It was my grandpa’s birthday, probably his 89th or 90th. One of his gifts was a mug with his nickname printed across it. For a time in the twenties he had been a boxer, and for reasons that I’m not aware of, he fought under a pseudonym, Jeff. (I was named after him. I was named for a pseudonym.) His fighting name had been Jeff and that was the name on the mug. He looked the gift over and said, “Oh, a coffee mug.” Then he gestured toward me, “And it has his name on it.” I squirmed in my seat, uncomfortable about what I thought was a slip of senility. As I’m writing this, I realize that he was probably joking. It’s the same dry humor my brothers and I rely on.
Except for his sideburns, my grandpa’s hair was still dark at ninety years old. I thought he looked like the painting of Arthur H. Smith that hung in the main hallway of my elementary school. (Aside from the fact that my elementary school was named after him, I know nothing about Arthur H. Smith.) There was probably a time when I actually thought the man in the painting was my grandpa. Other students thought that the portrait of Arthur H. Smith looked like Harold, the man who tutored the other second grade class on their spelling words. When, for an assignment, we were asked to bring in family photos to share with the rest of the class, someone asked why Harold appeared in some of mine.
In high school I made a painting of my grandpa based on a photo from 1920, I think he would’ve been 27 or 28 that year. I took that painting with me when I moved to Seattle and have hung it on my wall through the various moves I’ve made since. It’s hanging above my desk right now. It wasn’t until I started writing this paragraph that I realized there must be a subconscious association between my painting and the painting from my elementary school burned into my subconscious brain.
The high school art teacher, whose name escapes me right now (left after my Sophomore year), commented fondly on the grandpa painting once or twice… between analyzing different football plays, of course.