I had been spending more one-on-one time with the Heninger residents, so I was anxious to begin painting more regularly with our group and introduce some color to our work.
I arrived at Heninger Village that in the warmth of the evening, already jittery, even on my coffee fast, because I knew that it was going to be a most productive and energizing day. After all the efforts in cold calling, spreading the word with residents I’d encounter while spending time in the Village, designing multiple flyers that were delivered to each one’s doorstep, it was my colorful, hand painted sign placed in window that had attracted some curiosity. Our Sycamorean neighbors would arrive, ready to get their paintbrush tips saturated with radiant colors like the ones found in Mexican folk paintings.
Sycamore trees guard their street that leads to Heninger Village, and during my walks over, the Eucalyptus shed their bark, leaving crumbs to guide me along my path, like out of some fairy tale. The journey leads me [about one thousand] paces from my front door.
As we gathered for some blueberry cookies, we discussed symbolism, and I asked them to think about a place or thing that might represent who they are. Before beginning their new self portraits, they took a few moments to ponder, and then eagerly began painting. Everyone painted quietly and listened as some of the residents opened up to share more about themselves.
The Music Man
As Joe swirled the brush upon the gleaming white surface, his wife, Carol, stepped into the room, bright and beaming and with book in hand. She flipped back and forth between its pages and our conversations, walking over from her cozy chair from time to time to take a closer look at the all the color spilling out upon the table. In the 70’s, Joe played with several popular bands, and his eyes lit up as he remembered the days when they performed together.
A self-taught guitarist and vocalist, Joe has become our resident DJ. For each class, he brings music to inspire our work. The music he has played for us includes his own covers of popular blues and rock hits, and CD mixes entitled Music to Inspire, Sounds from the East, and Movie Soundtracks, which includes Danny Elfman’s lovely score to the film Edward Scissorhands. Joe always surprises us with the music he brings, and sometimes, he thoughtfully comes bearing gifts - multiple copies of his "mix of the day" for residents to take home with them and enjoy. (*sigh* This is such a special bunch we have here.)
On the first day Joe and I met, we exchanged some friendly banter over the NBA Finals, and this Cavaliers fan’s eyes smiled as he recounted the previous evening's Cleveland win, his early life memories, and his love of music. Joe's painting accurately describes his personality: cheerful, optimistic, fun-loving, and full of bright, positive energy.
Lidia painted a herself at 15 years old with her feet rooted in Cuban soil. To the left, her ballia, the house in which she was born, palm fronds shelter the family from the warm Cuban sun and rain storms that sweep through town. Lidia spent some time describing to us the different species of palm that grew on the island. There are some whose fibers are crosshatched, and when arranged correctly, can sustain for years. The palms that grew nearby her home, however, had thinner, hatched fronds, so it was necessary for her family to replace them regularly.
(While describing the palm trees, she actively spoke with her hands, since she speaks predominantly Spanish, and my vocabulary is so limited. She drew lines in the air, intertwined her fingers, and gestured to the sky, to helped me understand “crosshatched”. It’s truly amazing how much we can understand when we truly want to!)
As a teenager, Lidia was forced into a labor camp for two years under the regime of Fidel Castro. Even with these looming atrocious memories, Lidia speaks fondly of her homeland as she recalls,
“There is no bluer blue than the waters of Cuba and the skies above them.”
Pedro, who also goes by Peter, is a very special man. Although he is in a wheelchair, he is one of the most active participants in the Village. He has been described as a leader by his neighbors, and has shown so much love, kindness, and warmth in welcoming me into the Heninger Village community. It took several months for Peter to assemble a small group of residents to participate in Lotería, or Mexican bingo. Now, several times a week, they convene, with poker chips, glass beads, wooden blocks, and other unique items which they use as their Lotería markers, carts full of food to share, and enthusiastic hearts. It brings me great joy to now be included in this fellowship. During breaks, we sip on coffee, share snacks, and sometimes have dinner, and when we are lucky, Maria Luna brings her homemade tortilla soup. We chat, and I listen in on their conversations, also admiring their patience as I ask them about their lives in incorrectly-conjugated past tenses, trying to think up various words in Spanish, looking to Pedro for help, and staring off to the corner of the room as I speak, as if the answers are hidden there.
Thank you, Heninger Clan for welcoming me into your home, and sharing these moments of your life with me. I have thoroughly enjoyed my evenings with you, and am looking forward to learning more about what brings you joy, and hearing the stories that have led you right here, where we now meet and continue growing. Together.
What a privilege it is to be part of this project that brings together community through creativity and conversation. There is so much love here.