We found out that George passed away over the weekend. He was 89. Who is George? George is a sweet old guy that used to work part time for my husband at the golf course. He would come over to the course, grab a cart and go after the geese. He had a gun, not a real gun, but a gun that made a loud swirling noise that scared the flocks away. Usually to the next hole and always back days later. He was a retired army soldier and the youngest of 8 children. I met him about 12 years ago when he was beginning to write his memoires of his childhood and service to the country. 'A Country Boy Gone Soldiering'. The first project I did for him was a house drawing of his home from West Virginia. I don't do houses, but for George I would draw the house he was born in.
I am always reminded by God that the gift He gave me is for others, I'm able to share with people through the paintings memories frozen in time. He spoke fondly of his parents and siblings, he loved his family. I knew I had given him a gift of fond memories, even though I griped through the project.
Whenever he saw me after that he would smile and kiss me. He thought I was 'great'. He would tell Chip that with me standing there like a charming old grandpa. Every baby we had he would mention TV as a hobby as many people do, and we would smile because explaining John Paul's theology of the body is usually not an appropriate response.
Then we had number 8. He showed up at the golf course one day with a horrible disposable picture of himself wanting a portrait for a library dedication at a local community college. He proceeded to leave for Florida and said he would be back in March when he needed the portrait. He didn't ask, he assumed and left. I had a new baby and had just started classes at Lasalle University for ILEM, our diocesan lay ecclesial ministry program. I was overwhelmed and had no time. I griped yet again. Ungrateful for the opportunity, knowing I could only charge him a small fee. I left the cruddy photo and ignored it. Chip would say to me from time to time, you know he's coming home you need to start it. I would react and complain and do nothing. March arrived, George came home and asked for the painting. Uggh, I had to put aside house work, school work and cram a 6 month project into one. I asked Chip to take my camera and have George come over so he could get a better shot for clarity and coloring. They came out awful. So the next week I packed up the babies and went to the golf course. George came after teaching a class in gentleman's attire still handsome through all the wrinkles. I took 6 photos the last was 'it'. One of those one in a million shots, beautiful coloring and clarity...just perfect. I painted the portrait in record time without a choice. The house fell apart and I fell behind in school work. the painting came out well, what he was hoping for. Chip delivered it framed and he was pleased. I was relieved, one more thing to check off the list.
The invitation for the dedication came two months later. Begrudgingly we went, I don't like being the center of attention..believe it or not. It meant leaving the big kids in charge for the morning, potential chaos. We sat in the back of the library, it was a much bigger deal that either of us realized. He was way more important than we realized. I felt a little guilt at not being more gracious. I fell into the patronizing attitude of the 'sweet old guy' instead of the honor and respect he deserved from me. He called me up, made me leave the baby with Chip asking him if 'he could handle it'. He wanted me to sit right up next to him so I could help unveil the painting. He told the emcee that he had to introduce me twice like an excited child. After the painting was unveiled he told the entire audience how much he liked me, how I was the mother of 8 to a gasping audience. He said tongue in cheek 'I think she's great...and some of us think she needs another hobby that's why I asked her to paint the picture'. That was the connection, I was the mother of 8.
8 is the number the Chinese say reaches up to heaven and back down to earth. I reminded him of his mother, his beloved family. Forget the painting, all of that doesn't matter. Chip called me this morning, 3 weeks after the dedication to tell me he had passed away over the weekend. Ill miss his charming face, but his passing reminded me of a consolation God gave me to share with my own children when my grandmother died. He was the youngest in his family as she was. Imagine the joy at the birth of the baby in a family. The joy that child brings to all the siblings and the parents. The baby is special. Imagine again that the whole original family is already with Christ in Heaven, how they wait with the same anticipation that they did for that baby to be born for that child to join them. Imagine the great celebration as that child joins them in Heaven.
The little things do matter, but they can overtake us and turn us into 'Martha's'. Mary chose the better part, our hearts our motives and the gift of self. That's what makes us special as mothers. The love we give our children and family lasts through eternity. Our vocation comes first only after our intimacy with God. Prayerfulness is key to our heart and how we approach the small things. Had I prayed more perhaps I would have seen the gift at the time. Hindsight hopefully doesnt leave us with should haves or would haves, but gratefulness in sharing our gifts with others. George was a great guy, a charming man but he was someones baby.
It leaves me thinking about Ellie, she has a journey ahead that will leave her perhaps like George. Alone here on earth waiting to join the rest of us. I pray that God works through me to teach and guide these children so that we are all together one day for eternity. Alone I am incapable, with him there is promise and hope.