by Miles Rost
(Author’s note: For Clinton, my brother, a true man of colours)
I sat downstairs, and watched him as he spent the bright afternoon in the beautifully lighted parlor of his home. The natural sunlight was able to put a unique glow on the work of art he was doing.
As a young boy, I was not as interested in what my uncle did. I didn’t really care much as to why he did what he did. I knew he was a painter, and that he did his work diligently, even if he didn’t actually make that much money from what he did. After my parents separated for a time, it was felt that my uncle would take better care of me for a couple of summers. So at the age of 13, they sent me to his manor in the heart of the West Country.
The first few weeks I was there, I didn’t do much with my uncle. I was still a bit frazzled from what was going on with my parents. But, after those few weeks when I ran the grounds and did so much, I finally was able to take a moment and watch what he was doing.
My uncle Charles was a calm man. He barely ever raised his voice, and sometimes didn’t even have to speak to get his point across. He had a silent air about him, but one that allowed for great things to come forward.
“The creative spirit does not allow for anger to fester inside, but is allowed to be spread throughout whatever you work on. In my case, my anger and frustration is carried across the canvas,” he told me, the first day I became interested in what he did, “If you have passion for something, put everything into it. Anger, fear, love, trust, everything. It will come forth in beauty and love.”
That is what got me interested in his painting, and why I got interested in playing music later on.
I lounged on the chaise in the parlor, looking at him as he took a wider brush to a beautiful work-in-progress. It looked like the start of an outdoor scene, with pastel skies and deep green trees. I looked in wonder as he did his painting, marveling at the brushstrokes and how he was able to make a painting come to life before our eyes.
“Uncle Charles, why do you paint?” I asked him, as he worked.
“I paint because it is what I wanted to do in life. I keep my life in this paintbox. When I speak to this canvas, it tells me what it wants. And I follow what it says, because that’s how I work.”
I sat for another half hour while he changed his brushes around and continued to paint. After that half hour, he had me go into the kitchen ahead of him to get prepared for tea time. Margaret, the maid of the house, kept things organized as much as she could, and made the time for tea quite pleasant.
“Uncle Charles, why didn’t you marry?” I asked him.
“I did. Once. A very long time ago, before you were born. Alice would have loved to have seen you. It was very hard for us to separate like we did.”
“She didn’t want to burden me with her problems. She left at the time of her choosing, and went to get treatment for her disease.”
The old man rubbed his failing eyes, and took a moment to think of things. A small tear glistened on the side of his eye, even though he knew that he should be showing it.
“I am not sure how it happened, or whether it was something like shame or the burden of leaving, but she did pass on half a year after leaving. Her heart just couldn’t stand things, I think.”
I just looked up at him, and saw the sadness in his eyes. It finally hit me that the pain of my parents’ separation was hitting him hard too, because it reminded him of his loss of Aunt Alice.
After tea, we went back into the parlor. The sun was in that special place in the sky where it seems to always be the most beautiful. That’s where his hands and inspiration took it’s flight. By the time the sun went down and the lights came on in the house, he had created what looked to be a beautiful meadow with a lone tree. Three people underneath it, one a small boy, or so as I could see.
“I…I am a man, A simple man, A man of colours. And I can see through the years, see through these tears. These are the tears and the years of a man, a man of colours.”
I never knew what he meant when he said it…but he said it in such a way that it seemed that I would finally figure it out down the road.
The artwork he made was given to my parents. When it was done, he gave it to them and told them to take a day and just look at the painting. He told them to contemplate it, and really get into it.
That fall, my parents came to pick me up. They told me that they were going to see a priest about getting things worked out. They wanted to be together, and not to experience pain like they had.
It has been many years since my uncle Charles passed away. He never remarried, but he made an impact on people that he knew. When we went through his things after he died, we found out that he had almost 200 paintings from when he was alive. 150 of them were donated to various universities and charities. The University of Buckingham even decided to keep 15 of his paintings up as a permanent exhibit. The other 50, according to his will, were to be auctioned and sold. I was to be the beneficiary of the wealth, his will stated.
I don’t think about the money, though. And when I go to Buckingham with my friends from college, we always stop by my uncle Charles’s exhibition. The world appreciated what he did. And I did too.