When I was a little girl and I would go and sit on my mother’s bed and watch her comb out her long hair from a shower, I remember looking at the art on the walls of her bedroom. All around the room were framed charcoal drawings of: a wine bottle, a piece of driftwood, a portrait of her younger self. I remember these clearly. I’m pretty sure that when my parents asked us all (seven of us) to think of specific things we may want in the event of their deaths, more than a few of us listed those drawings. Because my mother drew them.
My mom was many things to me growing up. She made 90% of the meals we ate (dad usually cooked on Sunday’s), we never even had spaghetti sauce from a jar, it was all made by her. She baked all of our birthday cakes and she even made bread from scratch.
She sewed too. Of course she made us clothes and dresses and such over the years but she also made my brother a quilt that was a scale layout of Orion for his bed which at 40 years old, he still has. She made my wedding dress and my sister Bridget’s wedding dress and my sister in law Angela’s wedding dress. She made all the bridesmaids dresses and her own outfit for my wedding too. She made the curtains that were in our house and her own quilt on her bed. She knitted sweaters and hats. My mother was Martha Stewart before anyone knew who Martha was.
And she drew like I’ve never seen anyone draw. My mother is a beautiful artist. She could have done anything with her talent. What she chose to do was paint for us, especially as we’ve all gotten older, sketch for herself, carve a ship out of a piece of wood, paint huge portaits of the saints for her local church to hang, in short, she never sold her talent. She shared it.
She and my dad came for a visit last week. It was probably one of the best visits we’ve had with them in a long time, not because of any specific thing we did, but because it all felt like real quality time. It was my turn to cook for them. My turn to show them beautiful places near where I live. We had a half-day long chat about books in the bookstore and hour long chats every other day about every other thing that moved and wound their way into hour long chats on other subjects. They spent time talking with all the kids. Dad and my baby, Shawn Micheal, made biscuits together in the kitchen, a now mandatory part of every visit. Kathryn waxed poetic about her love of music and we all marveled that of a family with seven children, and my family with the five kids, all of us, to a person, are involved in some way with the arts.
My family jokes a lot that my dad is of “the arts” and my mom is of “math and science” because it’s true that she is the one we ALL go to when the kids need math help and she has this incredibly sharp analytic mind, BUT,we all forget from time to time what an artist she is as well.
Many years ago, no, wait, back further first. When I was a teenager and my younger sisters and brothers had birthday parties, my job was often to entertain the kids while mom and dad made meals or snacks or prepped the appearance of the cake and I always told them stories. Usually something I made up on the spot.
Now, many years ago when my own kids were little, I did the same, telling them bedtime stories that were just as often woven from my imagination as they were read from a beloved book. Before I started writing novels, I fancied myself quite the children’s author. I even wrote one down once.
My mom found it. She found the story I had written down. And she illustrated it for me.
My mother is of a dying breed. Not that I begrudge women today who work as well as raising families or who work and choose not to have a family. I don’t. I love working. LOVE it. But, there are less and less women whose work, whose ART, is their family.
No, it’s not mother’s day yet, and although I love my mom on mother’s day every year, I love her all the time, every day as well. Yes, we have our disagreements. Some of them are pretty strong and on very big topics. But, when we’re not “respectfully debating” those, we get along very well. I still call her first when I have something huge going on in my life. It’s her hands I see when I kneed bread in my kitchen or sit at my sewing machine. When my daughters watch my brush my hair after a shower, I see myself watching her reflected in their eyes.
My mother is an artist and you’ve never heard of her. But her art hangs on my walls in the place of honour at my house.
And I love her.