I look forward to going home for the holidays all year. I spent several years after college not being able to come home for Christmas, so now I plan my entire Paid Time Off use around the holidays. Unfortunately this year my brother and his family couldn't make it, but my dad and I went down to their house on Long Island for a couple days.
My niece is as sweet as can be. She loves books, sing-a-longs, and getting up and down from the couch. It was so fun to see her open presents and then and giggle as she learned what they did. Of course, many of them were books, but two of her grandparents are librarians so what do you expect?
The holiday season so far has been crazy. So many projects all of the sudden and I ended up having to left some of them go. But here are the ones I actually got to:
Relieved to finally be at my parents' house without much more to do but wrap gifts!
A lovely vegetarian Thanksgiving with the Misura family in my cousin's new home. Last time I was down in Florida for Thanksgiving was when the Misura grandparents were still alive. It was nice to gather together and reminisce about those who are no longer with us. And eat excellent pie
Some friends and family members may have heard that we had to say goodbye to Archie the guinea pig this week. Her surgery revealed an inoperable malignant tumor and we hoped to support her recovery while entering palliative care. But as the sedation wore off, it was clear that she was not herself, and prolonging her life just to avoid having to say goodbye was not the answer. We gathered together with Archie and Ivy on Wednesday night to hold her one last time as she slipped away.
It's been a rough few days in our home, where our routine no longer includes our little pumpkin companion. We remember when we accidentally get food for two instead of one, when we watch TV and we only have one furry friend for two laps, when Ivy does something sassy and I call her Archie, when Ivy returns to their house and looks for Archie out of habit, and when the morning is quiet and her little squeaks for breakfast are absent. She was part of our life and our family for four years, and although we knew she was sick, it's still hard to prepare.
As the days pass, I don't want to get used to her absence, because it means I accept it and I am moving on, but I feel myself adjusting anyway. I know that time slowly fills the negative space with the good memories.
While going through pictures, I tried to choose just 10 that really captured her warmth and personality, and our deep friendship. But the more I looked the more I appreciated the volume of small moments we captured with her, which together tell the story of our time together. So instead I assembled 10 collages.
We miss Archie so much. She was my emotional support when I lost my grandparents, while I prepared myself to move on after a five-year relationship, and as I dealt with stress and anxiety. She licked the tears from my face as I cradled her and worried about her surgery. She made us laugh and she was so smart. We each had our own language with her and she made us feel safe, even when the world didn't feel safe around us. She was a small, humble creature and some may not understand her impact on us, but she was our friend, our family, and our joy. We will try to hold that, even now that she's gone. We love you, Arch McGarch
10/1 First stab at inktober. Not sure how helpful this will be in terms of productivity because I'm trying to focus on thumbnails after work each night and it's not penciltober. But had fun picking this set of panels from my thumbnails and imagining them at a later stage.
10/2 That one time I told my parents there was something in my sleeping bag and when my dad turned it upside down, a scorpion fell out
10/3 When I was 4 years old my parents and brother went to Disney World but I was too scared to join them (giant characters walking around seemed scary). My grandparents sat with me in the lanai that night and let me believe that the white rabbit hopping around their backyard was the Easter Bunny.
10/4 Grandpa Andy watching the rabbit hop around in the yard eating the contents of the garden, while Grandma Rose carefully carries me a cup of cranberry juice.
10/5 Day 5... Upgraded to nice paper from thin sketchbook pages because watercolors were getting a little wrinkly the last couple entries.
10/6 Home sweet home
10/7 These are based on some photos of my grandparents' garden from 1991. My mom diligently labeled the back of each print.
