Every year for Christmas, she’d give us roughly the same thing. My sister and I would sneer and groan at the oversize art books on “how to draw faces” like the ones you’d see in a Michelangelo painting. One time, my giant book came tucked inside a black portfolio–the real kind like actual artists carry their work in. I liked it well enough, but I remember doodling horribly in those face books. My markers acted as a stand in for make-up and I marked those beautiful faces up good.
One year, she sent a box of pastels. Another time, a set of oil paints–to a six year old. It’s fair to say I had no appreciation for these gifts at the time. I wanted a Barbie, some Exclamation perfume, maybe even a tea set. She never asked what we wanted. Part of me thinks she might not have remembered anyway–her mind, a tangled web of dark corners and mysterious illnesses both feigned and real. She suffered from debilitating depression, but art brought her a joy I didn’t understand until years later.
She loved beautiful things and even in her stormy seasons, she tried to encourage us to love them as well. She wasn’t the Grandmother my friends had. She was dark and distant most of the time. On many occasions, when we visited, she rarely left the back bedroom of that long, low, South Florida rambler.
On the Sunday’s when she did join us, she’d try to keep up with the conversation, smiling through her graying teeth and her bold pinky-red lips. On her good days, her eyes glittered like blue topaz.
In my memory, I always see her wearing some varied shade of turquoise or teal, and to this day I can’t look at that color without seeing a flash of her pass through my mind. It was her signature color.
As a child I knew her to be sick. I didn’t know the term depression then, but even a child knows a wounded soul when they see one. I wish I’d spent more time sitting in that back room with her. I wish I’d let her comb my hair, or show me how to draw the faces in those expensive, misused art books. I wish I’d asked her more about her upbringing and her interior decorating business.
Now my memories of her run fluid–a stream of missed opportunities of trying to know her better. I didn’t know Jesus then and I didn’t know how to love well. Now, I credit her with my love of art and interior design. Really, she is likely the source of my love for fashion; a trait she passed on to my mother, who passed it on to me honestly. And I have grown to love turquoise, maybe because it’s beautiful, but mostly because it reminds me of her.
She’s not here anymore and I reflect on these memories with a bit of hollowness hanging around my heart. There’s a longing that will remain unfulfilled for the should haves and could haves that I forsook when she was still here. I remember her often though, and in doing so, feel a small connection to my history. I’m returning to my roots artistically, so to speak. The other day I drew a picture in my journal instead of writing, then I picked up a paintbrush as well. The feeling of sliding burnt umber across the page surprised even me.
Some days, when her face comes to mind, I allow myself to wander through that ranch house with the brick floors. I imagine myself touching the velvet flocked wall paper in the bathroom and sitting at her vanity, admiring all those tiny bottles of expensive perfumes from Paris. I remember the beauty that surrounded her and I wonder if art and color have the power to beat back the darkness when the edges begin to blur?
In my own life, I believe this is true. Just this morning I read it:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)
I’m spending more time thinking about art these days–more specifically, the ways art heals and connects us to God. I am thankful for the lessons my grandmother was teaching me, even without her own awareness of it. I only wish I’d made the connection when she was still here.
Thank you for this peek into the hollowness that hangs around your soul, Kris. Beautiful melancholy certainly permeates this piece … in all the right ways.
This is a very honoring tribute, friend. And here? You have loved well.
Kelli, I appreciate your kind words, here, sweet friend. It’s hard to write a post that doesn’t have a real resolution or “happy” ending. But, this is a part of my story, and more importantly, a part of my growth in Christ. The hard lessons are usually the most important, don’t you think?
Kris, this is so very beautiful and haunting. I appreciate the open endings and sorrow you allow to remain here…like the beginnings of art filling in blurred edges, like the walking out our history with burnt umber and eye for what is lovely, in the daily journey of practicing seeing beauty. Thank you.
Thank you, Ashley. I’m not much for open endings, but this one it seems is simply what it is. These are the hard-beautiful lessons we sometimes learn eh? It’s grace. Thank you for your kind words.
Wow, Kris… this is beautiful! It breaks my heart, but I appreciate that you have something to remember her by. I reminds me to not take anything for granted. Ever. Especially from those who sow into me, even in subtle ways.
You, my friend, are an inspiration. I appreciate you more than you know. thank you.
Dan, your words humble me more than I can say. In fact, I don’t have words except to simply say thank you. Your comment here moves me greatly, and I continue to be simply honored that I get to write here, with this team, on this amazing site. Thanks for chasing Christ the way you do–you inspire my own pursuit.
(Trying to write through the tears). My heart breaks for you for your loss, and celebrates as well, the joy of art that connects you to God. You are amazing, Kris. Thank you for sharing something so very tender.
Diane, Bless you, my friend. Thank you for your words. They feel like a hug from a kindred spirit. Even as I re-read this post just now, the tears slip for me as well. I’m thankful for the lesson’s learned, just achy from the wounds out of which they spring forth.
So beautiful, my friend. Your grandmother is pouring out of your pores here. Maybe you connected with her in exactly the way God meant you to-and that connection is still there.
I signed up for this. Maybe you’d enjoy it?
Thanks, Sandy. I checked out that Made Course, and put my name in the hat for a giveaway slot. Praying and trusting God to make a way if it’s something He has for me. I cant wait to hear about your experience!
Beautiful post. I started reading and couldn’t stop. Thank you for a beautiful image of your grandmother and a reminder of the importance in finding the artist within. We were created in the image of the great creator.
Thanks, Stephani. We ARE indeed created in His image–beautiful and baring the marks of His hand in our whole lives. Bless you, sweet friend. You lift me up.
Oh, gosh. I’ve just stumbled upon you tonight Kris, and this post, this made me cry. Because I could be the one in the back room; the family member with that “sadness”. Because you voice your-regret??- so beautifully. “Even a child knows a wounded soul when they see one”. It just made me weep, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps I know of your grams loneliness? Her pain? I don’t know. But these words are beautiful Kris. I must get to know you better! Thank you!
Margo, I think the truth is, in some way or another, we could all be the one in that back room. There’ve been seasons where I certainly have struggled. Regret is a weighty burden, I am continually laying it down again and again. Thank you for your enthusiasm and encouragement–you have no idea how much it means to me. Bless you, new friend.