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Treasures of the heart are never truly lost

Traces of my sainted mama surface unexpectedly as I prepare my little riverside cottage for the arrival of The Professor and his spotted moggy, Pinknose.

The heart darts are reminders of what has fallen away since her passing, and what remains. Always.

Clearing the dressers in the guest room, a space I will forever inwardly and affectionately refer to as “Granny’s room,” I stumble across an old cotton nightie.

Nestled underneath Mom’s warm sleepwear is a bottle of her favorite perfume and dusting powder.

Inhale. Tears welling. Still miss her every day. Exhale.

Smile. For I hit the Mom jackpot — a blessing that becomes more evident with each passing year.

Open another drawer and there are Mom’s glasses, and a book of crossword puzzles. Like her father before her, Mom never failed to do the crossword in the daily newspaper each morning.

Kept her brain from “mouldering,” she said.

“You should do them, too,” Mom said.

I chuckled at her theory that poking through the linguistic files in one’s gray matter did much of anything. But neuroscientists have since proven her correct.

Moms — patiently waiting for science to catch up with maternal wisdom since Eve.

But as her brown eyes aged, newsprint seemed to become smaller.

So Sis discovered the large­print book editions of these vocabulary exercises, and she kept Mom well stocked.

Speaking of newsprint, I grew up admiring Mom’s beautiful drawings of women’s faces. Sketched freehand in the margins of her newspaper, Mom’s lovely ladies were her unique way of doodling as she pondered a particularly tough puzzle.

She refused to believe the drawings were special.

She didn’t think she had any particular artistic talent — even as she urged and supported her three children to chase their inner artists.

I began painting watercolors in earnest back in the late ’80s, when mom was pushing 80 herself.

She loved hummingbirds and irises. So, naturally, I painted a lot of them.

But I loved her drawings.

So I pushed Mom outside the literal and figurative margins of her own artistic comfort zone, gifting her with a sketch pad, graphite pencils and ink pens for her birthday.

“I want you to draw for me. Please,” I said, batting my own big browns in a shameless act of wheedling only a youngest child would pull.

Draw she did. Hesitantly at first. And with a certain comic effect as her Gibson Girl doodles evolved into a series of peevish dragons, ducks and donkeys.

“Why do they all look so crabby?” Mom muttered, as she struggled to learn about eyebrow placement and expression on animals.

Tipping those brows upwards helped everyone’s mood. A lot.

Each day I’d eagerly demand to see what Mom was drawing. For her sketchbook held a treasure trove of endearingly whimsical creatures.

Curious curly-tailed rats, supercilious strutting camels, coy carrot-wielding rabbits and whole hosts of wise old owls. I loved them all. And not just because the delightful flora and fauna came from her hand.

Mom sketched for almost a decade before she passed at age 93. She filled several Strathmore pads. And I cried rivers of tears when my art studio flooded in 2005, where all but one book perished.

Or so I thought.

Roommate preparations somehow devolved into basement excavation last week.

I had been whining to The Professor about my lost-and-found life when he nudged me back toward some formerly soggy records destined for the dump.

“Look again,” he urged. “Some might be salvageable.”

Grabbing a crate of muddy 45s from the heap, I spied an art book nestled in a filthy cardboard box.

I grabbed it, too. And spied a pristine pen-and­ink drawing of a cranky bluebird — glaring up from between two perfectly preserved sketchbooks.

How did they survive?

How did they end up in the basement? I may never know. But treasures of the heart are never truly lost, Mom always said. And I am ever so grateful to have some of hers literally back in my hot little hands.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@ mailtribune.com.