I don’t know what the odds are of a couple to actually have a marriage that really works. My wife, Pat, and I were married for 68 years before she died earlier this year from COVID-related issues. The last three or four years were more difficult because she was diagnosed with dementia and I was her primary caregiver.
I never considered her care a burden. It was really an opportunity to give a little back to her for all that she had done for me and our five children throughout the years. However, it was time-consuming. Placing her in a facility for care was never an option that I considered. We were able to talk to one another pretty much like we always did. From time to time she would forget the name of a friend that she had just spoken to and that was concerning but tolerable. My wife remained as the person that I wanted to talk things over with and to share things with. That never changed.
Art was a lifelong interest of mine. I have a degree in Fine Arts from the California College of Arts and Crafts and a Signature Membership status in the National Watercolor Society. Painting watercolors is a time-consuming activity that had to give way to my duties as a caregiver. I continued to sketch things but at a lesser pace.
There is a process to just about everything and so it is with painting. When I look at a view that I might paint, I look for the shapes and the contrasts of dark and light. They may be easier to see if you actually squint a bit. Forget the color, the detail or the textures that you might see. Just concentrate on the large shapes and contrasts. Sunlight on an object will give you a light side and a dark side. In other words, two shapes with contrast. You can see this everywhere and that is what forms the structure I look for when I start a painting.
The size of a painting is not important. Bigger does not make it better. My new plan is to paint small images, something I might be able to do while sitting in my car or on a bench. I have done small paintings before, of course, but not on site, or as we fancy water colorists like to say “plein aire.” At any rate, this is my plan as I get back into painting again. I feel a little nervous because it’s not easy. It’s like losing your muscle memory, but if you’re willing to stick with it, it will come back.
All of our kids have real artistic abilities, but our oldest has really turned into a top rate watercolor painter. She is a Signature Member of both the National and the American Watercolor Societies and has been featured in art magazines and books. Her work is shown at the Oh Be Joyful Gallery in Crested Butte, Colorado, where she and her husband live. She excels in a technique called Ink Resist. The technique is complicated and somewhat difficult but the work has an almost photographic quality that is enhanced by her stunning compositions and overall design quality. Needless to say, she has a proud papa.
My biggest fan was my wife, Pat. She always encouraged me to paint. Our home is a mini gallery of my work. We traveled all over the world and my work reflects the many places that we visited. One of the reasons that I want to start painting again is because I believe that is what she would want me to do.
A painting of the Portola Palace in Tibet is in the front room. In our kitchen/dining room are watercolors depicting scenes from Africa, Mexico, China and Peru. They are colorful reminders of our travels together.
Someone wrote that traveling abroad was a true test of a marriage. I don’t know if that is true but friends have shared travel stories with us that would lead one to believe that. Pat and I have traveled to Africa six times. One of the trips was an eight-week safari with six other people, a cook and a guide. We rode in an old German Army truck and slept in pup tents. At one point the truck broke down and was replaced by a Volkswagen bus. The last week consisted of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. In other words, a tiring trip for a couple of 60-plus-year olds.
The flight back took 38 hours of non-stop travel involving five different flights. We had to wait five or six hours at Heathrow Airport in London. Pat just curled up on a hard bench and went to sleep. I sat next to her, sore, tired and in awe that she could do that.
As I turn 94 this month, I’ll probably never travel again and I don’t need to. It wouldn’t be much fun without my wife, in any case. I have started painting again now and I realize it’s going to take some patience and some hard work. It’s no fun to struggle with things that used to be easy. That’s just all part of the process.
I was employed at Kaiser Permanente in a variety of administrative and managerial roles in both the Colorado and Southern California Regions. I graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland with a major in Fine Arts. I was able to retire early at the end of 1987. I have lived happily on the shores of the lake in Westlake Village since 1974.