Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Regrets, I have a few.....

            Teachers rarely just get to teach. On top of all the basic requirements, I have a duty post during my planning period. It doesn’t sound that bad but mine is to monitor the cafeteria line in the lunchroom. I hate it.

            The upside is that I enjoy my walk in front of the building every day. Ever since my first year, I have always commented to myself how lucky I am to have a campus with palm trees and live oaks everywhere. I find them beautiful and they always make me feel like I am home.  The azaleas have started blooming and that always gets me psyched for spring. Out of the entire flora down here, I think azaleas are my favorite.

            Whenever I see the azaleas start to bloom, I have the same memory. I was in 9th grade and we came down to Savannah for the weekend in the family station wagon. In my high school days, I wanted to be an artist so I spent most of my free time drawing or painting. About this time I had gotten into watercolors and was even taking lessons from one of the Big Guy’s colleagues, Vee Brown. I loved every Tuesday afternoon with Vee. He wasn’t just a good artist and great teacher but he also enjoyed people. He had no problems listening to ramblings of a 14 year old Robby. Often we’d discuss science fiction/fantasy movies and Vee would always make these amazing sound effects to accentuate the conversation.

            Once the Big Guy told me a story about how Dr. Hale once stopped Vee and asked him to make the sound of a DC-10. Vee didn’t miss a beat and replied,” Landing or taking off?” Then did both.

            Vee was working with me on landscapes and I just wasn’t getting it. My primary focus had always been acrylics but now we were on watercolors and that is a whole different game. I couldn’t get the hang of it. Vee suggested I paint something that had meaning to me.

            I had decided I’d work on the landscape during the Savannah trip to Grandma and Pop. My subject would be my grandfather’s azaleas. I always loved how bright they were and the driveway would almost be a flowery tunnel of pinks, whites, red and oranges as we’d drive up to the house.  

            Later on during Saturday, I had done all my grandparent chores like washing the LTD, helping Pop out in getting the garden going, and mowing. I finally had some time for myself so I sat down to paint. It did not go well.

            Watercolor is working with layers and I just couldn’t get my eye to match up with the process. What I completed was a dripping, pink and white mess. I was getting ready to ball the damn thing up when I heard my Pop whistle behind me.

            “Buddy, (he always called my buddy) you’ve got some eye there.” He said with a proud grin.

            I was shaking my head in disbelief, “Pop, it looks like crap and you know it.”

My grandfather shook his head and made a hissing sound. Pop was a master of many sounds to show disagreement. The hissing sound would usually indicate a strong dislike of the most recent comment said.

“You are just not looking at right. You take that picture up to New York City and get one of the crazies pay you top dollar for that.” Pop paused and continued, “It’s just all about how you look at it. You see crap, son. I see art. I can’t do that. “

My Pop was like that. He could see the beauty in life that people miss. He always joked about how he could never draw a straight line or be an artist but in his own way, he was our own Michelangelo. The reason we had these amazing azaleas was from all the time Pop spent working in the yard. Even though he had a 3rd grade education, he’d taught himself about gardening, cross breeding, and even created some different types of plants just by experimenting.
At the end of every trip, Pop would arrange and cut several pieces of azaleas along with his prize winning camellias in a box lid lined with wet Spanish Moss. He’d wink and tell me that’s the secret to keep ‘em alive for the 7 hr. trip home.

Those azaleas were a canvas for Pop to paint on and he created some of the most beautiful masterpieces I’ve ever seen. I’d have about another five years to watch the master work. I foolishly spent that time not learning from him but going to the Mall and enjoying the perks that Savannah brought a stupid kid isolated in the mountains.

People always ask about my sister and me and I am always quick to say Mary is the smart one of the two while I am the PR guy. I’ve know this since she was a middle schooler and it goes all back to this. Mary had written a poem for class and picked Pop and his azaleas as the subject. To show transformation, Mary wrote about how beautiful and bright the flowers were when Pop was younger and healthier. As he grew older, his azaleas also showed the signs of aging. They were bright but not  as bright. They began to grow out of shape and a bit wild until they finally they were not in their prime  just like Pop.

We are probably about a a week or so before the azaleas are in full bloom. It makes me feel good to see them arrive because I know spring is around the corner and soon everywhere is going to be lit up in a vibrant floral explosions. I'm not only ready for spring but also the memories I get experience about my Pop. If I can corner Roni and Jude long enough, I'll might tell them about my grandfather and how he'd paint with flowers instead of paint.
  Part of me wants to also use this as a tale of warning and to be sure to pay attention to all these little details that families pass down. After a few minutes of thinking about how I'd share it, I just shake my head and move on. Artists are rarely appreciated in their own time.  

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