On a pretty early spring morning, March 23, 2000, I had the opportunity and pleasure of sketching for hours and then painting a vine called a crossvine, which added beauty and softness to a white post. The post, which dates back to the 1800’s was on a side front porch of one of the most beautiful Victorian homes in Starkville. Inside this home lived one of the most beautiful and caring southern ladies you would ever want to know. She represents three people to me even today. She took the place in my heart as my second grandmother, mother, and aunt when I lost them all many years ago. She was and is remains my dearest best friend. I have spent some of my happiest hours right here in her home on the corner of Gillespie and Lafayette streets, and these special moments shared with her are stored forever in my heart as golden treasured memories.
In Mississippi, we love our front porches, which become the favorite room in the entire home. We spend hours rocking, swinging, and entertaining on our porch-blue painted floors, which almost have a shine from our constant sweeping and sometimes mopping. It’s true when we get ready to repaint and freshen up our wooden floors, we go into East Mississippi Lumber Company around the corner, and we ask for “porch-blue” cans of paint. We sit out on our porches from sunrise to sunset almost year round. We’ll have breakfast, dinner, and supper as we swing in the squeaky swings, and we might even curl up in our swings and take a short cat nap in the hot summer afternoons. Sometimes we would go back inside and find the small Emerson fan, plug it into a socket, and suddenly feel the cool breeze as the fan would rotate across our bodies as we kept on rocking and swinging for hours just relaxing on our porch. We sit on our porches, and we watch the world and the people go by by foot on the sidewalks or ride by in cars, trucks, and buses on the streets. Usually they will honk or roll down their windows and yell, “Hey, how are ya? How is it going today? It’s so good to see ya!” We quickly yell back to our friends, “Y’all stop and come on in to see us, now! We’ll rock and swing a spell on this ‘ole porch!” There used to be a good friend who would honk every time she passed, and we would say, “There goes Bessie Alberta. She’s headed back to the Coca Cola Company.” We love our porches, and as night begins to fall and the first hint of darkness covers it, we are still out on our front porches watching and counting all the darting, flitting, lightning bugs as they join us in our good old summer time.
My dear friend’s porch was extra special, and next to the old post that I painted was also a white wooden lattice piece that the crossvine also covered. Birds found refuge inside these vines and built their nests each year within the wooden lattice, and they were safe and protected to lay eggs, and hatch their baby birds being safe and protected by the very vines themselves. This wooden lattice “lived” on the left post and went to the left side of the railing. I would paint only the right post leading up to the porch itself. There were two wooden hand rails on each side of the tall steps. The side porch faced the east of the home, and the lattice piece was placed there along with the vines to add shade during our almost unbearable summertime heat. The crossvine was actually dug up in our deep woods of Oktibbeha County, and it is a native Mississippi plant. My dear friend’s aunt years ago found and dug it up. She remembers this very crossvine growing, surviving, and living in her yard all of her life.
This crossvine is one of the first blooming flowers to indicate that spring is around the corner. It was in full bloom on March 23. It will bloom for the next few weeks of each year. It will stop blooming, and then we might see a few booms later as the summer begins. I had spent an afternoon a week visiting my dear friend before I returned to paint this crossvine, and I became fascinated with the white post, vine, side door, porch light, and ceiling. It was this vine that called out to me and said, “Come on, Carole, paint me. I dare you to try to capture me on your canvas.” I was challenged and took the dare and listened to the invitation by this one vine filled with blossoms.
What is a vine? It is a climbing woody plant of the genus Vitis long grown in warm temperate countries. Christ is regarded as a vine, of which his followers are the branches. Vines have a climbing habit. A plant whose stem needs support to stay erect. Vine-wood is the wood of the vine; vines twist and turn. Vine-leaf is a leaf of a vine. I think that the crossvine is a cousin or kin to our orange trumpet vine that is so common and is in full bloom right now. Our whole side yard on the north side of our family home on Louisville Street is filled with the familiar orange trumpet vines as they cover the hedges. Birds love both the vines. The blossoms when they are in full bloom form a perfect trumpet. You can almost hear their sounds of a trumpet blowing special music as they sway in the summer breeze. Use your imagination and listen as you enjoy this painting.
So I dared to take the crossvine’s challenge, and I got up very early the next morning right as the sun woke up and peeped behind our old hackberrry and pecan trees, packed up my car with all of my needed supplies for my soon to be outside art studio, headed down Wood Street up the hilltop turning on to South Washington Street, then making a turn to the right onto Gillespie Street, and making one last turn on Lafayette Street and into my dear friend’s gravel drive way. I was now at my final destination. I now had an extra special date with a climbing vine up a white post. I gently knocked on her back porch door, and she hugged me and said, “Oh, Carole, I am so happy to have you come and spend the whole day with me, and I shall fix us both a bite to eat for dinnertime.” Suppertime is our night meal here in the south. “I’ll have the old round oak table already set for the two of us, and we shall sit at the hand-made antique chairs, and when noon time arrives I’ll ring the dinner bell for you to come on inside and eat and rest a spell. I’ll bring you a snack or two during the day. Don’t get too tired and work too hard now.” My dear friend was so thoughtful and so sweet to me, and she will never know how much I appreciated her hospitality.
