The Canvas

Michael Prince  |  September 13, 2022

The Canvas

As many of you who follow me on Facebook may know, my beloved Grandmother was placed on hospice last week and I am back in South Carolina with her. You may also remember that our family lost my mother back in May and my stepfather in February of 2021. So, as I sit by Grandma Nell’s bedside writing this, I am thinking about change. Particularly as it pertains to our homes and, more specifically, the rooms in our home. 

I’ve often said that homes are much more than the shelter they provide, they are more importantly, the backdrop of our lives. The canvas upon which so many of our memories are painted. Memories of shared meals with our friends and family. Where we watched that heroic or tragic scene unfold on television. Where our children took their first steps. Where we played in the floor like a child ourselves and where we gathered with loved ones during holidays. 

In thinking about my mom (Donna) and stepfather’s (Ira) house here in Columbia, I recall sneaking in at 3am after hanging out in the Vista, trying to keep the dog to barking so as not to wake up my parents. I think of the night friends and I drank until the sun came up with The Strokes on the back patio in 2001. I remember laying in front of the fire watching football. I remember many holidays and special occasions spent there and all the laughter and joy surrounding us. More specifically, I think about the game room, where I first learned to play bumper pool. I spent hours in there, playing against Ira, my brothers, and eventually my nephews. I remember being sequestered there when I was first learning to play guitar because it was the furthest I could get from their bedroom. At Christmas, the buffet along the back wall was always covered in an assortment delicious pies and cakes and it would be the scene of whatever kooky “game” my mom had made up that year. There was a photo booth one year, the “pajamas” year, the "wedding anniversary" year, and the “Moroccan” year.

Eventually, when Ira became so ill from kidney failure the doctors could no longer treat him, the pool table was moved to the side and it was replaced with a hospice bed, a hospital table, and an oxygen machine. It was there he watched his final Carolina basketball game and where we gathered around and cared for him through his final days. About a year later, the game room was again converted to a bedroom as Mom could not climb the stairs after her hip surgery in March. And it was in that room where she was suddenly stricken with by a heart attack that took her from us in May. Since, I have tried to speak to them in that room. I have laid in the fetal position in the spot where she fell and sobbed. I have looked through the doorway, afraid to walk in. Not feeling it cursed, but feeling it cold and robbed of its joy. I don’t know if I’ll ever go in that room again- I might not ever go in that house again, though I suspect I’ll have to at some point. But it’s just a house, right? Wood, brick, glass, sheetrock, and paint. No. It’s obviously much more than that. All houses are.

As I write this from my Grandmother’s side, I am now at my brother, Scott’s house. I am thinking about this room. It used to be my niece Jordan's bedroom. She had painted it purple and there were pictures, and flowers, and awards from high school everywhere… and clothes… everywhere. Then, after she went to college and later moved to Savanah, Scott turned it into a home office. A fate that befalls many a childhood bedroom. I’m sure he’s taken hundreds of calls in here and no doubt sent thousands of emails from behind the desk. Now, the desk has been removed. It is, once again, a bedroom. And again, it is decorated with flowers and photos, but of a different sort. There is a hospice bed, a rolling hospital table, and an oxygen machine. On the walls are homemade signs with Bible verses, and words of encouragement, love, and support for her. Soon, she will die in here. The bed, table, and oxygen tank will all be removed and the desk will come back. It will once again be an office. But will it ever really feel the same in here?

Talk to anyone knowledgable about paintings and you’ll find that many of the great masterpieces were painted overtop of previous failures, stains, or mistakes. The canvases was just too precious to discard. And so, that is what we must do. We (or in this case, I) must find a way to paint over these memories. Forge new ones over and around the stains left behind. Perhaps when it’s all done, and the work is finished, a new masterpiece may be revealed. 

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