There is a painting I have inspected and wondered about since I was a child. It has been in various parts of the home I grew up in and has gone through a few incarnations in various frames. It is a painting of a gate and a view of a valley with not really anything around it. The focus is the vista. It is painted on a wooden board that has since warped. Now the slight vertical splits can be viewed from the front as well. There is a combination of German and French writing illegibly scrawled on the back of it. I have a curious memory of my mother always taking this painting down and checking the back of it and wiping that area.
I thought this very strange as she never appeared to do this with any other framed pieces. One day I asked her, what is this all about? And what does it say on the back? I would always hear - "I will tell you when you are ready to hear it." I was an impatient child and rather than wait and be frustrated, I decided it was no longer interesting enough for me to be bothered to find out.
A few years passed, and a friend of my mother's named Odile, who was also originally from France paid a rare visit. She saw the painting and burst into tears. My interest was piqued once again. I acted like I wasn't listening in on their conversation and found out that Odile gave the painting to my mother because it was too painful for her to keep. The chain of events the painting belies is grisly, bizarre, and political. Yet, the painting was painted in the spirit of forgiving the unforgivable.
The painting was by Odile's father. You see, Odile, her father and my mother were held in a Nazi internment camp near Alsace, France. My mother was a captured intelligence officer with the Free French and Odile and her father were French Jews that were interned there. My mother was not in the same barracks, but for some reason, my mother and Odile's father knew each other. Young, beautiful Odile caught the eye of and later fell for one of the high ranking German officials. Her love interest brokered a deal with the US government and moved to Glendale, California along with her. And with all his Nazi paraphernalia, the Mercedes which he used when conducting official business during the war, and many other haunting pieces of highly prized Nazi articles. All those artifacts that represented such hate and horror were displayed in their garage and were dusted and waxed regularly. As a very young child, I used to see this and didn't really understand what it all meant, but I did know it was evil, and was not under any circumstances to speak of it to anyone. Needless to say, Odile left her father inside the camp to meet whatever fate he was dealt. My mother was able to escape with some other officers, and they made their way to North Africa to fight against Rommel's shaky front on that continent.
Odile's father stayed for the entire duration. It was by some miracle that he was not sent off to the main extermination camp. In the early fifties, he went back to the place where he never lost his spirit, but nearly lost his mind, and certainly lost his daughter. He returned to the most inhumane place he ever knew and lovingly painted the plein-air several years after the war was over. He painted the entrance to the internment camp, but reframed the scene. Rather than the barbed wire, ominous gates, and the left over air of atrocities, he depicted a lovely and serene valley, with a gate free and wide open. The doors of the gate are small and narrow but the opening to the path is wide. No buildings or other distractions to stop your eye traveling to the horizon. He painted it as a gift to his beloved daughter so she would know that he forgave her for running off with the enemy and leaving him and others like them behind. Odile's father later gave it to my mother as he was near the end of his life and knew that my mother would find Odile and present the painting to her. And she did. It was not so difficult as many were tracking the movements of Odile's husband. Yet the intended recipient couldn't forgive herself. She didn't feel worthy of the gift. So that is the story of the painting that I still have in my home. As I take it down to clean it or just straighten it, I am reminded of the deep well of forgiveness the human spirit resonates. As much as I am reminded of the well, just as deep, this same spirit creates in order to block the greatest human gift - the art of forgiveness.
Michelle Viggiano www.healthyhomeaz.com Four Winds Healthy Home plant based carpet & air duct cleaning in Scottsdale