In 1966, when I graduated from Wayne State University, members of my family sent gifts of money that added up to $475.00. That was a fortune to me. I decided to buy myself a present. Something of lasting value. I headed to J.L.Hudson’s department store in downtown Detroit in search of something unique.
I found myself in the art gallery. The salesman guided me to an etching named A DANCE IN THE COUNTRY by Renoir. I loved the graceul lines of the image and looking at it made me think of a Chopin waltz. A feeling similar to being star struck swept over me at the thought of owning a work of art by the famous Impressionist painter. The salesman said I could have it for $475.00 including tax.
But then he showed me a pastel (chalk) picture called WOMEN ADMIRING A CHILD by an artist named Mary Cassatt. Never heard of her. He told me she was one of the few female Impressionist artists and her work was bound to have a greater appreciation than the Renoir because the pastel was one of a kind whereas there were hundreds of copies of the etching. The price of the pastel was $1,500. I could give him my cash and make payments on the balance.
I told him I was going to have lunch, think about it, and I’d come back after deciding between the two. All of this was pretty high flauntin’ for a girl who lived in Lincoln Park, Michigan, a blue collar community. While eating my Waldorf salad, I weighed my preference for the image of the dancing couple over the image of the women and child. Reenoir vs Cassatt? But the possibility of making more money on the later was very tempting. How could I make up my mind? The deciding factor turned out to be my upcoming wedding. I didn’t want to walk down the aisle dragging debt behind me like tin cans tied to the back of a car. I bought the Renoir.
I couldn’t wait to show my parents, but they were not impressed. When they asked me how much I paid for it, I fibbed and said $75.00. My mother said there were nicer, bigger pictures in color at Art Van’s furniture store for less than that. Undeterred, I hung the etching in my bedroom and fell asleep looking at the dancing couple. Most interesting was the way the woman held herself slightly away from her partner so as not to be overwhelmed by him. A good thing to keep in mind since I was a timid young woman about to marry Dave, who had a type “A” personality.
Flash forward fifty years. I traveled from my home in Southern California to visit my sister Sheila, who lives in Milford, Michigan. We decided to spend a day at the Detroit Institute of Arts. We came across a room of Impressionist paintings. Among them was WOMEN ADMIRING A CHILD, the pastel by Mary Cassatt. That I didn’t buy. My original response was confirmed. I didn’t like it as much as I liked the Renoir, which, for decades, had given me a lot of pleasure. When Sheila and I got back to her house, I looked up the estimated value of the pastel. Millions of dollars! Lots and lots of millions of dollars! I felt like kicking my butt around the block and back. If only I could go back in time and…
I had many thoughts of the coulda, woulda, shoulda kind. How owning and, at some point, selling the pastel would have changed my life. I imagined all sorts of wonderful things. But then I thought of the butterfly effect, the theory that, if it could be done, even the smallest change in one’s past life would change what came after. In movies, it is always the most important moment in the main character’s life that is changed by the butterfly effect. And it’s always for the worst.
What if I had bought the pastel? Maybe Dave wouldn’t have come home from Vietnam alive. You need to know that Dave placed first in every army training cycle he went through, including Ranger School in country. In other words, he’s very, very tough. I feel safe with him by my side. He also happens to be the smartest person I’ve ever known. In nearly fifty years of marriage, I’ve never found a subject for conversation he didn’t know something about. Best of all, he shares my passion for the arts. How diminished my life would have been without him. Then I had another thought. We wouldn’t have had kids. No Katie. No Aaron. Their spouses Joe and Kaoru abscent from my life. No grand kids Fiona and Calum. Was I willing to take the chance of loosing all that in exchange for millions of dollars? Lots of millions of dollars?
I put aside my coulda, woulda, shoulda thoughts. I took out my iPad and pulled up a picture of A DANCE IN THE COUNTRY. I still loved the romanticism of the image, but I saw something else in it, too. The was a metaphor for life. The woman is in its grasp and is carried along in life’s whirls and twirls. But she is smart and does not allow it to over whelm her. I whispered to her, in the venacular of today, you got that right, Sister. I turned off my iPad, put out the light, and went to sleep. No regrets. The next morning I flew home to Dave and our family.