Monday, February 28, 2011
Dad brought a painting with him when he came over Saturday to help Warren with the garage heater. It is a copy of a watercolor he did several years ago that hangs over the phone at my parents' house. The watercolor is of a house against a dramatic evening sky.
He handed it to me, saying "your mom said you always liked the one at the house, so I painted you one of your own." He studied it critically, then added "this isn't identical; the sky on this one is darker…"
His voice trailed off.
My dad has never been good at giving gifts to anyone, least of all to someone he cares about. He gets a little sheepish and clears his throat a lot. He tends to hand his gifts off carelessly, almost with a shrug, just in case the recipient doesn't like it. Dad is better at helping you with a project - fixing a car, installing a heater - than saying, "here, I painted this for you."
I loved the painting and said so immediately. In fact, I like this version better than the original, and told him that too.
Dad had always been a doodler and a sketcher. After he retired as a machinist, he took some drawing and painting classes and began turning out watercolors. Being handy with his hands, he also made his own frames, so whenever he gave one of his paintings, it was already matted and framed so you could hang it immediately.
Some of dad's paintings are his interpretations of magazine pictures - mostly landscapes - that appeal to him. Sometimes he paints the landscapes of his boyhood.
Dad was born in Greenup, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River, during the depths of the Depression. Although his parents left and settled up here in central Ohio when he was three, there was always a lot of "going back home." When I was a child, there were frequent trips, usually on a Sunday, to Greenup to visit family.
Coming from central Ohio, which is relatively flat, we kids always got excited as we drove south into the low foothills of the Appalachians.
Those foothills were the mountains of my childhood. My dad's family lived in the "hollers" of Greenup County, meaning the lived on the roads tucked into the valleys (the hollows) of those hills.
As a child learning bits and pieces of Psalms in Sunday School, I always loved the opening of Psalm 121: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills… I always associated that verse with southern Ohio as I had to lift up my eyes to what seemed incredible heights to view the tops of the passing landscape.
Dad's painting sat on the study couch all day Saturday, while everyone worked at other tasks. Then Warren moved it to the living room, up against the china cabinet, so it didn't get knocked and the glass broken. This morning, I hung it right over my desk.
I find myself lifting up my eyes to it frequently.
My new painting does not have hills, although there is a little rise to the house. It is more likely an Ohio landscape than a Kentucky one. No matter. I have another of dad's paintings, this one with a hill in it, right above my files.
I lift up my eyes to that one as I work too.
I have written about my dad before. He is a plainspoken man who openly acknowledges that his time left on earth grows shorter each day. He never graduated from high school, but has worked hard his whole life not only to feed his family but also to feed his mind. He has been married for 58 years today to the love of his life, who he met by driving around and around the downtown block she was walking home from school on until she caved in and finally said "hello."
And sometimes, a little sheepish, a little red faced, he'll hand you a piece of his heart.