My grandfather sat next to me on the worn blue couch, streaky afternoon light streaming in through the glass porch doors nearby. As he lowered himself down on the cushion, I heard the squeak of the metal springs deep within the familiar settling fabric beneath us. I felt his weight sink into the couch, causing an indentation that elevated me to a small, left-handed tilt. Sitting at that angle, I was high enough to see the top of my grandfather’s bald head. There was a small red freckle right on the crown of his skull; his thick rimmed glasses bore down on the curve of his ear. I was befuddled by his nose; it seemed its roundness, a strikingly human piece of a clown, was physically impossible in its perfect circularity. The room smelled like brisket, the same rich odors always wafting around the house when I came to visit, no matter the time of day. My grandfather sighed as he relaxed there next to me, straightening out his arthritic knees. I sighed, imitation in a higher key, stretching out my own little legs which barely reached out over the couch cushion. He smiled at me, casually patting my head, playfully tossing the protrusion of red ringlets held in the stylish side ponytail my mom had fashioned that morning. My OshKosh B’gosh overalls were bulkily hinged at the shoulders. I stared hungrily at the pile of pale white paper resting his arms, balanced on the tall side of his big belly.
Well, what’ll you have today Molly?
I clapped my hands in excitement. Um, can I have a unicorn? A unicorn with wings?
Well, of course. Nothing else?
A castle? A big castle with a palm tree in it?
A palm tree in the castle. No problem, kiddo.
And I crouched on my knees, my legs buried in the flimsy couch cushion, my head hovering over the paper in front of my grandpa. He wielded his pencil like it was built into his hand, confident strokes and quickly moving gestures. He created pictures with a reality that blew my little 6-year-old mind. The unicorn, I was sure, would hop right off the page and fly out into the late afternoon haze of that suburban estate. I watched in awe as he gracefully created a land of magical animals, a castle of architectural wonder. When he finished the drawing, he handed the page over to me attached to a clipboard. He opened a small sack of colored pencils that had been hidden from view behind his girth. Now it’s your turn, he said.
I spent hours at a time coloring in the sketched outlines my grandfather drew for me when I visited my grandparents throughout my childhood. The drawings transported me to another world; a gleeful one of pink ponies and purple castles. My grandfather was an artist his entire life. His little studio was connected to the living room, always filled with canvases swathed in oil paints, brightly depicted farms and deeply wrinkled portraits. In his own youth he gave up a career as an aspiring cartoon artist to go into the oil business and support his growing family. I think that was something he always regretted.
The genes of artistic vision, however, blossomed within his family. My Aunt Terry and Cousin David both went to RISD to pursue painting and design; my Aunt Pat is a high school art teacher. My grandfather himself still paints, arthritis making him switch to the relative comfort of digital art, deep into his 80s. He did his best to inspire the art within me; throughout my entire childhood he mailed me drawings, complete with fully illustrated envelopes, to help pass the time until I could return to upstate New York and draw with him, perched on the faded blue couch.
Beyond my forays into the world of pink unicorns, I am today sadly artistically stunted. Despite all that practice with my grandfather, I have yet to express the dominant art gene that should really be apparent in my genetic makeup. I have dappled in painting, pastel and pottery. My most successful foray into the art world was a drawing class I took while at Brown. My nude figure drawings tended to look more like glitched robots than anything near human; I didn’t last more than a semester.
I do, however, have one artistic medium in which I consider myself quite skilled. I am an expert Holiday Card Artist. I have the magical ability to make the most playfully beautiful block lettering, oozing with color and form. The cards are peppered with small, evocative sketches. They contain short but inspired literary messages, whether birthday poems or Hanukkah wishes. Just ask Becca; I put my soul right into those bubble letters. And in this year’s holiday season, due to my somewhat decimated monetary status, the art of my cards was all many could hope for. But damn did I do an excellent job; my grandfather would be so proud.
Charley, my mother’s fiancé, received one of my finest creations for Christmas this year. It was a homemade booklet of coupons, all meticulously illustrated. As he looked through the thick card on that chilly holiday morning in Vermont, I could see his lips twitching into a series of impressed smiles beneath his voluminous gray mustache. He may, I’ll admit, have been laughing at my attempts to portray his large black standard poodle named Elsie (who, even after a great deal of time home this year I cannot get to pay any attention to me). But I prefer to think that he was in awe of my artistic aptitude.
And last night Charley cashed in on one of his holiday coupons. It is three days before I officially move into the funky borough of Park Slope Brooklyn and he didn’t want to miss this opportunity. The coupon was for me to cook a dinner of his choice, no matter how fatty, red-meaty and fried. Generally, I lean towards the healthy side of things. I feel good when I eat well; fruits and vegetables, whole grains etc. (Though on a side note, I consider chocolate VERY healthy). I do greatly love Charley; but I do wish he wouldn’t be so vehemently opposed to trying a piece of tofu. Perhaps even one that wasn’t deep fried with a hunk of beef on top.
I did, however, enter into this coupon agreement with undiminished culinary joy last night. Deep frying is fun, I learned. There is a lot of action involved, an almost primitive sense of danger as the hot oil splashes up in the pot, a candy thermometer balanced carefully in the heart of the rippling bronze liquid. I made a juicy set of grilled filet mignon, topped with a thick pat of butter infused with scallion, garlic and parsley. I cut clean white potatoes into uniform matchsticks, soaked them overnight to ‘release excess starch’ (recommended by the Balthazar Cookbook), and fried them not once but twice. When I removed the french fries from the oil with my dripping slotted spoon, I was astounded by their golden hue. They were crunchy, tingling with salt and heat. For dessert, we cracked into creamy rich crème brulees with my favorite small silver espresso spoons. Wielding the small kitchen torch as I prepared their crust felt similarly primitive and dangerous, playing with fire in a technologically savvy manner. Kitchen tools fueled by butane are fun too, I learned. There was a lot of oohing and oily aaahing as we dug in. I even forgot, for a moment, to be nervous about my upcoming move.
It was an excellent meal. Spawned from an excellent (if I do say so myself) work of art. Not only would my grandfather love the museum-quality Christmas card that is now so magnanimously in Charley’s possession, but he would also be a fan of the steak frites and crème brulee. Brisket does get old after a few decades. I would have mailed him some, complete with an illustrated envelope. But I’m guessing steak doesn’t travel as well as paper.