LOST PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER


ACRYLIC ON CANVAS BY CHERYL LYLES SMITH

Some of you may remember my writing about the loss of my sister’s and brother-in-law’s home by fire the morning before Hurricane Harvey hit.  My brother-in-law had called me to invite us out to stay with them if we did not want to ride out the storm here on the coast.  They lived eighty miles west of here on the family ranch and in the house that I grew up in.

The above portrait of my father was painted by their daughter (my niece) who died of cancer at age 57 in 2012.  The  painting was done from a small photo of him in exactly the same pose taken probably in the late 1950s.  It hung in the entrance to her parents’ home.  A few years ago when we were visiting I had Husband take a photo of it because it was very special to me.  Now I am so grateful that he did as the painting was destroyed in the fire along with everything in the house.  Perhaps I should explain the painting for those of you not familiar with the practice of burning prickly pear cactus.

In the painting my father is filling up his pear burner with butane from the tank in the pick-up.  He would then strap it across his shoulder and go out into the pasture where there was plenty of prickly pear cactus.  As he turned it on fire would come out of the end of it and he would burn or singe the thorns off the cactus.  With the large thorns gone the cattle would eagerly eat the cactus as a good source of protein and contained water.  During times of drought when there might be little for the cattle to eat and feeding hay might be too expensive for a rancher, this method would help to get through the lean times.  Burning pear was most common in the fall and winter, but I have seen my father burn pear into the spring and fall if it was a really dry year.

Today times have changed and few people burn prickly pear.  The pear burner was invented in 1914 by John Bunyan Blackwell.  A photo of one can be seen at the Bullock Museum website.

As a footnote, my sister and brother-in-law built a new house on the same spot as the one that burned and were able to move in just before Christmas.  Husband and I went out Christmas Eve to see it and to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.  I had prints made from the photo Husband took as gifts for family members.  Life goes on.

       Here is a close-up of prickly pear cactus so you can see the sharp thorns.

 

Here is a cluster of them together with the red fruit or tuna.

66 thoughts on “LOST PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER

  1. What a lovely painting of your father and how sad it must’ve been to lose it with all the other house effects as well as your family home. Also, sad that it was painted by your niece who is no longer with you. Life throws us so many curve balls, some more painful than others. Thankfully, you have a photo to remind you of your dad and her as well.

    Interesting anecdote about the prickly pear cactus. Did not know that. Prickly pear burner, clever that. Also didn’t know that cattle could get sustenance from that plant. The wonders of nature.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The painting was special as it represented two people that we have lost. She taught art in the local high school; my father has been gone for over twenty years but lived to be in his eighties. Good memories and carry us through the rough times. I plan to have my copy of the photo framed. Nice to hear from you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember you saying about the tragedy of the fire, And what a beautiful painting your Niece did.. And how fortunate that you had the forethought to take that photo when it hung on their wall. What a wonderful gift to give back to your family..
    I am delighted your Brother and his Wife were able to rebuild and celebrate a wonderful milestone of 70 years marriage. How wonderful is that.
    Learning about the prickly pear is all new to me. so I was fascinated Jo..
    Sending Huge Hugs your way.. And so pleased you shared.. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it was a surprise to many that I had a photo copy of the painting. It came out well enough to be framed (small) if they want to hang it in the new house. They are strong but have plenty of family support. I thought prickly pear burning needed some explanation for some. It is seldom done these days.

      As always, your comments are appreciated! Hope all is well with you.

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  3. What a fascinating, loving, and in the end, happy painting. First, no, I never knew about prickly pear burning. Why is it no longer done? Seems like a wonderful solution to me for the cattle and their ranchers, although I imagine very time consuming, to burn a lot of prickly pear.
    And what a wonderful depiction of your dad in his duties (and my guess, love) as a rancher. Thank goodness you thought of taking that photo of the painting. I do remember when your brother’s house burnt down, and so happy to hear that a new one is already up and lived in. As you say, life goes on.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it was time consuming, but also today most of the pastures have been improved, meaning that some brush and cactus have been cleared to make way for grass and other things cattle can eat. Yes, my father worked hard on the ranch but he loved it and was glad that it could stay in the family. Thanks for taking time to comment. I must visit your blog soon as life keeps getting in the way of my blog reading! I hope the 2018 is going well for you!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Laugh! It did look a bit weird, didn’t it? I tried to explain and illustrate the best that I could. Thanks for taking time to read to understand what was going on. I shared the story as a tribute to my father and niece. Hope all is well with you and that you are staying warm. It is not too bad here but we have not seen the sun for days. Cheers for the weekend! TGIF to you!

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  4. I am so glad you took the photo of the painting before it was destroyed, it is so devastating when you loose everything in a fire. I remember reading your post. I never herd of prickling cactus. I am happy for your brother and his wife to be able to move into a new house. Life does continue!

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  5. Dear, dear Jo Nell, My tears blurred the words. I wiped them away and read the most wondrous of life stories. I am so very happy to hear of the rebuilding of the family home, and how fortuitous for your family the photograph of your father was taken by you. XXOO Virginia

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I knew you would understand, Virginia! Copies were mailed to family members and I got good responses since many did not know a photo has been taken. When my father was alive we often gathered there for his birthday. My children and I went back to live with him for two years to be there when my mother died so my children called it home too. Beautiful memories get us through and and connect us with threads of love. It is a harsh land but it makes one strong.

