Chase Decker

In the Studio

I’d rather write about my father-in-law, the artist, Chase Decker, than my mom.

Chase was new, interesting, complicated. I loved his house and his stories and how he’d tell you something crazy, out of nowhere. How he was always a surprise.

My mom, as much as I love her, is the past, filled with resentments, guilt, worry and bad feelings. It is like reliving my youth all over again, all the bad parts, all the parts I want to forget.

I moved halfway across the country to get away from my parents, both of them, for a reason. I realize that now. Because it was the only way I knew how to survive.

I’d rather write about Chase.

It’s easier to romanticize him. Or think fondly of him. Because I wasn’t responsible for him, in the way I am with my own parents, which can curdle your love and turn it sour.

I’ve been writing about musicians and artists for the newspaper where I work and their studios. I love an artist’s studio, a writer’s study. I’m endlessly fascinated: what does it look like, what kind of tools does it have, what is the size and the light? It is near or far from their house? And how does that space help the person become the artist they want to become?

I think of Chase and Warsaw. How the whole house was his studio, every room, set with an easel and a mess of oil paints. How every room smelled like turpentine from an open can.

Nobody is as interesting as Chase. No one as charming. As welcoming. How he’d invite you into his home, pour you a glass of wine in a pewter cup. Make you bread. He loved to make bread. He was good at it, a sculptor kneading his clay.

How easy it was to spend the day. Talk by the fire. Then move to the yard. Look at the daffodils. Walk down to the pond. Look at the light. Listen to some crazy story about how he shot a beaver that kept damming up his pond. Look at his paintings. Look at his sculpture. Look at the salt house and the meat house. Look at the well, covered in vines.

It was so beautiful, that world. I can’t believe that it’s lost. But at the same time, it had to be. There was no other way. Even if I believed otherwise for a long time. It is gone. It’s not mine anymore. It was never mine, the house or the property.

But it was mine when I was with him. That life. Because he’d give it to you. All of it.

He is gone and there are no new stories to tell. Just the old ones. And I’m trying really hard, just to recall the things he used to say. Something that he said. Something new that I haven’t written here before.

“If I had a violin, I’d surely play it,” he’d say in his Southern drawl, whenever one of us was whining or complaining about something.

“Don’t look in your rearview mirror,” he told me when I was crippled by my writing and terrified of what I’d done. “Just look forward. Go forward.”

If you called and he wasn’t there, you’d get his answering machine. A rustle of movement, like he dropped the phone. Then picked it up again.

That Southern drawl, vehement, “I’m not here right now. I must be in the studio.”

The studio! Then click.

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