The Painting

Joe Lanzon

I lived with my grandparents since when I was ten years old when mum and dad had divorced, which makes it more than twelve years now. I loved both grandma and grandpa immensely. They were everything to me throughout my childhood, youth and adult years. But I was especially very close to grandpa in so many ways. We spent so much time chatting and laughing together in the small garden at the back of our house.

“What’s up with you?” grandma used to shout at us, from the kitchen window when she saw us in one of our jolly moods. “It’s grandpa telling me a funny story grandma” I used to reply, without losing concentration to what he was saying. But both of them were good honest-to-God characters who instilled in me the importance of love, of honesty and of religion.

My grandfather was an artist, a painter to be more exact. He was considered to be a fine oil painter by many in our community. He frequented the artistic circle of friends and had known and mingled with some of the famous painters of his day.

Our house, small as it was, was full of his paintings. They covered an entire wall and visitors often mistook our home for an art gallery.

Painting was not only my grandpa’s hobby; it was his love and obsession. It helped him express his feelings, his love of nature and his different moods. How I loved to stay by his side while he used the brushes after dipping them in the paints on his slate.
What are you going to do when you grow up?” he asked me one day. “I’d like to take medicine, become a medical practitioner but …………?” I stopped in mid-sentence, while conjuring all the difficulties that might lie ahead. “There is always a ‘but’ dear. Life is full of buts. But you must have the determination to surmount them” said my grandpa, obviously speaking with the experience of his years.

But our house was too small for the three of us and for his many paintings. He was always saying that now, that he was getting on in years, we have to move to some other larger place where he could enjoy life more and he could indulge in his favourite art.
I was fifteen years old when my grandparents finally decided to move to the little town of San Giminiano, in the beautiful Tuscan hills of Italy. Apparently grandad had an old friend living in that area, another painter no doubt, who encouraged him to move there where several foreign painters were located.

Both my grandparents had always wished to retire in the sun and my grandfather enthusiastically anticipated painting the lovely hilly countryside so famous in Italy and all over the world. “It would inspire my creativity and imagination!” he told me.
All the arrangements for our transfer and of the furniture and belongings were completed in a short time. As our furniture was being packed, we watched grandpa’s paintings being taken down and carefully placed into crates, which were then nailed down and stored in the basement, ready for the shipping.

As one particular painting, which my grandfather was still working on, was being put into the crate, grandpa said to me – “I know that you like this painting very much Carol. I will therefore dedicate it especially to you. It will be yours!
It’s true. I liked this unfinished painting. It showed the portrait of a craggy old man, weather-beaten and wrinkled but a charming face all the same. Although still unfinished, it looked to be a beautiful painting. I loved it and anxiously awaited grandpa to complete it and hang it in my room.

The first thing I will do when we get to Italy is finish this painting. Before I start another one” my grandfather told me, as we looked at it being patiently crated by the removal men.

But a week before our departure, tragedy struck. He was involved in a horrific road accident and lay in a coma at the local hospital. Grandma and I were at his bedside every day and as often as we could. He was all we had.

I did not believe, as the doctors assured us, that he was unconscious, not knowing what’s happening around him. I strongly thought that although he could not move a muscle, or murmur a sound, he was still conscious of us and what we were saying. I was firm in my belief and I spoke to him as I used to do in the garden at our home. I also mentioned his paintings, as I knew that he would love that.

I prayed fervently to God that he would live. My faith was strong that the good Lord would hear my prayers. However he died six months after the accident and I was bitterly disappointed that my faith had let me down.

It was some months after his death that grandma made the decision that, in the circumstances, we should not relocate to Italy but should remain in England where we were born and bred. After this decision was taken, the cases of all our belongings were brought back from the basement. They were unpacked and silently restored to their old places in our house, where they had been before grandpa had decided to transfer our family to the Tuscan hills.

It was after some time that grandma engaged some experienced workmen to open gently the crates where grandpa’s paintings were packed. We both stood by them supervising the unpacking to ensure that no damage whatsoever was done to any of the paintings.
What are you going to do with them?” I asked grandma as we stood watching the men remove the nails, open the tops of the crates and gently uplift the paintings one by one. “We’ll hang some in the house certainly, they will then always remind us of grandpa” she said “but I am afraid that there is no room for the others. We’ll have to donate them to the art gallery where the curators will look after them.

Then grandpa’s unfinished painting was removed from the crate and the workmen asked grandma – “Where shall we put this painting Madame?” We both looked at it at the same time and were utterly astounded and stunned speechless.
The painting, which grandpa was to finish in Italy, was now completed and, what’s more, at the bottom right hand side of the canvas, was grandpa’s distinctive signature and, in small words – ‘To my lovely Carol’.

How was that possible?” was the only thought that passed through our minds at that surprising moment.