by James Bates
Tonic and Lime
A sunny summer day with Mom and me sitting in our shady backyard. I was four years old, and she was holding me in her lap. Casually, she pointed and said, "Jerry, look up in the sky. What do you see?"
I looked and said, "Umm, clouds."
"Right, honey," Mom said, "Now look very closely. Do any of them remind you of anything?"
I looked again, starting to get the feeling I was missing something and maybe letting her down a little. "Maybe, pillows?" I ventured.
Mom grinned and hugged me tight. "Oh, honey, I love you so much." I remember that distinctly. She always had a way of making me feel good about myself, which was nice, because, believe me, I was never the sharpest pencil in the box.
She pointed in a different direction, "Look over there. I see something that looks like a horse? Do you see it?"
I looked. All I saw were cotton looking clouds. "I see cotton balls," I said.
Mom smiled, having fun I could tell, playing the art teacher that she was at the local high school. "Let's look again." She directed my gaze and with her graceful finger outlined the horse she saw, "There's the head, there's the body, there's the legs and there's the tail."
"I think I kind of see it," I said, hesitantly, even though I really couldn't.
"That's okay if you don't," she smiled and hugged me again. Then she stood up, "Just a second, I'll be right back." She hurried into the house and returned with a sketch pad and a pencil. "Here's what I see." And she sketched out a simple drawing of a horse, showing me each part as she drew: head, body, legs and tail. When she was finished she said, "Now look in the sky again and this time use your imagination."
Oh, my imagination, so that's what it took. And that's what I did. I let my mind go free and when I did I was able to see the horse. Finally. I nodded happily, "Yes, Mom, now I can see it," I told her, getting enthusiastic. "Can I try and make my own drawing?"
"Absolutely." She gave me my own pencil and paper, "Let's look at more clouds and find something special for you. What do you see?"
Now that I knew how to look, I let my imagination take over. I looked for a few moments and then pointed, "There. I see a doggy," I said, confidently.
"Can you draw it?"
"I'll try." And I did. I drew a doggy and that's how it all started, Mom and me drawing pictures of clouds together.
We passed that summer and subsequent summers thereafter, as often as we could, sitting out doors looking at the sky and drawing pictures of what we saw. I'm glad we did, because over time her vision began to fail little by little until, when I was in my early twenties, blindness from macular degeneration robbed her completely of her eyesight. After that, we'd sit together in the sunshine and she'd ask if there were any pictures in the sky, and I'd tell her what I saw and then I'd sketch them. I think she enjoyed imagining them as much as I did drawing them.
But it was more than the drawing for us, much more. It was us being together. We'd talk, I'd tell her about my day, she'd tell me about hers. We shared our lives. She was able to instill in me a love of nature, and the sky and the sun and the passing of the seasons. And a love of clouds, of course. Always the clouds.
She was seventy-nine the last time we were together. We were sitting outside of her senior living complex on a warm summer afternoon. The sun was shining and the sky was clear and bright and blue. "Jerry," she said, "How's the sky looking today? Any good pictures up there?"
I took her hand, thinking back over all those years of us together drawing pictures of what we saw in the sky."Yes, Mom, there are."
"Can you draw me one?" she asked, just like when I was young.
Today's sky was cloudless, but it didn't matter. "Sure, Mom. I can do that."
I used my imagination and drew a picture of a son and his mother, sitting outside on the patio on a warm sunny day. They were happy and smiling, as if life would go on forever, or at least their memories would, of soft summer days when the two of them spent time together, enjoying each other's company and looking at the sky, imagining what pictures they saw there.
When I was finished I showed her what I'd drawn. She told me that she loved it.
About the author
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers' Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed and Paragraph Planet. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.