by Nora-Lyn Veevers
Joaquin Sorolla painted this sun-soaked oil in 1910 on the coast in Valencia, Spain. I discovered Sorolla in the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Malaga, Spain two years ago. I love the luminosity of his paintings. A young girl stands on the shore and looks out; the waves fold in on each other; her body toasts in the heat of the day and her gaze rests on a horizon. Her white bathing dress stirs against her mid-calves in the breeze from the sea. Sorolla paints fast to capture the light as the sun’s rays slant over the scene. He wants these warm colours that sparkle in this moment. He favours mood over details in his subject. La Niña wonders, perhaps, if her life will be good, she questions, possibly, her place in the large family of an emerging artist-father who paints constantly. Who will paint himself into a stroke and early death. It could be she contemplates what this turn-of-the-century world holds for her. Her life is ahead of her. The viewer feels the warmth. The aloneness. The hope.
Emily Dickinson, almost a half century before Sorolla, favoured dressing in white. She confined herself to her house for most of her adult life, exploring mortality and immortality through writing poetry. Verse that transcends time and speaks to our souls, still. Rhyming slant. Creating poetry of definition: “Hope – That thing with feathers that perches in our heart”; “Remorse is memory – awake”; she builds her poems with metaphor: “Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me …”.
My moment – twenty years ago, in my forties. On the sandy shores of Lake Huron one August afternoon, I sit on a blanket on the beach with my journal and scribble my way into my breaking-open heart. Words from my mother back at the cottage – another casual betrayal, another rebuke, words that sting instead of comfort, shallow apologies. A rift of her making that I will spend the rest of our time straddling. Long limbs of the summer sun dance off the water; the waves pulse their slow rhythmic beat, stroking the sand and swooshing back into the lake. The limits of sky and water disappear into each other. I feel my edges crumple. Hot sun, fresh breeze. I am in a sphere of sand and water, sky and sun. Alone, I ponder my mother and I know that I will never wrestle the mother I need out of her. I decide I can be the daughter I need to be. For me.
Twenty years later –
I am afraid, says my mom.
What are you afraid of, Mom?
On her last day, at ninety-one years old, I hold her hand and stroke her anxious face, shoulder, hand. Her agitation comes in waves. She cries for her mother. Smokey green eyes search frantically, find my brown ones and close in rest. I tell her It’s OK, Mom, everything will be OK. Don’t be afraid. Nana is waiting for you. Daddy is waiting for you. Charlie (her second born) is waiting for you. She has outlived them. She has outlived her painful, frail body. At her memorial I wear white. I read the poem “Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality …” I practiced in front of my family, wanting my voice to do justice. Emily’s words sing over the large room filled with family and friends.
I look at Sorolla’s Niña, her gaze resting somewhere far off, waves caress bare feet and ripple back out. That girl on my beach at mid-life – searching the horizon as the waves pulse to the beat of her heart. That last afternoon I hold my mother’s hand as death rocks her gently, beckons her to the other shore. You were a good mom, I tell her.
Nora-Lyn Veevers began writing creative nonfiction ten years ago after retiring from a career in education. She lives with her artist-husband on a horse farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario, where she meets bi-weekly with a group of smart, encouraging writers. Her work appeared recently in Essaydaily.org and read aloud on 99.3 County FM, the local radio station.