10/8 Added some more flowers to this collection, and think there may be a few more to add before I run out of room
10/9 Alright, time to move on from this collage. By the way Rattlebox is very poisonous and I think invasive in Florida, but very pretty
10/10 One way I've been processing loss is by trying to honor the people who are no longer here with what feels like a sacred study of their faces, their things, and their interests. Some things I noticed while studying Grandpa Andy's District Ranger certificate: he was exceedingly handsome, had a very distinct nose, eyebrows, and boyish grin, and wow was he a lefty. The date stamp and commissioner signature I drew with a set of Grandma Rose's colored pencils, which I'd originally sent to her two years ago as a gift for her coloring books, and which my dear Aunt sent back to me last month to commemorate her. I don't think I'll use them much. I want to preserve where each point was left when she last sharpened and colored with it. Special thanks to my aunt for letting me cherish these little mementos
10/11 The summer we drove to Florida the day Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out. We picked up our copy at midnight at the Barnes & Noble release party, in costume, and spent the whole ride down with Mom and Dad reading aloud from the front seat. By the time we arrived Andy and I were fighting over whose turn it was to read independently so we could find out what happens and we had to put caps on reading time. With the three following releases we bought two separate copies of each so we could each read at our leisure.
My commute home... getting into that left turn lane is always the funnest part when there's a Sox game. But it's still faster and less miserable than the train.
Another proof of concept with Blackwing pencil instead of micron, and larger format.
10/14 A little tired today, so just did some light sketches of a nice hot shower
10/15 8pm: I could go to bed early. Or I could start a 20-panel series about my grandma making me Chef Boyardee Macaroni & Cheese when I was a kid
10/17 "Stir once during heating." To be honest, drawing macaroni & cheese has been all I can really handle with work this week, so that's why this has been happening at such a slow pace. Lunch will be served... eventually.
10/19 Getting some milk
10/20 First page done, think I'll try and crank out the last 8 panels today
I still have a label from a can of Chef Boyardee Macaroni & Cheese from one of these summers, which I was using as a bookmark in one of the Harry Potter books. Our grocery stores up north didn't sell the Chef Boyardee mac & cheese at the time so this was always such a special treat while visiting my grandparents. Made even more special by my grandma preparing it for me. I still remember her chuckling because she gave me half a can in a bowl the first time she made it for me, and said I could have more if I wanted. As soon as I finished the bowl, I said, yes, in fact I want more please. She was so tickled by my appetite.
This comic is sandwiched by some panels of me thinking back on our time together while riding my bike to and from work everyday, which is the best time to be alone with my memories (aside from drawing)
10/21 Biking down memory lane, if you will
10/23 Whew. One week and 32 panels = only a single page spread. Lots of great practice drawing hands, dishes, microwaves, and bike helmets.
10/24 Rollin up to the hotel pool like
10/25 My older brother with my dad and a pelican
10/26 Watercolor/colored pencil copy of one of Grandma Rose's Ukrainian eggs. I started this last night at 11pm because I was stressed out by some pet health issues. It was a relief to get lost in her design, learning the pattern and focusing on the same four colors. Even though I haven't tried pysanky in over 10 years, I still feel the appeal of meditating on something small and intricate. It's nice to feel that that is in my blood, even if I'm working on paper and not an actual egg shell. Also you can see her signature in the last slide, a miniature "rm" in cursive.
10/27 Grandma Rose selling her pysanky at St. Mary's bazaar. Simpler designs were $10, more detailed were $18. I think they're worth more! Thank you again to my aunt for sharing this one.
10/28 More diving
10/29 Beach bum
10/30 It's Halloween so here's a drawing of the year our Christmas tree fell over in the middle of the night and broke a bunch of ornaments with sentimental value. That was the last time my parents got a real tree.
Last day of Inktober was inspired by my niece's majestic unicorn look. Can't believe she is almost 18 months and is zooming around!
I think the largest benefit of this was learning that even after a long day, I can still find the energy to work on something creative, even if it's a simple sketch while watching tv in bed. I can still make things and relax at the same time. I went into every project with an open mind, only choosing to work on whatever struck my fancy that day, and my one constant was family and memory. Some days it was hard and I'd spend a whole hour wondering what to draw, but there was always something that grabbed me in the end.
