Natasha, my youngest daughter, was home for the weekend and spied it on the fridge. When she was growing up, this place of honor had always been reserved for artwork by her and her sister. Yet, there was a captivating landscape by an unknown artist.
She studied it for a while and then brought it over to me. "Hey, Mom," she said. "Did you get a new kid while I was gone?"
I studied the picture before me and smiled. "A real work of art, isn't it?" I said.
Gary had come over with his sister one evening, a piece of paper in hand. He placed it carefully on the washer as he took off his coat in the laundry room. His sister, Judy, waited as he matched his boots properly so he'd be sure to get them on the right feet when he left. He almost forgot the gift he had brought, but a gentle reminder from Judy sent him back into the laundry room to retrieve it.
"Don't fold it up," she yelled, but it was too late. His gift arrived crumpled in his large, soft hand. He smiled shyly at me and then thrust it into my hand. "It's for you!" he declared. "I drew a picture for you."
I looked at the intricate, off-scale sketch of my house: my long gravel driveway, his sister's red truck, our silver car, the green bridge, the blue garage, and lots and lots of stick trees.
Stick trees are one of Gary's favorite touches, and my picture was full of them, along with white crayon streaks over the landscape at erratic intervals. I gazed at them quizzically. As if he read my mind, Gary pointed out each detail.
"Look!" he said. "It's snowing!"
One of my favorite things to do is visit galleries and view paintings. What pleasure I get from deciphering the meaning of the artwork and looking for the soul of the artist in what he or she has created.
I must admit to being inspired by the old masters. Sometimes I feel that some of the more modern artists don't suffer enough when they create. My favorite artist of all time is Van Gogh. I can see in his work an immense passion for life. Gary's art is like that for me, too.
Gary's sister, an artist and sculptor, is coaxing me to take my first steps away from the older masters and appreciate new artists. I find it hard most of the time, but with Gary, it's different. I know, for she has told me, smiling to herself, how Gary "suffered" - grunted and moaned - about starting this picture.
Starting a task is sometimes hard for him. "I'll do it tomorrow," he tells his sister, who is also his caretaker and the one who makes him do things for himself. But Judy isn't put off. She knows that, gently coaxed, he will start.
Three days later, with lots of breaks for his play group, lunch, and television, the picture was completed. In my kitchen, Gary smiled at me, unable to contain himself. "Can we put it on your fridge?" he asked.
"Sure, that's a great place for it." I answered.
"A special place," Gary said.
"A special place for a special picture," I declared.
I took the drawing from the hands of the tall, bearded man and gave him a hug. His childlike manner and his natural determination inspire me. There is nothing that delights Gary more than delighting others.
He paused and gave me a broad smile. His dancing eyes told me he was proud of his work and of the place of honor it was given on my refrigerator.
"Someone sure worked hard on it," Natasha said later as she pressed out the folds and replaced the paper on the fridge.
Gary's first public viewing had just come to an end, and he managed to please the critics.
I think even the masters of old would agree: If love of life, determination despite obstacles, and the true joy of creation are what it takes to make a picture great, then Gary's rendition of my landscape must be a true work of art.