I Don’t Take it Lightly

It’s hard to take for granted
This gold light, these cool nights
It’s almost fall again
This is our time

Paul’s father passed away on Saturday. The funeral was yesterday and it was heartbreaking, but also good to see Paul’s mother, Norma, and spend the day with the family sharing remembrances of him and crying together. It was a bright fall day and at the cemetery all the trees were red and yellow.

Paul’s dad was a beautiful man in every respect: handsome, warm, strong, funny, and charismatic. Alvin was ninety-six and lived an amazing life. Leslie and I were talking about it and acknowledging that every life has its frustrations and hardships, even his – he walked 300 miles into Poland as a prisoner of war, for God’s sake – but it was also just a spectacular life. He was accomplished and adored. He and Norma were married for sixty-seven years, and happily. Norma is still beautiful at eighty-nine, and looked glamourous in her soft gray sweater and scarf. She was pure, raw grief and it was hard to witness but also magnificent because she was utterly real and herself.

I was eighteen when I met them both, invited to dinner at their apartment on Central Park West. I was very intimidated by the paintings on the walls (Alvin was an artist and fashion illustrator), the stylish furnishings, and their glamour. Norma served cornish hens (she was a spectacular cook) and I didn’t know how to eat mine. I stabbed at it cluelessly until it flew off my plate, but they were kind and generous to me that night and over all the years. I loved them and felt loved by them. I told Norma how much I loved Alvin and she said, “Everyone did.” I told her I loved her too, and she asked me to come visit.

Of course, Paul was everywhere, being his kind, capable self, taking care of all of us and everything. He is the best man I know.

In The Ones I Loved (the name I gave the book I’ve been writing over the past two years) Alvin inspired the drawing teacher my character Mara studies with when she takes a life drawing class (in an effort to begin living again). This scene takes place at the last class as it is just getting to be summer.

For our last class, we meet at the Gansevoort Street entrance to the Highline: Tamir, Ayako, Eileen, Lucas, Lauren, and the others. We climb the steel staircase to the elevated train tracks, now a park. We’ve brought our sketch pads and charcoal pencils, watercolors, and pastels. Mr. P is wearing a beautiful summer weight blazer, a sky-blue shirt, a silk scarf. He must have been quite something in his prime. He’s still dashing at whatever age he is, which I suspect is older than he seems. We’ve learned that he is a World War II vet, was taken prisoner in Poland. Later went to Cambodia and Vietnam as an artist for the Air Force. Married Mrs. P and had two sons. Became one of the best known fashion-illustrators of his time, a time when illustration was more popular than photography.

Mr. P asks us to notice the light – early, almost-summer evening light. Without any eye at all, you could see that it’s a special time of day. He calls it the magic hour. We walk the whole length of the park. A new section has opened that extends it into the thirties. The path narrows as we go. Plantings and surrounding architecture shift subtly from landscape to landscape: Steel beams and wildflowers, rooftops and tall grasses, trees and brick buildings.

We scatter to find benches and lounge chairs, take supplies from our bags: charcoal pencils, watercolor, pads with thick paper. Mr. P gazes out over the Hudson River. I wonder what he’s thinking? Maybe only of how beautiful the light is as the sun goes down.

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