In September of 1990 my family and I were in Ohio for the funeral of my grandfather on my
mothers’ side. John Henry Paine, who everyone knew as Jack, was the last of his six brothers and one sister to pass. He was about half way through his 98th year when he died.
He earned his living as an upholsterer. He worked for the streetcar company in Cleveland during the depression repairing the worn seat covers. By the time I knew him, he was working for the Hotel Westlake. This was a residential hotel, where he reupholstered the furniture in the lobby and public rooms. He could also lay carpet and fix it if it got stained or otherwise damaged.
When I stayed overnight with my grandparents, my favorite game to play with him was Battleship which we played with a pad of graph paper and two pencils.
He made new covers for a rugged stool my dad sat on at his work bench. Now I sit on that stool in my studio. When I was doing graphic arts in Cleveland in 1963 he made me a seat cushion for the hard wooden chair I sat on all day. He made me a case for carrying my expensive steel rulers, too.
In his later years he often told everyone of his love for his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
After the funeral, as we were leaving my parents neighborhood for the airport I noticed an older woman in her yard picking up branches that had fallen off trees at the back of her lot. It was just a short glimpse, but I got the sense that she was happy to be there gathering sticks. I recall thinking that someday I wanted to be like her.
It’s funny how certain things take up residence and hide somewhere in our brain. A few years ago, I was out in my yard cleaning up after a storm like we had last Thursday, when the memory of that woman picking up sticks came to mind. I hadn’t thought of her since that day in 1990.
My yard features an enormous sycamore tree which is constantly shedding something. After a windy storm the yard looks like a war zone. So, I spent last Sunday afternoon picking up everything from huge branches to tiny sticks and seed balls.
This is an aerobic activity for me, bending over, breaking branches up smaller, walking about, digging the occasional weed, and listening to the birds chatter.
I feel better when I’m outside in the fresh air, busy with whatever is calling for my attention.
How does this happen, that we glimpse an image of what will bring us joy years later, and without any conscious intention, we one day are amazed to notice we are living that image?