You’re Never Too Old To Go For The Gold!

You’re Never Too Old To Go For The Gold!

Self-Fulfillment at Lakeside

By Don Beaudreau

Go for the gold


The athletes at the Tokyo Olympics inspired the world with their life stories of hard work, determination, struggle, support from others, and eventual success to become an Olympian—and for some of them to win a gold, silver, or bronze medal. All of these athletes, whatever nation they represented, had a skill they were able to develop and utilize. They believed in themselves! Indeed, each of us has skills, too, some we were able to develop and utilize.

Years ago, I read an article by that iconic American humorist Erma Bombeck who wrote about attaining skills she had yet to utilize. It made me contemplate some of my own unutilized skills, many of which I learned in childhood; skills that I now have time to share with others during my Lakeside retirement — whether or not anyone  wants to witness these acts of self-fulfillment (or as some critics might view them, self-flagellation).

Consider that day of arrested development, when my career as a portrait painter ended. I was thirteen-years old, and in Miss Law’s eighth grade class in a suburban junior high school, only 7 miles from the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.  It was 1958. The Unites States was in the “Space Race” with the Soviet Union. So Miss Law wanted us do a creative project that honoured the “American Spirit.” She asked us not to tell her or anyone else what our project was until the actual day we displayed our creative endeavour to the entire class. We had a month to complete our individual task.

I chose to paint an oil portrait of Abraham Lincoln, and just knew that I would outshine the other students. So I sequestered myself in the damp and dank basement of our house and went at it! Never having had a lesson on how to paint, I decided this little fact didn’t matter in my case because I knew I was born to be Leonardo da Vinci’s successor, and I would create a masterpiece – somehow!

So I worked on my portrait of old Abe day and night for a month, refusing to show my magnum opus to anyone until the day it was due. I was so absorbed by what I was doing that I was certain the feeling I had was the feeling the great art masters must have felt: of being lost in the ethereal realms of inspiration.  Or something like that!

At any rate, the day came for us to show our creative talent to the class. I was ecstatic, knowing that once I removed the old Army blanket that hid my portrait of the 16th President of the United States—the blanket our cocker spaniel Glenna used as her bed—everyone would exclaim in wonder and appreciation!

Still, I had to wait my turn. I had to sit and watch others exhibit their so-called “talents” with a flour-and-salt map of the Battle of Bunker Hill, an accordion rendition of God Bless America, a tap-dance to Yankee Doodle Dandy, a home-made cake depicting John Wilkes Booth shooting my man Abe at Ford’s Theater. I thought the latter project was quite tasteless. 

But finally it was my turn! I decided to be as dramatic as possible, so I took my time setting up the easel and carefully placing the unveiled painting on it, lecturing about the creative process and pointing out my special relationship with the divine forces of inspiration. And then I was silent, just long enough for everyone to move forward an inch on their seats in eager anticipation.

Then slowly and meticulously, I grabbed one end of that smelly blanket and whisked it away, revealing Old Abe in all his glory!

Stunned silence ensued! Nobody knew what to say! So I knew then I had achieved great success! But the silence didn’t last for long. As if by consensus, the entire group of yahoos, including Miss Law—let out a big guffaw! They were laughing at Old Abe! No! They were laughing at me! At my talent! How dare they? What did they know about great art? About a thirteen-year-old boy’s creative genius? About how he was horribly hurt by their derision?

I did not paint again until I was 61-years-old and only did so because I needed a cheaper way to have paintings to cover the many empty walls of my flat in Liverpool, England, the hometown of the Beatles. And they had to be large paintings that would coordinate with the 27 pieces of wobbly Ikea furniture that I tried to put together, but failed to do so as easily as I was led to believe I could by the assembly instructions. I guess something was lost in the translation from Swedish to English.

A symbol of my less-than-complete success at this task of following directions is evidenced 15 years later in our kitchen drawer in our Lakeside home, a drawer that rattles with the leftover nuts, bolts, screws, hinges, what-nots, and odd bits that didn’t match the do-it-yourself directions.

Unfortunately, when I left for a new job in the States, I couldn’t afford to bring those 19 huge abstract paintings (all masterpieces) I had created. Quelle tragedie! So they were lost to the dark, dusty storage bins of a Liverpudlian friend’s basement, with a vague hope of mine that I would retrieve them one day. But maybe by now, my mystical messages of intergalactic oneness, displayed in swirls of color and texture are hanging on the walls of London’s Tate Modern Museum.

I must admit that nearly 50 years after my debacle with Abe Lincoln, I was inspired to paint again not only because I was too cheap to buy paintings created by others, but also because I finished off numerous bottles of Yellow Tail Wine (mostly Shiraz) from the vineyards of New South Wales, Australia during the process of my intergalactic swirling. Indeed, once I got going, the flame of my long-delayed love affair with paint, turpentine, horse-hair brush, and canvass was lit and blazing. I was possessed, working many a night until the sun rose; resurrecting my Leonardo self—becoming one with my art—beyond time and space and Miss Law’s eighth grade class of unappreciative oafs!

I can never prove I painted those masterpieces. But I know I did, and for me, that is enough. In truth, as John Lennon, a lad from Liverpool said of dreams and skills that might not be fulfilled: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  And yet! Those of us who are now retired at Lakeside and can enjoy our “golden years” have time to pursue those dreams and skills we once had glimpses of when we were younger.

So never mind the comments of those who are heirs to the critics of Miss Law’s class. Even Leonardo had his detractors! Never mind those self-appointed adjudicators who say that you and I are not good enough to go for the gold—to achieve our self-fulfillment.

Instead, for those of us who are now “chronologically gifted” (i.e. we have earned our wrinkles and heart stents), we need to listen to what that child inside us is saying: the child who has waited a long time to follow the passion that has been denied. The child who tells us:

Now is the time! Just do it! Go for the gold!


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