Peaceful? Not exactly how I’d describe what I was thinking might be a quiet morning. The roar of passing cars fills the air, road rage with someone laying on the horn for what seemed like a full minute, and some muffled sounds of obscenities screamed out a car window. I thought that even Philadelphia would be immune to noise this early. I was wrong.
In spite of the noise, my daughter Grace is nestled in her cozy bed, asleep and not disturbed by the noise of passing traffic and the soft clicking of my iPad keyboard. Soon it will be time to awaken her, get some breakfast, and make our way over to get tickets to see the Liberty Bell. They say it has a crack. We’ll find out firsthand.
This is a special weekend. I’ll explain.
A Golden Invitation
Several weeks ago I received a call from Jay Pennie, director of Studio Incamminati, one of the great realism art schools in America, founded by Leona and Nelson Shanks. Jay told me they were going to do a special event where I would be the invited guest. They would be doing a Facebook Live event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 24, and I would be painted simultaneously by three amazing painters: Kerry Dunn, JaFang Lu, and Nell O’Leary.
I was told that video would pan between painters and paintings while I was interviewed throughout the day. I agreed — reluctantly, because it would mean yet another trip away from the family. Been too many of those lately. But I had a plan.
Two Good Reasons and One Not-So-Good Reason
Being an opportunist, on the spur of the moment my agreement was based on three things. First, it would be viewed potentially by tens of thousands of people, and, being a ham, I’m always looking for anyone who will listen to my story. Second, I get my portrait painted frequently for Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, and I’m behind schedule because I’ve not had time to sit still for a couple of years, so I could kill three birds with one stone. Third, and most importantly, it was an opportunity for a daddy-daughter weekend with Grace, age 16, one of the triplets.
One Trip That Didn’t Work Out
Grace and I actually had another weekend planned. Since she has been showing interest in art and had done a wonderful self-portrait in art class in high school, I was going to take her to the 100th anniversary of the Salmagundi Club building in New York a few months ago. But it turned out her high school ended up in the state football finals, and she was required to stay and play her trumpet. So I’d been looking for another opportunity. This was it.
Secretly I arranged for a private art lesson from one of the instructors at the school because I knew she would not want to stare at me being painted all day. “Boring, Dad.”
Then we would go be tourists, and as much as I wanted to visit art museums, I would resist my interests and do the things she wanted to do, like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. We would make a weekend of it. That is why we’re here.
It’s hard to gain perspective when you’re a guest who is modeling and talking simultaneously, but you can see the replay at Facebook.com/TheStudioIncamminati. You be the judge. It sure was fun and went by quickly, and I learned a lot watching myself being painted. And Grace loved her full-day drawing lesson.
The Painter of Queens and Presidents
Best of all, of course, is spending time with Grace. When we arrived I did have one art thing arranged, a private tour of one of the world’s great collections of Old Master paintings at a nearby estate. The collection had been created by my old friend Nelson Shanks (1937-2015), who invited me when we spent four half-days together with him painting my portrait. He was one of the great museum-quality portrait painters of all time. He told me loads of stories about friendships developed while painting Princess Diana (twice), Luciano Pavarotti, Bill Clinton, and others. I was honored to be painted by Nelson Shanks, something I chronicled here. It is one of my fondest memories.
Good Things Don’t Come Easy
I don’t know about you, but I cherish my weekends, and it would have been a lot easier to stay home, kick back, and not make the effort for a daddy-daughter weekend. But I have such fond memories of my special times with my dad that I could not resist the opportunity to create a memory.
Traveling with Dad
My dad took me to New York on a business trip with him when I was 13 or 14. I remember most of the details to this day, but when he said, “What do you most want to do?” I said, “Dad, I want to see inside a New York radio station” because I had caught the radio bug. So one Saturday morning we drove to Black Rock, home of CBS, and my dad went in and talked to the guard. He put me on the phone to the DJ on the air at WCBS, a man named Bill Brown, and before long we were inside the studio talking to the DJ.
