The day before yesterday my mother died. She was one month short of her 90th birthday. It had been expected — she went peacefully at home. My mom was born in Huddersfield, England. Her father was killed while trying to take a bridge in Nieuwpoort, Belgium in 1917. By 1920, Grandma and her four young children were on a boat heading for a new life in Canada.
Mom did her growing up in Toronto. Hers was a single-parent home where everybody worked. This family knew how to improvise and adapt. They had few worldly goods but they knew how to laugh. There was lots of love. When dad discovered her she was building sundaes in a drug store soda fountain. It was love at first sight. “I met a million dollar baby in a five and ten cent store.” Dad still sings the song today. Mom was one of those natural women who walked on the sunny side and smiled at human frailty. She had a high emotional IQ, loads of common sense, and a deep suspicion of artifice. She could spot a phony a mile away. When I was having my first solo show she advised me: “Be yourself.” She was a powerful force in her grandchildren’s lives. “Do it,” she told them. Everybody loved Lorrie. That’s what they called her — Lorrie. Her name was Florence.
Lorrie was a believer. She believed in my dad, my brother Denis, myself, the kids, all of us in the family. “You’ve got a god-given talent,” she used to say, ” — use it.” Dad was (still is) the idea man. Mom was the support system. “Do what makes you happy,” she used to say. The wisdom was that if you were happy you would do good things and make others happy. One time I traded a small painting for an old stuffed head of a moose. That was okay with her. It was dad who had me throw it out. Ever try to get rid of a moose?
When you think about it, 68 years is a long time to love somebody. We have a lot of shared history. A hundred picnics. A thousand Sunday dinners. A million phone calls. Christmases. Birthdays. Mother’s days. The day before yesterday I sat at her bedside and held onto her tiny bruised hand. I remembered how that same hand had held onto my strawberry ice cream cone after I had dribbled my white sailor suit. “You’re going to grow up to be messy, Bob,” she told me. I can still see my mother’s smile.
PS: “Encourage me, and I will not forget you.” (William Arthur Ward) “We’re so very fortunate.” (Florence Genn)
Esoterica: Ironic. This letter just happens to fall after last Tuesday’s where we dealt with parental support. Today I took an afternoon in the sun and read the thousands of anonymous comments that were written in response to our survey on “Nurture vs. Nature.” Thank you for sharing both your joy and your pain. My mother would say, “It pays to be true.” We are all a mother’s child. Be good to your mom.
Forego the bright and shiny options
by Brian Stanley
I was moved by your story about your mother’s passing and her (and your) family. The mention of hearing your father sing corny old songs brought back memories of my own father. He died about 5 years ago. He and my mother, still alive but frail, were married for 54 years. It had been at times a stormy marriage but they stayed together, or rather, never stayed apart for more than a few weeks. And how big a difference that made, as the end approached and then the actual deathwatch. My brother and I, their only children, were both there to take our parts. It mattered. It mattered greatly.
I hate cheap sentimentality and can’t stomach all that facile “family values” phony-baloney, but I do think that if people could see ahead more clearly to the day of that parting which will arrive for each of us, whatever we might try to do about it, then perhaps they’d weigh and value things differently. Maybe they’d put up with a little more, forego some bright and shiny options, and try harder at just — staying together until we are forced to separate.
(RG note) Thank you so much to all who sent messages of condolence. We here took a lot of comfort in reading your own thoughtful stories and counsel. What a variety of backgrounds we all have. We have printed them all out for our family, and particularly a complete set for my father — who as you read this is probably still sitting with a magnifying glass going through them.
Gave value of true love
by Catherine Morton, New Zealand
I had felt in the past that my mother never encouraged me to look for more in life, to travel the road less traveled. But what I have come to learn as I have gotten older and had my own daughters is that my mother has taught me the value of true love. She has taught me how to form strong secure relationships with my husband, my children and my friends. And in doing this she has enabled me to become truly comfortable in who I am. Now as I embark on my artistic focused life, I know I have people who I can trust, who I can show my work to, people who are interested in what I do, and in the case of my husband, someone who can give me an honest and loving critique to help me grow.
Don’t waste a moment of it
by Doris M Bedell
I have yet to know the pain of losing a mother. The physical, permanent loss. It is a day I find hard to contemplate, too full of dread at the thought of not being able to reach for that hand when I need it… Not to feel that warm, soft hug that just heals the right wound in just the right way… My father’s spirit left my life more years ago than I can remember, but my mother is still very much a part of my everyday. It is all too easy at times to forget that our time together is shorter than we ever realize, and that we should never waste a moment of it.
