The Two Tigers Painting

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It’s a painting of two young tigers done by an unknown artist many years ago.  I remember seeing it in the house when we were growing up so seeing it does take me back from time to time.  It is not worth anything except for the memories.  I hadn’t thought about it in years until my Dad was showing us around the house.  Now, there is a sadness associated with it for me and yet I find myself more drawn to it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  This past week has been a quiet one for this blog.   I have been away from home attending what has become a yearly family ritual.  It is our version of a family reunion where my three siblings (older brother, younger brother, younger sister) and their spouses and assorted children spend a week in the town where my parents live.  It helps that it is on one of the Great Lakes and so there is a beach which gives most of the family something to do during the days and a reason to spend a week there.

We are not what you would call a “close-knit” family.  Nearly all of our communications are through email and Facebook but when the four of us get together, it is like no time has passed since we’ve last seen each other.  We do spend every night playing cards and telling stories and riffing on each other (spouses and children are fair game as well).  Do or say something stupid and you will likely hear about it from multiple sources until the next target pops up.  It is all good-natured stuff though.  And we do have a couple of large dinners with the parents and all of us find time to stop in and see them each day.

My relationship with my parents is a little more complicated.  They have been married for many years but we have found out over the years that it hasn’t exactly been the happiest of marriages.  At some level, I’d like to believe they still care for each other but they do snipe at each other a lot.  Talk to either of them alone, and it is great.  Put them in the same room and it can be a little exhausting.  I’m not going to complain too much because we all turned out OK.  They provided a lot of financial support but maybe not as much emotional support as some of us needed.

Well they are both advanced in years and both have some health issues and so we’ve been having the necessary but awkward conversations about what to do for them and who gets what.  Dad has always been concerned that everything gets divided evenly and there are some things that they’ve collected over the years that could have some value.  He has a rather large stamp collection which has never been appraised and there are some other things that my Grandmother collected that he got when she died.   From talking to him this weekend, he did finally tell us that stamp collectors can come to think of their stamps as “children” which I can see since he spent a large part of his life gathering these stamps.  I’m sure there are stories about how he acquired some of them.  It ties with his love of history and he can track the history of a place through its stamps.  I really think he was hoping one of us would take over and show an interest but he was always alone when he worked on them and was always so serious about them that as kids we didn’t want to disturb him.  I think he could have cultivated an interest if he tried harder but, now, none of us are really interested in starting that type of hobby.  We did think about keeping it in the family which is what I thought he wanted but then the whole interest of fairness came up and he didn’t want to leave it to just one.  We kind of settled on just dividing some of the stamps – based on our interest.  Some of us have ties to certain countries and having his stamps from those places would be a nice reminder.  I’m not sure that totally settled it for him though.

I suppose there is always a certain sadness in looking at what you’ve accumulated over your life and the memories it brings back.  I’ve been called a sentimental collector as I do tend to save things given to me by other or things that have a certain meaning.  Pop may be a little like that (save too much and you become a hoarder).  I guess some would think it is silly to become attached to an inanimate object and Mom is all over him to just pitch everything (although she has her own little collection of things that are special to her).  But if an item is tied to a particularly good memory, then maybe it isn’t so silly to become attached to it and to wonder what might happen to it if you are not around.  I know they’ve made arrangements with my sister to take their cats in the event they still have cats when they pass on.  It does give them a sense of relief to know that the cats will go to someone who loves and will take care of them.  Again, maybe Pop just needs something like that for some of the items he has gathered over his life.

That’s what struck me as we were going through the house.  We came to the tiger painting and it turns out to have been something they saw in a hotel out west when they were taking a trip shortly after they were married and before we came along.  The one tiger cub looked a lot like a cat they had at the time and the painting was for sale so Pop bought it.  This is a little out of character for him and I don’t know if this cat was particularly special but that was the story.  As he was telling the story, I was hit with two waves of emotions.  I could sense that talking about it was bringing back a good memory for him but, underneath that, I got some real sadness.  It was like there was some remorse about how things had turned out.  This painting did represent a time in their life when they were just starting out and certainly had to be a happier time in their lives.  Maybe it was in some way trying to figure out how it had turned into the relationship they now have.  I have been thinking about that painting ever since and part of me wants it when they are gone just as maybe a way to realize that they weren’t always the bickering pair they are now.

So this week has been a series of ups and downs.  Spending time with my siblings and their families was great and we had a lot of laughs.  I do enjoy seeing my parents but it is also sad to see how they’ve ended up and this week just really hammered that home.    I would guess we all live with a certain amount of regret.  Life is a series of choices and each choice takes you down a different path and will often close off other paths forever.  But going back and choosing a different path is something that only happens in the movies.  Better to find something about your life right now that makes you happy and hold on to it.

Note:  I know this deviates from my normal stories about dancing.  I will be back to a normal schedule next week and you can expect more posts about my experiences there.  Parts of this week were just so emotional and I had to find a way to let that out.  I don’t feel comfortable talking about this with people I know so I choose the anonymous method and write about it.

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