My 5 For The Fight for Grandma Grace. What I learned at her easel stays with me today.
In my memory of childhood, it’s always 1986. I’m 10 and it’s the summer I’m working through the Little House series.
Grandma invites me from my internal reading world to show me her latest completed painting. Her fingers mark the lens with a cadmium orange smudge as she slips off her cat-eye glasses that hang on a beaded chain.
“OK. I will be selling this particular lovely this weekend at the Arcadia Art Fair,” she says as if she’s introducing a person. She steps back to assess. “Yes, yes. I think it will go because the subject is loved. It’s familiar. That farm’s a friend. People turn at that corner every week.”
It’s Wednesday in July and it’ll take 2 days for it to dry before Grandpa will wrap it up in moving blankets and cart it over to M-22 Friday night with the others.
“I need to run to switch the laundry and I’ll be right back,” my grandma says, mostly to herself.
The screen door bangs shut. The washer and dryer are in the most-interesting-garage-in-the-world-for-us-kids and I’m alone in the cool living room with the Sears portrait gallery of all the cousins. It is the first time I can remember being alone in her house, alone at the easel where she’s just finished the painting in the time it took me to get halfway through “On the Banks of Plum Creek.” I lay the book flat, spine up, which my teacher frowns upon. I am taken from the woods with the Ingalls family to the farm scene with a periwinkle sky. I am wearing overalls and my hair is in a side ponytail and my wrist jangles with the rainbowed plastic of my art, spoon, cat and book charms. The talismans of my childhood. The talismans of my life.
I grab the wood palette, hold it with my thumb jutting out the hole like she does, scoop a dollop of straight-out-of-the-tube Prussian Blue with a thick brush and attempt to carry it onto the canvas. My bracelet catches the canvas edge and the paint drops. Drips right onto the Real Actual Factual Painting on the top third.
My Grandma’s name is Grace.
She comes in right then, hugging a big basket of clothes with a few clothespins between her lips. Her eyes adjust from the sun and it takes her a moment to follow my hand to the easel to the paint to the painting and I return the brush to the jar of turpentine guiltily as she registers what has just happened.
She says nothing and instead sets down the basket on the couch and drops the pins on top, goes back out to retrieve a big glass container of sun tea set in the stubbly summer grass. The screen door slams again and she’s smoothing her apron, bypassing me to the kitchen and pulls out two glasses, fills with ice and sets aside. She stirs in the simple syrup slowly, ladles two tall glasses of Lipton and adds a straw in each. It takes forever. She comes back in and hands one glass to me. I sit and sip it with eyebrows raised like a puppy. Waiting. There is no explosion.
“You like the Prussian blue, then?” she asks casually. She grabs a palette knife and swirls my black-blue botch outward, outward until its blended into a perfectly moody shadowy patch of sky. She adds more clouds by mixing gray and white. She steps back again.
“My dear you made it better.”
At the easel that day she tells me about weather and cloud types and adding dimension through the darkening the underside of clouds and about using the freshest paint possible and how to make the barn seem bigger by painting the windows smaller and about seeing blue in a red and about moving fast while things are wet.
She decides the painting’s not finished after all and adds a horse to the scene. She shapes his body with a smaller horsehair brush. When she steps back again for perspective, something’s not quite right.
“It looks like…” she says.
“A cow!” I finish. We giggle.
“See, I was thinking about a cow,” she admits. “When you think cow, you get cow.”
We are laughing now. And in the easy silence, I settle back into my book and she fills out the cards she uses to name the painting with a price.
That weekend, I help Grandpa unload and unwrap the canvases. I spot the periwinkle sky family barn painting with the horse that wanted to be a cow I ruined a few days prior. But God and Grace know no mistakes. On the card is “Grace’s Fine Art” and next to it, her signature and “NFS” in her tidy handwriting.
“What’s NFS?” I ask Grandpa.
He comes over and squints.
“Hmmm… Not for sale,” he says.
“Not for sale,” I repeat, unsure.
He turns back to open three fraying folding chairs and sets them out side by side by side.
“For the ones too special to let go.”
Today, My 5 is for Grandma Grace, who we lost to cancer. #5forthefight
Originally published at medium.com