Friday, July 14, 2006

In Honor of the Wiseman Family

The following was originally published in The Charleston Gazette in January. The Gazette is West Virginia's largest newspaper. I'm posting it here in honor of my dad's family; we're having a reunion on Sunday, July 16.

And here's a picture of Grandma and Grandpa Wiseman that was taken at my parents' wedding. Yes, my grandmother was pregnant in this photo--with my Aunt Loretta, who is four years older than I am.

Find and Follow your Life’s Art

My grandfather, if he were alive today, would laugh himself silly if he ever heard me describe him as an artist.

He was, like so many others in our state, a farmer and a factory worker by trade. But he harbored the soul of an artist inside, held secret by what life expected of him.

Perhaps his artist’s soul was why he was attracted to my grandmother. She was (and still is) a musician, a writer, a great cook. She continues, at the age of 81, to do all these things, including having her own writings published in magazines.

My grandfather realized his dream of having a farm in 1948 when he bought almost 50 acres in Wirt County. And it was there that my grandfather’s art flourished.

The landscape was my grandfather’s canvas; the crops, his paint. My grandfather painted brown with the broad brushstrokes of his tractor, plowing the earth in readiness for his crops. He stippled in green with the careful selection of his seeds—he chose each plant type for flavor, variety, and quality. He sculpted his orchards with patience, pruning and caring for his apple, cherry, and pear trees. He added tiny bursts of color with hedges of blackberries and raspberries, arbors of grapes, groundcovers of strawberries. He rounded out his living picture with farm animals—the rusty red and bright white of chickens, the dark-dappled hogs, the warm browns and blacks and whites of beef and dairy cattle. Add to this the changing of the seasons--which bring their own colors--and the day and the night, with vibrant sunscapes and the tranquil dark of night quilted with the stars.

My grandmother also reveled in this life. She “put up” more than 1,000 quarts of food every year, and she was famous (at least, in my young eyes) for her grape jelly. She can still recall her recipe for blackberry wine. She was a reporter for the Wirt County Journal. She would create her own crocheted lace tablecloths, bedspreads, and doilies that are now well-loved family heirlooms.

They passed on their talents to their children—all eight of them in their own ways, artists. The youngest child, Loretta Stewart, is an award-winning artist known for her stippled works of landscapes and people, and she was commissioned by the Pentagon to create artwork for them. My grandmother’s walls are still lined with paintings done by my other aunts and my father; some could easily hang in an art gallery and look at home there. My two uncles found their own way of expression through home remodeling and being all-around clever with their minds and hands.

But as remarkable as I think my family is, they really aren’t any different from other West Virginians. Artistry is about finding your craft, finding what makes your heart sing, and following that song in the minutiae of your everyday life. We are a proud people, and we’ve sown beauty into our everyday lives long before Martha Stewart told us how we should do it.

There is beauty and an art in making an old car purr like a kitten. Or in caring for others in your work and making a difference. Or in greeting people every day in your job and simply making them smile.

But I’m so proud of my grandparents--for having not only the courage to listen to their hearts, but in teaching their own children to do the same thing, in whatever they do.


-Kelly M. said...

That was a beautiful post, Shelly. I hope you enjoyed your reunion. Family truly is something to treasure.

Zonk said...

Remind me sometime to tell you about my grandfathers. They and your grandfather would have understood each other well, I think.

On my father's side, Pa Morrill was a carpenter, mason, and fisherman. he never spoke much, unless he felt he could improve on the silence. I still remember the astonishment of the ceiling tiler who told my Dad "This room is squared up. Nobody builds like this anymore."

Pa Cyril, my mother's dad, was a contracter, millworked aluminum jalousie window frames, and built a recess in the southwest corner of his roof when he built his house in the 40's to put solar heating in - alas, copper tubing proved too expensive...

The old saw is still true; find what you love to do, and you'll never work another day in your life.


Frank Baron said...

Lovely bit of writing there Shelly - artistic even. :)

Um...your a tad overdue for another post y'know (said the slothful writer).