My late father was a carpenter in a manufacturing plant. He was kind of a cross between a designer and a repairman, but it was his home workshop that really showcased his ability to see the potential in a chunk of wood. When he was deep in a project, he lost track of time. His hands were usually a mess and his workshop was peppered with sawdust. I think he taught me a valuable lesson - why clean up until the mess-making is over.
My paternal grandmother, my dad's mom, was a lyricist, although in fact she just liked to play around with words. But on a dare, she mailed her "word stories" to a magazine ad in Nashville and had three songs sold to country music wannabes ... I still have the vinyl records with her credits on the labels in a box somewhere.
My maternal great-grandmother was a poet. She was a small, severe woman who didn't speak about creative topics, but her imagery about the beach, nature, and farm life graced the pages of four different magazines in the late 1950s.
Her daughter, my grandmother, was a seamstress by trade for many years. She could look at fabric and imagine things that others just couldn't see. She was also scandalous. In the mid '50s, she was almost run out of her neighborhood by the other women when she altered several men's suits to be worn by the wife of a Chinese immigrant and local business owner. I think Grandma could have given Project Runway a shot!
My maternal grandfather was a crooner. He sang in all types of groups, and even won several awards in high school and performed as both a solo act and in a barbershop quartet at every county fair that would have them. He was good, so he performed throughout much of the state.
And last but not in any ways least, there's my mother. A self-trained artist. She once designed a condiment label for a local teen burger joint ... she used the $30 prize money to buy paints and an easel. She never got the chance to go to art school, opting for marriage and a family. I don't think she regretted that decision, but, when I was young, my mother took a part-time job as a librarian and used every opportunity to bring home books about painting, art history, weaving, printmaking, decorative arts, and more. She studied as much art as she might have if attending a proper college.
Later, my Mom worked in a print shop where the owner, recognizing her natural gift for design, taught her everything about the business. I think she did as much presswork as she did billing and reception ... the duties for which she was hired.
And in our house, there were always boxes of crayons and colored pencils, reams of paper, markers, glue, glitter, tracing paper, paint sets, glue guns, string and yarn, pastels, scissors and hole punches, ribbon and scraps of fabric, modeling clay, buckets of sidewalk chalk, cardboard boxes of varying shapes and sizes, rulers and protractors, sheets of felt, a woodburning kit, construction paper in nearly every color of the rainbow, and even a big sack of plaster mix from the hardware store. Supplies for arts and crafts were crammed into every drawer and cubby we had. I remember various relatives commenting lightheartedly that my mother wasn't much of a housekeeper, but I never minded. Neither did my siblings. We were the only kids on the block with a moat-surrounded castle made out of Quaker Oats canisters and popsicle sticks, or scary hand-painted monster figurines made from clay baked in an old toaster oven.
In my early teens, my mother suffered a devastating stroke. For about three weeks, it was a constant battle for her to just stay alive. I vividly remember the times when we children didn't go to the hospital and we nervously awaited for Dad to return with the day's "verdict." After months of hospitalization and therapy, she came home ... but her mobility and speech were greatly affected. With great difficulty, she was able to see me as the "Mayor" in my junior high musical. But she missed my high school art shows and other events involving me and my siblings.
I really wanted her to attend my senior design show in college, but the venue and logistics made it nearly impossible. However, my college experience provided some great bonding for my mother and I. Remember I said she liked to learn about all types of art. Every phone call to her or weekend home was filled with me recanting stories about classes and projects. She was outraged by some of my photography assignments, and extremely supportive during my rough brush with the potter's wheel. One Christmas, I gave her a duplicate topography text as a gift. She loved it and would mark all the typefaces she found especially interesting ... her leftover printshop days coming to the surface. From time to time, I would also present her with old pieces of lead type I'd find at flea markets and antique shops. She kept them all on her "special" shelf.
Toward the end of her life, my mother suffered additional strokes and health crises. The family eventually placed her into a nearby convalescent home for the ongoing care she required. I still talked to her about art and design, and when she died I secreted away all her lead type. These little things didn't mean squat to the rest of the family, but they were each representative of a bit of time that just the two of us spent together. I keep them in a box ... it still makes me sad to take them out, but oddly comforting to know I have them nearby.
Even though I have paint at home, I grabbed a big tube of crimson acrylic paint before I left the art store. Red was, after all, her favorite color, and I think my next painting will be all about her.
POINT OF RANT: Moms in all shapes and sizes are priceless gifts ... treasure them.