Friday, July 07, 2006

Nana, Memory, and Life Meaning

One of the tasks I accomplished while in Lake Junaluska last week was photographing my grandmother’s art work. Nana died in 1989, and was for all of her life an artist – painting, needlepoint, music. She is my family’s inspiration, our muse. She provided the spark that lit the artistic fire in our familial hearts. She taught me to see all the colors in a sunset one evening some twenty years ago, while we were walking around the lake, gazing into the mountains.

Last week, we were spending our vacation with my grandfather, Bishop Monk Bryan (or, if you know him as well as I do, “Daddy Monk”) and his wonderful wife of the past fourteen years, Twila (the widow of Bishop Mac Stowe, by the way), who are within a few weeks of moving away from the beautiful mountains of North Carolina to live in a retirement community in Dallas. (92 years old, and he still hasn’t retired!) During the week, in between “vacation-y” activities, we were helping Daddy Monk and Twila get ready for the big move, and part of my contribution to that effort was taking pictures of Nana’s art to send to family members, which gets me back to where I was going in the first place:

As I set up each painting and needlework in the light of the living room lamp, I got a glimpse of Nana. I lingered with each piece, imagining her beautiful hands as they held a brush to delicately touch the canvas, imagining her sensitive eyes as they carefully studied and appraised her work, imagining her playful imagination as she placed the bright red cardinal on the bird feeder or recreated a dizzying cable car journey up the German Alps. And with the click of the shutter and the snick of the flash, the image was converted to a digital file that will never be able to adequately convey the life of the painting itself, nor the life of Nana it represents to me, but at least will preserve a little memory for years to come.

Great-Grandparents! How wonderfully blessed are my children, to have not only Daddy Monk and Twila, but also my maternal grandmother (Nanny), alive and well and playing such a big role in their lives! Think of the memories my kids will have, of four generations together for such wonderful times.

Nana’s name was Corneille. My daughter’s name is Corneille. Eight-year-old Corneille refers to Nana as “Grandma Corneille.” This is significant. “Nana” is my name for her; “Grandma Corneille” is Cori’s name for her. Same person, two different facets of meaning.

Letting go and moving on. Peeking around the corner to see what is next. Wondering where that twisty mountain road might take us. It is the stuff of life. A house filled with nine decades of life, all being packed away, possessions lovingly caressed one last time, “Do you want this?” and “Would you ever have any use for this?” meaning, “I really don’t want to think about what it would mean to let go of this, and it would make me feel so much better if I knew you would hold on to it. That way, I would, in a way, not have to let it go.” Not so much to hold on to the object, but to hold on to the memory, to pass it along to the next person.

Not that the possessions are the meaning, but that the possessions point the way to the meaning. Like an icon, through which one gazes in order to glimpse the presence of God.

Like the church, through which one lives in order to live with God.

Like our families, in which we live in order to live more fully with ourselves.

Like a grandmother, whose life means so much to a grandson, and so much else to his daughter.

It occurs to me that, in the midst of the sadness of Daddy Monk and Twila’s move away from the mountains, I have never been happier.

Note: I have been trying all morning to post the images of the paintings, but Blogger is being stubborn. I decided to go ahead and post the text, and try again later to upload the images.


DogBlogger said...

Beautiful observations. Thanks.

When you come visit them in Dallas, let me know!

Kansas Bob said...

Look forward to seeing the photos Andy.

Anonymous said...

I love you, my dear son! Mom

Anonymous said...

As a former member of MoUMC I remember your grandmother and knew immediately when you introduced your daughter at the KC Chorale concert who she was named for. I think family naming traditions are a wonderful way to pass our memories forward to our children. Emil

Kim said...

Beautiful post -- wonderful written images even without the digital ones.

(I, too, have been having blogger images problems -- I wonder what is going on).

Anonymous said...

Welcome back!
What a wonderful way to share your grandmothers with us all! I shed a few tears as I remembered my grandmothers, one dead nearly 20 years and the other less than two. I treasure one's depression glass cookie jar and the other's quilts and button jar and journals. And, when I look at myself, I see one's hands and the other's chin. Thanks for passing on your memories--and bringing back some of mine.

Anonymous said...

It was an incredible experience, memory and connection and family and how we go through the days and years together and passages and milestones. There's a lesson there about death as well, so final, so absolute, such an uninvited intrusion. Thanks for the memories. I look at the paintings now with new wonder and new depth of emotion. Peace to all. JB