      All ok here. I am volunteering again four mornings a week through United Way with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). It gets me out and I feel I am contributing something. Cheers, dear friend!

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  6. What a fascinating post – so many levels of tragedy, human interest, resourcefulness and hope… Wonderful that you had the intuitive impulse to photo the painting – such a wonderful heirloom, terrible the fire, – amazing that your family have re-built, as well as celebrating such a monumental anniversary… and I loved the idea of that old farming practice, and the way other generations put so much attention to detail into their daily tasks..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m smiling away. I must be an old-timer, because I know the value of the prickly pear, and have seen it burned. I’ve helped make prickly pear jelly from the tunas, too, although I must confess I’m not enough of a connoisseur to be able to distinguish between prickly pear, agarita, and mesquite.

    Did you know that camels adore prickly pear? You probably do know that, before the Civil War, the Army imported camels to use in West Texas; they came by ship to Indianola and then up to Camp Verde. I can’t imagine eating still-thorned prickly pear, but apparently they did.

    In every hurricane and flood I’ve experienced, the worst pain for people always is the loss of personal treasures like that painting. We say that people are more important than things, and of course that’s true. Still, certain things carry memories in a special way — I’m so glad you have a way to pass along those special memories of your father.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So we are both old-timers! I like the jelly from pear but have never made any. The Texas tortoise will eat the ripe tuna. It is rather funny to see them with reddish mouths. I knew about the camels in Texas but did not know they would eat the prickly pear raw; perhaps their mouths are tougher than we think.

      Things are important also. We want those tangible links to what we knew and are familiar. Why else do we treasure bits and pieces of the past in museums?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. When I saw the photo, I first thought it was a mural from the New Deal era murals that were part of our public buildings and “art for the people.” This is indeed art for the people as it documents a part of life common to Texas during dry times. I appreciate your sharing it and explaining its significance, as there are many who might not know how important this was to survival–that of ranchers, their livestock, and long before, to the indigenous people who also used cacti for food–nopalitos.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are right about that comparison to New Deal art that I had not thought of before. Or Thomas Hart Benton. And in the style itself there is a similar softness although the activity is harsh. That way of life, my father’s, is gone and the younger great and great-great grandchildren don’t know much about it. Nopalitos can be found in our local grocery store and are great with eggs.

      Thanks for the visit. Must meander over your way soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a remarkable story you’ve shared here, Jo Nell. How fortunate that you decided to photograph this precious painting. The painting in itself is remarkable: it portrays your father as a fairly young man, in the middle of an action that was significant to the farm and its animals. And then comes the story of how and why he is in the middle of that action. Also, to know that your niece painted this before dying at a relatively young age. I am moved by this post and am thankful you shared it with us.
    Thanks for being part of my blogging network, Jo Nell. I value you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I had never heard of burning a cactus, but it makes so much sense. And I’m glad that your sister and brother-in-law were able to build the house on the same spot and move in by Christmas. Thanks for this post, it was encouraging!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. What a beautiful post!I cannot imagine the trauma of losing your home but how wonderful that you were able to reproduce the precious print of your father! It must be one of their most treasured possessions. As for prickly pears – we don’t have them here in Ireland but I love the idea of getting rid of the thorns so that cattle can benefit from the nourishment. I also love the different lives we live, brought to life by your lovely post! Thank you !

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! Those words mean so much coming from some like you who cherishes the stories of the past. You are right that we experience so many other ways of life via blog friendships. Your voice from Ireland takes me away to places I will never see and the past that I have never known. South Texas land can be harsh, like parts of Ireland, apparently, but the people make the most of what they have. We are connected!

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  12. So much history slips away if we don’t work to preserve it — love this story of incidental preservation of very meaningful art.

    It’s a reminder, I hope, that we should photograph objects we love and cherish, just for such eventualities.

    The people we cherish? Even moreso.

    (Jealous of the great comments here.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, Ed, you are right when you say we should preserve in photos the things we love. We take photos of people but their surroundings and things tell a story also of who they were. Memories are good but a tangible documentation can be shared. With your blog you do an outstanding job of bringing history to life and reminding us of our past as you teach us. Your taking time to visit and comment is much appreciated! Cheers!

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  13. Amazing stories Jo Nell, life blows my mind daily. Every problem comes bearing a gift. Thank you for this post, it warmed my heart tonight.
    I always enjoy eating prickly pear (nopales) when in Mexico. It’s a nutritious addition to any meal. The thorns are served as toothpicks 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, thank you! A bit different from your art but special to our family. Strange, but the fire did bring other “gifts” in some ways that were never expected…”every problem comes bearing a gift.” I like that thought. Nice to know you are familiar with prickly pear. They are nutritious for cattle and humans! Your comments are always appreciated! Wishing you all the best as always!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. That’s a lovely painting, how nice to have it.

    I was reading about the thorns in prickly pear only recently, but hadn’t realised there’d been a way to get the thorns off to feed the plant to cattle.

    That’s awful about the fire…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by! We never know the connections we will find on blogs. The painting is special to because she did not do many paintings of people. Yes, the fire was awful but in the long run the new home is better for them as it is easier for them to get around in at their age.

      Liked by 1 person

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