who the heck knows anything, anyway

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Freds in My Life

Beware: this is kind of a sappy post. ...And my primary motivation was basically to show off pictures of a couple family members.

my great-grandfather proved that fezzes are cool 
So my cousin Kaitrin recently sent me this amazing picture of my great grandfather, Fred Meeds. It made the rounds on facebook between all the cousins, and it's funny to see my fourteen-to-sixteen year old relatives (brothers included) obsess over it. To them, he's mostly a construction of stories and the occasional photograph--he died eleven years ago, so what memories they might have of him are hazy, at best. 

My memories of him, however, are largely crisp and clear. So clear, in fact, that writing this right now is making my eyes tear up a little. I was twelve when he died, but for over a year leading up to that, I was his art apprentice. Grandpa Fred, and his faith in my potential, make up one of the biggest reasons why I have not given up pursuing art. He taught me how to make clay-and-paper-mache figurines, how to assemble them, how to paint them. Of course, mine were nowhere near as fantastic as his were, but once a week (sometimes twice), we would work on them. We would also eat lunch with his friends in the retirement home where he lived--he called me a little rabbit because I loved to eat huge salads--and watch the old re-runs of Perry Mason until my mom picked me up. 

I wish I had more photos of his art to share with you, but I don't have any up in Seattle with me. He went through this Matador Period where he did those sculptures, painted, and made these amazing tile mosaics, all of matadors. Also pretty neat: for years of his adult life, he painted window displays for a living. I like to attribute some of my graphic/pop art style to him.The man was talented.

(This isn't even touching on stories of his hilarious/hooligan youth, or what a great dad he was. Listening to my grandma talk about her parents will make you cry.)

I had the chance to write a eulogy for him when he passed away. Even back then, my knack for writing was starting to show its tiny little face. But I didn't. I didn't think I'd be able to say anything good enough, worthy enough. Fortunately, my dad's eulogy made up for my lack of words. That is the first time, though, that I remember consciously thinking that words could not be used in vain; that only the best are worth using, only the best will do a person any justice. My twelve-year-old brain knew it hadn't cooked enough to write words beautiful enough for my grandfather. Instead, made sure he was buried with the last paper-mache sculpture I made with him (my last paper-mache sculpture ever), a little Saint Francis.

my papa and wee toddler me
FORTUNATELY, the Fine Art gene did not skip two whole generations. My father, also a Fred**, has been my hero since I was a wee lass, and this goes doubly for his status as my Art Idol. He paints, he writes, he builds little houses, for goodness' sake. I wish he had more time to pursue painting, but supporting a family takes a lot of time and energy. Hopefully he'll get back to it when my brothers  have all moved out. 

My dad definitely predicted that I would become a writer. Who's to say if it was one of those prophecies that becomes a reality simply because it was predicted, or whether he just knew me better than I knew myself at the time. Fate is tricky that way. But I won't embarrass my dad too much by talking about him at length on the internet. He's a modest guy! However, he is still largely to blame for where I am today (though my mom was the one who finally told me to screw practicality and just go for it. My happiness is really the combined fault of both my parents). 

My mom and dad have this very effective saying, and it still gets me through the day (particularly when people express doubt or find my decision to write for a living to be impractical***): 

Do what you love, and the money will follow.

So there you have it. Sage advice. I recommend you all follow it.

And that's the [short] story of my Freds. I'm sure they, along with the rest of my silly kin, will pop up in any number of my stories. Family is kind of influential, or something.

*this is the most famous Grandpa Fred-ism  
**named for Grandpa Fred, of course
***this shout-out goes to all those people whose faces demonstrate obvious disdain when I tell them I plan on being a novelist, and am not using my English degree to become a teacher or lawyer. Lawyer? Me? Seriously? No.