For years, she’d been a keeper of family secrets. But now, at eighty years of age, Edie could admit that while shame had encased many of the years of her adult life, she was proud that she’d been able to step forward in her twilight years and finally embrace what brought her joy. And indeed, for Edie, this was oil painting.
Edie acquiesced to sitting behind an easel in the retirement community’s studio versus venturing out into the fields, woods, and mountainsides of New Hampshire and Vermont—which had essentially become her backyard. Yes, because health issues kept arising, Edie returned almost daily to this space where she’d climb atop the stool behind her easel and, with a smile in her heart and another on her lips, enthusiastically apply bold and bright colors onto the canvas before her. Indeed, she’d create her own simplistic rendition of a scene or object which had caught her fancy.
One day, I stopped by the studio before I made my way to my mother’s apartment. I’d barely pushed open one of the studio’s double doors when Edie turned my way and shouted, “I’m going to have my first exhibit at age eighty. Can you believe that?”
“Where?” I asked as I entered this space devoid of other people.
“At a restaurant in downtown Hanover,” she stated with obvious pride.
I bent over and gave her a hug. “That’s wonderful news.”
Edie set down the brush she’d been painting with, and she began to peruse the other easels in the room with their partially finished paintings. One was a portrait of women from Afghanistan painted by a Quaker artist from the Main Line who’d early on become both a civil rights and a peace activist; another was of foliage season in the mountains of Vermont by an artist from that state; and still another spoke of how the sunlight kissed the hills of Tuscany, but was by a new resident I hadn’t yet met.
Oh, she’s an artist, too,” Edie was soon explaining. And then she added, “I’m not going to miss this opportunity to see all my paintings on display in one place. The heck with what others might think of them—this is going to be great.”
And indeed, it was exactly that. Edie found it so rewarding, in fact, that when she was offered the opportunity to exhibit at Hanover’s Howe Library the following year, she immediately accepted this invitation.
Days later, we were standing in the quiet studio once again. This time, though, a bare canvas sat perched on Edie’s easel. “They want forty paintings, but I only have twenty right now,” she said.
“You love painting,” I reminded her. “You’ll complete the necessary number.”
As the months passed, I’d continue to stop by the studio. Edie would inevitably be perched on that stool behind her easel, applying bright and bold colors to yet another canvas. And despite the fact she was often working alone, and she had a deadline looming before her, Edie’s love for the process of painting never dwindled.
“I’m going to have a reception after the exhibit’s grand opening,” she told me on yet another day. “You and your mother must come.”
“Of course,” I replied. “I’m as excited about this as you are.”
But sadly, the date for Edie’s exhibit had not yet arrived when death came and claimed her.
My mother and I decided to make one final visit to see Edie’s paintings. Together, we studied the thirty-some canvases that sat there completed and ready for the Howe Library exhibit. As we prepared to leave, my mother turned to me and said, “Her paintings show heart, don’t they? And I must admit their boldness and brightness make you smile.”
,p>I gave a nod. “She was so excited about this exhibit. Why couldn’t she have died after it instead?”
My mother sighed. “I wonder what her children will do with all these paintings. Except we know, don’t we? They’ll most likely throw them out.”
Suddenly, I found myself remembering the day Edie had told me the truth about her marriage. Ah yes, it had been one of those that probably many others had secretly envied since Edie’s husband had been a senior executive in a major corporation which produced a product most American women pushed across the carpets in their homes weekly. But Edie knew that behind closed doors, a seemingly idyllic life could be hellish—especially when it was controlled by an abusive alcoholic.
“I give her credit,” my mother said. “She didn’t let concerns about what others might think, her age, or her health issues restrict her from grabbing hold of something she felt passionate about, did she?”
“Will her children realize these paintings represent much more than their heavy brush strokes and their simplistic styles convey? Will they realize they’re the artifacts of a life in which a woman was able to move beyond the hurts or wounds of yesteryear and discover her creative side?” I pulled open the door and motioned for my mother to go through before me. As she did so, I added, “If only more people were able to do this, or if only more people didn’t worry about what others might think of their creative efforts, how much more joyous a place this earth might be not only for those individuals, but for all the others in their midst, too.”
I gently closed the door behind the two of us. You taught us quite a lesson, Edie, I whispered. I just hope I never forget it, and I can teach it to others, too.