An antique farm truck from a hazy memory

... a great grant but a lousy border crossing ...

from Don Norris

Once again, wife and I were searching through memorabilia, trying to sort through a lifetime of, well, junk, scrapbooks, photos, drawings, paintings, bills ...

And I came upon this drawing. The original was an abandoned truck on a farm just east of the New Hampshire border, in Maine. Up by the White Mountains. I remember photographing that truck -- in a time before digital cameras -- taking several shots as I walked around it.

It was an ancient truck, even then -- like 1982, the year I got a grant from the Melrose Arts Council to follow the tracks of the great New England painters. The grant was two hundred, the "motivation" was a 1952 VW Kombi in which I slept, cooked and lived for about three weeks on the road. I sketched and photographed all over New England, and did some half-dozen paintings and a zillion sketches.

This particular truck, in all its rusted glory, sat there in a farmyard -- a victim of time used up. What I like to paint are ancient farm vehicles, barns and farmhouses, railroad scenes, the mountains and the fast-running rivers. Most of the painting is done back in the studio in Melrose, based on memories, enhanced by my growing sketchbook, and some very expensive -- from film -- photos.

I can remember crossing the border into Canada -- one didn't need a passport in those days. I got across the border okay -- just to say I went that far -- but on the return trip, I was so raggedy that the U.S. border people made me get out of my van, which they searched in minute detail -- only to come up with a half bottle of gin.

"What's this," the uniform asked, waving my bottle.

"Half a bottle of gin," I replied.

He seemed disappointed that I didn't have any illicit drugs or several unopened (and therefore illegal) bottles of booz, bought cheaply in Canada.

Anyway, they let me back into the U.S. I later figured that going through a little-used border-crossing was a bad move. The guy had nothing to do but to harass an aging septuagenarian.

It was a great, but lonely trip. It was productive, however, for I did get several (like 15) paintings from the experience. I'd love to do it again, even at age 82, but I don't have that Kombi anymore.

January 3, 2014

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