Nothing, and I mean nothing compares to the experience of being a parent and that goes for the post-childhood relationships which are all voluntary. The only real experience I can refer to is my own and I loved it, at least where the children were concerned. Parenting was a mixed bag where the other parental unit was involved. Twice I was married and the first was a perfectly acceptable collaboration.
Comes now the world of being a grandparent with the family spread across a large nation. Some of the grand kiddlettes are local, but most have domiciles in far away places where I see them only occasionally. They’re delightful, each of them.
Locally, there are four, ranging from young adult to not yet walking. Each has a very distinct personality. I visit every few days unless I have some project or another and lose track of time and everything else such as happened this week. Wanting to live forever makes perfect sense when I consider that each child is a life with promise and adorableness that one must assume will continue through succeeding generations so that at no point will there be a place where there is not the celebration of joy in being part of developing lives. They’re beautiful in youth, in adolescence, in adulthood, and maybe I’ll discover that they’re every bit as much of a treat to know in their really really advanced age (over 40). Life is a river though, and we get dropped in and taken out while it continues relentlessly.
While here, we get attached.
Leah began as my artists model when she was only five or six. One night we were preparing a room for another of my daughter’s wedding reception and Leah showed up wearing a multicolored skirt that somehow caught my eye later and triggered inspiration. In those days she was always in a dress or skirt. Now, she’s discovered more practical attire. She went to drink at the wall fountain so I came along. At that moment, I saw in my minds eye the first painting we would do together. We decided to do a photo shoot. Then I poured over internet photos of cityscapes at night. The Japanese seem to have this genre of photography nailed down tight. They provided the best source visuals for the background. The pictures were lively and suitable.
A few years prior, I’d painted a big picture of a shepherd girl after Bouguereau on a large canvas that had been in the family unused for 20 years. She would have to be painted over to make room for this new picture.
There are times when it’s regrettable to paint over something that took so long, but this wasn’t one of them. Whereas the shepherd girl was a knock off from someone elses painting, the picture I designed for Leah was entirely new even if it did get help from photos scrounged from the internet. The concept was original and fun.
Over the years, the photo shoots for paintings have grown more effective, though only in terms of yield. She’s been a solid asset from the start.
People change, and I realize she could suddenly lose interest. But we’re still having fun and I’m still making art from our collaborations now seven or eight years after that first painting.
That has to be the driving force behind the continuation of the photo shoots, because it’s been one of the most fun experiences to be with her and now with her sister (Juliette is too young as yet to be away from her mom longer than, oh – five minutes) and brother. Actually her poor little brother gets less of the photo experience because as yet I haven’t found much motivation in painting boy themed compositions. We still have fun together, but less involving paintings.
After the kids all left the nest I began doing art at an accelerated pace. Work still demanded some long days and there were chores around the house, but I discovered that I could allow my house to degrade into a messy man cave when there were no civilized inhabitants other than me living here. Gradually guests stopped showing up and the house became a car part gathering place, an art studio, a dog run, and less and less a suitable human habitation.
No one came through the front door unless there was a necessity. One of my daughters came and we had meals together on occasion and the grand children would come over for short visits, but even those events grew rare and I’d take them places. Other places.
When I left the company where I’d been for decades, I realized that any creative progress I would make had to be unfettered by the unholy disrepair of my domestic environs. The house had to be set right. I was in a funk anyway, having sunk into a pattern of self doubt and second guessing with regard to the direction I was taking my talent. It was not a good state.
I reasoned that the house should only help, assist, and support whatever endeavor I might seize upon and that was certainly less likely if it were a heap of disorganized mess that it had devolved into during the prior two or three years. Besides, I despised that it was so bad because it’s not a true reflection of me or my appreciation for life having dealt favorably with me for all these years.
After I’d gone through most rooms and brought them up to a decent state, it was as if the sun came out. A side benefit was that now, with a house fully civilized, I could actually host visitors. One of the rooms became a useful photography session studio. Not long afterward, my son and his family stayed here for a short time including over night. That was unthinkable only three months ago, but it was fine and we had a nice visit. He came with his sweet wife and adorable children
Then came the previously banned weekend stay with Leah. She’d had short overnight stays years ago, but this was a full weekend which had never been attempted. It shouldn’t have worked, because I am selfish about my time. Two days is a lot of unrecoverable time. One of the problems we were noticing though is that when we got together, it always ended too soon, always just when we were getting ramped up.
At her advanced age, a teen, there’s always the risk that the generation gap will cause my previously interesting personality to become a generational liability. I was, after all, born in a different century.
