Sunday, May 03, 2009

Cold Turkey: Decision Portrait Series

(Above: Cold Turkey, Decision Portrait Series. 31" x 37", framed. Stitched words: We quit smoking after 40+ years. Xylene photo transfer on tea stained muslin. Hand stitched and beaded. Click on image to enlarge.)

A month or so ago I update the "wish list" on the Decision Portrait Series blog. A new potential title is Smoker, someone proud and happy to indulge a tobacco habit. I haven't found this "model" yet but at the time I also never once thought about non-smokers, especially people who made the significant decision to quit. A comment from another fiber artist made me realize the oversight. (Thanks so much! Comments really do inspire!) Reading her words seemed to set a light bulb flashing in my mind. I already knew the perfect people! I didn't even need a signed model's release...not for my in-laws! They've both passed away. My husband Steve was the only person I had to ask. He happily agreed and started the search for the perfect photo.

Boy, was it a quest! There isn't a single image of the two, side by side. There aren't but a few that even include them both. Jack and Judy lived in the era and social scene where men were basically chauvinistic bread earners and women were dependent housewives. Their marriage had more than a fair share of problems. When I asked Steve about using images of his parents, he thought I wanted to stitch a piece called "We stayed together for the sake of the children". Yet, Jack and Judy stayed together long after Steve was grown and gone.

This bond might have been because neither had anyplace else to go. Judy joined the navy at the end of World War II. She was eighteen years old. She never returned to her dysfunctional family and had almost no contact with any of them for the rest of her life. Jack simply drifted apart from his siblings and didn't correspond or visit until the last years of his life.

As a result, my husband Steve grew up not knowing even the names of grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. Family snapshot were rarely taken. Between this and the strained marriage, there wasn't a single, suitable photo for me to use. Thank heavens for Photoshop! The image I created was the result of eliminating my husband Steve who stood between his parents in the original that was taken on September 12, 1981, our wedding day. At the time, Jack and Judy were still smokers.

A few years later, Jack's high blood pressure was life threatening. Doctors ordered him to drop twenty-five pounds, stop drinking, exercise, and quit smoking. Jack was....well...a cantankerous fellow. I figured this mandate was the "beginning of the end".

I was wrong!

Jack dropped the weight, started consuming a healthy diet, walked, and stamped out his last cigarette....COLD TURKEY! He quit even though Judy was still puffing away in the same house.

A year or two later Judy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Steve drover from Columbia, South Carolina to Norfolk, Virginia as often as possible in order to take her to doctor's appointments, surgery, and chemotherapy. Judy was understandably nervous about her ordeal. At first she sought solace in cigarettes, but Steve (never a smoker) refused to let her smoke in our car. Once, standing outside the passenger door trying to finish one off, she finally said, "This is ridiculous! How can I keep smoking while worrying about cancer?" She smudged out her last butt and got into the vehicle. Cold turkey, she'd quit.

Jack and Judy each smoked for over forty years. They simply decided to quit...and they quit as simply as they decided....COLD TURKEY! I am quite proud of this portrait....mostly because I know Jack and Judy would be proud of it.

(Above: Detail of Cold Turkey).


Wanda said...

I KNEW these were Steve's parents before I even read the post! I remember them so well. Isn't that interesting. What a great post, piece and tribute. They WOULD be proud. They'd be proud of you guys anyway. Your descriptions are great...never judging or making it personal. This one must have been difficult because it IS personal. You did really well with it! My hubby also quit cold turkey...after smoking up to 4 packs a day. I can't even comprehend this...obviously. This IS a great decision and a great addition to the series.

verobirdie said...

WOW, they were strong persons! Not only for stopping smoking, but also to have had a life on their own and building their own family.
Your work is beautiful and they surely would be proud.

Anonymous said...

How lovely, Susan. I can't help but think that they are looking at it from above. And bragging to all their friends. A beautiful tribute. Mom

lindacreates said...

This is a wonderful portrait Susan! How smart of them to quit when their health dictated it. I requested Jim give up his 40+habit after getting my ovarian cancer. I never asked him to until this point in my life, but I didn't want him to go through what I had had to. He did and he celebrated 10 years cigarette free last January!