Technically speaking, I learned a lot about the materials I'm looking to use and the size format, having done many watercolors on my chosen paper and with the same setup I'd be using for final inks, so this will hopefully help me envision the project more while drafting. And stylistically this was an excellent way to oscillate between approaches without having to commit to one.
Now that the month is over, I think it will be much easier to come home and know that, until my thumbnails are done, the task at hand is obvious rather than something I need to cast around for. And I still have the flexibility to not work in chronological order if there is a specific scene I want to dig into. Plus, thumbnails aren't meant to feel precious, so the inktober exercise of working two hours a night will hopefully help me churn out content more efficiently.
I was concerned that I would end inktober feeling burned out, but I'm glad I feel inspired to keep working!
Two years ago, Grandma Rose and I spent our shared birthday together for the first and last time. She was turning 85 and I was turning 27, with exactly 58 years between us to the day. It was the last time I ever saw her. It's hard knowing that our birthday will always be bittersweet now, with only one of us here to celebrate it. But I'm so glad that I will always have her name as mine and that we had this beautiful day together that our family put together. I recorded our conversations that day so I could always remember it, and her laugh, and how charmed she was to be surrounded by her family. Miss you grandma. Happy birthday.
I've been taking my time incorporating different artifacts from my grandparents house into my own home. It's tough because I feel like my home would become a museum if I put out every little thing that I've inherited when I only have so much space. But I've picked and chosen specific items that mean a lot to me and have tried to find little ways to incorporate them with what I already have. I already feel a sense of relief having bits and pieces of their lives together in mine.
An inventory, below:
Stamped glass sun catchers: these used to hang in my grandparents' lanai and would sway back and forth in the breeze.
Wooden stool: Grandpa Andy made this by hand and put a Smokey Bear sticker on either side. He had several of these, and kept his trusty dictionary and current reads on one of them, right next to his armchair. He carved his name on the bottom.
Pink lamp: Grandma Rose bought these with her own money back in the 50s. There were two and they lit their bedroom their entire marriage. The light that it casts feels incredibly nostalgic for me and reminds me of going to bed in a sleeping bag on their carpeted floor during summer nights, while my parents stayed up reading. My cousin now has one and I have the other.
Miniature glass jar: I don't have much information about this jar, but it's very sweet. I filled it with some shells that I collected at the beach near my brother's house. My aunt found a ledger in which Grandma Rose kept detailed records of all of their antique acquisitions, the condition, price, and date.
Seashell coasters: these really say "Grandma and Grandpa's house" to me. When we arrived at my grandparents' house each summer, we would sit on the couch in a row and discuss the journey and catch up after a year apart. In front of the couch was a low coffee table with a ridge going along the edge so that things wouldn't roll off. In the center of the table was always a small crystal bowl filled with Hershey kisses or Dove chocolates, and this stack of coasters. Grandma and Grandpa were very invested in the use of coasters. Interestingly. I have a collection of disposable coasters that I've been working on since middle school. They even contributed to this over the years, including Smokey Bear coasters, coasters with German beers on them, and one from a local rock radio station. I love having these on my night stand now.
Solo Certificate cup: this is a commemorative cup from Grandpa Andy's first solo flight. The other side of the cup is decorated with little planes. I believe there are several of these and they were separated between the grandchildren.
Carnival glass bowls: my grandparents had a vast collection of carnival and depression glass. They were definitely tightwads, but they found the deals to continue their collection. These are holding a collection of pysanky made my various family members. The three on the right were all made by Grandma Rose (my first of hers in my collection), the orange egg by my mom, turquoise egg by my aunt, and the egg with roses by my mom and gifted to Grandma Rose.
Souvenir spoon: the Misura women were very into collecting souvenir spoons in the 90s. Grandma Rose even bought and sold on eBay for a while! This is one spoon from her collection (along with another gifted to me by my mom).
