Friday, February 14, 2014

Remembering Family

In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.
~ Alex Haley

This Monday will be Family Day in Ontario. It's a time meant to be spent with family members. I will at least try to spend time on the phone with my boys who both live a fair distance from me, now that I'm out in the country. On this Family Day weekend, I'd like to tell you a bit about my grandmother and mother - both of whom are long gone.

I never knew my maternal grandfather. He passed away several years before I was born, so my grandmother, who lived with us, had always been a widow to me. Having settled in Montreal, she met and married her love - my grandfather, a Polish-born man who knew a fair number of languages, and developed his career as a court interpreter. I remember hearing stories of how he would come home from work exhausted at the end of the day. Granny would be anxious to get out of the house and check out one of those new picture shows at the local movie theatre. His disappointing but understandable reply was an incredulous "Why on earth would I want to do that? I see more than enough drama all day long in court."

Granny was a native-born Russian who moved to Canada when she was just a few months old. She was a short, stocky woman who walked with a limp from an injury she sustained in a car accident sometime before I was born. In her later years she struggled with failing sight and hearing, but maintained her strong sense of humour. She loved to watch wrestling (wrasslin') on television and she could often be seen feigning her horror by holding her splayed fingers over her watchful eyes, while loudly expressing her disgust for the brutality that she opted to see.

She was fiercely proud of her family, and she experienced hardships that no parent should ever know. She had five children and was pre-deceased by three of them - one in infancy. Surviving such losses is unimaginable to me, yet Granny was content to be surrounded by her remaining family in her declining years. She became a great-great-grandmother before her death at aged 96 in 1973.

Granny
Granny up on our apartment balcony in Montreal.

My mother viewed herself primarily as a care-giver for my sister and me, Dad and Granny. She had a selfless, giving nature and she was happiest when she was doing for others. For a number of years, she worked in our family-owned business - a small but busy variety store. Mom could be found behind the cash most days. She also handled the bookkeeping for the store and prided herself on her excellent math skills, a gift I did not inherit. Mom had a way with words as well. Her vocabulary (or Vocal Berry as she often referred to it) far surpassed her education, and she was proud of her ability to spell exceedingly well. Mom could read music, and played piano quite beautifully. Though I inherited her piano, her musical talent sailed right over me and landed squarely on my younger son Alex's hands.

Toward the end of Granny's life, my mother found a hobby to help dissipate some of the stress she felt from caring for her ailing parent. She learned how to paint. I don't believe that she took more than a year or two of art classes, but she quickly discovered different techniques and soon developed her own style. She put her oils away shortly after my grandmother's death, and despite our encouragement, she never did pick up her paintbrush again. There would be many times over the following years that she might have benefited from its therapeutic effect but it was not to be.

While walking one summer's day, a few years back, I saw several Monarch butterflies flitting about, one of which obliged me by pausing just long enough to be captured in a couple of photographs. As it turned out, one of these images was quite similar to a favourite painting that Mom did, which hung on a wall not far from my computer at my old place and which will find a similar place of honour here at our new digs. My mother evolved as an artist during the difficult period of my grandmother's decline. Much like a butterfly emerges from a cocoon, Mom was transformed. There is no telling what talent or beauty might free itself from darkness.


mom dad and me
Mom and Dad, and their shy daughter - yours truly.

This Valentine's Day, Mom would have celebrated her 100th birthday. She has been gone for over twenty years now but her colourful artwork continues to brighten the walls of family and friends. Below are a few of her paintings which I inherited.


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This Monarch paused on a purple thistle just long enough for me to focus and snap the shot. I rotated this image by 90º so that it seems to mirror the butterfly in my mother's painting above. Is it life imitating art, or the reverse?







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This is one of her first paintings. She used a palate knife to create this stucco effect, a technique with which she continued to experiment on many of her pieces.






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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Mom got most of her ideas from photographs. She'd mark pages in magazines which had images that she felt she'd like to paint one day. She preferred nature scenes over most.