That moment of inspiration created a career. Dad could have suggested we do something else, but he made it my weekend. I’ll always remember that. To this day he tells the story about how I talked my way into the station after being told no, but I’m guessing he secretly slipped the guard a 20.
A Cherished Memory
My nephew Ryan, now age 31, talks about a New York business trip I took him on when he was 12. It’s a reminder of how important these things are, and my hope is that my daughter will remember our time fondly and carry the tradition on with her family. And with triplets, I’ve got more special memories to make.
I learned an important lesson from my dad. I’m not sure where he learned it, but life is about creating memories. We may not remember all the moments in between, but the memories stand out. He and Mom devoted their lives to giving us memorable experiences, even though they probably couldn’t afford them. They went out of their way to make an effort to expose us to new things and create memories. We had weekends boating in a tiny boat in rough waters on Lake Erie, flights on Ford Tri-Motor airplanes, campfires around our Airstream trailer, amusement parks, road trips cross-country, flat tires on a single-lane road in an Aspen pass, working trade shows at McCormick Place in Chicago, flying in a DC-3, and hundreds of other memories, too many to mention here.
I’m trying to do the same, and as an adult with a job, responsibilities, and not-unlimited income, I’m realizing just how special these memories are and how inconvenient they were to create. Yet they are the life I fondly remember with my family.
I know so many people who had rough, rocky, unpleasant childhoods and deadbeat parents, which makes these memories even more special. I feel I was blessed with a great childhood and great parents. I wish everyone could experience that. That isn’t possible, but at least I can try to do it for my kids — and people who did not have role models can become role models.
I know some families who are estranged over what seem like petty little things. I can never truly understand until I’ve walked in their shoes, yet it seems to me that we don’t want those angry things to be the memories of our lives. We need to work extra hard to shed the negatives, accept one another for our own unique flaws, and focus on good memories for our remaining time on earth.
Rocking Chair Moments
Though I don’t want to be morose, I wonder if one day I’ll be sitting in a rocking chair, my family off with their busy lives, and I’ll be left with nothing but my memories. If so, I want to make so many that I have years of entertainment to keep a warm smile on my face.
Sometimes in our lives we may each be faced with difficult and challenging moments, and it will be these good times, these positive memories, that will get us through them. Maybe my baby girl will look back if she’s having a difficult moment and cherish time with her dad. Not just one trip, not just family vacations, not just silly dancing around the house or daddy-daughter dances, but times sitting on the porch just talking, or lying in the grass spotting animals in the clouds.
You don’t have to go on a trip to make memories.
In the book of Luke, the prodigal son left his father’s house and moved far away, yet his heart was warmed when “he came to himself” and remembered the blessings of the father’s house. His memories brought him home, and his dad received him with open arms.
Memories can serve purposes far beyond our intentions, and they should be received with open arms.
I Hate to See It End
Later today, after we’ve seen Philly and experienced the local food, seen the sights, and perhaps bought some T-shirts to bring home, we’ll board a plane bound for Austin, and we’ll have completed a lifetime memory. A memory of a great art visit, a great portrait experience, a great drawing lesson, and great times together. Tomorrow we’re back to the routine.
Memories are not all about childhood.
My dad and mom still make a point to create memories for their kids and grandkids, so it never really stops. My goal is to create memories for them.
What memories do you cherish the most?
Pause and think about them.
What memories do you have of your childhood that make you feel great?
I hope there are many.
What memories can you create, starting today?
With family, with friendships, there comes responsibility, maybe not by requirement, but out of the goodness within us.
Let’s each go out of our way to create memories, and let’s cherish the memories we hold dear. We would all be better off spending more time enjoying those memories.
Today might be a good day to gaze and simply remember. These are gifts implanted by others. Cherish them.
PS: Just last week I made memories by driving with the family from Austin to Santa Fe, where we played tourists and saw the area. We laughed a lot. I’m really excited about painting there in just a few weeks for the Plein Air Convention. It’s a very special place. And this was a special vacation, another wonderful memory.
PPS: Last week I sent the link to the Cuba story, BUT the link was broken. I heard from a lot of people, so here is the link. Sorry.