“I used to…”
The saddest stories I know all begin this way.
Fill in the blank. I used to…
Sing…dance…write…run…be in love…have children…
Sadly, this list could go on forever. For every one of us has something we have abandoned, willingly or no. I’m certainly no exception.
I used to draw…
In this, among other things, I am my father’s son.
My dad has graced the cyber pages of this blog on a couple of occasions. It’s late Saturday night and my alarm will sound in about 5 hours, when I’ll load up and make my weekly drive to Birmingham. It’s been a long day and I’m tired, but I’m thankful for the chance to play music and the work I’ve been given.
But a story has surfaced from my memories today and there just hasn’t been time to write, except for a few notes in my new journal. Nagging at me all day, this tale starring my father apparently wants to be told.
On the surface, the connection between my drill sergeant dad and his broken dreamer offspring would seem tenuous. Oh, we share the same genetic markers to be sure, and I either copied or inherited Dad’s deflective humor and way with people. In his life, Dad had been many things. Merchant marine, Army NCO, engineer, barber in his retired days, husband, and father to many children.
But you would never look at my dad and say ‘artist.’
Yet for many years there hung a painting over our family hearth as proof of his artistry.
The Matador and the Bull.
As a child I must’ve seen that painting a few million times but never gave it a thought. Several of the Vinson brood have taken pen or brush in hand in an attempt to retell the world we saw (some better than others). It must’ve been during my ‘artistic period’ that I finally noticed this painting.
I wish I knew what happened to it. I have a thought that for some reason my mom never liked it, and it probably ended up in our basement and eventually the Turkey Creek Landfill.
While I don’t remember this painting being ‘great’, there was something about it that haunts me still.
On a bold red background, a huge black bull is charging. With cape in hand, a lone matador readies his sword for the thrust to fell this monster. For a decidedly Spanish subject, there is an almost Japanese austerity to Dad’s work. He did spend time over in Korea and Japan, so maybe something besides saki soaked into his bones.
I did ask Dad one day about his painting. In his typical way, he sidestepped the question with a joke I don’t even remember. But he did utter that sad, sad phrase.
“I used to draw. But I don’t anymore.”
And for some reason, I just accepted that answer as the way it was. To be honest, I’m a bit mad at myself for not pressing the matter.
The imagery of this bullfight has been swirling around my brain. Dad would’ve been the first to admit he didn’t possess a great deal of skill with the brush, but he painted an incredibly powerful moment, so vivid that I can see every detail. With so few strokes, he literally painted this picture:
The melancholy resignation of the matador in the moment when he knows the bull will weaken. The sad set of his shoulders as he tosses the cape in front of the bull and prepares his sword for the inevitable.
The all-too-familiar quality of the bull in the moment he knows he is beaten. When his blood will darken blade and soak the earth beneath his hooves.
Yet they both fight on, participants in this macabre dance, with the suggestion of the crowd roaring in the background.
The bull sheds his blood while the matador sheds tears.
My Dad captured this moment on canvas. Was this work so powerful for him that he knew he would never better it?
I have been both matador and bull.
God, please don’t let me live my life with “I used to”…
Tomorrow, I’m going to find pen and paper.