After the Fact: Something else to do


In my dream, I was reading AFTER THE FACT wherein I’d told the editor that writing had become tedious and that I was, consequently, moving to Mississippi. My mind must have wandered into the life of David Creel, former columnist who left the Valley for the hush puppies and drawl of the deep south. I can’t say I always appreciated David’s writing, but, then, there are definitely times when I don’t appreciate my own. I never met David so I can’t say I miss him: I’ve never met Sylvia, but I know I’d miss her, and I’ve known Ruthie Brown for the last half century or thereabout. I may not see her often, but my life has been a lot more interesting for knowing her. Writing would only become tedious if I hadn’t experienced a constant parade of amazing, entertaining, fascinating and irritating people.

My Uncle Gilbert was an engineer at the lab in Los Alamos for 25 or so years before retiring, whereupon he planned to grow roses and perfect his wine-making skills. The “growing season” in Los Alamos is pretty much the same as it is here in the San Luis Valley: July 1st through July 4th. He did have an impressive rose garden, to the envy of his neighbors and my dad. But when fall came, Uncle Gil found himself with time on his hands, so he took up painting. That’s a statement much like saying I have decided to pilot a riverboat down the Mississippi next week.

His first efforts were best described as “primitive,” in the fashion of Grandma Moses, but he was prolific. Over the years, his style changed often and, while he wasn’t ever on a par with Jim Gilmore or Charlie Ewing or Jocelyn Russell, he painted some pretty classy landscapes, almost all from photographs seen in magazines. I’m not sure he even aspired to “plein air”, and, after a while, that took a toll: he had to move to a lower altitude in order to breathe. 

Uncle Gil had been living in Albuquerque for several years when I stopped by for one of my too-seldom visits. I’d been drinking iced tea and chatting with Aunt Kate for over an hour before I noticed the absence of the easel and commented. “Oh, he hasn’t painted anything for several months”, I was informed. When he came in from puttering in his garden, I asked why he wasn’t painting. “I’ve painted everything I ever wanted to paint,” he said, as if that were the most natural thing to happen. I’d have been less surprised if he’d told me he’d given away a couple of his children (there’s at least one of them I’d have given away, but everyone in the family knows about that!)

While I don’t paint nearly as often as I should or would like to do, you’d have to cut off my fingers to keep me from writing. Letters, this column, e-mail, my journal, grocery lists (that never seem to make it to the grocery store): I write almost every day. Most of the Golden Girls who were part of the first memoir-writing class at the Alamosa Senior Center are looking forward to re-kindling our efforts with our “teacher,” Vinaya, so the “bug” catches on (newcomers are always welcome!)

Women, I think, are more successful at retiring than are men. Most of us have worked outside the home then come back to cooking, laundry, doing the dishes, washing the windows and all those other inconsequential chores that keep the family from collapsing into itself like a black hole. And we find “little things to do in our free time.” The ladies in the Quilt Guild piece their “little things” together, together. Do you remember Sue Patterson? After a day of teaching art at the elementary school, she took welding classes at TSJC and turned that skill into even more art. There is no such thing as the final result until you reach the final result.

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