Last week I read a heartwarming post at Writing Near the Lake (A Treasure That I Have Lost) that reminded me of a project my son, at the age of twelve, and I did for his grandfather. Vicki in her post shared an experience of making a quilt with her son for his grandfather. Her son was twelve at the time and picked out a fabric with airplanes since his grandfather owned a small private plane.
When my parents moved to the southwest in the early 70s, Dad immediately became enthralled with the Roadrunner. The only one he had ever seen was on Bugs Bunny and he laughed his head off at every cartoon. ‘Bobby’ as everyone called him, was always on the watch for a roadrunner and each time one was spotted he would shout, “Look, a roadrunner!” Often if conducive, he would stop the car to pull over, or if on a walk, follow as closely as the gangly smart bird would allow. Mom bought a beautiful set of coffee cups with a roadrunner on each and of course, one was Dad’s favorite coffee mug. He saw many over the next thirty-plus years. And his voice still rose several decibels at each sighting.
My son and I came up with the idea to paint a picture of this renowned bird as a gift. I laid out watercolors, heavy-duty paper, various brushes, and set to work sketching the bird. My son watched as this serious speedy bird in the taxonomic genus Geococcyx and a member of the cuckoo family took shape. Dad thought this family relationship to be hilarious (no doubt reminders of his own) and that is how he always referred to one as a ‘cuckoo’. My son drew out the landscape and we both added cacti. I showed him how to mix certain colors and the painting began.
We took turns painting together and found that in the quiet secret space of our work, stories of my dad surfaced. It was in those afternoons that I began to tell stories when I was small, Dad laughing because I wanted my own ‘hammo’ instead of a hammer, close calls of losing the ‘big one’ on fishing trips, squirting milk from a cow into kittens’ mouths as they sat on their haunches, and many things which made my dad chuckle. Things my son could not see unless through some ones vivid memory. I shared stories of before I was born, stories I was told. We also made lists of words about the roadrunner, its temperament, and remarks Dad said about it when he noticed one and wanted to work those into a poem that rhymed.
By the time the last feather was painted and the last blossom on an ocotillo was brilliant orange, we had worked up the poem and painted it with the help of a ruler to keep the lines straight across the paper. Dad wanted that painting on a wall at all times and so it hung. Wherever they moved, the roadrunner found a spot to be noticed per Dad. When he passed at ninety, it was in his bedroom and remained until Mom passed two years later. At that time, I removed it from the bulky frame and brought the painting back to Arizona. I carefully slipped it into my portfolio until I read the blog from last week and pulled it out yesterday.
I smelled the wet watercolors, heard the chuckles, the stirring of water with a paintbrush, stories that were heard for the first time shared with my son. That silly bird made my dad laugh every time.
“Beep-beep Bobby, beep-beep.”