I got our my tall red director’s chair, big folding table, red pop up easel, all my 90 tubes of paint and my palette and plopped on my floppy hat. I was all ready to paint to my heart’s content. Where would I start as I stared at the white blank canvas in front of my now perched on my easel. I bowed my head, and I asked God above to help me share His beauty. “Guide my finger tips and my ability of seeing, sketching, and painting so that others might enjoy Your world that I see as an artist. Thank You, God for giving me my talent and may I use it to glorify You and enjoy and love You, dear God, for the rest of my life here on earth.”
I suddenly had to become a carpenter and build a “porch- blue” wooden porch, a white post which would now live almost in the center of my canvas, but to the left side, which makes it more artistically appealing than if it were in the middle of the canvas. If it were right in the middle of the canvas, it would look too mechanical. The white square post would be my main focal point of this painting. I would be standing at the bottom of the tall steps leading to the side entrance way up to the large wrap-around Victorian porch. I would be sketching and painting the side entrance way into the home itself. Look at the tasteful round globe holding the light fixture by the side door. There is a slight hint of the 1800’s wood on this side wall. Look at the character of the wood itself and its aged appearance on this outside wall. We might say that these are the characters of this painting. The post and the top of the wooden railing (find this tip top of the railing right by the beginning of the bottom of the post), the door, the light, the ceiling of the porch, and the very top of the porch itself.
Now, let your eyes begin at the bottom of the post and look at the detailed closeness of the first three crossvine blossoms. They were the closest to me. Begin to look at all the colors of each and every one of the 57 blossoms. Artists love odd numbers because they are eye-appealing. I first sketched for several hours, and then I painted the blossoms one by one. One leaf at a time. They are all so exquisite in shapes and colors of yellows, red, tans, oranges, coral, and plum. Follow this one vine, and see how it loops around the post with such grace and beauty. See and feel the slight spring time breeze as it blows and makes the leaves of dark Hooker’s Green, which is almost black in color, to dark browns and lime green leaves mixed in with scarlet colored leaves. These blossoms and leaves are dancing up and down the post.
Look how the sunshine suddenly shown so brightly hitting the top side of the post itself and the shadow is on the left side of the post. This makes your eyes travel directly to this bright, bright white mixed with a tiny bit of yellow to catch”’ the sun rays on the post itself as it too... danced (jit-ta- bugged” or did the “Charleston Dance”) across and up and down the post! The blue color is the ceiling of the old porch. Most old homes have a blue ceiling to... (as “they” say)...to keep the dirt dauber insects away and from their making dirt homes on tops of the porch ceilings! Look again at only a hint of the light blue ceiling mixed in with a darker blue nearer the vine itself. The darker blue color draws your eyes to the details of the “Crossvine” itself. At the very top of the porch ceiling area you will find red and pink colors mixed in with a purple to let you know that this is the top of the porch which is holding the post onto the house and porch itself. It almost gives an anchor to the post.
In life we often miss a beautiful scene because we don’t look at what is right in front of us. We miss the world we live in because we are too busy to stop and enjoy a lovely scene such as a porch post with a twisting vine. We forget to see the details of things staring us right in the face. We don’t take time to sip and taste nature and a still life of a simple post looking and winking back at us.
Think that years ago, a precious aunt of my dear friend went out into the deep woods of Oktibbeha County and dug up and brought back into a small town a tiny vine, planted it, and it grew and thrived to last for generations to be appreciated by all of us now in a painting to last for the next generations of folks.
The lunch bell rang, and a tasty afternoon snack was later hand-delivered right to my easel and placed on my big fold up wooden art table. A tall glass of sweet tea, mint floating inside and a lemon stuck on the glass goblet, was enjoyed as the afternoon hot sun begin to set for the day. I was exhausted and finally signed my full name on the bottom of the finished painting. I thanked my hostess for her fine southern hospitality, packed up my car with all of my art supplies, cranked up my car, waved, gave a good-bye kiss and with a tear or two in my eyes thinking of our close friendship, and began my very short journey back home.
It was a very special friendship that I have cultivated, cherished, and actually inherited from my own Granny, (Daisy Pearson Lewis), my Mama (Elizabeth Lewis McReynolds,) and my aunt (Daisy Lewis Pace) of my dear native Starkvillian friend who had lived her whole life in this very Victorian home. She moved to Panama City Beach, Fla. to live several years ago. She turns 90 years old on November 3, and does she know how much I miss her?
The vine and this light are not there anymore. The home still stands, and it is the memories that linger so vividly of a most delightful and creative day that I spent with a crossvine filled with its 57 beautiful blossoms of many charming colors and so many shades of green vine leaves, a post, a top of the porch railing, a door, a light, a porch-blue ceiling, and the very top of a porch itself.
I drove into our car port, got out, went up the back steps of our back screened in porch, slammed the door, and was greeted by my own family that day. “Hey, Mama, what did you paint today?” All three of our children said at once, “We love it!” To this day, this has always been one of their favorite paintings I have ever painted.
As I repainted it for my viewers early this morning through my column, I relived March 23, 2000, in my dear friend’s gorgeous Victorian home, and I thought of our special friendship. I love her very much. I wonder if she realizes how much I sincerely and deeply love her? I hope and think she does. I think of her right now as being a crossvine with graceful simplicity.