Paintings…Like Old Friends

     In my little library hangs a portrait from about the year 1840 of a man and his child. That child is the man’s son, which surprises many viewers, who are thrown off track by the fact that the little boy is wearing what appears to be a dress. This, however, was the custom through the 18th Century and 19th Century, so that boys wore such clothing until approaching puberty. I suppose male clothing was a symbol of reaching a certain stage of maturity. In any event, I’ve had the picture about forty years, and it has become a familiar part of my home.

     The subjects in the portrait were painted in almost a primitive style, even though the painting suggests that the father is a man of means. The swirl of drapery, the expensive sofa, the quality of clothing all suggest that he was perhaps a landowner, banker, or municipal figure of some high station. The gaze of the subjects is unchanging and, in some strange way for me, comforting in the sense that they have been there for almost as long as I can remember. They were there the night my father died, and again when my brother, sister, and mother died, all at different times over the span of twenty-five years. Each time the subjects in that picture looked out at me as though they understood grief and were sympathetic to the terrible feeling of loss. They were there on birthdays, Christmas mornings,on my returns home from travel, always telling me that life was good and that there was something enduring.

     There is another painting, an oil done in London, also in 1840 (artist unknown), of an elderly woman wearing a soft wool shawl. The wisdom and kindness in her face have been a comforting presence also over more years of my life than I care to count. In times of celebration and also mourning, she has looked out at me with a gaze of understanding and compassion that has probably not really changed in the human face for thousands of years. My partner Jim calls her and other old portraits that hang in the library and staircase “the gallery of dead people,” but my affection for those pictures is unwavering.

     There is over my desk a photograph taken by Jim at the Art Institute of Chicago in May of 2007, when we both spent the day looking at wonderful collections throughout the museum. Though neither of us can remember the artist or the actual title of this picture, we call her Minnie, and she continues to energize the hallway, making guests to our home smile at her outrageous level of joy. Everyone who looks at Minnie lights up at the surprise and power of her “joie de vivre.”

     Both paintings and the photograph are reminders to me that we are all connected as a human family, all of us through however long we as a species have been in this world.  JB

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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