“I live in a world of spring showers of acrylic and watercolor droplets painting the score on the pavement of a Chopin Nocturne.”
These were the last words my brother said to me ten years ago at dad’s funeral. I welcomed the opportunity to see him and express my regret for the lost time we could have enjoyed together.
Marshal “summoned” me from my home in Winnetka for the unveiling of a painting and “important announcement.” I was divorced, living alone in our expansive lake-front home with memories of raising our children, now adults, living their lives with barely enough time to phone or send me a card.
I was seated in the elegant salon of the posh “Pierre” hotel in New York. Marshal invited me to afternoon tea followed by a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Marshal lived his life amongst the patrons, curators, and creators of fine art. He lived in a high-rise apartment resembling an art gallery with polished concrete floors, mid-century modern furniture, a grand piano, and expansive white walls featuring his eclectic art collection expertly placed, hung, and lit opposite floor to ceiling windows showcasing Central Park like a painting. His neighborhood included art dealers, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, and luxurious stores found within the “Upper East Side” of New York City.
Marshal was a talented painter and art collector who was timely in his acquisitions making him very wealthy. He was a highly sought-after fine art consultant catering to the uber-rich. He kept busy with exhibitions, fundraisers, cocktail parties, Broadway shows, and dinner out nightly.
Marshal was a Gay man coming of age in the late seventies. He was discrete about his sexuality and escaped the ravages of the mysterious virus killing his friends later named “AIDS.”
I immediately recognized my brother as the handsome, tall, elegant man wearing a bespoke grey pin stripped double-breasted suit, crisp white poplin cuffed shirt with a pastel yellow bow tie, matching yellow pocket square, and black baroque shoes polished like mirrors. His full head of sandy blond hair was combed backward and styled perfectly. Marshal was greeted like a prince by staff and seated customers who waived or said hello as he passed them.
I stood to greet him but was undecided whether to hug or shake. Marshal saved me the uncomfortable decision, and shook my hand with his soft grip and delicate fingers. He looked thinner than I recall. It was ironic that me, the quarterback, had lost my athletic physique.
An elegant cart with the tea service arrived, including our waiter adorned in a tuxedo and wearing white gloves.
“Welcome back to the Pierre, Sir. Please allow me to pour your tea.”
“I understand from the press you’re still designing concrete monstrosities severing the landscape like a knife across a canvas.”
“If you call bridges, dams, and hydroelectric plants monstrosities, yes.”
“Let’s not quibble like children, Marshal. I’ve waited ten years to see you again and am eager to hear your important announcement.”
“It’s so fun to quibble again with my brother. Please indulge me.
“I remember watching you throw the football for Northwestern on those tedious Saturday afternoons. Dad acted as though you were a Greek god throwing a lightning bolt.”
“After the game, I recall you dancing the cheerleader routines in front of the popular steakhouse on Rush Street to dad’s dismay.”
“Those dreadful dinners! Dad droning on about your athletic prowess like Caesar praising a gladiator.”
“Dad loved you, Marshal. Your double major in Art History and the Classics at the University of Chicago was far above dad’s paygrade as a car dealer. Dad told me, ‘My son’s ability to paint overwhelms me’.”
“I never knew, Bernard. Thank you for sharing.”
“Why didn’t mom ever join us at games or art exhibitions, Marshal?”
“Mom chose to forsake a career as a classically trained dancer to marry dad. She feigned happiness within her three-bedroom, two bath home with attached garage in Highland Park.”
“You were always mom’s favorite.”
“You were overseas on a project. I held mom’s hand as she lay on her death bed. She squeezed my hand saying, ‘Tell Bernard I love him,’ before passing.”
Not since dad’s death had I shed a tear. Marshal removed his silk pocket square and gently wiped away the pain.
The hotel chauffeured Bentley drove us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Upon entering, the staff greeted Marshal like a “VIP.”
I was provided a behind the scenes tour of the inner workings of the revered museum which is a two-million square foot “vault” protecting five-thousand years of art.
We were guided into a room resembling an operating theatre where museum staff were prepared to remove the cover to artwork standing nearly twelve feet high and five feet wide. The Museum Director spoke.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m honored to present Marshal’s treasured gift to the Museum. A Renoir Impressionist masterpiece!”
The protective covering was carefully removed revealing a heart stopping image of a pristine lake shining in the sun, mirroring happy people lining the banks. The painting was so life-like and remarkable it resembled a photograph.
I glanced at my brother whose face displayed his love and reverence for art like seeing one’s newborn for the first time.
A reporter was present and asked: “Why are you gifting the Renoir to the Museum? Will you confirm its estimated value at over one hundred million dollars?”
Marshall tactfully confronted the reporter.
“I’ve tracked the provenance of this masterpiece my entire career. It was thought lost or destroyed, but I recovered it from a government with a dubious history of secreting stolen art. After a long fought legal and political battle, I was awarded guardianship. My exhaustive efforts to locate relatives of the original owners were of no avail and the courts granted me ownership. The frame with the paintings title by Renoir was missing. My legion of art historians isn’t able to confirm its title. We have agreed to name it, ‘Romantique’.
“It’s my duty and privilege to share Romantique with the world.”
The gathering broke out in applause. I was proud of my brother and embraced him, whispering: “Your family is proud of you.”
It was my turn to wipe a tear from Marshal’s eye.
We were ushered into a reception serving caviar and champagne. I was distracted by many people wanting to know my relation to Marshal. I was proud to proclaim, “I’m his brother.”
The Director asked me to follow him into the printshop producing all of the Museum’s catalogues, brochures, and announcements.
He led me to a printer preparing a glossy brochure consisting of two sides.
“Please allow me to show you the announcement we’re preparing on Marshal’s behalf.”
I was handed a proof copy back side first, reading: “In Memorium: The Marshal Calibre Estate Collection.”
Before I could process the inference of my brother’s untimely demise, the Director proudly said: “Please view the other side and savor Marshal’s choice for the cover.”
Marshal painted a black and white watercolor depicting two boys wearing ballet gear and embracing each other. One of the boys was distraught and received consolation from the other.
I choked up recalling the tender moment we shared as children when mom compelled me to accompany Marshal to ballet school where we auditioned for the character of “Prince Siegfried” in “Swan Lake.” Marshal got the part. I humiliated myself. The Director was perceptive.
“I apologize, Bernard. I was under the impression Marshal informed you. I’ll excuse myself now with your permission.”
I waved him off and regained my composure joining the gathering as it was finishing up. Marshal greeted me.
“I’ve been looking for you. I didn’t think the Museum would provide so much fascination to a quarterback turned engineer.”
Marshal was exhausted but his sarcastic sense of humor provided me the much-needed respite from the traumatizing news. It was a reminder of those qualities which made Marshal a beloved brother. I regretted our time apart but was grateful for the afternoon together.
It was a bittersweet ending of our afternoon together but made sweeter by our arm-in-arm walk down the stairway of the Museum and onto the sidewalk.
We hugged as a spring shower gently fell upon us. Marshal whispered: “I’m dying from pancreatic cancer, Bernard.”
He broke free from our embrace, hailed an approaching cab, and was gone before I could say: “Goodbye. I love you.”
I was invited to share the most important day in my brother’s life within his world including spring showers of acrylic and watercolor droplets.