Thursday, November 29, 2012
Finishing Grandpa's Hand
I've been waiting for the frames to go on sale at Hobby Lobby. Yesterday, I noticed that they were 50% off. I could finally go and get the frame I'd been eyeballing for the painting of Grandpa's hand. Last night, I delicately tucked the canvas into the frame, screwed in the canvas-holder things, and set the painting up on the bookshelf where I could stare at it for a while. I knew by the time I went to bed that I was satisfied. It was complete.
After tinkering with it over and over and over, I realized that the painting needed to be done. It is unfinished -- like Grandpa's life. It is imperfect -- like me. It doesn't look exactly like the real statue of Grandpa's hand, but that's OK. It comes close:
Losing my grandfather was the first horrifying loss of my life. No death before or since has affected me the way Grandpa's did. To this day, I still well up with tears if I talk about him or reference him for longer than five minutes. My old friend Birdie recently moved back to Farmsville. When I was touring her new home the other night, I saw a small cattails statue with Grandpa's signature on it. Luckily, we were quickly touring the home. If I'd stood there long enough, I would have cried. Grandpa's statues are all over Farmsville. I never know when they are going to pop up.
Grief is an interesting beast. Most days, I can't remember what Grandpa looked like or how his voice sounded, but then something happens and I can smell him and feel his hugs all over again. It took a few years after his car accident to get over the anger. There were some unfortunate events surrounding his death, so I was Very Angry and Hostile about the circumstances. With time, the anger went away, but the sadness remained. It grew into a dull ache filled with longing. It was an all-encompassing grief regarding the Blondersons. I not only felt sad for myself, I also felt sad for all of my relatives. I could feel their pain, too.
Over the years, I've worked to celebrate Grandpa's life instead of missing it. I've written stories, poems, and essays about him. I've created family projects to ease the ache. But still, I haven't been able to completely move on. I suppose I never will, and that's OK. Grandpa's light will live on inside of me. But I'm always seeking respite from the grief that sneaks up on me when I least expect it.
The idea to photograph Grandpa's hand was a simple one. Then it took on a life of its own, and I stalled. I kept the statue Eagle loaned me for over a year. I couldn't get the pictures right. Then once the pictures were finished, I had the idea to paint the hand as something to do for my painting group. But the frustration and anger rose again. I couldn't get anything right. I couldn't make the shadows look shadowy or the metal look metaly. I couldn't find Grandpa's spirit in my painting. I was a hot mess.
Having the statue in my home placed a weight on my chest. I was relieved when I returned it to Eagle. It was too hard to look at it every day. It's so realistic. Because I was 19 when he passed away, I have somewhat of an unrealistic or false memory of Grandpa. I envision him as the personification of perfection. He could do no wrong. He was a good Lutheran man. He was an incredible husband, father, and grandfather. He was an amazing artist.
But you know what? Grandpa wasn't perfect. He was human. Even though I don't know the stories, I'm sure there are some doozies. I'm sure at some point, Grandpa made mistakes. I'm sure somewhere in his long life, he angered or upset someone. The other night, I asked Pa if Grandpa had ever disliked someone, and Pa confirmed that he had. It was an eye-opener. Grandpa disliked someone? Really? Really. He was not perfect (but he came close).
Having the painting of the hand be in my home has also been a trial. It was hard to work on it, and it's hard to look at it. It's far easier to tuck away anything that reminds me of Grandpa and never get that scab scratched. But grief is something that will only continue in my life. Others will die, and it will hurt all over again. I must face this process -- we can't control fate. So if I can learn how to make something beautiful come out of it, I will try.
Last night when I was finished with the frame, I called up the parents and tried to give them the painting. It looks out of place in my house. My house is a hodgepodge of garage sale items. This painting has such a nice frame that it looks like it belongs in a Real House. I had the distinct feeling that my house wasn't good enough for it. But here's the thing about Ma. She hates it when other people try to decorate her home. She's very persnickety about it. So when I offered the painting for her house, she said: "I'll think about it." That's pretty much a no.
After we hung up, I thought about why I would want to give away a painting I'd worked so hard on. It's my first somewhat "real" painting. It has nice colors. It holds nice-ish memories. Why would I want to kick Grandpa out of Farmhouse Villa? Because I'm a wimp.
I sat on the couch and worked on a crochet project while watching television. Every time I looked up, there was the painting. Over a few hours, it grew on me. The low light in my home picked up the parts that shine. It got lovelier as the night went on. I thought about the story of the hand, how it was Grandpa's first project and the other metal artists laughed at him. Screw it, I thought. I'll keep the damn painting.
And maybe with time, I'll stop being tender about it and start being proud of it. Maybe it will give me that strength I always felt when Grandpa was around.
Maybe after 16 long years, I'll figure out how to truly celebrate that wonderful life.