A Special Gift

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

Robert was a painter whose wife, Donna, was his agent. Donna contacted me when I was editing a regional outdoors magazine. Robert hoped my magazine would publish a painting that he would create to my specifications. Although Robert had never painted wildlife before, the February, 1978, issue of Fins and Feathers featured a bobcat painted by Robert.

I later asked Robert to paint the cover for my first book, Modern Pheasant Hunting, which was just about to be published. Because Robert didn’t know what pheasants looked like, I invited him and his family for dinner so I could give him a pheasant taxidermy mount to use as a model. That dinner happened in September of 1979. My wife and I were in our third year of living in a pink bungalow in Saint Paul. Our daughter, a chatty toddler, had just turned two.

Robert and Donna were then living in a dinky rental home in South Minneapolis. Although Donna was ferociously romantic about Christmas, their home didn’t offer enough room to put up a scrawny Christmas tree. Robert, a freelance painter, had a meager and erratic income. He and Donna had not felt secure enough to take on a home mortgage.

In some ways, our dinner was “typical,” typical for how we entertained in those days. We served wine—not a “good” wine, for that would have been beyond our means, but a frisky dry white from Napa. I cooked the pheasant casserole that had become one of my signature dishes when guests dined with us. My wife prepared a side dish of wild rice with mushrooms and sliced almonds sautéed in butter.

Because we dined on a crisp night in September, we set a fire in the big fireplace. The old bungalow glowed and filled with the fragrance of burning oak. Robert described his experiences as a combat artist in Vietnam. I probably talked too much about pheasants. Brandy and Brinka, our dogs at the time, wriggled in next to us when we sat on the soft carpets before the fire.

Our dinner happened on a Friday evening. On Monday morning, quite unexpectedly, Robert appeared at my office with an object wrapped in paper. He thrust it in my hands, mumbled something and disappeared.

The gift—for that is what it was—was a watercolor Robert had made of my taxidermy rooster. Robert had painted it in one long, passionate session over the weekend. The painting included squiggly lines on the lower right side where Robert had cleaned his brush when going from one color to another.

On the lower left side Robert had written a message, a note to our daughter. He described the magic meal we shared when she was very young. Robert said he and Donna would never forget that special evening.

 

I later learned more about that. Robert and Donna were bowled over by the feel of our shared evening. It all blended together—the wine, the talk, the food, the charm of a 75-year-old bungalow, the dancing fire. By the time Robert and Donna got home they had decided to buy a home.

We had dreams, or at least the adults present that evening did. The dreams did not fare well, although Robert and Donna did buy an old Victorian home in South Minneapolis. My wife was going to get her PhD and teach English, but she never did. Robert anticipated a satisfying career as an artist, although that never happened as he pictured it. While I was thrilled by my work as an editor, that dream died in a long, sorry struggle. Worse, both marriages eventually failed. I don’t know what became of Robert and Donna’s children. I don’t know what will happen to the little girl to whom the painting was dedicated, although a splendid outcome is still entirely possible for her.

That’s how it goes. I could dwell on the ways our dreams unraveled, but I don’t. I remember a lovely aromatic evening when everything seemed possible. This is easy to remember because Robert’s pheasant and its heartfelt message are on my wall, and I smile to see them every day.

Do you remember a special gift?

 

34 thoughts on “A Special Gift”

  1. A terrific, heartwarming story, Steve. This is a great illustration of why money doesn’t buy or equate to happiness.

    My wife and I received a small glass jar of polished rocks for our 35th anniversary from a man I’d only know for a few days–my caddie, Bob Janus, for four days at the golf heaven known as Bandon Dunes in SW Oregon. I was Bob’s first golf customer, but I would have told you he’d been a caddie for at least ten years. A true pro in every way–polite, friendly, fast, efficient, excelled at his job, and was a genuine human being, not just sucking up to me for a good tip.

    When I told him it was our anniversary and explained that my wife is the World’s Best Golf Widow (although she did walk the course with me on the first day), he thought that was nice but didn’t make much of a thing out of it. So on day four, after our last round, he presented me with the jar of polished rocks that he and his wife had collected on the beach near their home. SIde note–Bob was a professional surfer in his first career. DId that for many years, then decided he wanted to become a caddie but chose southern Oregon because he could caddie in the mornings and surf in the afternoons if the spirit (and water conditions) moved him. A most fascinating man and certainly one of the most thoughtful gifts we’ve ever received.

    Once again, money does not, cannot, will not buy happiness.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Wow, Steve, this story is worthy of publication somewhere (in addition to this blog).

