This is the story of a homemade gift. Think of the most meaningful gifts you’ve ever received. Not from your childhood (like “my first bike” or “a Cabbage Patch doll” or that special whistle that was all the rage in the 1950s), but as an adult. When I do this, I think of some very dear friends who cooked amazing food gifts, often in the form of several-course dinners, such as one featuring lasagna with basil-lime sorbet to cleanse the palette; another boasting of fresh pulpo (octopus) and lemon which I still crave so many years later; a decadent New Year’s party with an incredible chicken paté and other homemade extravagances; one with a first public attempt at homemade olive bread (which was a huge success!); or another with a semolina-polenta and wild mushrooms that still makes my mouth water just thinking of it. Or, homemade gifts from family like all the clay sculptures Megan and Adam did when they were young; love letters from Dave; a miniature oil on canvas of a pear from my mom; and the forget-me-not-blue dresses and little cloth dolls handmade by Emily with so much love for my girls. When someone takes time and energy to create a gift while doing something they enjoy, it means the world to me.
So recently, when I was trying to come up with a nice gift idea for my sweet husband, I realized that I had not really ever made anything just for Dave (ok — except tons and tons of food). With all the creative juices flowing around our place, I couldn’t believe it. Shame on me! So, an idea was born to do a painting. Three actually. I would do one, and each of my girls would do the others to make a triptych. Cézanne is one of Dave’s favorite artists, so I decided to do a still-life similar to a portion of one he had done in 1891 — a study of pears and apples, which now hangs at the Met.
So off I went in search of two 6 x 6 wood panels, one 8 x 10 and fresh fruit. I asked my girls what they wanted to paint, and they told me quite decisively that Julia wanted to do a green apple and Sofia wanted to do a red pear. I set up the still-life in my mom’s basement studio, laid out some choice acrylics, robed them in some old T-shirts, and let them create! Sofia painted first, very confident with her brush and meticulous with her details, and her painting was done in no time. Julia took her turn at the easel, apparently deciding that one should not only stick with green paint when you can mix in red too. Hers was a much more, shall we say, abstract approach, and as proud as can be, she finished and exclaimed “Voilà!” They were both so proud and happy with their work.
After making sure no one painted the furniture, the floor, or themselves, I whisked the paints away before temptation struck. I was exhausted, so I painted the following day with oils, and when the girls asked if they could paint again, my reply was: “Mommy’s turn!” As I am still learning, my painting process usually goes like this: from blocking in my shapes and saying “Oh! Such beautiful fruit! I love painting . . . I am having so much fun!” to finding myself in the midst of a painting session with no light at the end of the tunnel, fuming (“I just want something presentable!”) and then turning to my mom accusingly (as if to say “NOW what?”), to which she always replies: “Keep going!” Aarrrgghhh! After about 3 and a half hours, I wear out, decide that it’s over — even if I hate it — and sign my name. My mom, reassuringly promises: “You will like it tomorrow, after you have fresh eyes.” I drive home, bleary-eyed and wiped out, hoping she is right. After all, this one is a gift.
The girls were thrilled to wrap their paintings themselves, and present them to their unsuspecting “Daddy.” He was so surprised and impressed with the work of their little hands. My mom was right (of course). And true to the nature of homemade gifts, he loved them all.