For the past two years, as Thanksgiving approached, I have felt a sense of sadness come over me. It usually takes me a few days to realize it is a physical memory, present because my younger sister died three years ago, right before Thanksgiving. Only a year apart in age, Susan and I shared many childhood memories known by no one else. She was my fact checker, the one I called with queries that started, "Remember the time we..." One of the hardest calls I ever received was when she called me a year prior to her death to tell me of her cancer diagnosis. Almost a year to the day later her husband called me to tell me to come quickly, as she had only three weeks left. We made the most of our remaining time with her as a family. We gathered, rallied, cared for her, prayed with her, sang to her, and did what we could to ease her way to what comes next. She, in turn, taught us how to die with grace and kindness. As we spent time saying the things that needed to be said, she listened and loved in return.
A few years ago my brother, Jeff, called to ask me to paint a memory he had of a waterspout over a lake where we camped as children. I said I couldn't, since I had only a vague memory of the event. He answered with complete faith that he knew I could do it. And so I tried. The result was a series of paintings from my childhood memories. I threw away needing to be exact, and focused on the event as I remembered it, hazy and all.
This is called "Vague Memories: The Sweetheart Tree." Susie (far left) and I (far right) would sit on it with Connie and Judy, neighborhood friends, as we looked at teen magazines and dreamed about who we might marry when we grew up - thus, the name. We spent hours each day of the summer barefoot in the woods behind our home, a freedom rarely experienced by children now, but one that fostered a sense of independence and wonder in all of us.
This one is titled, "Vague Memories: I see Tinkerbell!" One night all three sisters shared a bed, I don't remember why. Marilyn, the eldest, helped us lift the covers to see sparks briefly light the darkness. We cried out in delight, sure that we were seeing fairies, including Tinkerbell.
My Thanksgivings are now bittersweet. Mostly I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude, for my life, my family, and the gifts of love from so many - both present and gone ahead. I hope to revisit the theme of vague memories in my painting sometime in the future. Until then I hold the memories in my heart.