Before we built our new house in 2000, we lived just 5 miles away, and our next door neighbors were a retired couple named Ola and Albert, who became dear friends to us over the years.
|"Memories of Home," 8" x 10", watercolor, pen & ink|
I remember the kids and I sitting on their back porch with them on warm summer evenings, just chatting about nothing in particular, watching the fireflies come out. Once in awhile, I'd invite them over for some homemade blueberry pie, and we'd sit on our porch and visit. I'll never forget the time I baked a nice strawberry-rhubarb cobbler, and Albert took a big bite and got the funniest look on his face. "What's wrong?!" I asked in surprise. "I think maybe you used salt instead of sugar in the cobbler!" he exclaimed. Definitely one of my most embarrassing moments ever.
The kids loved them. They were like a bonus set of grandparents who lived right next door. Ola was generous with cookies, so Sara invited herself over for a snack most mornings. Every day, Albert would bring my mail from the mailbox out by the road when he picked up his own, and we even shared our local newspaper. Albert would read it in the morning, then bring it over later in the day for us to read. That's just the kind of people they were.
Eventually, health issues forced them to move to Syracuse, NY, to be closer to their daughter, and we felt the loss keenly. I missed that friendly wave across the yard and those hours of porch-sitting. And life in the neighborhood just wasn't the same without Albert's smile and Ola's memorable laugh.
Albert passed away five years ago - he and Ola had been married for 68 years. I've kept in touch with their family over the years, and last fall their grandson's wife contacted me to ask if I would paint a house portrait of the place where so many family memories had been made. She wanted to surprise her mother-in-law for Christmas, not with a painting of the front of the house, but of the back porch where all the real living took place.
Of course, the house today doesn't look anything like it did then. The maple tree is so overgrown that you can hardly see the house. The siding is now an ugly yellow-tan color with green trim, and the back porch is loaded with clutter. In the days when we lived next door, there was never a thing out of place.
I had to paint my memories of the place - the hanging baskets of fuchsia that Ola tended every day, the impatiens that filled the flowerbeds around the porch, the iris, the bird bath, and the lilacs in the yard, the maple tree, and, of course, our friends who lived there.
I was in my studio one day in November, working on this painting and letting my mind wander back to those days, when the phone rang. It was Ola's daughter calling to tell me that Ola had passed away the day before at the age of 96. She had been battling dementia for several years, and had finally passed quietly from this world with her family by her side.
Ola and Albert were in a better place, and it was good to know that they were together again, as they had been in life for all of those 68 years. As a tribute to their years together, I added the carved heart to the maple tree in the painting.
A simple house portrait of a little white cottage can mean so much to the people who have a lifetime of memories tied up in that place. And for me, painting it was a way to honor two friends who were an important part of my life.