Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Today in Art: Nostalgia and Grief

Today, I'm working on an interpretation of a photograph of my grandparents, and its creation fills me with nostalgia and grief. My father took this photo over sixty years ago in the back room of my grandparents' third-floor apartment at 104 Concord Street in Hamden, Connecticut.  We called that back room the Little Room.

I'm feeling nostalgic about this photo because the Little Room was a home away from home for me after my mother, Ruth, started working in a school cafeteria when I was about four.  My grandmother, whom we called Honey but whose real name was Lillian Tanguay Cadrain, started taking care of me in the daytime until my mother got home from her cafeteria job.  My family and I, my parents and my three sisters, lived on the ground floor of the same house.  For the trip upstairs to my granparents' third floor under the eaves, my mother dressed me in a little blue corduroy jacket and a babushka, which I called my gacket and booka.

In the Little Room, Honey kept a cardboard box of my toys behind the studio couch, and I could look out the window to the houses on the street behind ours.  In that room, Honey rocked me to sleep for my naps.  She had been named Lillian after Lillian Russell--Diamond Lill--a vaudeville star in 1887 at the time Honey was born, in New Hartford, Connecticut. Like my grandfather, who was born in St. Raphael, Quebec, Canada, Honey grew up speaking French.

In this image, Honey is sitting in a Morris chair, which offers insight on my love of  the sturdy straightforward Craftsman style. Out of the comfort associated with this memory, I own a Morris chair myself.  The Morris chair takes its name from the firm of the quintessential  Craftsman-era designer, William Morris, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Morris and was the precursor to the recliner.

This image also explains my lifelong love of dogs.  This is Mitzi, our beloved brindle boxer, who made her way freely between my family's home on the first floor of our house and my grandparents' under the eaves on the third.

My grandfather, whom we called Puppa (PUP-puh), was William Cadrain, born in 1885, the seventh generation descended from the first Cadrain--then Cadrin--to leave France for the New World.  That was Nicolas Cadrin, who was born in 1700 in St. Pierre de Cordiere, diocese of Beauvais, Picardie, France.  The ship's roster listed him as a chirurgien, or surgeon.  I imagine that, rather than being the medical school graduate we associate with that word today, Nicolas Cadrin was more likely the old-fashioned barbershop kind who would count bloodletting among his skills.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barber_surgeon

Today I'm grieving because not only are Honey and Puppa gone, but so are my parents, and all three of my sisters.  There's nobody in my immediate family left and nobody who remembers Honey and Puppa and knew them the way we did.

I would like my memory of them to serve as a sort of immortality.

Many thanks to the Cadrain cousin who performed and generously shared the genealogy search, without which I would have known very little about the family history.

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