During much of her life, my mother enjoyed knitting and crocheting. She was one of those people who could knit a sweater or whatever while watching the tv, and I think almost everyone in our family received, at one time or another, a gift of her handiwork. She did the most beautiful embroidery and needlepoint and even dabbled in rug-making for a time.
She rarely made anything for herself. I suspect that much of the pleasure she got from these pursuits was in the giving. And of course she was in her element when our three daughters were born. My father once wrote to me, “The knitting needles are out and little booties, shawls and matinee jackets are popping up all over the house!”
Our house is full of reminders of the hours she spent on these crafts, from crocheted doilies and embroidered tablecloths to framed crewelwork on the walls and latch-hook rugs on the floor.
But time has a way of changing things and there came point in her life, when she reached her late eighties, when her eyesight started to fail, due to macular degeneration. It was heartbreaking to see her frustration as she was eventually reduced to knitting scarves, the only thing she could manage without having to look at a pattern and even then, dissatisfied with the result, undoing all her work and redoing it time and time again.
Without her beloved pastime she was bored and miserable. She yearned to do something creative but was shackled by her inability to see properly or even distinguish colors. It was then that I suggested that she try painting.
At first she threw up all kinds of objections.
“I’ve never painted anything in my life! I wouldn’t know where to begin. I wouldn’t be able to tell what colors I was using. It would look awful!!!”
And I argued right back, “It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter if everything’s the wrong color. It doesn’t matter what it looks like or what anyone thinks of it. It’s your work. Your creation. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. You are doing it for your own enjoyment!”
So we went out and bought paints, canvas, and a smock. We already had brushes and an easel as I’d tried my hand at painting a few years earlier. We set everything up in the brightest room in the house and away she went.
She was hesitant at first and kept asking my advice. I set out the colors in groups on the table; blues, greens, warm colors like pinks and reds, so she would have a rough idea of which ones to use. But then I told her, “Your on your own now. This is your work, not mine.”
These last words, somewhat brusque but so well-meant, gave her the kick-start that she needed to throw all caution to the wind. Every morning, after breakfast and the few little chores that she had taken it upon herself to do around the house, she would don her smock, open the paints and get to work. She set to with such ferocious energy that, in the evening, I would have to creep into her ‘studio’ and wipe the paint off of our beautifully finished wood floors and white walls.
The result of her efforts absolutely amazed me!
She was reluctant to receive any praise at first, possibly feeling it unmerited, but I could tell that she was gradually becoming increasingly proud of her work. Whenever we had visitors she would take them into her room to show off her latest piece. She even insisted on taking photos of her artwork to send back home to her few remaining relatives in England. We used to tell her, half-jokingly, that she ought to hold an exhibition.
But, once again, time was against her. Her fingers became arthritic and she could no longer hold the paintbrushes properly. She spent less and less time at the easel until eventually the painting ceased altogether.
When she died in September 2010 they asked me at the funeral home if there were any photos or videos that we would like displayed. Of course we had countless photos and home movie clips but I felt that there could be no more fitting tribute to her indomitable spirit than to display her final works of art. And when the family and friends, who came to bid farewell to her, walked into the chapel they were greeted by a splendid array of portraits; gloriously colored flowers, fruit, garden scenes, clowns, boats and lighthouses. Mum’s art exhibition.