I spoke to those who remained behind for the reception after mother's funeral yesterday. My eulogy, such as it was, unfortunately slid towards the maudlin end of the spectrum by the end, and although I had held myself together admirably prior to that moment, came very close to breaking down. I should have instead just gone with humour, and spoken of her peculiar ways of driving me up the wall, such as her way of calling me up to inform me that she had volunteered me to do something for one of her friends or the church. I always had trouble telling my mother 'no', and she had even more trouble hearing it the few times I did. There were, for example, statues.
It began when she told me that she had told her church that I would help her repair damage done to the Sacred Heart statue. She somehow thought that my experience as a woodworker meant I also could repair plaster.
Me: Mother, that requires highly skilled labour normally done by highly trained and expensive professionals.
Mother: So you'll do it?
She would then become absolutely deaf when the subject of being paid came up, and deeply engrossed in watching curling.
Me: How much are we getting paid for this? Mother? Mother!
Mother: Yes dear?
Me: What are we getting paid for this?
Mother: I heard you dear. Look at that nubby nub there. How could he miss that shot?
Me, after a short pause: We're doing this for free, aren't we?
I contacted a friend of mine who actually worked in the basement of the ROM doing restoration and conservation work, often with plaster, and he gave me a few pointers. The Sacred Heart statue, as it turned out, wasn't too badly damaged. It looked worse than it was. A fair number of small chips and a couple of substantial cracks in the hand. I did the plaster work and mother did the painting and it was as good as new.
Fixing that statue ranks among the dumbest things I ever did. After that, there was a steady stream of statues coming round from mom's friends, all of whom were so happy they found someone who would repair their little statues for free. I replaced hands, noses, glued heads back on- all of it. Then, one day, mom told me a friend had recovered some large church statues that were going to be tossed, and she had promised our help fix these ones, too, also for free.
The first was a large statue of the Madonna and Child. The paint had been loose on it, the 'friend' had decided to be helpful and brush the flaking paint off with a steel wire brush. The statue was now free of all paint, but, in addition to other damage done to the statue, it was now covered in deep grooves and gouges. I had to resurface the whole thing without changing or distorting its features.
That may have been bad, but the statue of St Jude was worse. There was a clear break across the face. The bridge of the nose and the area around his glass eyes was missing. This was not filling in cracks, chips or gouges: I would be rebuilding the features of the statue virtually from scratch. It was actually fitting for the patron saint of lost causes, which is what I thought that statue was.
Me: Mother, this is way beyond anything I have done before.
Mother: So you'll do your best?
I ended up muddling through and making something passable. The statue was repainted, and returned.
Me: How much did we get paid, mother? Mother? Mother!
Mother: Shush, you. This is a very important shot.
Me: We did it for free again, didn't we?