The Message

The large white envelope is propped against the lobby wall, waiting. We search for the keys and stumble through the open door; after work drinks turned into late night drinks. I know that the envelope is addressed to me before reading the label. As I bend to pick up the package Paul pushes me playfully causing me to tumble.

“No, don’t. I can’t bend this envelope.” I shout; half serious, half laughing.

Indeed, I can see from my vantage point on the carpeted lobby floor that the envelope is marked with “Do not Bend” over and over again. I stand up, pick up the envelope and steady myself. Paul looks at me devilishly.

“No, now I’m serious.” I say. He can read it in my eyes: Don’t mess with me. This package has travelled through time to reach me. I won’t let it suffer more damage in my hands tonight.

We make our way up the stairs and step into our darkened condo. The moonlight falls through the open blinds painting horizontal shadows against the walls. I want to open it now, but I’ll wait until morning; when I can appreciate it fully. I place the envelope on the kitchen counter and peer through the blinds at the moon and the stars.

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“Hello little boy!” He has glasses and a small white pointy beard and moustache; like Salvador Dali’s. He is wearing khaki’s, a white shirt and a black bow tie.

“What on earth are you doing?” He says.

I open my eyes, smile and say “I’m looking at stars, Pappy!”

When I was young, about five years old, I would press the heels of my hands against my closed eyes so that the pressure would cause bursts of light to form at the corner and travel to the center of my eyelids; fascinated by the lights appearing from nowhere.

“Great heavens above, there are stars in your head? Come over here and let me show you something.” My grandfather says.

I jump up and run to sit in his lap. His studio is a room on the side of the house sitting over the garage. It is paneled with dark wood. There is a light hanging low over the drafting table illuminating a blank sheet of paper. The smell of paint is magical. He pulls out a dip pen and places a nib on the end of it and dips it into an ink well. I watch, entranced, as lines form on the paper as if the pen itself has a power all its own. It seems to me that he is merely uncovering a picture that already exists on the paper.

“It’s a cabin!” I say excitedly.

“Yes, it is. You are such a smart little boy.” My grandfather says. “Now, I want to teach you something called ‘perspective’”.

This is a new word and I cannot imagine what it means, let alone pronounce it. But I desperately want to know. In my memories, I cannot separate my grandfather, this house and the beauty surrounding it. They all exist as one. The house sits on the edge of a forest overlooking the French Broad River and the Smokey Mountains. The front path made up of mossy stones passes by a gold fish pond. We have given all of the goldfish names. Many times my grandfather has taken us for walks in the forest. His knowledge of plants and animals is as boundless as his gentleness and love, and he wants to share it all.

The pen continues to move knowingly across the paper. Undulating outlines of mountains that are as gentle as the Smokey’s form behind the cabin. Two lines drift above the chimney circling among themselves to form smoke. Pine trees recede into the distance. Then two more lines are gracefully drawn. They form a path wide and open near the edge of the paper and gradually diminishing to a point by the cabin door.

“Now the cabin is small!” I am amazed.

“It’s the same size that it was before, but the way you see it has changed. That is perspective.” He says.

A word became a picture. But, the intersection of our lives was only six years. Not time enough to define the rest of the world through art. I would practice drawing this one picture over and over again as I grew up. All of the elements were there, but the whole was never quite right.

****************************************************************************

Night becomes morning and the moon shadows are wiped from the walls; a new day and a blank canvas. I pick up the envelope and gingerly cut the tape that seals it shut. The seller has packaged the contents carefully.

Finally freed, I examine the book. It is a children’s book illustrated by my grandfather in the 1930’s, “The Three Bears”. Some child loved this book. It was stored away, forgotten and then found and placed it for sale on the Internet. As I was searching for Christmas gifts for my own children, this book appeared on the page, seemingly unrelated to my search on the same Website. The seller listed my grandfather’s name in his description of the book.

As I open the book, like a child, I search the familiar lines of my grandfather’s drawings for a hidden message. Maybe my name is hidden among the branches of the trees, or a shadow of my own likeness in the clouds. But this was illustrated and published years before my existence.

I notice that the middle pages expand out to form a panorama and a house pops open in three dimensions. The house sits at the edge of a forest and a path of mossy stones circles the house and recedes into the distant mountains. It is my grandfather’s house. The beauty that surrounded him every day suddenly surrounds me.

My grandfather has shared his love with generations of children.  Four decades after that lesson I begin to understand what perspective is.  It is not only the relational distance of objects, but more importantly the ability to see the beauty in the world that surrounds us.

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