Saturday, February 7, 2009, if you are anywhere near Farmville, Virginia, I URGE you to go see Ed Trask’s show, “Long Gone” at the J. Fergeson Gallery. Not only is Ed a masterful painter with an eye for capturing bleak, urban landscapes in such a way as to make them seem miraculous and poetic (my own amateur critique), he’s also my cousin’s husband and just an all-around terrific guy. A constant smile on his face and a big hug at the ready. Porkpie hat and a blond soul patch, puppy dog eyes and paint-splattered clothes. That’s Ed.
When I look at his work I’m instantly reminded of Richmond. Gritty, sweltering summer days on the hot concrete of Grace Street when you feel you can barely move or breathe. Roaming around the abandoned factories on Brown’s Island before they turned it into a museum. Back when it was still a hangout for teenage punks who just wanted to be alone and smoke.
I’m reminded of the urban Gothic South of abandoned railroad tracks, derelict buildings, rusted steel, hulking trestles spanning the James, crows sitting on telephone lines, old guys in fedoras and shirtsleeves smoking Camel unfiltereds on street corners with nowhere to go. I’m reminded of Carson McCullers’s books and Gilbey’s gin. I’m reminded of my grandfather.
Pop-Pop was a rover and a rambler who ran away from a North Carolina tobacco farm at 14 and lived by his wits on the concrete streets of Washington, DC. He wore a fedora, smoked those Camel unfiltereds, and drove his hulking, enormous 1971 blue Chevy Bel Air real fast. I adored him. And he adored his granddaughters. Every Easter he would drive us down to Newberry’s so we could pick out whatever candy-filled basket we wanted. As the eldest, I remember him best (he passed away when I was 8). I remember being incensed that I was considered too young to attend his funeral. Forced to stay behind with the rest of the kids when all I wanted was to tell him goodbye. To thank him for driving loose and fast over the rolling hills between Front Royal and Winchester, making my heart rise up in my throat. Just like a rollercoaster.
I’m reminded of all these things looking at Ed’s work. So imagine my shock and awe when I went to visit Ed and my cousin in their new house a few years back and saw a painting of a bunch of guys standing around in fedoras and shirtsleeves. “They look like Pop-Pop,” I declared. My cousin agreed, and then pointed out something on the far wall. A huge portrait of Pop-Pop in his fedora. I gasped. Then teared up. It was beautiful. It captured the crinkle of his eyes, his engaging smile, and that air he always gave off of being half Woody Guthrie, half Francis Phelan (of Ironweed fame). Perpetually hopping train cars during the Depression in my mind, even if the calender said it was 1971. Living by his wits. Living day by day and for the moment. That’s what Pop-Pop will always be to me. Hard-drinking consummate storyteller. More myth than man, I suppose.
When Hubby and I eloped in 2001, we held a reception for family and friends at our house in Pittsburgh. We had registerd in a few places, so I knew what to expect when opening the gifts. But I was not prepared for the phenomenal gift Ed gave. A framed print of a painting he had done. My Nana, standing in front of their house in Front Royal. My Nana who I missed so much, who had passed away just two years earlier, and who had put up with Pop-Pop for 40 years plus after marrying him only two weeks after they met. I bawled big tears. Couldn’t help it. Here was my Nana in front of the house I loved most in the world, a place where I had experienced so many memories. And he had painted it. To this day it is the best gift I’ve EVER received from anyone.
There’s another picture I cherish, which I have to admit I “lifted” from Nana’s house shortly after her death. I just couldn’t bear to part company with it. It seemed too precious to languish in a dusty album and now sits framed in my study where I can look at it often. Pop-Pop and Nana are young and dressed to the hilt. He wears a suit, no tie, and she’s in a 1940’s skirt suit with pointy lapels and a perky little hat off at an angle on her head. He has her arched back into a dip and is kissing her full on the mouth. She’s got her hand up at her hat so it won’t fall. I love this picture. It’s perfect. Full of humor, love, and the promise of all that is to come. This is them at the beginning when it was all magic and new and perfect, before the children and the worries and the hard times that lay before them. It’s the prelude to all else. Someday when I’m rich I want to commission Ed to paint it. He’s the only one I know that would capture what they’re feeling right then. I know it.
So, if you’re near Farmville, go to Ed’s show. Marvel at his genius. And buy one of his paintings. Someday, I will.