The pictures on our bedroom wall each contain at least one memory—a captured spirit or ghost, if you will.
Spring Song may well have hung in my Nana’s home. At some point I stumbled on a print and brought it home. Rumor has it that the little girl is Glücklich’s blind daughter and that the the child has her eyes closed in the original painting.
A robin sings from a bare birch branch cast in muted light with only a muddy hint of spring. The girl is wearing a brocade jumper laced in green, sitting on a bench, her face turned towards the bird.
In Spring Song, I see the spirit of my Nana and am filled with gratitude for her and for my happy childhood days at her house. As I drift off to sleep at night, I look at the little girl and see myself as the pampered little girl. I feel the spirit of my childhood as it connects with Nana’s childhood, she as much the little girl as I am and the two of us connected in a sense, to all the little girls of the world.
Bob took a photo of a Blue Heron as we were canoeing down the Myakka river in the early ’90s, and later painted it in watercolor. It is one of his best early works, definitive proof that he does have artistic talent despite what he heard as a child from the adults in his life.
There are several ghosts in this one. There’s the spirit of my mother’s intrepid cousin Beverly, and of Bob and I at that heady moment, pivoting to leave Colorado, madly in love and ready to eat the world. And there’s the tug south, that yearning for the tropics, a spirit which will never die.
How cold it was in Colorado the day we left for Sarasota—15°F below—and the car wouldn’t start so we called a tow truck or a cab. How fresh the thick Florida air from Beverly’s screened porch, teeming with spring, no ice or snow in sight, only alligators slipping from the shallow beaches where they’d been soaking in the sun.
Beach Birthday, by Bob January, 2022 depicts the Topsail beach Bob chose for celebrating his birthday. It highlights a moment in which Bob is sitting on the veranda gazing out at the waves and at his wife lying in the sun after a swim.
The spirit of this picture is my love, Bob, the barefoot boy who speaks Twi and identifies with the fish. The man who transported me to four different tropical islands to live in heated splendor. This is us at our best, relaxed, with salt water licking at our ankles.
Tall Boy’s portrait of Little Corn Island’s cliffs has of course, captured his spirit, his quiet presence, towering and just. And by extension, his wife Maribel and our months there in Nicuargua, our Thursday snorkels, the ruined coke boat, the beans and rice, the pistols, the coconut palms, and the dogs.
The etching of Seabiscuit holds the spirit of my cousins Frank and Mark, and our childhood together in the neighborhood they shared with our Nana. It invokes memories of summers on the lawn, of playing pick-up-sticks on the dining room table after Sunday dinner, and of the Stone Church Fair where my little cousins bought this print with me in mind because they knew how much I loved horses.
Seabiscuit summons those sublime and safe years, all the magnificent food, the strawberries and cream beneath the shade of the big oak, the chocolate chip cookies, tetrazzini, poppy seed bread, potato leek soup, and English muffins drowning in butter. Here are the night crickets, our skinny beds beneath the looming screens, the dogs chasing through the leaves to the top of the hill, and the drone of a lone motorcycle near midnight.
Here are the roses and the tomatoes, the chives, the living room dancing with light from the prisms, the jade plant on its own table, the porcelain swan, wings arched over a keepsake bowl on the cutout shelves between Nana’s green chair with its matching dial phone and the dining room table where stories were told and olives placed on fingers.
This photograph of Jesse in his green halter—the halter Julie brought me the day I brought him home as a two-year-old—tied with the end of a lead rope for riding, conjures Jesse’s spirit. He is turning to look back, ears focused on something about to happen, coat shining with summer, his eye as deep as a well. Here I see the spirit of Bob and I galloping across the fields, eyes stinging from the wind, in a gait so smooth we could have passed a glass of wine between us. I see pride, solace, joy, and freedom.
We called him the wonder horse, the best there ever was, and god bless Julie for giving him the greatest gift, a fine home after we decided to leave the country for Belize. Julie welcomed him, pampered him, and gave him a beautiful, long life. Jesse was my first horse—a childhood dream realized in my thirties. I trained him myself and he was the envy of my friends. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for me. If I told him to step off a bridge, he might have done it. And he saved my life at least once.