Wes woke up early last Tuesday to be at our house in Mesa by 7am. The papers signed, the locks changed, we were done with the sale (finally). Now we only needed to clear out the storage unit attached to the house. Wes and company spent the morning loading a trailer full of our belongings that can't fit in our itty bitty California living space. Then we would spend the afternoon unloading into another storage space (sheesh). I showed up on the scene mid-morning in a chipper mood to help with the "donate vs. keep" decision making. Wes quickly came over whispering something in a calming tone that worried me. He took me over to our king-sized mattress (part of the king-sized bed frame that won't fit in said itty bitty living space). It was covered in mold, even inside the plastic cover. Apparently, water had leaked in through the floor. We (and by we I mean Wes) had expertly reinforced the roof to prevent leaks. We never considered the floor would leak. The mattress was horrible. But it's just a mattress, and wondered why Wes was making such a big deal about it. So I marveled at the science experiment that had been growing in the storage room these past 2 years, and moved on.
But that wasn't all. Wes pulled me aside, and in a voice akin to a doctor delivering a grim prognosis, explained that my portfolio was also on the floor of the storage room. I'm sorry, WHAT?! The portfolio full of all of my artistic endeavors from middle school on up? The portfolio full of undergrad and grad school printmaking editions? The portfolio with watercolors, slides, charcoal drawings, photographs painstakingly developed in the UNT darkroom, the undergrad and grad school printmaking editions?! I could care less about anything else in that room getting damaged past the point of no return. But my creations? I felt faint. I asked to see the large black canvas portfolio that I had lugged all over campus for three years in undergrad. Wes said he wouldn't let me see it. It was that bad. He had also lost a portfolio of original photographic prints of his own. Then he handed me a large box full of my grandmother's watercolors which had also been on the ground. I ripped off the tape. Through tears I rifled through the artwork in a frantic haste. THANKFULLY most of the contents of the box were in good shape. I tried to regulate my breathing as I started to remember everything I had put in the black portfolio just before the move. I had consolidated so much of my artwork into that case. And with every realization, I suffered a new blow. I immediately started to make a mental list of everyone I had given prints to over time. At least I could ask them to take photos of the prints, so that I could remember them. There were two in particular: a mixed media lithograph of a dress on a hanger (both mom and mom-in-law have one), and a print from undergrad of a tree with typographic leaves, owned by possibly two college friends (would they still have them?). But everything else was a lost cause. (By the way, if you are reading this and own any of my artwork or prints pre 2003, please email me!!) I tried to think of the upside. All of my graduate thesis work was safe. My portfolio of recent professional work was probably safe, though unnaccounted for. And everything else post 2003 was most likely saved digitally.
But I couldn't get over the fact that so many of my defining moments in artistic realization were gone. Hours spent painting in my room as a teenager, discovering who I was becoming as a creative individual were gone. Why didn't I photograph them? Why oh why did I not store things in plastic covers? Why were they stored on the GROUND? Once the initial shock wore off and the stages of grief began to set in, I started to think about my reaction to other things that I've lost in years past.
Which brings me to the flaming couch.
Click "read more" just below to read the whole tale:
I have inherited a few very precious things from family and grandparents. Some of those things I still have, some I have lost, and others have suffered death by flood and fire. All of my grandparents are no longer living. So any relics from them are true treasures. My maternal grandparents had impeccable style. Mid-century modern aesthetic at its finest! And I owe much of my personal propensity for modernity to Fred and Alma Jeane Ward.
Back in the year 2000, I inherited a couch. My grandparents' authentic mid-century modern couch, to be exact. I adored this couch. It reminded me of times spent with family in my grandparents' lofty living room overlooking the hill country of Austin, TX. Clean lines of white linen, the couch was always full of my Granny's myriad colorful and hand embroidered pillows. It represented my favorite design era. The couch had been recovered a few times, and passed around over the years. And now it was all mine. It weighed as much as a baby elephant, and housed the creakiest hideaway bed ever. People always commented on the couch. How did a lowly student come to own such a stylish and clearly adult couch? "It was my grandparents'! They were the epitome of style!" I always replied.
The couch followed me from TX, to MO, to AZ (with a brief hiatus while I was in NY). We were living in Mesa when it happened. We had been storing the couch in a small storage unit in Lehi, AZ. Lehi is a community of horse property, and everyone has large plots of land. Wes's parents were letting us use the storage unit that was part an acre of farmland down the road from their house. Sitting next to the storage room was a dump trailer attached to a tractor. Our friend, Rome, was outside with Wes around dusk. They were moving things out of the storage unit when Wes spied a black widow in the storage room. Setting aside all reason, he grabbed a can of WD-40 and drenched the unsuspecting black widow. It didn't die. In fact, it might have morphed into a super spider, because Wes thought it necessary to add flame to the equation. Using a lighter, he created a small flame thrower to kill that spider.
But what do you think happened next? My couch caught on fire!! In a moment of panic, Rome and Wes dragged the couch out of the storage room, where the open air fuled the fire, and it roared into open flames. There was nothing to do but let it burn! When it was down to a charred, smoldering frame, they threw it into the back of the trailer. But instead of an empty dump trailer, it was filled with dried grass and weeds. So of course everything started to burn! Realizing he was in trouble, and needing to get to a real water source, Wes jumped into the tractor and started it up. His plan was to head for his dad's farm a few blocks away. Now, the tractor only had a hitch on the front bucket, and the gooseneck trailer was attached to this hitch on the front of the tractor. So Wes started out down Old Lehi Road pulling the trailer at the breakneck speed of 10 MPH—IN REVERSE! It was a blustery evening, and once he hit the open road, the wind of course breezed into the dump trailer. You guessed it. The couch burst into flames AGAIN, mingling with the already burning shrubbery!
You can imagine my dismay, and asked to hear the whole story. I was truly saddened by the loss of my sentimental and loyal couch. Buy by the time they got to the garden hose part of the tale, I was laughing so hysterically that I couldn't see through my tears. I laughed and laughed for an hour straight. I SO wish I had been there to see Wes pulling that flaming trailer in revers slowly down the road in a controlled panic. If the couch had to go, it couldn't have gone out any other way!
When we lost our portfolios this past week in Mesa, Wes commented that he kind of wished the whole thing had just gone up in flames. It would have been strangely purifying to have to just start over in that way. I told him it was too bad he hadn't seen any black widows.
After a long, and physically/emotionally demanding day, I was helping to organize our boxes in the new water and flame resistant storage space. Just as we were finishing up, I happened upon 2 things:
• A bubble wrapped framed copy of my tree and leaves print. I framed it back in college, and had forgotten about it for years.
• My more current professional portfolio that had been previously unaccounted for. It is a brushed metal "briefacase" with a black portfolio box inside. When I opened the metal latches, I found one single edition of the mixed media dress print placed carefully on top of the inner black box. It was a total fluke that the print would be in that case, since it contains my professional interview portfolio, and not original artwork. I didn't remember putting it there at all! I was so surprised to see the print patiently waiting there for me. I was speechless.
I was a total blessing that those prints would be the two items I would find at the end of my awful day. Almost like there's a divine plan in place, or something... ;)