    When the consulting group I worked for in the 90s ultimately decided to part ways (2000), I was given a home-made book by my co-worker BMc. In a blank journal of hand-made papers, she wrote just a few words in bright colored marker on each page, about some trait she appreciated or some connection we have, with simple illustrations. I get it out and read it on days when I’m doubting myself – t is a great gift for a person who is always trying to figure out who the heck she is.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, BiR! Your story is terrific. I might have mentioned in my story that the pheasant painting is on my wall here because you wrapped it up and boxed it for me when you were helping me sell my home and move. Others have helped, but I for sure remember your role in boxing art.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought I had nothing but you reminded me. When I left the church they gave me a scrapbook in which each family in the church, or most families, made a page for us. It is pure charm. One sweet old man, sweet and charming without any awareness of his gift, had the best page. He dipped his hand in blue paint and pressed it to the page and signed it underneath.
    When Sandy left Web Publishing one artist drew a caricature of her that was perfect. Attached to her were all the people in the sales department and the way they were attached showed her relationship to her, a few, only a few, with balloons to explain. The rest were obvious by the drawing. In her hand were two hundred dollar bills. (This was 1968). The problem was that it was drawn on thick board and was two feet tall. We had it for over twenty years but it got too beat up. They gave it to her at a restaurant as a surprise, which I pulled off by telling her it was just a date. Some fine restaurant east of 35W on one of the many county roads up there. Wonder if it is still there. bet not.
    Artists have a way of giving special gifts. I think it is more than there talent. It is an insight that many have as part of their talent. Except amateur artists want to give you their poor work and expect to see it hanging in your house. Sandy would hang it. I won’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great gift, NorthShorer. You are right to point out that artists are in a unique position when the occasion arises to offer a special gift. Maybe you did something like that sometime with your art or carved objects.

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      1. I am an amateur artist and do not want to be one of those who burden people with what they do not want or appreciate. And since few people show much interest in my carving or art, I am reluctant to give it. I carved Harry Potter wands for each of my grandkids and a wizards staff for Mr. Tuxedo, his design. I have given my children some carvings, ideas they suggested for the most part. I carved my daughter a butcher, bake, candlestick maker Santas, and colonial Santas for my son, among others I have given them. My son would want some of the art but he has no place to hang it and getting pastels safely to San Diego would be a challenge. My sister has a display of Santas, which attracts many comments. She has about twenty because she has ones I gave her plus the ones I had given our mother. I offered them, she did not just take them. My daughter has four of my pastels in her living room, at her request. She has two of my best paintings. My grandkids wanted me to paint pastels of favorite scenes form, a trip west. Grand daughter has Yellowstone Falls and Mr. Tuxedo has one of the pools at Yellowstone. That is all I have given away. I have sold a few Santas but no art. There is a women in St. Paul who collects my Santas and always wants to push my carvings into public attention.

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        1. When we couldn’t bring all my favorite framed art during our move, I took photos of what I had to leave behind. Maybe you can take photos of your pastels and send those to your son in California? Better than nothing…

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        2. i love your art and will be happy to pay for it when you are willing to part with it. your pastels are among my favorite pieces.
          i dont ask because artists are so attached to things i dont want to suck it out of them but if you are looking to find a home where it is loved
          i am here

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  4. OT: I wonder if any fellow Baboons reacted as I did at the headline this morning: “CIA report hints North Korea won’t denuclearize but might open a burger joint.” Is that for real? Or was it written for The Onion?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An antidote: a gift I received today was to sit on the morning for 45 minutes with gentle rain falling around me, only a few drops slipping through the deck above me, watching the cardinal, goldfinches, indigo bunting, sparrows, chickadees coming and going this morning.
      Blind and stumble fingered this morning.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. When I was in middle school, our church youth group went on regular visits to the local nursing home. I typically went to see a very elderly lady who never talked, but I talked to her and visited and asked her questions, even though she never responded. I learned one week that she had died. Soon after, I received in the mail several pages of black paper with a poem written by the woman’s son. It was written in white ink in very fancy script, and was a thank you to me for visiting with his mother. I never thought about that what I did was special, but he certainly thought so. My mother squirreled the paper away, and I think I may still have it somewhere.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hope I haven’t told this story before, Renee. In my junior year of college the school sent a bunch of us on a field trip to a state institution for the mentally ill. I can’t imagine what that was about, but I volunteered. Once I walked into the room with all the patients I panicked. It was a freak show. After about an hour, a young man (identified to me as a “spactic”) began urging me to come over. I was afraid of him because he was so out of control he couldn’t speak in a way I could comprehend. But he tried and tried, and I ended up spending nearly an hour with him while he tried to communicate. In the end I got two sentences from him that I could understand. He slumped in happy weariness. What he wanted to say was: “My mommy has a new daddy.” (I assume he meant new husband.) “My new daddy hates me.” That was it. He seemed relieved that someone else now knew.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Visiting people in mental hospitals or wards can be terrifying. I visited my mother several times in such locked wards, and, like you, Steve, it scared me every time.

