Thursday, 10 April 2014

Yellow Violets: A Life Lesson From My Mom

When my mom was in her late thirties, she decided to return to teaching.  

Mom had been a teacher early in her marriage, but by the time she contemplated returning to the classroom she'd been away from teaching for more than a decade.  During that time teacher training requirements had changed drastically, from a two-year program at Normal School to a four-year university degree.  

In order to return to work, Mom had to complete her degree and, in order enter university, she had first to acquire some high school prerequisites she lacked. 

Among those required high school courses was biology.  My mom is an artist by nature, with little inclination toward the sciences, but she took a workman-like attitude to that biology course, determined to get through it with good grades.    

One of the biology class assignments required that students collect ten wild plants and then present their collection correctly labeled with their botanical names and information about their attributes and habitat.  Predictably, the students accomplished this by gathering wild plants and either pressing them or drying them in silica gel, then attaching them to boards on which they had written their cultural information.  

All except my mom.

Mom took her easel and oil paints to a favourite local park and made a painting of the shaded landscape beneath the forest canopy.  Once the landscape painting was completed, she carefully added in detailed images of the wild plants she intended to include in her project.  When the painting was finished, Mom made a line drawing of the painted image with the plants numbered and then detailed in a carefully lettered legend that provided the information required for the assignment.

I loved that painting, not least because a few sunny yellow violets stood like a bright exclamation point in the shadowed right hand corner of the foreground, the only spot of vivid colour among the whites and greens of the other plants my mom had chosen to describe. Those yellow violets were among her favourite spring wildflowers and she had highlighted them beautifully within the composition.

I have no idea what happened to that painting. It disappeared into the the tides of passing time, life events, and moves to new addresses.  It remains in my memory though, as clear as if it were framed on the wall in front of me, because I loved both the image itself and what I learned from it.

In choosing to fulfill her biology class assignment in a way that suited her artistic nature, my mom taught me something really important:  Life doesn't always allow us the luxury of doing things we enjoy but, if we are willing to invest a little extra thought and effort, we can still find the means to make whatever work life may bring us uniquely our own.  It's a lesson I've been thankful for again and again. 

It's the season of the yellow violet right now.  They're blooming in the woodlands, spangling the shaded undergrowth with their sunny faces.  Every time I see them I'm reminded again of my good fortune.  To have a mother who cares so deeply about fostering and sustaining creativity, a parent who has inspired her children to remain true to themselves while making their way in the world, is gift beyond measure.