Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Auf Wiedersehen

The other day at the Desert Museum, my mother asked me whether I wanted a photo printer for my birthday. Leaving aside the fact that we are already so literally and figuratively indebted to them that I would be reluctant to accept a gift of that magnitude, the question reminded me of our trip to Maryland last December.

Describing the experience of spending considerable time in my parents' house for the first time in years, I focused on our collective fixation on pictures:
Nights were spent sitting at the dining room table talking, inevitably, about the past, examining my father's collection of photos and documents from his family, and looking at slides. I don't think my parents had brought the projector out in years, so the slide-viewing was particularly restorative. We looked at slides from my year in Europe and the family trip to England and Belgium at its conclusion that had never been projected or, in some cases, even looked at. The evening we were out for dinner with my sister Miriam, my parents looked at their own slides in our absence. And one night my father showed us some of his father's still-beautiful Kodachrome slides from the World War II years.

To take a quick look at 14012 Manchester Road, you'd be hard pressed to imagine someone less interested in "image" than my parents.

But we're actually an image-obsessed household.

From this perspective, it's probably not an accident that my parents seemed particularly comfortable and happy on a trip prefaced by our sending them a CD full of photos and punctuated by each night's downloading from the digital camera. We express the way we feel about each other by expressing our feelings about pictures.

The highlight of their visit was Sunday evening, when Skylar decided that she would make a book with pictures of bugs and persuaded both of my parents to help her. She made a beautiful dragonfly herself, than helpfully gave it to my parents to trace, lest they complain that they weren't up to the task.

Skylar, Grandma, and Opa Coloring

Skylar Coloring

Grandma Coloring

I wasn't surprised to see my mother comply. But to see my father dutifully tracing his dragonfly, then coloring it in -- orange, naturally, being a Syracuse alumnus -- was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Opa Coloring

You see, my father has always said, "I got a 20 in Art," whenever the topic of drawing or painting comes up. It's true. He showed us his junior-high report card with the grade listed, so low it's hard to fathom. That fact always made me very sad. The idea that one teacher could permanently destroy the desire to make art is terrifying to someone who was a teacher long before he acquired the necessary credentials.

The story of grandparents is, of course, the way in which they forsake their parental selves in favor of more indulgent, flexible authority figures. I suppose that explains why my father suddenly relented on Sunday.

When I think of all the art Skylar has already made in her life, the boxes of pictures we've collected for posterity, the singularity of my father's creation blows me away. The dragonfly he drew is literally the only piece of visual or decorative art that I've ever seen him do.

I keep looking through Skylar's book to see it again and again.

Tags: art, family, photography

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