Another favourite subject was children. Mom loved the work of artist Edna Hibel who is known for her series of Mother's Day limited edition plates, each depicting a mother and child. Since imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, she reproduced the above plate entitled "Colette and Child" on canvas in 1973.





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This painting of a young girl and her dog was styled after a photograph found in a magazine - quite possibly National Geographic.


Of course no post about the women in my family could be complete without including a brief word about my only sister, Andrea. She's my sister, my friend and the only person who remembers some of the same things that I do. I will write about her more extensively one day but for now I'll just include a photo of the two of us circa... a long time ago. Thanks, Andi - for scanning the slides and sending these old photos.

PICT0106
My big sister and me.

61 comments:

Jackie said...

I loved reading each word...feeling the love that you have for your family, Hilary.
The love for family is one of the strongest loves there is.
Your Mother's artistic and musical talents, your Grandmother's familial pride, (God bless her as she experienced the losses of her children)...and your sister's loyal love and devotion for you touch my heart.
Your sharing these heartfelt memories shows that your love for them runs deep...and I know that their love for you is just as strong.
Happy Valentine's Day, my friend.
Love,
Jackie

Gary's third pottery blog said...

Little YOU! Thanks for sharing this, gosh, that picture with the little fuzzy dog, oh my!

LindyLou Mac said...

What lovely memories you have. :)

Tabor said...

Your mother was very talented and so sad she did not continue with that art. But she had her reasons, I am sure. Lucky that you recognize the value of these works.

The Furry Gnome said...

Nice memories. My mother took up painting too, and we have several of her paintings.

Bob Bushell said...

Your moms art is spectacular Hilary, you're an artist, now I know where it comes from.

TexWisGirl said...

precious. just precious. i was giggling at the thought of your grandmother watching wrasslin. :) and your mother was incredibly talented! i LOVE the bird and bloom oriental style works she did! wow! i am sorry she did not feel she could continue after your grandmother died.

Brian Miller said...

her art is lovely...
my great aunt loves wrestling...
a nice look at your fam hilary....
from wher eyou come...

Maggie May said...

That was a lovely post and the art work was really beautiful. You must be proud.
I'm sure I did see that little girl and dog original photo in a magazine somewhere. I can remember loving it when I first saw it.

Can't imagine you ever being shy! Somehow!
So you are part Russian!!! What an interesting family life!
Maggie x

Nuts in May

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

What a lovely post!
I think that is a message from your mom, the photo.

Hubby and I have lost our respective parents.
That said, we were talking about the young people on reality shows (we love the music...) who bemoan having lost a parents. I never knew my birth father, met my birth mother once. Hubby's father died when he was two.
We live the life and the cards we have been dealt.
Super family post.
(ツ) from Cottage Country Ontario !

Red said...

You have a good idea for marking family day. A pause to remember family and all they have given us is well worth while. We can better appreciate what we have. A similar story could be written about my paternal grandparents.

Gayle said...

The treat of treats to read the love story that is your family. How dear of you to share it all with us. You are such a peach!

Linda at To Behold The Beauty said...

What a beautiful post, my friend. I was wondering...did Granny live with you after the death of her husband? Sharing home life with multiple generations is something that isn't done much anymore. I was wondering about your sister when you first mentioned her because I couldn't remember your talking about her before. I'm looking forward to "meeting" her in a future post.

I loved the "wrasslin'" story. And I loved your mother's artwork, especially the little child and dog; but the birds and butterfly were really beautiful, too.

Out on the prairie said...

A fun read, Happy Family Day.

J Graham said...

What a lovely post!

And where have I been, I've never even heard of "Family Day." What a wonderful idea for a holiday!

Well, depending upon one's actual family I suppose. For some, could be somewhat of a nightmare!

--Crabby

Ruth's Photo Blog said...

That's a wonderful tribute to some very special ladies in your life. Have a great day.