Friday I picked her up after a class she enjoys. We plotted out the next few hours and the noise and distraction of the outside world began to fade. I’m not sure I can recall what all we did. What ever it was had to take us on at least a two mile walk. So we wended our way through the urban streets until we found the ball park and from there we followed a course that took us into the bowels of a forest canyon where fir needled paths coursed through the bottom and branched off up the sides through the lush perfect forest of conifers, vine maples, big maples, and sundry other indigenous delights. The canopy was high, thick enough to shade us while broken enough to allow plenty of light and lively bands of illumination on the leaves.
Leah pointed out soft bountiful collections of maples where the translucent pale green leaf clusters played with light above us. Very beautiful, all of it.
Cedars rose up in places where the path gave way to them and fir trees stood throughout the vastness of the whole friendly place.
At the end of that trail we descended on a sidewalk just a little way before leaving it to walk on a very nice city trail that follows a green belt for about ten miles. Later I checked the approach with a car odometer and I think we’d covered two and a half miles just getting to the trail.
My feet and legs hurt and that weekend I was actually concerned that I might be withering away, so severe were the symptoms of whatever ailed me. Despite that, we held races. Leah challenged me to run, which challenge I took unfortunately for my glasses which flew to the asphalt and got scratched. So I challenged her. We ran backwards to a target object. We ran sideways. We ran beside the path in the rough shorn grass. We raced up a little hill, then down. Then I was challenged to a steep long hill and we raced. We raced up it then down it. My only hope to keep winning was to make the races reasonably short and to try to debilitate her into laughter. Both strategies bore fruit and I won again and again. By and by though, I petered out. When we left the trail and started up through the nieghborhoods, she got me every time. Eventually I was completely spent and unable. She would challenge me and I would refuse, citing my desire to live. So it averaged out.
All the while, we were engaged in a jabberfest of epic duration as the sun began to set. As the road flattened out and the hills were behind us, she held my hand and I can’t hope to tell how glorious it was to be me and for her to be her and for us to be so close in our hearts. There is something uniting about actually touching one that you love that makes the holding of hands in a class all it’s own, like a hug or a kiss.
Even better, family ties allow people to understand that love between people is perfectly suited to the temperament of friendship and admiration. The corrupt would have us believe that love between people must always lead to mischief. It’s just not true.
In due time we reached the local Hospital and upon finding a patch of grass to cut across we let loose of each others hands and spread wings into the welcome breeze that flew right into our faces and through our hair. We cut it too close and decided to take advantage of the welcome truth that hospitals provide public toilets. Bladders make poor travel companions.
Upon reaching the house, we put the kitchen to work to feed our weary frames.
The photo studio is a room with two couches, a cheval mirror, a table and an ancient sewing machine. I told Leah that it was her apartment since it has a bathroom to the side and can be sealed off from the rest of the house via doors. We set up a camp cot with a mattress and sleeping bag and night light but there was not much sleep for her that first night owing to the discovery by previously unknown fleas that she is flea-tasty.
The next day, we began on the sculpture project she’d long wanted to pursue by designing and assembling a suitable base. This time, the subject was a dragon. It was smaller, and we devised a way to make it be able to have a more natural base than the horse sculpture had.
While I did the cutting, sawing and drilling, Leah took a ladder and began to harvest the grapes that covered the cherry tree over which the vines now completely covered. In the brightness of the day, it was shady beneath all that. Not for long, though because she requested the equipment needed to prune out stray blackberry vines and open that location up to a more satisfying grape grab. My grapes taste pretty good, so this adventure had it’s rewards. Pretty soon we were both at the tree, each with a ladder and each intent on bettering access to the clusters of round delight.
A big bowl filled up pour by pour from the large can that Leah wore on a string over her shoulders into which she dropped the clusters.
The harvest extended to the retrieval of blackberries also. This year they yielded several pies, but all that remained on the vines were nibbles – a berrry here, one there.
At last, I’d returned enough times to the sculpture base to finish it. Leah showed me where the wires should come out and I drilled for them. Between the two of us, we cut the strands of wire needed and installed them into the base.
I’d taken some photos, but our focus was on other things. We headed inside and the sculptress began to form the wire frame for her dragon.
I cooked for two and we ate together and when she was recharged, she wanted to walk the trail again. We went the opposite way, going first to the far end of the trail and then following it up to the forest path, which we were glad to take for the shade.
