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The Painting of the Ruins

In her Ancestor’s Path

Cathy MacGrew stands besides the ruins of an ancient Irish castle. She looks at the ocean. The ocean breeze blows through her hair. She feels the sun on her face. She turns around. She slowly turns and takes in the panoramic view around her. Cathy gets a strange feeling she has been here before. The tour guide announces it is time to head back to the bus. Cathy would have liked the moment to have lasted longer. She turns and walks towards the bus. Unknown to Cathy she is walking in the steps of her ancestor Bridget O’Connor who left this place for the last time when she was 14 years old. Cathy is Bridget’s last living descendant.

Back to Work

Cathy walks briskly into her office. She gives an enthusiastic “Good Morning” as she reaches her desk. She presses her computer’s power button. A co-worker asks, “How was your vacation?” Cathy exclaims, “It was wonderful!” She tells about some of the highlights of her vacation as her computer boots up. As she opens her Microsoft Outlook, anticipating a ton of emails, she asks, “What has been happening around here?” The woman who works in the desk next to her comes to Cathy’s desk and speaks in a low voice. “The Spilcduh Project has been cancelled.” The news shocked her. “What happened?”

“You know how it is between the contracts we’ve been losing and that Zero Based Budgeting they’ve been doing to put the margins in the black. It is a small project so keeping it going didn’t make sense to the bottom line.” The coworker went back to her desk. Cathy looked at her Outlook. There were 811 email messages.

At lunch time she went to the sandwich shop in the building’s basement. A few minutes after she sat down Doris came to her table.

“Cathy, you’re back. How was your vacation?”

“It was wonderful.”

Cathy talked a bit about her visit. Then Cathy mentioned, “I heard about the Spilcduh Project.”

“Yes, this year started out good for me. My husband finally got a job in January, which paid half what he was getting at his last job. Then this happened.”

“Have they offered you another position yet?”

“They told me to look at the company’s job openings. I get that after 30 years working for the company. The job openings either ask for application experience I don’t have or are much lower positions. I applied for the lower positions but you know how companies are. They don’t want to give employees positions that would represent a pay cut. They think it would make them look bad, as if I will have any nice things to say about them when I’m collecting unemployment.”

Cathy felt bad for Doris. They were about the same age. Doris was too young to retire and old enough that employers would be reluctant to hire her.

A couple of deadlines forced Cathy to leave work two hours later than usual. She went to the supermarket then had dinner at a fast food place in the same strip mall as the supermarket. When she arrived home with her groceries she looked at the wall clock and wondered if the recharge she hoped to get from her vacation had been worn out in a single work day. After she put away her groceries she posted her vacation pictures on her social media. She hoped that would cheer her up.

The Painting

The rain came with the weekend so Cathy decided to organize her walk in closet. Organizing her closet turned into a walk down memory lane. There were old photo albums and other memorabilia from her past.

She came to an unfinished painting. She started this painting when she was a senior in high school. It brought back memories of her high school graduation party.

The party was at her house. The guests were her three girl friends on the block and two of her mother’s friends. Her mother’s friends, Angie and Zelda, were two opposites. Angie was a serious woman. She would give a polite giggle to a joke but didn’t tell them herself. She was a practical and wise woman. Zelda was a jokester. She was always looking to make a joke about something. While Cathy’s mother was getting the graduation cake Angie asked Cathy what would be her major in college. Cathy hadn’t thought about a major so she said she didn’t know. Angie advised her to come up with one soon. After Cathy’s mother cut and passed out the graduation cake Cathy quipped that maybe she’d major in art. Zelda laughed and told her mother, and everyone else at the table, “I can see it now Cathy is in her room painting and you saying ‘Cathy you’re 30 years old, when are you going to get a job?’”

Zelda continued, “Mom, I have a job, I’m a painter.”

“A painter, you haven’t sold anything yet.”

“This one is going to make me a painter like Picasso.”

Cathy continued on and off with the painting through her college years and her effort on the painting ended with her graduation. She doesn’t know why she kept it through the decades. As she looks at the painting she is amazed that it looks just like the ruins she visited the day before she left Ireland. Cathy decides she will give another try at finishing the painting and takes it into her main room.

