THE GREATEST GIFT

The piece of art in the photo above was a gift from my friend Andy. Andy drew it himself on the inside of a drawing book cover. It was one of those 5X7 Canson sketchbooks sold in any stationers or art supply store. I appreciate that it probably came from a book Andy had filled with art and had fallen apart. Gives it a little more cachet.

I know it’s the cover of one of those sketchbooks because I’ve filled a few of them myself. The first one I ever got was a gift from a long ago summer girlfriend the summer I turned 18. Her name was Elissa and we’d met at Saturday art classes at Cooper Union. We both graduated high school that spring and spent a magical summer together before parting ways forever.

I had the book she’d given me in August, a black Canson 8×12 sketchbook, and filled it with teen-aged pain and loss when we broke up that fall. I also drew in it a lot; after all I was attending an art school.

What made the book special was that she’d sewn this tan corduroy shoulder bag for me to carry the book in. It was very professional looking and I carried it until it fell apart a couple of years later, along with some of my pain and resentment.

But I loved the bag as long as I had it, and the memories of Elissa that it brought me.

I love the little drawing Andy made for me, simply some colored pencil doodling underneath “MEXICO” written out in block letters in Andy’s distinctive hand. Andy had been a big graffiti guy in the 80’s, a member of the “Soul Artists of Zoo York,” so he had some talent.

I forgive his grammar knowing that his heart was true.

I became friends with him in the early 2000’s when I started attending the same self-help groups as he.

Andy gave me the piece of art on my 53rd birthday at a small gathering I had for friends at the loft my wife Danusia and I were living in. That was in 2007. Andy passed away suddenly two years later at the age of 48.

In the short time I knew him, nine fleeting years- he was one of the few people I felt so totally comfortable with that I could tell him anything and knew he wouldn’t judge me. He was the only man I ever knew that would hold my hand walking down Avenue A on a summer evening.

Today the drawing is framed and hangs in our bathroom, a daily reminder of a love gone too soon. But Andy will live on in my heart as long as I can look at Mexico, as I like to call the piece.

Every Christmas for the past seven or so years I hand carve a linoleum block print and make our own Christmas cards. I send them out to friends and the close ones really appreciate them. I also make a hot sauce I learned to make from my mother and give it to a select group of friends, those closest to me.

This year’s cards.

I make the cards and the sauce with a special ingredient, love. And love is the greatest gift. Greater than all gold, to steal a line from Edith Sitwell.

I cherish the things people have made for me, like the hand sewn bag, Andy’s drawing, the recording of “Don’t cry for me Argentina” Danusia sang for me after we saw Patti LuPone and Many Patinkin on Broadway some years ago.

And I hope those I know and make things for will cherish what I make and do, and that I can live in their hearts when they look at a card or gift I made.

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