I’m guessing it had to be in the early 70’s when the combination of degenerative arthritis took its toll on my old man's hips and coronary disease took its toll on his heart. For a guy that prided himself as being a tough old German who could out drink, out fight and out fuck anything that came his way, I imagine it was a rather humbling experience.
These were the days long before hip replacement surgery and stents had became popular and just the thought of them sounded like something out of a science fiction piece. Not that my old man would’ve gone for them anyway. He was what you would call “old school” and figured if booze, resolve and determination couldn’t cure what was ailing you, then it wasn’t worth curing. Maybe that’s just the way I remember him but now I figure he put himself through so much pain because there wasn’t enough money to go around and he’d be damned if he spent some on himself. He was one of those guys that would prefer to bite the bullet and suffer in silence than to make what he would call a “goddamn spectacle” of himself”.
To this day, it leaves me wondering if one can admire something that borders on stupidity?
Anyway, since my mom worked and I was off at school, he needed a hobby to fill in the long hours between our comings and goings. There were also long before the days of cable television and VCR’s and while he was always an avid reader, there usually wasn’t anything left to show for it. Maybe that’s because for as long as I could remember, he’d always worked with his hands. By his reasoning, at the end of the day, at least you’d have something to show for it.
He tried his hand at building models but for some reason, it just didn’t work for him. I think we took him to one of those hobby shops and he spotter a whole shitload of paint by numbers sets and an addiction that lasted almost until he died began to take hold. We bought a couple and he planted himself at the kitchen table with little rags and bottles of turpentine and some brushes and went to work. When his eyes started failing him, we got him a magnifying glass and one of those little lamps that shed its light on a small piece of the canvas so he could better track what he was doing. He’d spend hours and hours there by himself, getting up to stretch and grab a beer only when he started to cramp up.
I don’t know how many of you out there are familiar with the scope of paintings that come in a paint by numbers set. For the most part, they’re generic nature scenes. A forest in the fall, a setting sun over some snow capped mountains, a boat upon the waters with white surf dancing along the keel or maybe an animal or two in a regal pose as they surveyed their territory. Dear Lord, he even had a couple that were painted on black velvet (the proverbial clown) and it seemed that we had invented tackiness. I’m guessing that for most families, after their novelty has worn off, most of them were relegated to either yard or garage sale and go for the princely sum of a buck or two, frame included.
I know that stuff sounds kinda trite but to my old man, they represented his Sistine Chapel and with each one he finished he would declare it his pièce de résistance and it wouldn’t be long before we’d have it framed and it would adorn the walls of our home. If I remember correctly, they even stayed up long after he died and a couple of them are probably hanging in my estranged sisters house (We haven’t spoken in over five years, who’s the stubborn German?) to this day.
It’s funny. I never thought of my old man as having a creative bone in his body and was mostly just grateful for the pictures because it kept him from breaking my balls on a regular basis. In retrospect, maybe it worked both ways. Maybe after years of being in pain he just didn’t have it in him anymore to focus on the family. Either way, at the time, it seemed to work.
I think that before we die, we’d all like to create a little something for people to remember us by. Memories are fine and both good ones and bad ones seem to last forever but you can’t touch them with your hands or hang them on your walls.
I think my old man wherever he might be, would be happy to know that there’s still a piece of something he did hanging on a wall somewhere for everybody else to see.
He knew he wasn’t no Rembrandt but then again, very few of us are.