Liz Kirk is 93 years old. She uses a walker to move around her Marquette Manor apartment. Her hair is white, fluffy and short; stiffened with age, her fingers remain unable to fully extend at their knuckles, and her back hurts even on dry, sunny days. Liz forgets things, from the occasional name of one of her grandchildren to her apartment keys that jingle from one of her walker's handles. Her lips are never without their Revlon red lipstick. And though hunched over, tired and lined by time, she still manages to sparkle. Liz is my late husband's mother and will forever be my mother-in-law. She is also the person who reminds me that it is never too late to give something a try because you might find both a lot of joy and perhaps some talent in doing so.
When guests enter my home, they are always surprised to find some lovely artwork hanging on the wall. Along with the sketches, wood prints, and an occasional framed poster, there hang oils - some large, others not - rich in color and statement. Most often they are of fruit but have clever accompanying titles that add to the piece, like Egg Plant with its deep purple eggplant and surrounding eggs alongside it. I was lucky to enter into a marriage to a person who had already acquired most of the pieces both from his mother and by his mother. Most of the time, money was exchanged for the artwork if the pieces weren't given in celebration of a holiday or birthday, but Liz was a Depression kid and Charley was a Depression kid's kid, so doing business with family was not unusual. The point is, at the time, we were a relatively young couple with a relatively nice collection of art.
With Liz's youngest son Charley now deceased, his brother and sister residing in other states, my two sons and I are Liz's only relatives who live nearby. I see her weekly, mostly to drive her to and from the grocery and drugstore. It's not a very glamorous outing, but often it is Liz's only weekly opportunity to have a change of scenery. After collapsing her walker and loading it in my trunk, I slide her into the front passenger seat, and we set off for the store, having our customary conversation along the way. She asks about her grandsons. I inquire about her health. Sometimes it is a challenge to find something to talk about, and so I like to ask her questions about her long life. We will chat about raising Charley and her other two children. I ask about her family history of which she is very proud. (There are only three words you need to know: Mayflower, Huguenots and Episcopalians.) And lately, we have been discussing how she came to paint and become an artist.
Painting came later for Liz with the theater being her first art form. Back when Park Tudor School was an all-girls school and named Tudor Hall, Liz played the lead in her senior class play after performing in a couple productions of the Children's Civic Theatre of Indianapolis. She went on to do summer stock and ventured to New York City for her craft before returning to Indianapolis to marry and then raise three children. She continued to act in community theater, perform in both television and radio, and be involved in various arts organizations.
When I asked about her painting and if she had had to put it on hold at any point in the course of her busy life, she informed me that it wasn't until her sixties that she had started painting in earnest. It was her friend and local artist Rosemary Beck who encouraged Liz to take some art classes. She did and quickly fell in love with painting. You have probably surmised that Liz is a very talkative and gregarious person, and it was Rosemary who pointed out that the only time Liz was seen quiet, involved and focused was when she was at the easel. Soon after Liz began to paint, her work was exhibited at the Hoosier Salon, the Indiana Artist Club and the now expired rental gallery at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
In Liz's spare bedroom sit her easel and pastels. There is one nude propped up that has not seen much progress in the past couple of years. Liz says she intends to begin drawing and painting again "soon." And although her fingers and knees and thoughts move a bit slower, I have a hope that one day when I show up at her doorstep to accompany her to Marsh I will find her in front of that easel once again. Lost in thought, focused on her work and without much to say. After all, it's never too late.