Gran's Gull is deeply important to me because I loved my Grandmother Swann. I used to call her groovy Gran (this was the 60s, mind you) and she was always cheerful and pleasant to her rambunctious grandchildren. My two brothers and sister were a handful but groovy Gran was loving and caring to us...except for the time we brought home the bullfrogs.
We were visiting her in Oquawka, IL one summer vacation and my brother Dave and I went to the lake. There was algae over the pond and it was hard to fish so we caught bullfrogs instead, knowing that froglegs were a delicacy..much tastier than chicken. It wasn't long before we had caught over a dozen bullfrogs, and they were big 'uns too. Somehow we managed to stuff them kicking into a small tin can with a flimsy push-on metal lid. We were very happy when we came home that even though we didn't catch any fish, we had bullfrogs.
As usual Gran greeted us and seemed happy that we had caught something. We ran into the living room and decided to show everyone one of our giant bullfrogs. Off came the lid, it flew on the floor and suddenly, the horror. The can fell on the floor and there were 14 giant bullfrogs hopping madly about the room on Gran's priceless Persian rugs. A woman of action, Gran quickly found her broom and the sight of her chasing 14 bullfrogs around the living room still remains with me to this day.
Some years later when Gran was getting very old she asked me to paint her a picture. Of course I answered, "Yes", not so much because of the frogs, but because I loved her. I said "What do you want?" and she said, "I'd like a picture of a gull." I knew she was talking about the gulls that traversed the mightly Mississippi and perhaps the gulls that flew over Lake of the Woods in Canada. The gull was something simple yet profound. How could I capture her life in a painting of a bird?
I may not be a great artist or even a good artist but I was determined not to shrink from this task. This gull had to be a gull for the ages, not just any gull. I knew Gran didn't have long to live, I had to create something that would be important to her and me. Yet she just wanted a simple painting of a gull, that was all.
So my gull is standing looking at the lighthouse for direction. There is a path she can travel. It's marked in red and leads to the lighthouse and suddenly the path is the stripe on the lighthouse and it carries her from life to the spirit. There's a tunnel with a bright light as brilliant as the sun. She flies toward the light to everlasting peace.
I gave her the painting and told her that if she didn't like it please give it back to me. Gran seemed happy to get the painting and as far as I know she never understood what it was about- but that didn't matter to her one bit. She had a painting from her grandson of a gull and that was enough.
She died shortly thereafter and somehow like the birds that travel thousands of miles to reach their home again the painting came back to me. It's hanging on my wall next to my computer as I write. A part of her is always with me and we'll met again, maybe at the Henderson River covered bridge that she loved or in the rain that washes down the mighty Mississippi.