Betty Manousos said...

what a precious post, hilary.
thank you for sharing your beautiful memories with us.
i really like your mother's artwork.
so lovely!
also, the photo of your mom and dad, and...their shy daughter is just so precious!

xo

Frank Baron said...

Very nice. Puts me in mind of all the fine, older women in my life who have passed. I miss them all.

But it's nice being able to watch you and my sisters evolve into "Babas." ;)

Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell said...

What a wonderful expression of love and appreciation for those whom you hold dear. Your mom was really quite talented indeed. No wonder the paintings will again take special places of honor in your new home.

Barb said...

What a great read! Your mother's creative visual art talent was definitely passed to you. I like when people keep memories like these alive - they're important.

ds said...

I so enjoyed reading this "snapshot" of your family. Those early stories are so important. You may not have gotten your granny's musical talent, but it is easy to see where your artist's eye came from!

Gayle said...

I just reread it all again. You write so beautifully. Your mother's art is wonderful. What a fine eye she had. Hmmm, must be where you get your eye for art.

Gayle said...

I just reread it all again. You write so beautifully. Your mother's art is wonderful. What a fine eye she had. Hmmm, must be where you get your eye for art.

messymimi said...

You have an amazing family story, and i'm glad, for your sake, that you know about it! So many stories like that get lost.

Sandy Carlson said...

I'll be honest: I didn't read the last bit of this post because I couldn't. The tears in my eyes...i'll be back.

Your love for your family touches my heart.

I am grateful for bloggers like you for keeping the beauty of life front and center at all times. Thank you.

yaya said...

What a beautiful tribute to your Grandmother and Mother. What fabulous talent! The paintings are so lovely. Your talent may not be music or math or even painting, but your photography is an art form that you have mastered. I'm a firm believer that we can't really know who we are without knowing our ancestors. It just adds a depth and beauty and fills so many voids when we explore our genealogy!

Kat said...

Thank you for sharing these wonderful women with us. What a beautiful post.
And such GORGEOUS paintings! Wow. She was quite the artist. It seems that artistic ability runs in your family!

CiCi said...

Sharing some info about your parents and grandparents was very interesting. And the photo of you with your sister is awesome. This is a rare treat on your blog.

Mage said...

Just delightful. You are right, she should have kept painting. My mother drew in fits and starts, and when she married husband number 3, she never painted again. Ditto my grandmother. And I....
So thank you so much for sharing these.

Gail Dixon said...

Such loving memories of your mother and grandmother. I was truly touched reading about them. Your mother certainly had talent; it's a shame she didn't feel inspired after her mother's death, but understandable. Love the photo of you and your sister. So sweet.

Linda said...

Lovely post! How I miss my mother at times!

Rob-bear said...

What a delightfully sweet post about part of your family. Such interesting and capable people.

Blessings and Bear hugs!

Anita said...

I consider all of your posts "treats," Hilary. Filled with nature and colorful, descriptive captions - it's always a few moments of "being there."
This post is an extra special treat. Thanks for sharing the lives of the women who came before you; women who have passed their creativity and strength down to you.

Anita said...

Oh, I meant to add that I Love the photos! Photos add even more value to the lives pictured and a connection to those who are viewing.

Michael Manning said...

Hilary: You have honored your Mother and Grandmother with a beautiful post that I had to read twice; it is rich with loving detail, and beauty. You are blessed, my friend! Your best post!!

Indrani said...

A wonderful post for Family Day! Great knowing your mom and grand mom. :)
And the pic of butterfly is such good coincidence!

Kerri Farley said...

This post brought tears to my eyes.....your Mom was an amazing artist!

Daryl said...

what a wonderful post .. while you may not have inherited your mom's talent as a painter its very clear you inherited her 'eye' ... your camera is your 'brush'

Anvilcloud said...

This post is so appropriate for the day. However, I will gladly spend time away from most of the family tomorrow. Tuesday will be another matter. :)

Pauline said...

Your mother was wonderfully talented. You have her artistic eye... thanks for sharing your memories like this.

Daniel LaFrance said...

