go to work, of my need for an outlet for my creativity, even if it wasn’t as an artist. 
“The boys are in school,” I argued. ”And I need to get out. I don’t want to waste my education just being a social director for the Grant family.” Jim was reluctant, as he enjoyed having me home to tend to all the activities of their lives. Everything was so orderly now. 
   “Let me find something I might like to do and try it for year,” I pleaded, “and if it isn’t working for everyone, I’ll quit.” Although harboring serious reservations, he relented. A year later he had to admit things were just as orderly at home, even though I was busier. He was proud of my work in the Communications office at SMU, the boys were thriving, and he said I seemed to be handling it all quite well. And there was a glow about me he said he hadn’t noticed since earlier in our marriage.
  Little by little, I then incorporated my creativity into my work, taking over design of the university newsletters, organizing and decorating banquets and creating marketing plans. I’d even taken up writing and seemed to have a knack for it, remembering I’d actually enjoyed assigned research papers other students dreaded. Working with the media was a game to me, one I almost always won. I had made a quality career from the need to be creative.

   “So, Carol, my dear friend,” I told her this Friday, “I’m about ready to start again, painting, that is. I’m just scared to death I’m not as good as I think I am ... or was.”
   Carol laughed, but then said in a serious tone, “Truly good artists never think they’re as good as they are ... not even the greats. Michelangelo doubted his Piéta, remember?”
    “Yeah, but his work I’m not jealous of. Just in awe!”
    “Me, too, Maggie. But go for it. Can’t wait to see what you do. Take pics and e-mail ’em. And have fun!”

   So, now, back in my light-filled studio, I tentatively took brush in hand and began outlining a giant flower on a six-foot square canvas. Standing back to analyze it after a few carefully laid strokes, I decided it wasn’t half bad ... not half bad at all. I painted with more boldness, spending the rest of the evening and late into the night immersed in paint and hope. I hung the still-wet canvas in my living area and sighed with contentment. “Great therapy,” I told Miss Priss. “Must buy more canvasses.” 
   The joyful struggle of creating, though, is in direct opposition to the painful struggles of my work at the university.

No comments:

Post a Comment