Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer Pod

When I think of a pod I think of dried poppies, milkweed, or something related to Apple. Not this. A new definition arrived mid-July: a compact, transportable storage container delivered, in this case, alongside my sister's driveway. The pod sat alone and untouched until four siblings could mutually agree upon an "opening date," which happened to be a week following it's arrival.

That's where the real story begins. For me, it was an endlessly long week of imagining its contents, the selection process, and feelings amongst siblings once the pod was opened. I experienced a complex medley of emotions: apprehension, anticipation, and anxiety, while waiting for what would become a punctuation mark in my life - the day we'd open the pod to reveal 75+ years - a lifetime - of artwork, all done by our father.

Multiple emails were exchanged trying to negotiate a fair selection process, how long the meeting should last, exactly who should attend, and whether or not to bring food. Dreams, both real and imagined, flowed in and out of my consciousness all week long. Would the pod hold any of Dad's good work or would it birth castoffs - a podful of irrelevant stuff, cleared from his studio? I decided to bring watermelon.

The big day finally arrived. For once in our lives, everyone was on time including all four siblings, my mother, aunt, two small dogs, and the watermelon.

Underneath our surface of pleasantries there seemed to be tension. It occurred to me to hold a family prayer before we unlocked the pod door. Maybe it helped - the sun shone down on us as the dogs playfully romped and slurped from a bowl of cold water, broom straws were created in differing lengths and chosen randomly, camp chairs were set up in the shade, and a rippling of relief was felt as we commenced unloading our father's work.

I discovered my brother and I shared a similar taste for his cubist and abstract works. My two sisters opted for prettier, more peaceful watercolors and drawings. The first hour went smoothly, with each person obtaining something they liked and wanted. As time wore on and the more complex, even tormented art remained it became difficult. The sun beat down on the pod, making its steel casing hot to the touch. Inside, black drawings and moody works lay huddled against the pod walls, untouched. I sensed discomfort and confusion as we considered what to do with the remaining art.

Multi-faceted reflections of my father's life lay before us. All we knew of him: his university studies, teaching, travels to far corners of the world, photography, paintings, and writing reverberated inside and outside the pod. For reasons not understood by any of us, he had hoarded his creative works and kept them safely archived in his private studio. None of us ever had free access to it. I remember him giving me a watercolor when I married, but that's all. None of my siblings or our 85-year old mother had lived with the beauty of his art on their walls. The arrival of this body of work and its proper dissemination was truly a hallmark event. We celebrated his life as our eyes were opened to a fantastic range of work: organic pen and ink drawings, woodcuts, expansive oil paintings, watercolors, charcoal sketches, abstracts, mural-sized portraits, atomic-like washes.

After five hours of gleaning, we locked the pod door. Whatever confused or moved us to some indescribable, uncomfortable place remained inside the pod - to be dealt with later. Sleek, black portfolios of unframed charcoal drawings and organic squiggles were removed to my sister's basement. We decided to arrange another day and time to view them. After a relaxed supper of spaghetti and watermelon, the clan dispersed. Although unspoken, it was clear we were allowing ourselves the ambivalence of what to do next.

I went back a day later to look at what was left. Somehow, it didn't seem as dark or gloomy as before. An idea sprang to mind: perhaps a local gallery might be intrigued enough to purchase the remaining collection. I removed what might interest them and re-locked the pod door.

It was my older brother who rose to the occasion and offered to store Dad's remaining works. Truth is, those pieces are as much a collective expression of my father's subconscious and conscious mind and soul as the more accessible, visually pleasing ones. They were worthy of safekeeping, to further peruse and perhaps begin to understand the enormity of this man, our father, his life and work - distressing as they might be.

My living room is strewn with masses of framed art waiting for a home - a place to be viewed, understood, honored. I find myself going around and around, looking at them all. As soon as one is hung, another beckons. But, I will take my time. Each deserves consideration. I think I'll store them in the attic and retrieve them as my mind and heart can handle. The mixture of pain and pleasure I feel doing this is understandable - at least to me.

It saddens me that my father was incapable of letting go or giving his work away earlier - that, in fact, it took needing his studio for living space for him to part with it. I heard the struggle in his voice when I called to acknowledge his incredible contribution and thank him. He said shakily, "At least 15 of those pieces were shipped by mistake! The larger, mural-size oil paintings I wanted to sell!" Oh, the happiness I'd have felt to hear, "I'm glad you finally have this." Or "You're welcome."

I've learned how little I want to cling to things and how I value my relationships so much more. If my own children should want something of mine, I hope to part with things willingly, as a simple demonstration of love.

The company that manufactures, markets, and delivers these strange looking things called pods is picking ours up today. Goodbye, pod.


  1. Beautifully written account. It was a process of celebrating and mourning your father.

  2. That must have been an emotional experience - both exciting and difficult at the same time. As you beautifully described. I hope to see some of that art someday! Interesting that you posted about this as Kip and I were recently having a conversation about the inevitable division of my parents' things among the siblings. I think Kip thought I was niave to believe that it could be done peacfully. But like you - I hope that we can put a higher priority on our relationships than on the "things." We'll see I guess!

  3. I would love to see your father's art pieces. Your family possesses such magnificent talent and creativity. A precious inheritance.
    This was a lovely blog post.