Gray matters — Making do

By Tanya MItchell | Feb 20, 2014
Source: File image

Belfast — My grandmother on my father's side taught school here in the Belfast area for many years. Her name was Clarice Mitchell.

Perhaps some of you remember having her as a teacher, and there are some who remained in the former SAD 34 school district who have fond memories of working with her — Dan Horton and Carol Bisbee immediately come to mind as two who still share those memories with me when we run into each other from time to time.

My little brother and I spent lots of time at my grandparents' house in Dixmont as kids and there was never a shortage of things that kept us busy and entertained. We used to like visiting the apple orchard, climbing in the trees and playing hide-and-seek with our cousins, many of whom lived close by. We ran through the old cow pastures, ate fresh vegetables we picked from the garden and sat in the kitchen while Grammy did her canning, prepared the evening meal or worked on one of her many artistic projects. My grandfather, Seth, worked for the state for many years in the dairy farming industry, and in his older years he was always puttering around the property, caring for the gardens and keeping up with other outdoor chores as he moved into his eighties.

We liked visiting there, as it always seemed like there was nothing our grandparents couldn't do. My dad still remembers Grammy's response whenever she had to improvise a way to finish a project or finalized a recipe.

"We'll make do," she used to say.

And she always did. She did so many things after she retired from teaching, in the years that I knew her best. One thing I most recall is that she sold Tri-Chem, which was a type of paint pen similar to a tube of paint that had a tip on the end used for adding color to felt-like canvases. Many of these canvases had pre-drawn images on them that allowed a person to add any color they wished to bring the art to life. My grandparents had one piece Grammy created years ago that always hung in a wooden frame in their living room. It featured the silhouette of a native American man astride a horse and facing the setting sun, and the sky carried all kinds of shades of yellows, oranges and reds. It was one of my favorites.

Grammy used to set aside some of the easier canvases for us to do when we came to visit, and later she showed us how to make decal-like window stickers using a Tri-Chem pen made just for that purpose. If we didn't have the exact colors we wanted to use, she taught us to "make do" by mixing colors until we achieved the hue we desired to use on our works. I think that made each project even more fun, and even now, on the rare occasions when I return to my acrylic paints and canvases, I still employ the art skills she taught me all those years ago.

And the lesson of making the best of what you have to work with has since moved far beyond the realm of art, especially as I grew up, got out on my own and later, when I became a mother. I have never been what anyone would consider rich in terms of money in the bank, but I have been able to provide for my son in creative ways and I'd like to think Grammy's influence has had a lot to do with that.

As my son grows, I can see him employing similar tactics, though right now it's by way of imaginative play like using a poster paper to draw an airstrip for his toy airplanes, or drawing on a cardboard box to fashion a tank, plane or army Jeep.

Everyone starts somewhere, and just as my son uses these skills to make his own fun, my first experience with "making do" was finding a new spectrum of colors every time I worked on my art projects with Grammy.

My grandparents have been gone for more than 10 years now, and I still miss them and think of them often. Especially during those times when life throws me a challenge and I find a way to get around it, even if I don't have exactly what I need to accomplish something on a conventional way.

The way I see it, I have one of the best tools in my arsenal because of the time I spent with my Grammy, and I'll bet anyone who ever knew her could say the same.

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