In the ’70s, my parents had a vacation home in Calistoga decorated in bright orange fabrics, overflowing plates of gourds and Norman Rockwell reproductions for the family and business associates to enjoy.
Then, when they were no longer married, the vacation home became my dad’s home-home. Sure, the bright orange curtains faded a bit, and most of the plastic vegetables ended up serving double duty as golf balls my brothers would aim at my head – but the paintings remained a constant in my summers and every-other-weekends.
“Lickin’ Good Bath” was one of the prints outside my room. This one features a boy sitting in an oversized wash bucket, soaking off the grime of his day while his brother looks on, both with surprised and overjoyed looks as their dog comes upon them and starts licking the boy’s shoulder. Swap out the bucket for a real tub and it’s a generic moment – an American Dream moment. So when we had our second child – another son – it came as no surprise to me that I had this phantom itch for a dog to complete the picture that had been hung in the hallways of my head.
Sally – our $30 mutt who appears just as blurry in person as she would have had Rockwell painted her – has been to my sons what that Beagle-esque canine had presumably been to those boys; a loyal, matted companion who will lick anything, anywhere at any time. Picture complete.
Until the moment the paint left the canvas that is my life.
While I’m sure that the dog in the painting had eaten his fair share of World War 1 urchins’ leather shoes, my guess is that he was never desperate enough to eat anyone’s poo, let alone a pile that was laced with narcotics.
Last week, both boys took our dog for a walk – just as Norman’s boys would have – when they happened upon a bush, which, apparently, had doubled as someone’s loo during an unfortunate – and immediate – side effect of injecting heroin.
Now, had this been Norman’s show, we all would have crowded around the dog in front of a lit fire holding vigil and hands, while the dog drew his last breath with grace in his soul, grub on the stove and God in our hearts. But this was my masterpiece moment in which my dog was temporarily paralyzed, my kids were screaming, and I had oodles of money to spend on vet bills, considering how much I saved on Sally in the first place.
I’ll fast-forward past The Worst Day Of Sally’s Life, as well as The Day My Vet Is Forced to Consider That I May Be the Heroin Addict (…what kind of cockamamie* story is this poo-in-the-bush?) to today, The Day Everything Is Back to Normal.
After a handful of IV fluid bags and drug-induced naps, Sally has completely recovered, my kids have learned about drugs in a profoundly meaningful way, and I am now acutely aware that I really didn’t need that new laptop I had been saving for.
I have also learned that it’s OK to have an ideal as a parent, and completely normal to aspire to give your kids what you may have had, or in this case, what I didn’t think I had. The real art lies in the paint that hasn’t dried yet, the goopy mess that you think is black until the light hits it.
So who knew what those boys had been up to moments before that bath, or moments after. Maybe that’s why the painting appealed to me – the unity of their funny little family transcended my own. Heck, having been married three times, not even Norman Rockwell had a Norman Rockwell life, which is probably the reason he chose to freeze time in his paintings – to give us a chance to appreciate what we’ve got.
Whatever the reason, I’m sure he’d agree with me if he were alive today that while mom doesn’t always make the moment; the moment always makes the mom.
* Also, The Day I Learned How to Spell ‘Cockamamie.’