As the day before, it was stunningly beautiful. Every thing about it seemed perfection (I’m leaving out the discovery of a homeless dude’s tent and garbage) and we both agreed that it had the makings of a background for a poster I intended to build for a contest put out by a youtube star who would play a venue in London. I don’t even know what all we did other than talk, eat, laugh, after we got home. Leah went to the grape tree again. The cats tried to get in the house. She had a solution for the flea’s that day and it seemed to work. We vacuumed the rug and she sprayed peppermint water all over the house. Fleas apparently dislike the combo.
The next day she did the bulk of the clay part of her dragon before we went to church. She requires next to no intervention in this process because her judgement on the execution of her design is excellent. I stay out of it except to help with details like our clever method for keeping the clay soft enough that she could easily work it.
When we returned home, before she changed out of her dress, we did a photo shoot and I don’t know why it’s as fun as it is. This time, since it was right there in the middle of the room, she employed a ladder in the poses. Somewhere amid all the hilarity, we got priceless shots of her.
While I was processing them, she pressed for a return to the park trail. So we went. The object was to harvest photographs to analyze for use in that poster project. While there, I was astounded at the beauty of the place. It’s not a new observation, just a satisfying reminder of how right some places can be. Leah was the picture of innocence, running and enjoying the place with the exhuberance of a child, which both she and I probably always will be to some extent and really, that is not a bad thing for one’s life resume.
We went up and down the impossibly steep side trails both rising from and descending again into the leafy abyss, or better put, the oasis.
Then we came to that log that protrudes from the canyon wall parallel to the ivy covered floor. What’s peculiar about this old log is that as you walk along it’s twenty or thirty feet of worn self, it begins to shake as if intent on throwing you to the spiders in the ivy below. Leah surmised that it was a reaction to us countering the movement of the log as we trod toward the broken end of it. When it was my turn, leah took pictures of me. The model was finally at the other side of the lens. Pictures of my pudgy form would qualify as hard time for the camera, but we risked it. I told her the thing was designed for documenting beauty so pictures of me constituted excess wear for it’s components.
We didn’t make it straight out of the park that time. Just as we reached my truck, which brought us there to save time, she discovered the swing set. These were no wimpy short chained swings. They were tall. She was all smiles and even cajoled me onto one. Back and forth she crossed in front of my swing, narrowly missing a collision that could cripple her. She just smiled.
She told me that her dad would try to grab her with his legs, but that would be impossible for me because she’s too fast. Quietly I concocted a plan and it worked. I distracted her with the usual conversation until she was off guard and then grabbed her. Silly fun, silly fun.
From there she was on a metal climb bar and I realized while taking yet another great picture of her that we were going to surely be late if I didn’t stow the camera and get us back to the house where we could eat and depart and take her home.
In the end, it still was not enough time and I was sure we were late arriving at her house. But all was well and we all took a walk together through their neighborhood. Even there, Leah and I had fun with a strategy to bring some joy to her brother. Most times when we walk, Leah finds coins. Her brother looks but often reaps disappointment when none show up. I took him to a Costco for a hot dog one time and we then combed the parking lot for coins. As fate would have it, Costco had just swept and resurfaced the old lot! No coins for the lad.
So we planted a dime for Leah to ‘find’ to seed his desire The we arranged for a nickle to come into his view. He was pleased. He even found a second, non-seeded nickle which pleased him greatly.
Soon, we were back at her home and before I left them, Leah had hugged and thanked me for the weekend several times and I got a kiss on my bearded cheek.
Afterward, I was energized. I was restored. Being with an artist and collaborator had brought back the once familiar ease of creative being. It was the glorious chemistry of friendship and the grand daughter grandfather kinship. It was the beautiful experience of being with Leah. It was joy!
And now, I’m back to my selfish, hedonistic ways and except for the bowl of grapes that she picked that are still on the kitchen table, things are all cleaned up again from that whirlwind weekend. Time is still proceeding at an accelerated rate though. At this rate, I may reach old age in what seems like weeks. One painting has already been painted.
Now, nearly a week since it began, I got a call from her mom. It seems that her little sister, only four, packed her bags and left them by the front door and expected me to come fetch her today. She got on the phone and informed me that she was ready and that she anticipated that we would be together for an outing tomorrow. Cecilia is not a unreasonable, she’s just driven. She’s also smart. This worked last time. She’s as close to an actual straight from heaven angel as I think I’ve ever experienced, though with five children and Leah I’ve known this situation and am familiar with it.
Tomorrow, as promised, I’ll pick Cecilia up and we’ll have an outing.
I have to believe that if any of the distant grand children lived near, the experience would be just as sweet : )