We probably talked about this painting, my sister and I. I probably said, “Oh, wow,” rubbing my chin and moving closer to the blurry edges of the faces.
In it, African-American men, women and children – four each – mourn for Mary Lou Pearce, the woman my father hired as our housekeeper but who really kept our soul . The men gather to the upper left, three of the women to the upper right, all against a cerulean blue background; the children – two boys and two girls – peer from the mahogany-hued foreground. Mary Lou, resting in a white casket, her head held by one of the women standing at the casket’s end, is the center of all this near-symmetry. The woman is her sister Margie, helping Mary Lou transition from this world to the Promised Land, singing.
A raised border of wood, painted white with a blue line intersected by hatch marks like barbed wire, surrounds the painting.
We attended the funeral, but we are absent among the mourners. Instead, the painting honors Mary Lou’s family, her choir friends and neighbors, the east side of town. When we were children, they had welcomed us to picnics and church. At the funeral, they placed us in the front pew reserved for family. Our white suburban home never welcomed Mary Lou in the same generous way. It never even occurred to us.
Nine years after she made this, my sister died. How I wish I had called Margie to sit with us and sing.
- Meg Galipault's publishing experience includes serving as managing editor of the Kenyon Review and executive editor of dialogue: voicing the arts, a nonprofit magazine covering the visual arts in the Midwest. She is a contributing editor for yeah write and has a blog called Pigspittle Ohio. Meg earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio University. She lives with her husband and cats in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
Read her Dead Housekeeping piece about Mary Lou Pearce here.