Treasures Worth Saving

I looked out the window and pondered my own answer to the question I’d asked.

March 29, 2022 | | Headwaters Nest

I was recently on a road trip with some of my best girlfriends, in a big pearlized-red rented van we named Cherry. It had been a while, but Covid restrictions had lifted enough that we could get out and have some fun. We were cruising down the highway and playing “get to know you” via text messages with a fellow one of our group was considering dating.

“Okay, girls, what do we want to know about him?” she asked, prompting us for some good questions to pepper him with. He was good-natured about it and said he was ready to respond as best he could.

We leaned in and discussed our questions. Mine was a classic, a good one to warm him up, I thought. “If your house was on fire, what treasured possessions would you grab as you ran out the door?”

The little texting caterpillar crawled away for a long time as he composed an answer to send to our friend’s small screen. We waited. Bing! – his answer came in. He would take his photo albums. They contained photos of his kids, photos from high school, good times over the years with his best pals. He sent a photo of himself: a lovely pic showing his full head of hair and sweet, slightly shy smile. He shared some of his other favourites, describing them in a way that revealed he was also an excellent writer. We nodded in appreciation. Our friend’s pretty nails flicked and scrolled as she texted back and forth with him.

I looked out the window and pondered my own answer to the question I’d asked.

I had a vision of my arms overflowing with treasures as I ran from the imaginary house that was on imaginary fire. I thought, I’ll sweep the jewelry displayed on my dresser into a bag (note to self: place a bag nearby). If I wasn’t able to grab the silver bracelets my aunt had given me in time, I wondered, would they melt into a messy mass? What about the ring my mom had given me when it no longer fit her? I’d stopped wearing it during the pandemic for fear it would come off during all that slippery handwashing and sanitizing.

At first, jewelry seemed like the logical thing to save, but would it really be what I wanted most if I had just my two arms to carry goods from the impending disaster?

I closed my eyes and mentally surveyed my house. I could see very clearly two small paintings, signed simply, “Carol.” As they came into focus, I imagined flames licking the edges of their brittle black frames – and my heart hurt.

Carol is my mom, and these are her paintings. I inherited them when her mom, my Nan, died and my Papa moved to long-term care. She’d painted them in high school – still lifes of pretty, fresh veggies. Simple black lines confidently drawn in India ink, then washed with watercolour. They’re vibrant but simple enough to suit a kitchen wall and they have since blended into a number of my spaces. Nan’s kitchen is where I first saw them – up high, a display of her eldest daughter’s casually perfect studies. My mom had probably brought them home to show her mom and dad, who were immensely proud of her skills, I’m sure. She was a talented artist.

Around the time my son, Adrian, was five years old, my mom and I decided to take watercolour classes to pass some winter days and nights together. I’m so glad we did. Sure enough, while the rest of us struggled to apply our background washes without muddying the paper, Mom’s mastery flowed across multiple pages. Splashes of colour, with tiny expressions of joy at the edges, tints of complementary or contrasting shades that added interest and depth. Our classmates looked on, knowing their paintings were flat by comparison. She expressed herself with strong and confident lines, pretty scenes, challenging colour balances.

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  • As I mused, Cherry drove on. The girls kept chattering, but my eyes stayed shut. I thought about other pieces of art I cherished – one that Adrian had done as a toddler, stamping little circles over and over in an abstract pattern. It hangs by my bed and looks oh-so-modern, but it is also a bittersweet reminder of a time when parts of our family life fell apart for a while.

    And there’s one of mine, a university assignment to create a “tiny perfect painting.” It’s of a tea set, classic blue and white. I gave it to Mom after spending weeks making tiny brush strokes, standing back and going in close for detail. She framed it in curlicue gold leaf, like a small treasure. I felt proud she had hung it up, and now it’s boomeranged back to me and hangs on my wall.

    Still, I realized it’s the two paintings of my mom’s I would save first from the flames. They are the ones filled with cherished memories – memories of my Nan’s kitchen, memories of a time when Mom’s lines were confident and cool and captured her world perfectly. I miss watching her draw and paint. I miss those lines. Life has changed for her. Now the lines she draws are blurrier, and there are days she struggles to express herself with confidence.

    More Info

    Unearthing local history

    The Unearth Uncover Historical Plaque Project began as an act of protest. In the summer and fall of 2021, signs appeared in Toronto and Peel, commemorating significant people, places and events in Black Canadian history. The signs looked a lot like the ones you’ve seen installed in hamlets and towns by the Ontario Heritage Trust, but these signs are not filled with the usual white-based history. How did these signs, topped by a strong, raised Black-power fist, come to be? A passionate group of teachers and students has been bringing light to these local but lesser-known histories that aren’t taught in schools. Visit the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives virtual tour, or grab the addresses and take a daytrip and tour them one by one this spring.

    Story time

    Cuddle up for story time in Caledon – you can do it in person again! The gorgeous Southfields library opened during the pandemic, and this is your chance to get out of the house and check out the light-filled space and kid-friendly nooks and crannies. It’s worth the trip to the south end of our hills for a look around. (P.S., the lovely Butter & Cup café and bakery is very close by and their pastries are divine!) The library is located at 225 Dougall Avenue, off Kennedy Road. Visit the website for current events and to register for story time.

    Calling all gardeners!

    Ready to dig in with your kids this summer? Consider this: the town of Shelburne started a community garden in 2020 for residents to grow veggies, herbs, fruits and flowers in a safe, accessible, community space. Rent an individual garden bed – starting at just $15 for the season! The garden is located in Fiddle Park and offers inground and raised beds. You can register and find out more at the town’s website or visit town hall in person at 203 Main Street East in Shelburne.

    Your voice matters

    Whether you’re new to Dufferin County or a longtime resident, if you have the time and enthusiasm to help shape the future of your community, there’s a handy way for you to do that. Join In Dufferin is an online portal that describes numerous projects across the county that could influence you and your family for generations to come. How do you want the trail system to function in the future? What about the forest cover? As a new resident or commuter, are you concerned about transit planning? Find out what’s happening through this friendly portal and take the opportunity to express your opinion while you’re there.

    About the Author More by Bethany Lee

    Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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