Both of my parents are gone. They were born in 1893 (Dad) and 1898 (Mom). It is so awesome to think that we have spanned a century and more. I am the youngest of 8 children, approaching 69 in July. All of my siblings are still living, and stand as a living memorial to my parents who gave their lives to make our lives better. From a tenant tobacco farmer in the days before tractors, electricity and indoor plumbing have come solid citizens that have made contributions to their communities. As a teacher of Middle School students for 34 years, I found myself on many occasions quoting my mother. Even yesterday, I quoted her to my friend. Mothers never leave us; they just hang around in our minds waiting to give us advice when we need it.
The keys for life
by Gerti Hilfert, Langenfeld, Germany
I lost my mother when I was twenty. She died from breast-cancer. Six hard years of suffering. I would have shared so many more moments with her, would have loved to see her friendly eyes and listened to her voice telling me that she believes in me and my talents. And I also would love to hear her shout about my messy room. She was the heart of our family and when she left this family totally broke down. I lost my heart and home when she died. Though I lost her at a young age I never forgot her gladness and joy. She kept it even when this terrible illness had cankered nearly her whole body and brain. I held her hand when she died. She could not speak but her eyes still did – full of hope for a better world. Her eyes kept that friendly, gracious expression for a while before they closed forever. She was 62. Deep inside I always kept respect for her and her hard life and never stopped my soundless conversations with her. She is always around me. She makes me feel safe and sheltered. A mother is a person who gives you the keys for life. And the trust to open and close doors.
Painting out of grief
by Judy Mayer-Grieve, Unionville, ON, Canada
It took some time after my mother died to come out of the grieving and loss. I still have my moments. But now I’m finally beginning to paint again and what’s coming out is so different to the way I used to paint. Much of my love for sculpture, mythologies and art history is playing a role now (something I was passionate about when I was an art student). And the joy of creating is better than ever. I believe that everything that is given to us in life is a gift, even when we lose someone we love so dearly.
by Roberta Shapiro, Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada
This morning when I read the survey results on Nurture vs. Nature, I wondered about the categories of artists that you or Andrew used for purposes of this survey. While I doubt there are standard definitions for these terms, I’m curious about how you define the terms “professional artist,” “serious amateur” and “hobbyist.” Please enlighten me.
(RG note) You’re right, these definitions are some of the most difficult. As this was an “opt in” survey we felt that artists would enter according to their own definitions. Due to a few complaints, we actually added two categories halfway through the survey — “student” and “teacher.” Teachers are of course professionals but may or may not do personal art-making as well. We also had to add students as a separate category as there are a great number of young people who receive the letter, but may or may not end up as creative artists.
A journey meant only for me
by Kurt Kellogg, MI, USA
I enjoyed reading the replies regarding artistic ability. Both of my parents had artistic ability. My father had loads of natural ability for drawing. He was trained by his father in mechanical drawing. Both he and my grandfather were engineering draftsmen for auto companies in Detroit. I’ve heard my grandfather did some great ink drawings in the 1930s, but the drawings were thrown out. This is sad as I would have liked to have seen and preserved them. I believe my own art was sparked by my father exposing me to his auto drawings — but my own artistic journey was self-taught. Nothing was ever forced on me. I am of the belief that artists are born to be artists. I struggled greatly to reach the level of ability I’ve achieved today. But the struggle was my own personal journey of growth. I believe it was a journey meant for only me.
Price changes on art
by Tony Wypkema
One of the “commandments” in your letter is: “Thou shalt not lower thy prices.” If I obey the commandment, I’ll have to eventually retrieve some paintings that are consigned to galleries, because they have proven to be unpopular with the customers and will never sell. They’ll just clutter my home and collect dust here. Also, I wonder if the commandment applies to limited edition prints as well as paintings. Another commandment that you wrote is, “Thou shalt raise thy prices regularly and a little.” How much is a little?
(RG note) The consistency of your price integrity is related to your artistic integrity. In the long run it’s connected to your sense of self-worth. If you feel you must take paintings back from the marketplace, so be it — it’s part of the game. But you may surprise yourself. I find that some dealers want and are able to sell my earlier periods, and I’m glad to haul these out for them. The commandment goes for prints too. Regarding a safe and “little” price change — between five and twenty percent is okay with ten percent being in most cases a reasonable annual increase. Prices should be seen not to decline. Another useful thought is that some of the best works of art are more difficult to sell. Their messages may be more subtle and must wait for that special person to come along.
Need to throw something back
by Dianne Middleton, Calgary, AB, Canada
“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with catcher’s mitts on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.” (Maya Angelou)
Contributed by Bev Sobkowich
May I stand among giants,
And not appear small.
May I play with children,
Without seeming tall.
May I hold with the brave,
And not be too weak.
May I stand with the strong,
Without being meek. (Edward Sillito)
After the Concert II
oil painting on canvas
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.
That includes Emilio Arnes Vila of Chile who wrote, “Mothers are the way we stay in touch with who we are.”