I wanted to show you this little watercolor that hangs in our tiny den. I was first drawn to it because of the scenery, and because it is small. I love small things. I found it in a consignment shop, and when the man in the shop took it down for me to have a closer look, I turned it over and saw this written on the back:
Painted by Henrietta S. Bostwick at the age of 15 in 1881. Born Jan. 13th, 1866.
Who was Henrietta Bostwick? What was her life like? Did she pursue her art, or get married and raise a family? She has become something of a mystery woman to me.
Lately I've become fascinated by the choices we make in life, and how they affect the way our lives unfold. It's my age, I guess. I feel, at times, as though I've come to a point where my choices have narrowed. And without those choices, I feel just a little lost -- as though I'm not really me anymore. Does anyone else feel this way?
Of course, we make choices, big and small, every day. And they affect our lives, too. Read or watch TV, walk or drive, apple or donut? But it's those major turning points in our lives that define us to ourselves or other people. When I graduated from college, I was no longer the "good student." When I fell in love and got married, I almost felt as though I had betrayed the "feminist" in me. And when I became an exercise instructor, suddenly I was the perky gym rat -- not exactly the smart, idealistic and serious thinker that I believed myself to be inside.
Now, I have given up teaching and training, and I am staring menopause in the face. My body is changing, and sometimes I honestly don't recognize myself in the mirror. I am a mystery woman, too. And I am trying to tell myself that what really matters is that today I made a hot breakfast for my daughter, sent a care package to my son in college or enjoyed a bowl of homemade soup with my husband. It's not what I look like, or what my house looks like, or whoever I think I am inside. It's the person I am to others. Finally, at 50, I get it. It's not about me! Duhh! (I'm sure you all figured this out years ago!)
I remember reading a book when I was growing up called A Lantern in her Hand, by Bess Streeter Aldrich. It told the story of a pioneer woman who was a talented artist and musician, but gave it all up to marry, have children and move to a homestead on the prairie. Her children inherited her talents, and were able to pursue them because of her sacrifice and hard work. My little watercolor somehow reminds me of that book.
What is the story of my mystery woman? Her descendents obviously cherished her painting enough to frame it and write that information on the back. Did it hang on a wall in someone's house, referred to as a dear grandmother's painting? How did it end up in the consignment shop?
Many questions, no answers. But this is part of what I love so much about old things. They fire the imagination. And sometimes, if we're really lucky, they make us realize our little place in the grand scheme of things. Now Henrietta's painting, and the lessons I have learned, will just have to become a part of my family's heritage.