Cathy works on the painting over the next two weeks. The painting looks complete but she feels there is something missing. She thought about what might be missing for a couple of days then made a slight addition to the painting. Then she felt the painting was finished.

The Decisions

Cathy has made paintings based on the pictures she took when she was on her vacation in Ireland. She branched out from the scenes in March to the same scenes in different seasons. Now she is branching out further. She decided to make a painting of New York Harbor circa 1850 from the perspective of an immigrant ship.

She took a break from her painting and checked on her email. Among her mostly junk emails was an email from Doris. The email was her usual lament about not getting any responses to the resumes she sent out. Doris told her she is now sending resumes out for job openings that will pay much less than what she was getting. Cathy has tried to give Doris some advice but what Cathy had previously suggested Doris had already tried.

The next day Cathy went into the office and checked her phone messages. One message was from the CEO and gave the news the company had been bought up by a larger company. The message stated there were no immediate plans to make any changes. Cathy went on to the rest of her normal work routine.

On the drive home the news of the “no immediate plans” phrase hit her. She had heard many stories from others about company buyouts where the new company would lay off people one small group at a time.

Over the next few weeks the new company made Cathy and her coworkers more apprehensive. It seemed every other day a new announcement would come out about company plans and policy. The new company didn’t show any signs of interest in the legacy company’s corporate knowledge.

Cathy puts the finishing touches on her New York Harbor painting. She gives the finished painting a long look. She approves of what she sees. She turns on her computer and checks her email. There is an email from Doris. She got a job offer. The job pays half of what she was getting. Doris wrote she will take offer.

Cathy realizes she could be in the same position as Doris at any time. She would do everything Doris has done and with probably the same results. Cathy feels resuming her painting hobby has been good at taking her mind off her situation. She reasoned since she can’t control her situation taking her mind off her situation is the best she can do.

Cathy takes her latest painting into the walk in closet. She puts it with her other paintings. Then she thought maybe she can have some control over her situation. She goes on the web and searches for the local art guilds.

Cathy joins the art guild. She sells some of her artwork at some of the guild's exhibitions. She learns much from the guild about painting, pricing, and selling. In time she's enamored with the idea of putting on her own exhibition.

She could rent a place and hold an exhibition of her paintings. It is not a practical idea. Most likely it would be like throwing a couple of thousand dollars out the window. Her brain tells her not to do it. Her heart reminds her brain while few artists are remembered no one remembers office workers. She decides she will do it.

The Exhibition

Cathy is at her exhibition. She has on the evening dress she bought for the occasion. There is a good crowd on hand. She knows the crowd could be here to just eat the hors-devours and browse. She forces this and other negative thoughts out of her mind. For a couple of hours she is just going to enjoy the present.

Cathy walks to the first painting in the exhibit. She speaks in a joyful voice:

Thank you all for coming. I am Cathy MacGrew and yes I painted these pictures. I started this first painting when I was a senior in high school. I’d like to say it was 10 years ago but it was many years more than that.

The crowd chuckles and Cathy continues.

I hadn’t worked on it for years. Then recently I decided to finish the painting. I finished the castle ruins and the scenery but I felt there was something different. So I added a figure of a girl in mid-19th century clothes who is looking out at the ocean.

Cathy walks to another painting.

This painting is of a scene of budding flowers in Ireland. It is based on a picture I took when I visited Ireland in March. As in my previous, and subsequent, paintings the 19th century girl is something I felt the need to add to the painting.

Cathy walks to another painting.

It dawned on me I should draw paintings of the same scenes in different seasons and weather.

Cathy gave the back story on a few more of her paintings. To Cathy this exhibition has been something other people experience. She hasn’t had such a wonderful time in decades.

Cathy returns home. The experience was thrilling. She sold all of her paintings. She doesn’t know exactly how much she made but she knows she made a big profit on the evening. She might have a career as an artist.

Cathy goes into her walk in closet, picks up the New York Harbor painting and gives it a good look. This will be the theme of the paintings for her next exhibit. In the painting there is a girl in her early teens. Unknown to Cathy the girl looks exactly as Bridget O’Connor did when she arrived in the New York harbor.


© 2016 Robert Sacchi

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