        Similarly, now when we visit our friend, Ken, in the “memory care” unit, it isn’t so much scary as it is disconcerting. Unpredictable behavior is unsettling. Even though we typically interact with any number of patients because we bring Bernie along for the visit, we really can’t tell how much of what we’re being told is factual information. Of course, it doesn’t really matter, but you may be carrying on a conversation that is not reality based at all. We always leave feeling a little discombobulated. I imagine that those baboons who have parents in memory care units can relate.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The hospital I visited was filled with people whom I did not know. That was an unsettling experience. It might be harder to visit such a place if it holds someone close to you.

          My visit was to a large state-run institution in 1963. By the late 1960s states in this region were busting up those large institutions (for one thing, they made for horrible television news clips). We were told that the modern approach to mentally disturbed people featured smaller clinics with more personal care. I remember being skeptical. The states had a financial motive to demolish those large “looney bins” they had built. I didn’t trust them to properly fund these new, small clinics they promised to build. Now I honestly don’t know what programs and institutions exist to care for people who can’t take care of themselves. My guess is that I’d be shocked if I knew how our society now cares for these folks.

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        2. A lot of them are living under bridges, and a lot of them are in jail. This country is not doing a very good job of treating people with mental illness – and really hasn’t since Reagan was in the White House.

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        3. You’re right, Steve – I’ve read in multiple places how that promised funding for most of those new smaller settings didn’t get properly renewed.

          Kudos to you for staying with that troubled person until he was able to be understood.

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      2. At a nursing home helping with church service. I was not taking part in service, just sitting with patients. An old woman leaning to the right towards me. Clearly had a stroke. Then her arm fell off the tray on her wheel chair. I put it back on the tray. She waited, watching me, not the service. Then her arm fell off again. A bit later I caught her pushing the arm off with her body. So I put it back and said I would hold it there for her. She forced as much of a smile as she could. I held her hand for the rest f the service. She smiled when I got her back to her room. I almost wanted to tease that I knew what she had done. The gift was more mine than hers.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. My first year out of college I taught second grade in Port Angeles WA. For fun I took a painting class at the local jr. college. The instructor was John Pogany, the son of Willy Pogany (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willy_Pogany). When I quit teaching to go to Europe, he gave me (was it a first edition?) of the Kasidah by Sir Richard Burton which his father had illustrated. It was signed to him by his father. I “treasured” it so much I decided to take it to Europe with me (what was I thinking?) and ended up leaving it in a telephone booth in downtown Mpls the night before my plane left. When I went back a few minutes later to get it, it was gone. (The first lesson…don’t give me anything valuable…learned many times since.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Cynthia, don’t know that liking this post is the appropriate response, but oh my, what a loss. Looking on the bright side, it does teach you not to get too attached to physical things, but I sure as hell would hate to lose a treasure like that.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. My hope has always been that it ended up in an appreciative home and not the garbage…I sometimes go looking online to see if it might be for sale…found some today, signed, but not to John. I’ll keep looking.

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  7. i had my vw blow up in vancouver after i had traveled to the canadian rockies as a young hippy. i went to the vw shop in bellingham washington and had them fix it with the littel money i had. they rebuild 1/2 of it and i drove to l.a where the other half blew up. the people in la told me the shop in washington screwed up and should have charged me the extra 100 to rebuild both halves at once. they bacame my friends and upon leaving ( i spent too much time int he customer lounge while they whipped through the process and got me rebuilt in one day for cheap. on the way out the the guy who was my lead buddy at the shop told me that in buddhist if you carry a gift form someone meant to be a good wish for safe travels that it would protect you and make your travels safe and fruitful.
    i never heard that before or since but i have remembered it and thought the sentiment was exactly what i needed at the momnet.
    he gave me a box of matched from van nuys vw. one with 50 books and the name address and phone number of the vw shop on it. didnt cost him a dime but was one of the nicest presents i ever got.

    my cousin the artist sees my loving his art collection and surprises me by giving me a special piece twice in my life so far. a cool sculpture mad to be placed in the corner of a room ( the artist thought corners needed addressing instead of being left out) the other was a nude study he had done i was fascinated by. i must have really looked longingly because it was a total surprise and he said ” if you could have seen how you looked at that painting you’d understand that i had to give it to you”
    nice gift.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I have all kinds of gifts that I treasure. One is a photo album that my niece gave me. She took pictures of my cats when she was visiting on day. She got some really nice shots of three of the cats. I had four at the time. (One was too shy to comply.) She put the photos together in a nice album with some scrapbooking touches added.There are some especially nice shots of Sammy. He’s very handsome and likes to have his picture taken.

    I also have a quilt that my mother pieced and my sister added embroidery to. A one-of-a-kind treasure.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. did you change your deal? do you sleep when it gets late now? you still get up early but now you sleep when its late?
      thats progress!
      maybe mr sandman will bring you a special gift tonight

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