"Do we bring Grandpa and the cats to your house so you can draw them?"
"Is 5 am an okay time to call you?"
"Are you going to sit in our front yard and draw our house? Or... what?"
I draw from photographs. I drew from life in college during the one drawing class that I took as a part of my useless advertising degree. Naked people came into the room and we had to draw them. There was a lot of excess girth and hair. So live drawing is out for me.
Just in case you were planning for me to come over to your house to draw you, let's establish that I like to think of myself as the pencil portrait store... you're supposed to come to me. If you want to buy some deli ham, you don't tell the deli lady to come to your house. Speaking of deli ladies, the last time I bought ham at Jewel (the Signature ham off the bone is cheap and delicious and my damn kids eat it like potato chips), one of the Jewel deli ladies was smiling beatifically, like the 40 Year Old Virgin poster of Steve Carrell.
Intrigued by her joy at slicing my ham, I said to the deli lady, "Wow, you sure look happy!!!"
The deli lady looked half busted and half triumphant. She glanced nervously at her coworkers who were enthusiastically NOT making eye contact with her. "I'm just going to say it!" she blurted... "It's Jesus!!!"
Deli lady went on to talk extensively about Jesus and her relationship with God while her coworkers continued to look as pointedly away from her as possible. She was holding my ham hostage. While having a chat about Jesus with the deli lady wasn't what I had planned for the day, it made for a memorable Jewel trip. I was intrigued by the nervous behavior and her defiant preface, "I'm just going to say it..." Clearly maybe she'd said "it" quite a bit and maybe it had been suggested by her boss and/or coworkers to save the Jesus talk for another time.
Like most trips to the deli, drawing portraits doesn't usually involve Jesus discussions. But sometimes it does. Lots of people I meet take the time to tell me how blessed I am, how God has given me a precious gift. Most are very kind. Some stare me aggressively in the eye while they tell me I'm blessed, measuring the churchiness of my reaction. I agree that I am blessed in many, many ways. And yet, my particular upbringing and religious experiences haven't made me super comfortable with sudden, unexpected chats about the Lord. You might feel yourself becoming eager to discuss God with me right now. That would make me feel like you're holding my ham hostage. Everyone is different and I'm not big into God chats.
I had my longest, most involved religious discussion with a very special client, who also demanded a pencil portrait store house call.
I met Gilbert Stoddard at my very first craft show in 2005 with one of her many daughters. Not only did she automatically assume that I was going to her house for our portrait transaction, she tried her hardest to save my poor, confused soul.
For a woman well into her 80’s, Gilly is a true lady - accessorized, curled and sparkling every time you see her. She stays extremely busy with her big family, church and friends, which was why I think we didn't get together until nearly a year after we met. For some reason, I kept following up with her. I'm not always all that conscientious in following up with my prospective clients. Perhaps I sensed that she’d be important to me.
Gilly is good through and through. She welcomed me into her house with open arms, eagerly showing me photographs of her four daughters and ten grandchildren. The same daughter still attends my shows and I heard there are three great-grandchildren now as well, and counting. On a wall behind Gilly's dining room table, there were ten columns of 5x7 photographs of each grandchild from babyhood through high school or college graduations. Beautiful photos of weddings and family gatherings were everywhere.
The occasion for one of my pencil portraits was their 59th wedding anniversary. Gilly wanted to celebrate her husband's Naval career with images of him throughout his service. Since it was for their anniversary and they so clearly had a beautiful life together, I suggested that we include both of them in the portrait. She liked that idea and guided me into her bedroom where she pulled a big photo board out from under her bed. It was covered with pictures that one of her daughters had put together for their 50th anniversary.
The photos were gorgeous. I thought Gilly and her husband looked like movie stars when they met in the 1940’s. He was a young sailor and she was a dancer. Gilly said that all her friends thought that Mr. Stoddard was a looker. After she saw him for the very first time, she turned to her friends and said, "That's the man I'm going to marry." They've been married over 65 years now. She told me about how wonderful her marriage had been and all the special times her family had together. She hit the jackpot.
“Families that pray together and play together, stay together,” Gilly announced.
I told her that I was so happy for her, that she was really lucky. I was having a terrible time coping with some relationship problems with family.
“Do you have a relationship with God?” Gilly asked.
If you haven't smelled the swiss cheese by now, I am
when it comes to
religion. Plus I love swiss cheese and Triscuits with my wine if I'm out of Cheez-its. I respect faith in general. I envy those who have their spiritual life figured out. Amen to you. Meanwhile, I am very busy over-analyzing, questioning,
doubting and obsessing over whether anyone is mad at me. I have yet to have that transcending religious
experience that compels me to quote some scripture at the DMV. But for those who do, I get that it is no joke. Switzerland
Back to sweet, lovely Gilly. She is a true believer, and spent her youth as a traveling evangelist. She feels she was blessed with the name Gilbert because she was invited to speak by churches who assumed she was a man at a time when only men were welcome to speak at the pulpit. She told me stories about how she helped non believers become evangelists themselves. She’s the real deal and packs a serious religious love punch.
Gilly made an impact on my business and in my life in such unexpected ways. The portrait of Gilly and her husband over sixty years of marriage has touched more people than any of my other portraits combined. I've drawn dozens of "then and now" anniversary portraits, thanks to her. People at my shows sigh with appreciation when they see the caption, "Sixty Years Together". We all wish for that, for our parents, for ourselves. All that precious time in one image.
During a portrait meeting (there were quite a few), Gilly remarked, smiling, “Our God is a wonderful God, don’t you think?” All the light in the world shined bright in her eyes, but she also had that deli look… the questioning look. I felt a tug of uncertainty. Was I missing something that these kinds of questions always make me so uncomfortable, even with a dear lady like Gilly? She stood up, walked behind the couch where I was sitting and put her hands on my shoulders. She said, “Jesus, please help this dear girl cope with her worries. Help her sleep at night and take her fears away. Help her know your love.” Call it my achilles heel for true kindness, call it a true religious experience... I wept like a baby under her gentle hands. It moves me still to think about it. You know I'm a crybaby, but this was different.
Despite her efforts (she gave me a bible for dummies and then quizzed me about it), I can’t help but feel that Gilly's is just one interpretation of something huge and unknown to us, at least to me. It is something different to people all over the world. Each belief is as precious and true to the believer as the next. Whether you go to a place of worship regularly or make the world a better place in your own way, you are alright with me as long as you aren't a meanie. Gilly understands and prays for me.