So far, I don’t think it looks very much like my uncle. It’s not how I remember him. When I sketched his ears, I thought they looked more like my grandpa’s ears, the nose looked more like my younger brother’s, and the smile looked a lot like my dad’s. The hat almost looks like my uncle’s, but it needs a Dodge logo on it, and he should be dressed in a flannel shirt. That plaid might be fun to paint, but painting my uncle is already quite a challenge.
My cousin requested a painting of his dad this summer, when my children and I went home for the first time in a dozen years. I had missed his funeral, just a month before my college graduation. When they called on April Fools’ Day, I was prepared to disbelieve. After all, we had been planning to visit for several weeks this summer. We were going to see everybody. It was an emotional journey, visiting everyone who has known us since we were born, who also knew him so well.
It has taken me a long time to begin this painting, with a sketch that doesn’t yet look like him. In my memories he looks like flannel and plaid in moving pictures, quotes, smiles mixed into long stretches of contemplation. Hands moving at his work, usually on a motor, sharing a Moxie. Short sentences, heavily accented and seasoned with the dry wit of Maine. Bootprints breaking a crust of snow so we kids could walk it behind him and my dad. His big garage that smelled like him, woodsy, and oily, and steely. Tough and gentle at the same time, with a faith testified in honest work, not words.
His grave is marked with a cross made by his son, who followed in his footsteps to work in his own big garage in the woods, two wrenches welded together.
Click here to see the next stage of this memorial painting of my uncle: Fuzzy Memory.