|"Mom and Dad" by Tom Wills, June 2013.|
It must have been her only fancy one, when she was young, because it turns up in the few good photos we have of our mother.
The Methodist Church Sunday dress.
Red nails. I remember that too.
I remember the smell of the polish.
Nylons. She called them "hose" and would use clear polish to stop the "runners."
And Estee Lauder.
|Same dress. How about that!|
Our father, who is still with us, always wore a white shirt. Army veteran, a draftsman, an engineer. I would hear that Sunbeam electric razor buzzing every morning, through the wall in my room. Usually it accompanied some nightmare. It was just a strange sound to wake to, as a child.
Forty-five years he went off like that -- then was shown the door.
The smell of his closet was dry cleaning chemicals and leather shoes.
With a splash of Old Spice.
|Click on all photos to enlarge|
The watch was an Elgin and it's 5:35 p.m. The cufflinks were probably my grandfather's. White socks.
It was Christmas, 1960-something. I can smell turkey and mashed potatoes, from scratch. Noises are coming from the kitchen, electric beaters and bubbling gravy.
They were sitting on a little white bench in front of the fake fireplace at my grandparents' house.
|A merry Christmas.|
I'm pretty sure my uncle Paul took the original black and white photograph. He always had cameras with those big flashing cups that annoyed the heck out of us when we were kids.
But now I'm glad he had them.
|"Don't look at the camera."|
They were young and in love.
I never, ever heard my parents fight. Either they never did, or they were very good at it.
The only ones left are my dad, my brother, myself.
|The best work comes at night, when all is quiet.|
|Before I cut the paper to fit, centered on the wood slab.|
I pestered my brother for four months to find a good picture of mom, but all we had were dying days pictures, and I just could not draw that.
Turns out, I had one all along and had forgotten about it. It was upside down in a bottom basement drawer, and I happened upon it quite by accident while looking for another something else that I can't remember.
|Shortly after gluing the sketch to the slab. Still not coated.|
It's huge, and it's permanent. I stained the wood, glued the drawing to the slab, and then coated it with several layers of lacquer finish. It's hard as a rock and heavy as a table.
The goal was for some of that fresh stain to bleed through the paper as the finish was being applied. I sought a sepia look, like an old photo, and it worked like a charm.
|Trying to figure out where the figures stop and the shadows begin.|
My brother and I are three years apart.
Tom and Gerry, cat and mouse. We both got her sense of humor.
Brother dear got Dad's numbers smarts, money sense and thrill for travel.
I got Mom's gifts for pictures and words. The red hair also went to me. Thanks.
|The future was unwritten.|
Dad hasn't seen this yet, but I told him about it, if he wants to check it out.
I don't know if we can both take it, together.
"I'll be darn," was about all I could get out of him on the phone.
I also never, ever saw him cry -- and really do not want to.
He remarried, which is OK. Loneliness is a weight, for sure.
His second marriage has exceeded the first in years, by a decade or more.
|Both had shades of red in their hair.|
She coughed for four or five months before anyone wised up. A dry yelp, nothing more.
But it was always.
She painted right to the end, four more years. I remember the entire upstairs smelled of linseed oil, turpentine, oil paints, fixatives.
She had to give up Estee Lauder for Clinique, because chemotherapy made her sensitive to everything.
Goddamned fumes. Maybe that was it.
|The first of about 20 coats of polyurethane. Fumes ...|
People still die of cancer the same way: very slowly.
They have a lot of time to think about it on the way out. That's the cruelest part.
Dad's been battling it for years, too, here and there, on his skin.
A thorough bastard, it cannot be satisfied by taking just one.
So it is true that this piece was drawn from memory, even though I had found a better photograph to work from.
It was drawn from many memories, actually. Most of them are wonderful.
They are with us everywhere and we should not be afraid to tap into them.
Even if some memories will wring us out.
|My mother's journal. Nov. 19, 1977, to Dec. 22, 1980.|
That's the day she told the doctor she wanted to quit chemotherapy.
|Excerpt from 1980 Christmas letter to friends and family.|
It also mentions my studying journalism at Kent State,
and my brother getting his drivers license.
|My grandmother's handwriting, but she somehow got it wrong.|
It was 12:45 a.m., Room 275, St. Joseph Riverside Hospital, Warren, Ohio.
Jan. 28, 1981.
I wrote it down on the last page of her journal.