Windsor’s hold on those who grew up here is powerful – as in this reminiscence from Robin Volsky. Friends of Windsor published half of this story in the September 2019 issue of Windsor Now & Then…here is the whole thing. Thank you, Robin, for sharing.
Olive Volsky painted everything. She painted landscapes. She painted animals. She painted the house that she and my father George Volsky built in 1954, the year that I was born. She painted murals on the living room wall that you could see through the picture window from Route 9. She painted her friends into the Wild West mural that hung at the local bar. She painted the phone cord green to match the planter, and she even painted the toilet seat. Red Paisley.
Tonight I will attempt to paint a word picture of the place where I grew up.
Of the three noun categories, Person, Place and Things, Place is where I go most often in my dreams. Place is the color I will use to paint my picture.
For myself, that place was, and always will be, the town of Windsor, in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. It’s a place you pass through because you have to get from one place to another. It still is, today, largely unchanged from what is was when I was a child. Yes, I walked to school, uphill, through the snow. Enough said.
Mom’s favorite paintings were reminiscent of her childhood at the Windsor farmhouse where she grew up, about 5 miles down the hill from our place.
On my walks with my grandmother to look for watercress, we passed through a long open field. At the end of the field was a stone wall. The field stones were piled on top of one another by hand, packed and stacked, “horse high, and hog tight”. The fence had a gated opening into the woods. Next to the road one could hear the sound of a hidden babbling brook that bore the succulent greens we would forage. If you’ve never had fresh picked watercress in a small bowl with oil, vinegar, and a dash of sugar, I am truly sorry for you.
The rough-hewn wooden gate that guarded that dark forest and its secrets was a familiar sight on family walks. Venus Flytrap grew wild in there, near the gravel pit. I never got to venture much further down that road after Pappy, my grandfather, passed away in 1964, and the farm was sold. Pappy’s last words to my mother were about that old stone wall gate. He told her that he would meet her there again some day….
My mother tried to teach me to paint landscapes, but I would have none of it. Loud people drinking, smoking, and laughing, and the stereophonic sound of Broadway musical hits blared from vinyl records from the 50’s and 60’s were the sound track for the art classes she held in the renovated cellar studio.
I spent this time upstairs drawing faces. I drew the 36 presidents as extra credit for history class. My 7th grade history teacher, Mrs. Coombs was petite, with straight long brown hair down to her waist.
It wasn’t hard to draw for her. She posted my drawings over the chalkboard for the open house on parent-teacher day. I’ve been drawing and painting ever since then.
Creativity flourished in a warm house in the dark of winter, while the wind whipped the snow into 12-foot drifts outside.
I didn’t blame my parents that they drank. Wait a minute. Yes I did. I became a sullen teenager, and avoided parental conflict, contact, and to my mother’s chagrin, connection, like the plague.
This, however, is how reclusive artists are born. I became quite good at drawing people, and by 8th grade I was getting requests to draw naked ladies by some of the tougher kids in my class. I had to appease them occasionally to maintain my place in the pecking order. Nobody wants to be “teacher’s pet” (which I clearly was). Mom knew nothing about this.
What could I say? You do what you gotta do. Two presidents a week is gonna cost you a little soft porn.
One summer, shortly after our family got back from a unique excursion to Washington D.C., Mom received a photo in the mail that was taken by the Associated Press of her in the oval office with President Nixon. In the photo, he is shown congratulating her on the commemorative plate she had recently designed for our town’s bicentennial. Back then, if you produced a bicentennial plate, your historical commission got to go to Washington to meet the president and add the plate to the White House collection.
It is now forty years later, Sept 15, 2015.
My mother’s breaths are labored and sporadic. I believe she can hear me, through the morphine haze. Mine is the early morning to afternoon shift.
Thank you, Mom. Thank you for Windsor. Thank you for the Art, and Theatre, and Music. You didn’t know this, but I was listening. I was watching.
Olive Volsky took her last breath, at Treasure Coast Hospice, at 9:24 am.
Musak versions of her old Broadway favorites played. She lay there, across from the one personal object she had requested for her hospice room – her most recent painting of the Old Stone Wall Gate where she promised to meet her parents some day.
Perhaps Pappy, Grammy, Mom and Dad will all be waiting there for me, as well- waiting there across a field of new-mown hay. This I surmise from the sweet, frequent dreams of the home I miss, the carefree days of Windsor; the sleepy weekends at the farm; places and times for which I endlessly yearn.
Perhaps I, too, will meet them there before that dark pathway leading deep into the unexplored woods, and we will go together to look for watercress - one more time.