Tag Archives: father

Marie Marfia, This Family, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12x12"

Old Bones

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.

Marie Marfia, This Family WIP, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12x12".
This Family, WIP.
This Family, detail.
This Family, detail.
Marie Marfia, This Family, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12x12"
This Family, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12×12″

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.

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Wave Portrait No. 140 – Nursing Home Visit

These latest Wave Portrait paintings are becoming more about myself than they are about the ocean or Lake Michigan. This is fine with me. They’re therapeutic. It occurs to me that I could’ve picked anything to draw to represent memories. It might have been a leaf or a tree or a teapot. Anything would’ve worked. It’s not important what the image is of, it’s more about what it represents, if that makes sense. Bear with me, I’m figuring this out as I go here.

What I’ve been doing is getting into the studio right after my first cup of coffee and just following my hand’s lead. I put a line down, or maybe several, and then I pick out a color and start to work with it. While I’m painting, I keep track of what I’m thinking. It might be a dream I had the night before, or a childhood memory or, in this case, my visits to the different nursing homes where my dad spent his last days.

A pastel painting of a wave in the colors of a nursing home visit to my father. 5×7″ pastel on UArt 400 sanded paper with NuPastels.

After I am done painting, I sit down with another cup of coffee and write about it. Here’s an excerpt from today’s painting journal:

“This painting uses colors that I remember from the nursing home; the dark green of the tall pines that enclosed the property; the brown crap that had to be cleaned from my father’s butt; the pink of the walls; the bright yellow of old pee smell that permeated everything; the lilac beet stains that polka-dotted the floor in the dining room. My father didn’t like beets and would fling them everywhere, sling-shotting them one by one from his fork and laughing.”

Here’s the progression of today’s painting:

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