My dad has four strawberry rows in his garden. Each is a different variety: Honeyoe, Brunswick, Kent, and one other I can’t recall. (Sorry, Dad.) Two of the rows aren’t doing very well. The other two have made enough strawberries to (nearly) make him sick of them. This is the first year Dad has ever had successful strawberries after years and years of experimental planting.
Strawberry season meant life was zooming along from springtime into summer. David and I were feeling proud of completing a year in London. Dad was fussing over strawberries and bees and all his other projects. My brother’s wife was pregnant (and has since brought my little niece into the world!) Mom was enjoying herself as she watched my brother’s other daughter everyday. My sister was just coming home from a great first semester at Radford University.
Then on a Tuesday night in mid-May he collapsed at home by himself. The short of it: two of his arteries were extremely clogged, and the walking pneumonia (that he unknowingly had) wasn’t helping. Obviously he was admitted to the hospital.
- Friday they told us they had scheduled by-pass surgery. I bought my plane ticket. I’m not sure what I’d do without a partner like David, who came home early after I got the call about Dad’s surgery. He bought my ticket for me and canceled a trip we had scheduled without question.
- Saturday I flew home.
- Monday, May 15, Dad had an incredibly successful surgery with zero complications.
- Friday, May 19, we drove Dad home!
And all while Dad was in the hospital, he just wanted to talk his strawberries. Had someone weeded them? Were we picking the ripe ones? That’s what we talked about just before he went into surgery.
It’s been two months since his surgery, and I’m still shaken–but so amazed with my parents. Dad has humbly started to change his eating habits, listening to the doctor. Mom has been incredibly strong. Both of them took on this scary situation without fear and with a steadfastness I couldn’t fathom. I am so f***ing proud to be their daughter.
When heavy situations arise and emotions are full, I need to do things. It’s how I cope. I have to fuss over something. If something bad happens to you, the Southerner in me can’t help but make you casseroles. It’s not just casseroles, though. I have to clean something or fix something or make something.
And that’s exactly like Dad. And I think that’s why he asked about his strawberries. How was he supposed to fuss, sitting around in the hospital?
My entire art practice is just like him and his projects–his whittling in front of the TV, his crazy drawings on graph paper, his projects surrounding in his favorite chair. That’s pretty much my studio: comfy chair, odds and ends everywhere, with access to tons of Netflix. I have to do things. When I’m not painting, I’m making bagels. I’m sewing. I’m brewing beer. I’m fixing weird things in the house.
While I was in Fredericksburg, it was easy to fuss. I spent the day at the hospital with Dad, escorting him on the amazing odyssey of walking a lap around the heart ward, negotiating with him to do his breathing exercises, and (obviously) eating his dinner leftovers. I stayed long enough to settle Dad into the house for a couple of days. My last afternoon I weeded the strawberries–and my reward was that Dad was feeling sassy enough to come outside and sit on a bucket with me. It was the best sight.
Strawberries are so fragile. If you don’t pick them, they weigh down their own plants and bruise themselves on the ground. They’re hard to grow–the soil has to be the perfect acidity. Weeds are crazy around them. Then there’s the bugs and animals that want to help themselves. I’ve started paintings of Dad’s strawberries so that I can fuss internationally.
While home and the day before Dad’s surgery, I was reminded of my favorite passage in 2 Corinthians 5. It talks about the “tent that is our earthly home.” Bodies, tents, strawberries: all fragile, all temporary. But portable, agile, movable. Flying back to London was even more difficult than when we moved. I’m fine feeling temporary and fragile in my own body; it was hard seeing my loved ones that way–even though that’s the state of life. But we still have hope, so much hope and love. Buying that plane ticket the night before I would fly felt like an admission of life’s fragility, but it also made me see I’m always close to home.
And now some less intense updates…
- Three of my paintings will be part of the artsdepot‘s Open 2017, my first London exhibition. The artsdepot is just down the street in North Finchley; so I’m really excited to go to the opening, then walk across the street to my ‘favourite’ pub, The Bohemia, to celebrate!
- Also, my work is featured in TAKEOVER, an art zine project created in 2017 by artist Serena Cole as a means of showcasing outstanding contemporary artwork by female and genderqueer artists which is often under-recognized, as well as an opportunity to foster important conversations about what it means to be a female or gender non-binary person today. TAKEOVER features artwork and thoughts by 36 artists and 1 curator working from a variety of locations such as London, New York City, Portland, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Beaumont, TX.
- After I flew home, I had 10 days until Fleet Festival! It was beautiful to see how the community came together in the name of creativity and loving your neighbor. I’m really, really proud of the work I did for it–and incredibly amazed that that work was multiplied into something bigger than myself. I’m so thankful that I got to be a part of a project like this. The fullness of the day was good for my soul: I saw that London was a good place for me, even if my family in Virginia is far away.David led an amazing beer brewing demo at Fleet Festival with his work pal! It was so cool to see them at Clapton Craft in Kentish Town. They made a black IPA inspired by 21st Amendment’s Back in Black.
- I sold my 500th bagels on Friday! Baygel Bagels continues to be my experiment in capitalism and sourdough.
- Another strong Thomason lady has arrived! My brother and his wife have given us a gift of a June baby. My Masoni (Navajo grandma) always talked about her “arms aching” for her grandbabies. I know that feeling now. I have to wait until Christmas to meet my newest partner in crime.
- Dad continues to do great. He’s been discharged from the heart doctor. He has been to his favorite men’s breakfast, YMCA swimming classes, and can even drive. Please send all the good things like love and prayers and thoughts for him to keep healing and getting stronger in his body, heart, and mind–and for Mom, too! We Thomasons are a sassy, stubborn lot, but can get down when we can’t do the things we want to.