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A Lesson in Perseverance

At the downtown Des Moines Art Fair

A few years ago I was headed to an art show in Des Moines, Iowa–The “Other” Art Show. It was the show held indoors at the Fairgrounds the same weekend as the big, fancy, downtown outdoor show, the one that was extremely hard to get into. I had a 4-5 hour drive and then set-up to do that day. As I was putting the last thing into my van, the heavy and awkward dolly, I pulled something in my hip. Damn! I was pretty annoyed as I got an ice pack from my freezer and headed off. I’d be able to refreeze it throughout the weekend at my friend’s house, but boy, I was grumpy about this turn of events. What bad luck.

I got to Des Moines just fine, with a stop at the Jaarsma Bakery in Pella, to pick up an Almond Butter Cake for my friend and her husband. I probably ate something yummy in the charming town square there, too.

In the town square of Pella, Iowa

At the show venue, as I was unloading all my stuff I noticed an elderly man hobbling painfully around his pickup truck. I wondered what he was doing there in the lot where we were all loading in for the show. He was clearly struggling. I went over and asked, “Is there some way I can help you?” and he replied, “Well, I have a broken hip.” He told me he had finished unloading all his stuff and I asked, astonished, “Do you mean to say that you’re in the show?” Yes. “And you’re doing the show with a broken hip?” Yes. “Do you have help?” No. I was flabbergasted. And embarrassed that I had been so grumpy about my tiny problem.

I asked again if I could help. He was trying to get into his truck to leave, since he was all finished. By then he was halfway into the driver’s seat, but he said, “If you could just lift my leg into the truck, that would help a lot.” I’m sure my eyes grew big. Well, okay. With much trepidation, I carefully lifted his left leg and got it in and he was able to drive off.

One of Ken Smith’s beautiful watercolors

The next day I went to look for him. His booth was very plain. No walls. No booth sign, that I recall. Just a folding chair and cardboard boxes full of his simply beautiful watercolor paintings. The boxes were sitting on upturned bins, covered with cloth. Paintings were all unframed and not even matted or encased in plastic sleeves. Just piles of them, with the unbelievably low prices in pencil on the back. I bought three. He just loved to paint and had amassed a lot of work. What else was he going to do with it but bring it to the show and sell it cheap? While sitting on a broken hip.

I found out later that his name was Ken Smith and the friend I was staying with knew him fairly well. They had taken a watercolor class together. When my sister saw a photo of one of his paintings she asked if he had a website. Haha. No website for this guy. Just an old gentleman who loved to paint.

He has since passed away, so I only saw him that one time. But he really taught me lessons about carrying on in the face of physical pain, sticking to your commitments, and doing what you love, at any age and no matter what.

“If it lights you up, just do it & throw away the logics.” ― Hiral Nagda

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” ― Martin Luther

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. And if you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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