Crystal punch bowl: while I don't do enough entertaining to have much use for this yet, I figured a nice way to have it out and functional would be as a catch-all bowl on our coffee table. If I lived on my own, I might display pysanky in it, but I worry right now about leaving them exposed and vulnerable all in a group.
Snow shoes: these are also very "Grandma and Grandpa's house" type item. They hung, exposed to the elements for decades, in their lanai. The irony of snow shoes hanging in a tropical outdoor space was never something I had thought much about, likely because they were such a fixture and I associated them with their lanai before I even knew what snow shoes were.
Olympic pin collection: the coin collection is something I inherited mostly from a former patron of my mom's library, but the pin collection and type tray were all Grandpa Andy's doing. He worked in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, and, being a social buttrfly, collected and traded different Olympic pins with people visiting from all over the world. Interestingly, he has a ton representing Poland.
Glass fishing float: This was also a fixture in the lanai, and hung out there for as long as I can remember. I loved the way light filtered through it in the summer sun, making it glow with a watery teal light. It's much heavier than I would have imagined!
Shelf: Grandpa Andy built a few of these, One of them hung in the dining room and held a gingerbread clock and two three-legged pigs that I sent them for good luck after I graduated college.
Stickers: there were dozens of these window stickers decorating the sliding doors that led from the dining room out to the lanai. Every year, Grandma Rose would measure our height with a sticker and move it up the window.
This weekend my parents came to visit. They brought a huge load of things from my grandparents' house, which I'm still sorting through but so touched to have in my possession.
On Saturday we went on a tour of the John Quincy and John Quincy Adams properties. It was a beautiful day for it. After we wrapped up, we stopped by Clam Box and had a late lunch while looking out on the water. It was nice to see them again after all of the stuff that's happened in the last month.
Right on the heels of my grandmother passing away, I attended a 1-week intensive graphic novel workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies.
The timing could not have been more surreal. On the one hand, I am thankful that I had the time away to isolate myself and process my grief, particularly through art and with the guidance of new mentors. On the other hand, I felt so much guilt going off and doing this when my family was in such pain. I wanted so badly to back out and instead use the time to go down and help my family take care of everything we needed to.
In the end, my dad flew down to help my mom and aunt pack up my grandmother's belongings in Florida, sort things by grandchild, and drive the long trek back up to New York in a truck. There was so much heartbreak watching photos stream into text threads of items I associate so clearly with some of the happiest memories of my life, removed from their natural habitat and put forth into the void of "does anyone want this?" I found myself saying I wanted everything that no one else wanted, occasionally having to set boundaries for myself, acknowledging that I have a very small apartment. I wanted to be there, on the ground, to walk through the halls of my grandparents' house one last time before it was disassembled, and now I don't know that I'll ever get the chance. The house is now up for sale.
If I was in a different stage of my life, I might consider buying the house myself. The idea of a stranger entering and living in a house that was so specifically built and occupied by my loved ones seems wrong. But to what lengths can one go to protect themselves from having to let go? How would I feel, living in a home that would only ever be bittersweet, tainted with loss and grief and wistful memories? Not to mention, I have a home and a partner and a job in Boston. I can't uproot everything just to cling to what used to be, sacrificing what is still here.
As with my grandfather, Grandma Rose did not want a funeral. I understand the reasoning, that they had attended so many for their friends and family and the idea of subjecting those that had outlived them to planning something during their grief felt unnecessary. I understand, but I also lament the opportunity to say goodbye and receive closure. We will still have the chance to pay our respects at their grave site at our convenience. I am just sad that I cannot have that clear reason to gather with my family now.
The silver lining is that the workshop ended up giving me all the tools I need to work on my graphic novel. I now feel like I understand where the book is going, and I have had the time and space to process my feelings about my grandparents and the impact they had on my life. I've been working nonstop ever since I returned, and I only hope that I am able to keep up with it in the coming months and years so that I can actually set this story onto paper. I hope to share regular updates on that as I have them.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Brookline, MA.