Handmade gifts are typically associated with young children. Since preschoolers and elementary schoolers tend to be a bit short on cash, they’re often encouraged to make a card or a draw a picture for Mom or Dad for their birthdays and various holidays. Regardless of the level of skill these creations exhibit, they are invariably treasured and put on prominent display.
Some children continue this practice even after they start earning money and can afford to buy gifts. Dad has a lovely piece of macaroni art hanging on his office wall that Oldest Younger Brother made for him. Oldest Younger Brother took care to sign his work with his name and his age at the time: 19.
Depending on the artistic talents of your parents, sometimes the situation gets reversed. For the last 20 years, I’ve been asking Mom to create a piece of artwork for me for my birthday or Christmas.
When I was in high school, I made the discovery that Mom was an artist while helping her go through some old boxes. At that point in time, I knew she had a stellar sense of aesthetics due to her fashion choices and the plans she’d drafted for the interior design of our new house, but I didn’t realize how skilled she was at drawing and painting.
Sorting through her projects from her high school and college art classes (Mom majored in art history) made quite an impression on me, and I asked if she would make me something as a gift. Mom was touched by my interest and enthusiastically agreed.
And then, as it so often does, life happened.
Instead of setting up her easel and paints, Mom was volunteering for Boy Scouts, helping with science fair projects, taking my siblings and me to sports practices and drama rehearsals and doing the myriad other things moms do. She’s also devoted a considerable amount of time to taking care of my grandfather, who has been living on his own since Grandma passed away a few years ago and is dealing with increasing health challenges.
I remind Mom intermittently that I’d like her to create something for me, and though she’s expressed a desire to return to her personal artistic endeavors, she simply hasn’t had the time, instead channeling her creativity into birthday party decorations, children’s crafts and working as a substitute art teacher for the school district.
A few weeks ago, however, she had an unexpected opportunity to use her painting skills when she and I took Grandpa and his identical twin to his company’s annual convention. The company offered an instructional painting class for the attendees’ family members as a special social opportunity while the attendees were otherwise engaged. Since you had to sign up in advance, Grandpa signed Mom up first and told her about it later.
After the class, Mom proudly presented me with a lovely painting of a pineapple in bright tropical colors, finally fulfilling her 20-year-old promise.
Well, that’s sort of how it went.
After the class, Mom showed me her painting and wondered aloud what she was going to do with it. “The colors don’t really go with anything in the house, so I’m not sure where I’d put it.”
“It might work with the wall color in the family room. Maybe you could put it …” I trailed off, remembering my request from two decades ago. “Wait a minute! My birthday’s coming up!” I tried to control my excitement. “If you wanted to, you know, you could give it to me.”
“Oh, you’re right!” Mom exclaimed. “But do you really want it?”
“Of course! You made it! Plus, I actually have a few pineapples in my decorating scheme, and the colors will work perfectly.”
Mom beamed and happily handed me the painting, which I accepted with equal joy.
To consider this a happy ending would be premature, as we still had to get the painting safely home. Grandpa’s convention was in Saint Simons Island, Georgia, which is near the southeast corner of the state. The painting had to be carefully loaded into a jam-packed SUV every day for four days while we made our way back to Grandpa’s home in upstate New York. From there, it had to be transported back to New Hampshire with equal caution. There were a few close calls, but the painting is currently leaning against the wall in my bedroom, waiting to be hung in a place of honor.
Just as parents appreciate it when their kids sign and date their drawings, I too would like Mom to add these elements to her painting. She has signed it, but I’ve asked her to add the date as well as where it was painted. This will help me to remember why she painted a pineapple (it’s a symbol associated with Saint Simons Island) as well as just how much time passed and how far we had to travel before Mom was able to create a work of art for me as promised.
Given how busy life continues to be, I’m not going to wait for those elements to be added before I hang the painting. Otherwise, it could very well be leaning against the wall for another 20 years.
– Teresa Santoski