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The Gift

I received a gift this holiday season. It wasn’t wrapped in bright-colored paper, not easy to place under our tree. It was a text, clear and bold and unwrapped, ready for me to feast upon, sent by my nephew, a photo of a painting, a watercolor by Elmer Porter, a dear family friend who gave it to my brother and his wife when they married. I had never seen it before and was surprised at how deeply it moved me.

It brought back memories. On sunny summer Saturdays during my childhood, my mother would pack a picnic lunch of sandwich-makings, cookies and fruit, and we kids would stuff our towels, sweatshirts, bathing suits into our canvas LLBean bags while our father brought our bright red eighteen foot wooden strip boat into the haul-off rock and, one by one, we would totter our way into the boat and off we’d go with the turquoise skiff, Splinter, sailing behind us. We’d travel the seas on those Saturday mornings, to Jenny Island or Wood Island, and often to Spring Beach, the cove on Hermit Island directly across Casco Bay from our cottage home. It was a day at Spring Beach I loved the best.

Those memories are part of what moved me. When I looked at the painting. Saturdays at Spring Beach were grand. Our dog would find the shade and immediately begin to dig and dig the most impressive of holes to lie in while we kids scrounged the rocks for baby crabs and starfish hiding in crevices beneath the seaweed, and we looked for pieces of feldspar and fancy shells on the beach, made sand castles, swam and swam and swam. Our father would cheer us on and was steward of the boats. This painting of Elmer’s brought all this back to me, the beach, the skiff, the long sun-kissed, water-soaked days, the friendship with Elmer and Dorothy Porter. And that was gift enough for me in this text sent by my nephew, to embrace these memories, to appreciate this painting by the dearest family friend.

But there was more. And I think “the more” is what brought me to tears. My mother would feast on picnic food with us, dip into the water for a swim, but then she would disappear, and so would Elmer and Dorothy, his wife. For you see, my mother not only packed the picnic; she packed her watercolors and paintbrushes, the big sheets of heavy paper, all that she needed for a day of painting. I’ve seen many of her watercolors of Spring Beach, but I’ve never seen what it took me a moment to notice in Elmer’s painting. There on the cliffs that surround the cove in the far corner of the painting is a tiny figure and when I look closely, I know it is my mother. Elmer, as he painted included my mother as she painted. And I have never seen a painting of my mother painting.

And I smile through happy tears at this Christmas gift. Elmer has painted a wonderful free-spirited watercolor. And we can imagine him sitting on the rocks on the other side of the cove noticing for a moment my mother on the cliffs facing the open sea, her paper on her lap, claiming a Saturday at Spring Beach for her art. Both of them sharing their different points of view, their different perspectives. I feel the connection between them as they create, and the gift of both of their paintings, so different and, yet, both reflecting their love for this place.

I think of us all this holiday season, how we live from our own deep centers, with our own perspectives, points of view, passions, how we paint our own magnificent lives. And yet, we are not alone. There is the person on the other side of cove, other side of the street, other side of the world. And we need each other, really need each other, are connected in so many ways. It is the figure in the painting that makes an extra special Christmas gift. It is connection with your dear friends and family that makes life extra special. I wish for us all this holiday season and beyond, time to play at our own passions, and time to share our perspectives with each other.

Happy Holidays!

And may 2022 be a year when we find ways to connect.

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