After my parents retired, they moved to Asheville, North Carolina, with its vibrant arts community. My mother, who to my knowledge never before tried her hand at making art, took oil painting classes as became a minor — very minor — Grandma Moses, capturing the light of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She wrote my name on the wood frame of one of them and gave it to me, surprising me with the one I had liked best.
She began going to art shows, buying works by others in her collective. It was interesting to me to see the range of her taste. When she knew she was dying, she had us three kids put stickies with our names on them on the backs of the art she’d collected. She said she didn’t want us fighting over any pieces after she’d gone.
About that same time, I began going to a local art show in Maryland. I was finally earning enough by then that I could afford to pay $60 or $70 for something just because I liked it. Through the years I’ve gotten more. Mostly I bought from the artists themselves. I love having the pieces around me, not to own them but to share space with them. I feel a connection to each of them.
Some of the pieces are from my mother, and I think of her when I look at them. I have one etching my brother-in-law bought. When I was moving from Wyoming, I told him how much I loved it and asked if I could have it. He gave it to me, as he gave me so much of himself, and I think of him when I look at it, looking at the detail, the fine, careful, beautiful work of it. I have two miniatures my great-aunt painted. I don’t have them hung on the wall — they really don’t fit in — but I have a framed photograph of her. She was my grandfather’s sister, and as she was 68 when I was born, I always knew her as an old woman. But in the photograph she is about 20, pretty, not knowing where her life will take her. I love seeing her then. She never married. There was rumor of a failed love affair — or was that just a story my sister and I made up?
I look at a piece — a painting or photograph or etching — and find myself wondering who will have it after I’m gone. They won’t know where I got it and won’t have the connection to the piece that I do. But will they appreciate it as I do, perhaps in their own way? Will it speak to them? Or will it just fade away, forgotten in a corner, its life already spent in giving me joy. This time of quiet and staying home has given me the time to look at these works — to really look. Will any of us have time like this again?
Andrea and I have adjusted to this stay-at-home time. Our world is smaller now. We don’t go to town, out to eat, to a concert. We don’t throw our clothes in the back of the car and set off for Florida or Iowa or Rhode Island. This is what old age is like, isn’t it? One’s world getting smaller. I’m definitely old — older than I had sometimes imagined I’d ever get — but I’m still healthy and able to get around. Setting off in the car for the Canadian Rockies or for Minnesota still sounds good to me. And without the pandemic, that’s what we would do. But this is a stay-at-home time. It is time to look more closely at what is near, at what it is we treasure.
Our county is opening up a bit. Phase 1. The library will open soon. Some of the stores will open. Perhaps a few restaurants, although I don’t see how they can. The little local places we like to go are too small for social distancing. Will McQueen’s be the same without the usual suspects crowding the bar?
The virus will be here, probably forever. A vaccine will help, but it is unlikely that this virus will be eradicated, like smallpox. It’ll probably be more like measles, which you can usually prevent with a vaccine, or like seasonal flu, for which a vaccine is helpful but not foolproof. And developing a safe, effective vaccine will take a while. I’ve ordered some more masks. Since I usually only do laundry once a week, Andrea and I will probably need at least 14 masks between us — one each for each day.
There is an article in the New York Times about the book “Generations,” which predicted that this year would be a hinge-point. It’s looking like the authors were right back in 1991. I hope so. We’ve backed ourselves into a corner. Maybe the young people can get us out.