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By Carolyn Primmer
Grandma Sutherland wore a face as wrinkled and brown as a dried prune. Her hair, what was left of it, stood on end, wild, white, and coarse.
Grandma’s substantial body fell in soft lumps around her middle. Her legs failed to support her, but her arms remained strong enough to lift a child onto her lap.
Grandma chose to accept what she could not do, and to do what she could. Grandma Sutherland became a grandmother to the children in Bertin Valley Preschool, a school for children with vision impairments. Grandma lifted children onto her lap, and read to them in her comforting mezzo voice. In the mornings, she would sing silly children’s ditties. In the afternoon, slow-water lullabies filled the naptime air.
The children loved Grandma Sutherland. They counted on Grandma being there in her chair by the window each day. If a child was hurt or sad, they ran to lay their little head in the soft nest of Grandma’s lap. Her big, gentle hands rubbed away the sorrow. At other times, Grandma’s presence was like a running brook, bubbling laughter, as the children circled around her, holding hands.
At story time, Grandma’s voice could grumble Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum, then, become the soft purr of a kitten, or the rumbling wheels of a wagon over a rickety bridge. Grandma was everything you needed and all you cared to understand.
But, nothing lasts forever, and one day, the songs and the stories stopped. Emptiness sat by the window. The teacher decided that the class should send a tribute to Grandma Sutherland’s family in appreciation for all that Grandma S. had done for the children.
Lana was one of those children.
Lana’s mother, an artist who specialized in painting portraits, agreed to paint a portrait of Grandma Sutherland for the tribute.
Wanting to catch the full essence of her subject, Lana’s mother talked with the children. What was Grandma Sutherland like? Should she draw her smiling or serious? Excitedly, the children shared their “vision” of the lady who had been such an important part of their lives.
On her way out, the teacher handed Lana’s mother a photograph of Grandma Sutherland with the children. Surely this was not the lady the children had just described. How could she express the beauty the children had “seen” with a true likeness of the woman in the photograph she had been given?
On the evening of the presentation, Lana, accompanied her mother to the memorial service. Lana stood silently near the painting, hands clasp tightly, ears at full attention. Had her mom created a fitting likeness of Grandma S.? When they lifted the cloth to uncover the painting, Lana knew that her mother had gotten it right.
“Oh, it is like she is right here with us!”
“You have captured her spirit so beautifully.”
“Ah, so peaceful and calm, yet warm, and inviting.”
“How comforting, and joyful!”
Lana closed her eyes, and drew in her breath. Her mother had painted Grandma Sutherland just like she remembered her! Lana never knew that the portrait others viewed was not a portrait at all, but a scenic view of a stooped, gnarly tree with arms spread wide open. In its wild green hair, baby birds peeked over the edge of their nest, hungry for attention.
At the tree’s base, wild flowers grew, hazy and soft. Over the tree, the bright sun glowed, spreading out warmth and comfort. Lana’s mother had not painted Grandma Sutherland’s face at all, but her heart.
Like Grandma Sutherland’s, all faces and bodies grow old. We can only pray that others will view our heart, and there, they will find a thing of beauty.