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Thoughts of My Dad on Father’s Day

Here are two shots of my father, Robert Sinclair Swanson, Jr.  On the left, what are he and I doing?   Read to the end to find out.  On the right is the quintessential shot of Dad, because to him, punctuality was a cardinal virtue. Except for the time when Larry and I showed up an hour early and he was furious, because it meant we had been speeding.  Safe driving was an even more cardinal virtue.

Volumes have been written about finding your life’s work but Dad was succinct; “You have to look forward to getting up on the morning,” he said and he did. Saturday mornings he would dance in the kitchen to his favorite singer, Joe Turner, the Boss of the Blues. Dad knew all the verses to Shake Rattle and Roll; “Get outta that bed, wash your face and hands, Get out in that kitchen, make some noise with the pots and pans.” Mom, who’s idea of breakfast was a cigarette and a pepsi, was not amused. There was usually a work program after breakfast; raking leaves, washing the car, but any trip to the hardware store or the dump always included a stop for popsicles, even between meals.

Father’s Day was the worst day in our family’ s life--that’s the day Larry was killed. Dad was broken-hearted but he set us an example in carrying his grief with dignity and grace. He met with all his friends and cried his heart out with each one. He reminded himself that he still had children and grandchildren, and he continued to find ways to laugh with us. He was determined see Larry in Heaven, and he set about living a life that made him worthy. He had tried repeatedly to quit smoking but the last time he started to light up he swore he heard Larry’s voice saying; “Hey DAD!” He never had another cigarette. He cut back on his drinking to white wine in the evening with Mom, when they’d sit on the porch and talk about the old days. He even started a men’s group titled Devotions, Dialogue and Doughnuts. A group of Greatest Generation men talking about their feelings? I’d love to have been a fly on the wall.

Dad made friends easily--wherever he went he soon became a regular. He was invited to a baby shower for the daughter of the managers of the Quick Mart where he bought his morning paper. Most men would hand this job over to the wife, but not Dad. On his own he went to a baby shop and bought two little blue outfits--he knew it was a boy--and had them nicely wrapped with a blue ribbon. Then he want to a Christian bookstore for a card. “I want a card that’s Christian but not too Christian,” he told the clerk. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said. Dad said, “I’m a born-again Christian. The person I’m sending this to is not. I want to let her know what I am without making her think i’m telling her what she should be.” And the clerk said, “I think I can help you with that.” When I think of this story I think of Matthew 5:16, where Jesus says; “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”

At his memorial service a lifelong friend recalled Jesus’ parable of the talents, and called Dad a five talent guy, who invested all that he had and all that he was in service to others. Dad was one of life’s encouragers. I’ll always miss him, but the things he left behind will serve me all my life.

and what are we doing in that picture?  Snapping our fingers.

 

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This series of drawings is the result of two chance remarks.

I was complaining to a friend about having to plan dinner yet again and she told me the tale of the little table.  It seems all you had to do was clap your hands and say “Come, little table, come!” and a table would  trot in, beautifully set with a delicious meal.  When you’d eaten your fill just clap your hands and say, “Go, little table, go!” and the table would trot off to wash the dishes.   So, I said, where do I get one of those little tables?

Then, my daughter, about age 3, asked me as we were walking in New York City, “Why don’t homeless people just get jobs?”  With children you never know when the big questions are coming. I took a deep breath and said; “Well... what do you need in order to get a job?   To  go on a job interview you need to be clean and rested, so you need a bed and a bathtub. You need to think, so you need a chair. You need to eat, so you need a stove and a table.  You need to be other people so you need a few more chairs. We came to the conclusion that in order to have a home you need a job-but in order to get a job you need a home.

Let me never forget to be grateful for the homes I’ve lived in and the people who have worked to provide them.

To you who have lost everything, I know it’s easy for me to say this from the safety of my home, but I have three friends who lost everything--two to fire, one to a flood.  They rebuilt and now view what once seemed like the end of the world as a bump in the road, and part of their story.

I've been trying to start blogging, but something's holding me back. Is it shyness or the need for perfection or sheer terror? I don't know, but I'm getting sick of it. I just had a thought. I was on vacation in Tuscany last week. I wanted to swim in the pool, which was not heated. I knew if I put my toe in I'd never have my swim, so I marched right to the edge and dove in. It was beyond cold--took me two laps to get my breath back and then it felt GREAT! I stayed in for half an hour, swimming laps and doing water ballet tricks. Is blogging going to be like that?I hope so.

 

I love my dachshund!

If you are not a totally gaga dog lover, please read no further. I'd like to keep you thinking of me as a rational human being. When I was expecting my first child I dreamed that I gave birth to a dachshund. I was delighted with my human baby girl but that dachshund was awfully cute. After many years, when the children had flown our nest, my husband surprised me with a miniature dachshund puppy.  She's so adorable--I said she was the love of my life but my son said, "What about your husband?"  Well, he's nice, too but it's along time since he wiggled all over with joy just at the sight of me.  Once again, my art and life have intersected, because Lucy has inspired a whole new series--A Lucy for Every Season. I'll be sending out Lucy greetings appropriate to the season and occasion. Here's the latest--Happy Mother's Day!

Deviled eggs, Harrington's Ham, potato salad, asparagus, green salad, lemon chiffon pie.  For the last 3 years I've served purple potatoes in the salad.  They are perfectly organic and, for one who loves color as I do, beautiful.  With yellow peppers and green peas they make a festival of Easter colors.   But nobody touches them.  do they really think I'd put food dye in my Easter dinner?  I give up.   From now on, it's only Yukon Gold for me and my guests.

I keep thinking of categories for my thoughts but actually, everything I write about is so interconnected that I don't see the use of categories.   Art, work, marriage, children, faith, friends, home, music, my dog, everything has something to do with something else.   Maybe I should just write little bits--easily read in a minute. LIke this one.

I am trying to  embrace the philosophy of MIckey Rivers the great Yankee center fielder.  He says:  “I don’t worry about things I can’t control because if I can’t control them, why worry?  And I don’t worry about things I can control because If I can control them, why worry?”

How brilliant is that?  And how can I improve on it?

 

Those  are New York City's real fire houses, built in the 19th Century and still in use.  The drawings, Some with purple bunting as a sign of mourning, are in part my response to the attacks of September 11. .  Engine Co. 18 has sunflowers in the window–I later learned that sunflowers are a sign of respect.  Working on this series inspired in me a reflection on mourning and moving on; the importance of remembering our lost loved ones, but also carrying on with our lives and finding that we can again be open to joy.   New York City was so sad at that time, but there was little talk of revenge;  what I heard was everyone trying to help each other and support the rescuers.

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