Recently I spent a day visiting the family cemeteries with my brother and his wife. It’s traditional to plant fresh flowers, wipe off the headstones, pull weeds and just spruce the plots up a bit before Memorial Day. I used to go with my mother.
As well as driving around the places where I spent my childhood, I like spending time with Joe and Anna. We tell stories to each other about the people under the headstones. There’s a lot of laughter mixed with the yarns and there’s something therapeutic about digging in the dirt. Anna always says goodbye to everyone before we head for the next stop.
I try to imagine what it would be like to be buried in one or another of the cemeteries–Fennville, South Haven or Covert. I think I’d like Covert best. It has lots of old trees, and the road that passes by there is quieter than the others. Also, Mom’s family were not given to as much drama as Dad’s and I think it would be more peaceful to spend eternity among low key folk.
In honor of Memorial Day weekend I decided to paint a picture of my father in uniform and this was the one that I chose. On the back of the original polaroid it says “This family lives in Room # 204,” and then lists the names of the men he’s standing with: Edwin Manson, Dan Mannen, Roy Mann, with my dad on the far right. This was a picture he sent home to his parents and I imagine he was trying to inject a little humor into what was otherwise an anxious time. From the letter, he was in air force training school in Miami and so these must have been some of his classmates as well as the guys closest to him alphabetically. The year is 1943, so he would have been in his twenties.
Though the original was black and white, the photo is sepia-colored now, and my memories of my father are taking on those faded overtones, too. As with any portrait, I have to decide which shapes to define, where the highlights will go, and what will stay buried in shadow.
I have always loved imagining my dad flying through the air, arms outstretched, chasing crows across the landscape. He died over twenty years ago, but I still think about him a lot. I wish that the end of his life had been easier. He had Alzheimer’s and the last seven years were spent in nursing homes. I remember laying my head on his knee once while visiting him and feeling his hand on my head, comforting me. He lost almost all of his memories but kept his ability to let me know that everything would be all right. I’m grateful for that.
Sign up for my Marie Marfia Fine Art newsletter! You’ll get regular updates about my latest work in the studio plus insights into my process. Plus, get a free downloadable print just for signing up!