Friday, January 16, 2015

True Story

I received an email today from a friend of mine. It said she had seen a fish picture I did yesterday while at the University of Alabama's Gadsden Center. I had to laugh to myself. I had not thought of that fish in years! I don't think she knew the story behind it and it's really one worth sharing. I thought it best to write it down. To make a long story short...

Almost ten years ago I was invited by the wonderful Bobby Welch to be a participating artist in the "Gadsden Reads" program. This city-wide literacy program would be featuring the book "Big Fish", written by Daniel Wallace. I'm sure you are familiar with the kind of city wide projects that feature large colorfully painted statues scattered about town? Well, Bobby was commissioning a few Alabama artists to paint a SIX FOOT FIBERGLASS CATFISH. (Sorry. Caps seemed appropriate.) These would be sold to businesses as a fundraiser as well as a fun way to drum up interest. I agreed and for weeks we had a gigantic fish, complete with whiskers made out of weed eater string, in our basement. Since nests were my "thing" I envisioned covering this fish with sticks and titled it "Fish Sticks".  My son who was five or so at the time named him "Fin". I don't think I ever told Bobby this, but I hid my name in the artwork just for fun. 

"Fish Sticks" aka "Fin" before it left our house for his wild adventure.

To unveil these marvelous creatures which had been mounted along Broad Street in Gadsden, Bobby found a truck to pull a decorated pontoon boat down what he now referred to as "the Broad River" and the artists onboard would lean over the edge and, with a long pole, remove the drape that was covering their fish to unveil it for the crowd walking alongside in somewhat of a parade of one vehicle fashion. Here's the website with my bio and photo of my catfish. Below is a photo of the unveiling.

Bobby (lower left) helping me as I reached from the boat. My daughter looks on from behind. 
Do you see my name on the fish? This was on the cover of the Gadsden Times.

Every good story has a tragedy they say and here it is. Someone stole "Fish Sticks"! And not long after it's debut either. And really, I was ok. It had served it's purpose and in this tragedy it gained another one. It made the 10 o'clock news and people, out of kindness but mostly out of good humored fun, began a memorial at the site of the empty pole where "Fish Sticks" once stood. There were fish lures, flowers, fish food, and tall memorial candles. It's pictured below. Bobby printed "Have you seen this fish?" posters offering a $500 reward and they were everywhere. I made t-shirts with that poster on it for our family and I even wrote a short poem about it. Click here to see the poster and poem. 

"Have you seen this fish?" reward poster and memorial on the pole, now empty.

The picture my friend saw yesterday was probably a poster pictured below that shows all the fish painted for this event. In the end, this tragic tale helped draw more attention to the wonderful reading program and we made some great memories. I so enjoyed spending time with Bobby and the other artists. Daniel Wallace the author also painted a fish. He was kind enough to autograph his books for my mother and I. I loved the movie version of "Big Fish" as well as the book.  This crazy story seems right in line with it. And did you know it is a felony to destroy public art? I did not either. But they did find out what happened to Fin and those who destroyed it were caught.

"The Big Fish of Broad Street" poster my friend saw (autograhped)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy New Year!

In a recent post titled "How to Forget about 2014", Donald Miller quoted someone who said this about life...the windshield is much bigger than the rearview mirror. I love that. People who focus too much on the rear view are less able to steer and make good decisions or changes for what's ahead. I thought it might encourage someone if I were to share my rearview mirror story. I hope you don't mind.
I have said more than a few times, "I can't wait for 2014 to be over." In January I found my mom at her home in one of those situations we all fear will one day happen. That was the beginning of an almost 6 month fight for her life and quite an emotional roller coaster. The exhaustion felt almost unbearable as did the heartache. She passed away in the middle of 2014. And the remainder of this year found my family and I dealing with grief. You hear about the phases of grief and about how time heals all wounds, etc. Indeed, grief is quite an individual thing and I am confident now that it varies from person to person.
Here comes the "but". BUT there were jewels in 2014 as well and if I were to erase the year from my memory, or rearview, I would not have them to treasure. The ol' circle of life kind of things, like the birth of our nephew Tucker and two beautiful weddings. Both weddings were at crucial times but in each of those times we were able to celebrate the moment. And dance. I love that! Somehow it's like a rebellious response against whatever is trying to rob your joy. Despite it all, we knew this was good and right and we were able to set aside any pain for a moment. It didn't go away. It just didn't have so much power. Some would call that "surprised by joy." And this year I traveled with my children on some pretty spectacular trips. I will never forget a breathtaking, clear and starry night when I was dancing and laughing onboard a boat in NYC's harbor with a crowd of happy high school students and parents...

Life is so very hard. And life is so very beautiful. I experienced both simultaneously in 2014. I do believe God gives us more than we can handle. Because it's in those times when we come to our own ends, we cry out to God to help us. He was faithful. He is faithful. Good bye 2014. I will never forget you.

Happy New Year!

Now let's dance...

*Special thanks to my friend Diana Contorno for the images and the laughter.