Your memories are full of life. I enjoyed getting to know your family a little more.

It is also interesting to read how your stories have stirred memories in our peoples lives.

Slamdunk said...

What a great way to honor your family. I can see where you get your keen eye for photography--looks like your relatives are very creative.

And the old family photos with no snow is a bonus from my perspective as well.

Lisa said...

I feel very blessed to have read this .. It really took me on a Journey back and forth from my to yours. My mom also was an artist in oils.
Loved this post and I cant tell you how much. Beautiful my friend . Beautiful.

and Thank you for sharing.

King of New York Hacks said...

Lovely and endearing post...powerful images and family you have Hilary, nice to be back in the blogging world and see your brilliant posts. Cheers from NYC my friend. ~ Edward

Laura~Pretty Pix said...

You touched my heart and brought a tear to my eye.
Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories.

DJan said...

Somehow I missed this post and saw it on Red's sidebar. It's lovely to see these pictures. Family Day is a wonderful idea. :-)

A Cuban In London said...

I loved, loved, loved this post. Each word you've written is worth millions. This is the only way to carry the torch forward. Honouring our forebears. Beautiful pictures. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Pat - Arkansas said...

A wonderful tribute to Family Day. I loved hearing about your parents and grandmother. Your mother was indeed an artist. How fortunate that you still have her paintings. Thanks for sharing them with us. Hugs!

Sharon Wagner said...

I just put a quote on my blog about memories. "The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that's all there is."

Carson. Downton Abbey

Barbara Shallue said...

Thank you so much for sharing these amazing women with us, Hilary. What a talent your mom had! It is a shame she put away the brushes. I wonder if it just brought back painful memories of your grandmother's illness? My maternal grandmother lived with us, as well, and was a widow when I was born. She, too, outlived children and grandchildren, and yet somehow maintained a sunny, joyous outlook of life. I think we've both been blessed with good stock. :) Happy Family Day!

Friko said...

A very interesting post. Women simply didn’t get an education in those days and had to find out about their talents all by themselves. Taking care of others was their lot and they did it gladly.

Joanna Jenkins said...

"Family Day". I like that A LOT-- much more than many of the Hallmark card occasions we often celebrate. Family really is at the heart of everything and deserves it own day.

Your mother's artwork is lovely and such a gift to have an enjoy daily. He talent and her signature would make me smile every day.

Blessing to your 96 year old grandmother. That's really something. She sounds pretty wonderful too.

And the shy young you. LOVE that pic!

xo jj

ladyfi said...

What a lovely family story. Love those paintings too - she was very gifted.

Lady Lilith said...

I like the idea of family day. People often to not have enough time to spend together so setting a side a day is wonderful.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

What a lovely tribute you have written about your grandmother and mother! The talent for making music may have sailed past you but you certainly have the gift of appreciation, and there is no question about where you gained your artistic ability!
Your granny and my own mother shared a birthday. Strangely enough, on family weekend I drove away from my own and spent time with extended family and friends.

Birdie said...

Thank you for allowing us to meet your mom and grandmother. I love stories of family but especially women.

rosaria williams said...

So glad you shared this with us. Your boys will appreciate these posts so much when you and anyone else who knew these ancestors are gone. Everyone should attempt to leave details of life like these; we are here such a short time.

photowannabe said...

Oh Hilary, this is such a wonderful and precious post. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your family.
Your mother was a fantastic artist. I really love her style.
I'm glad you have some of her pictures in your home.

Linda said...

Hilary, that was a lovely tribute to your mother and grandmother. Those paintings are lovely. She was indeed a talented lady.

The Chicken's Consigliere said...

I really enjoyed reading about your family, Hilary. I can't get over how talented your mom was, only to stop after your grandmother's passing. It makes me curious. You may not have inherited her musical talent, but it sure seems that you inherited her artistic talent.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Returning to say that it would be lovely to frame your own photograph of the butterfly opposite your mother's painting of the butterfly. What a beautiful mother-daughter image that would be!