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Friday, August 14, 2009

The Monument

I just finished reading The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews. Don’t read it unless you want to change your life. It’s a small book with sweeping impact, an epic journey through one man’s infinite dream, a sort of Indiana Jones hopping around in the subconscious where he meets key men in human history and discovers the answers to those elemental questions most of us never ask, much less receive the answer for. If everybody read it and followed its course, we would evolve into a super-race that would make our present civilization look pathetic. So it’s best if most of you do not read it. There would be just one BLOG and it would be written by Andy Anderson. But my reading of it triggered this entry, so who knows what you might get out of it…The Monument

This is a story about at least four different fathers. Especially my own father, Ralph B. Cushman Jr. I swear, this will be the last time I mention Brazos Freedom; The commission I recently installed of three steel horses that was purchased for a local land development and then cut down and removed. I really want to put them to rest, and to some degree, put everyone upset about it to rest as well. This story is completely true, and ought to be the last word.

Few reading this will ever quite understand the making of a monument. The visioning, measuring, and calculating. And the research, negotiations, and recalculating… This particular project required the finding and purchasing and delivery of tons of “just right” boulders. And in this case I ended up abandoning one design and adapting the boulder arrangement on the ground to a totally different concept. Artists have to be flexible.

During the whole time, my father was in a losing battle for his life, here at a nursing home. Every day when I came to see him, he would anxiously ask about the progress on the horses. It was the one thing that we could talk about that we could both agree. He was not going to agree to eat, take his medicine, to go to physical therapy. But he would talk about the horses. Being a former contractor, he knew all about steel, galvanizing, and welding, and I enjoyed hearing his stories about the hundreds of thousands of dollars he had lost on jobs over the years, which made my project seem tiny and insignificant. Yet he acted as if those horses were the most important thing in Texas. Hardly a caregiver could enter his room that he did not brag about them. I would show him pictures, but it was impossible to arrange for him to actually see them. He seemed smugly satisfied, finding great comfort in the project and its significance to me, Navasota and the State of Texas! That’s the kind of man he was.

The horses were at the galvanizing plant, being hot-dipped in zinc, so they might last forever, when he was in his last difficult days, and we were installing them when he died. But his room was pregnant with expectation to the end. I was late the evening he passed away, and was not with him, but the caregivers told me that his last words were insisting that they go see the horses. Already belted in the rocket of heaven, he focused on those silvery steeds, as he met Jesus in the sky.

The nurse wanted to know if we had horses, that he was preoccupied with horses. He wanted her to go see them, because he couldn’t. “What was he talking about? Does your family have horses?” She asked sincerely. I explained that my dad, in typical fashion, had died bragging, about his son…

They went up and almost immediately there was a problem, some people thought the horses should be painted. I had purchased the paint, but the reflective quality of the sculpture demanded to be left alone. Enter Dr. Faber McMullen, father of my good friend Faber, the co-pastor of Home Fellowship and a local attorney. Dr. McMullen was an award winning watercolorist and one of the biggest art collectors (who knew?) in Houston. He sought out the Havens, who own the development, and encouraged them to be proud of the sculpture just like it was, saying things about the monument that were a great encouragement to me. His love for, and confidence in the work, and active defense of it, was one of the great honors of my career.

Still, after around four months the owners of the land development decided it best to retire them. Heading the Havens enterprise was the father of Michael Havens, the third member of our ruling elders at the Home Fellowship. The reasons do not matter… the customer is always right. And Joe Havens, the third father in this story wanted them gone and sent something to replace them. They say truth is always stranger than fiction. Three men, co-pastors of a church, whose fathers would probably argue for eternity about art, if not other things.

At first it was tough to accept, so many people seemed to love them, and it was embarrassing to have a monumental sculpture with so much visibility be rejected. But it was their money, they could use them for a trot-line weight if they wanted to. At about the same time, Dr. McMullen, in a tragic farm accident, also went to meet the Lord. One of the second great honors in my life was being asked to give a short eulogy during his memorial service here in Navasota. The two men who loved those horses the most were now dead. It seemed only fitting to please the last one of our father’s left alive, whatever that meant.

And then I played back the tape, my resignation from the City Council because of this commission, right after my re-election. That hurt. No other way. The months out there in the heat wrangling with the stonemasons, welders, concrete form builders and pourers and tree diggers and whatever. All new and rewarding experiences. And after seeing the results, it made my father very proud. And then Dr. McMullen’s forceful pleas, these were extraordinary men making passionate statements about deep feelings, all stimulated… by art. Those turned out to be the real monument.

Today is my father’s birthday, and believe it or not, I started this BLOG not even aware of it. The book, The Traveler’s Gift, which inspired this little mystery, it was given to me to read by Michael Havens last Sunday, at the Home Fellowship. So it has become obvious that our Father, who art in Heaven, has been in charge of this whole scenario.

It means that the results were intended before the beginning of time. Each father played his role. All so that my father might have that one last great glowing moment, before his candle went out. It was a travelers gift... Perhaps that was the real intended lasting monument, for him, by me, something temporary but taken with him for Eternity.

So now let’s forget about it, and Happy Birthday, Dad.

Russell Cushman 2009


V. Bridges-Hoyt said...

This is a moving piece. You are a good writer, and I understand your struggles and feelings and loyalties as an artist and as the child of your father. You gave your father a "Final Gift" and what a gift it was! I hope you'll be able to find peace and go forward with your creativity. I found your blog through the link you sent to Nancy Lee. Been through a bit of loss myself. We get through it ... finally.

abbastgermaine said...

Somehow I ran across your blog and I have to say, I loved the horses.
Thought they were abstract and thrilling at the same time. I had never know the history behind them before. Thank you for sharing. At the end of the day, we never know what will influence our lives and leave deeper imprints for opportunities of personal growth.

Abba St. Germaine