A package came to the house the other day. It was from my nana and something I anticipated arriving for about a week. No, I didn’t get a new job, or a promotion, or a new apartment. (Yet.) I just have an awesome nana that occasionally mails care packages to her poor granddaughter the writer. But this time was different. This time, the package had priceless contents inside.
Nana had enclosed a book once owned by my aunt Carol – a feisty artist who I like to think I might take after somewhat – even just a little bit. She died suddenly my freshman year in college and I will never forget receiving the phone call from my mom and crying all the way home on the commuter train. I will never forget sitting across the kitchen table from my dad while he explained what happened to his little sister and noting that he looked like a statue talking – devoid of color or movement in his face.
Carol could do anything. And she seemed to do everything well – whether it was painting or sketching or arguing. I recall her taking my sister and me home with her on a spontaneous trip to Washington DC. It was a night flight and I still remember thinking the ground looked like a giant Christmas tree all lit up. I remember spilling a bowl of cherry pits in the backseat of her car, and trying to help water her garden but losing control of the hose and watching it whip back and forth on the sidewalk – spraying her and everything but the plants. I believe I was five at the time.
When I unearthed the book – Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person, by Hugh Prather – from the tissue paper I was eager to just hold it and flip the coffee stained pages because she had.
After she died I was given some of her jewelry, three of her paintings, as well as several pen and ink sketches. One year for my birthday she gave me a set of oil paints, brushes and canvases. While I never developed her passion or talent, I have never thrown away the eight pages of instructions she wrote detailing how to begin painting with oils. I like to think she was speaking metaphorically when she wrote “It’s easy to make mud.”
At this point in my life where I continue to struggle to discover the person I am and becoming, I find it comforting to read a book Carol consulted for inspiration. While I regret never being able to ask her about her favorite part, my only hint is a single blue star scribbled in a margin. Beside it reads, “to force myself into a single role, to decide to be just one thing in life, would kill large parts of me.” That was my favorite entry too.
I underlined it. And I know that years from now someone will skim these same pages and pause at my scrawl and wonder who scarred the page and what it was about the phrase, “I have been given another day. Another day to hear and read and smell and walk and love and glory. I am alive today. I think of those who aren’t,” that made me smile.