Karen and the Monumental Mural, Karen Series Part 8 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

Around 1990 or so my husband Bill was once again looking for work. And this time he had a lead in another town in another part of the state. I didn’t like it.

Bill had had a lot of various jobs over the years and I never really minded. It wasn’t all that stable, but we always got by and I did the private party work – and a lot of artwork on the side – and we always managed. But this was different.

By now our kids were getting pretty grown. The boys were going to be seniors in high school and Ellyn was soon to be a freshman. All our family lived locally or in surrounding towns. Family was our life – we were with one or another of them all the time and that was our world. How could we be the first to move away from that? I told Bill flat out NO for the first time in our long marriage.

But he did it anyway. He took a job in Middletown Ohio – 2 hours away – and moved into an apartment with his boss and friend from high school. I stayed behind and took care of the house and kids. And worked in my art business as much as possible to keep my mind off what was happening.

Bill lived down south and came home on weekends for over a year. At that point this seemed like something he was going to stick with, so I put my foot down and said we needed to move to where he worked so we could be a family again. The kids and I had mixed feelings about it, but what were we to do?

In hindsight, I now know that Bill was moving on in more ways than one, but I didn’t realize it then. And when I gave him an ultimatum, he said, “fine, move down here. But only if you sell the house yourself and we don’t lose money on it.” I was fine with that.

I kept a very nice house and it was decorated and painted up like a fairy tale. I listed it “For Sale By Owner” in September 1990 and got a bidding war on my hands. I think I showed it 7 times the first week and got 4 offers. One lady had cash and sweetened the pot. All I had to do was hire a lawyer to complete the sale and it was a done deal. But then there we were with 30 days to get out and nowhere to go. Yikes!

Meanwhile, my mural painting business had blossomed and I had more work than I could handle. I painted by day, packed whenever I wasn’t working, and went house-hunting in Middletown when time permitted. I moved myself and my kids into my brother’s house and stored all our household goods in his barn. It was stressful because it happened so fast!

We got moved to Middletown and it was culture shock. Everything was so different. And Bill and I hadn’t lived together for over a year. Plus, I had numerous painting jobs in progress in Lancaster so I spent more than half my time going back to finish work and staying at my brother’s house. What a whirlwind!

Karen was a common denominator for me. We talked a lot and she would help me figure things out. Plus she was now on the local school board and was instrumental in figuring out how to get my boys graduated when we moved during their senior year. Credit requirements were vastly different in Lancaster and Middletown schools so we went to the board and actually instituted a policy for students who move during their senior year. The boys were able to go to school in M’town but abide by Lancaster requirements. All they had to do was return to Lancaster to graduate with their original class. Karen also requested permission to be able to hand them their diplomas when they walked across the stage on Fulton Field. She did that and gave them big embarrassing smooches on the cheek – and we all stood and cheered from the stands.

At the same time my brother was in the process of opening a new independent restaurant called Tavern at the Mill on South Columbus Street. It really had been an old mill and he wanted some special artwork to bring it to life.

So one day, Larry called me and said “I know what I want.” When I asked him what it was he explained, “I had a dream about flying horses. I want flying horses over historic Lancaster and whatever you can think of to tie that together.”

Well, that didn’t exactly make it easy on me but I was intrigued. I began to do some research and came up with a bunch of ideas. One was the flying horses, of course. Another was to incorporate an historic street map of Lancaster that showcased the original location of the mill. Finally there was a scroll that explained the story behind the map and the depiction of the flying horses. It was a very ambitious project. And I wanted it to be spectacular so I even bought some glow-in-the-dark paint for the stars in the sky so it would really shine.

I came to Lancaster from M’town, leaving my kids at home with their dad, and began to paint. It was a huge undertaking. I spent two full weeks of long days on a ladder painting my guts out. In the end we had flying horses over historic Fairfield County with an accurate street map and a story written in a scroll to explain it all. I think I finished just one hour before the grand opening of the restaurant and nearly collapsed. But the people who were at the VIP opening loved it – and bought me shots of whiskey to celebrate. That was fun while it lasted but I sincerely had the worst hangover of my life the next morning. I rarely drank back then. Pure exhaustion and high-octane alcohol are not a good mix. I never did that again!

flying horsesscroll

So what does this have to do with Karen? Let me tell you….

I don’t think Karen and Jim were able to make it to that grand opening so I was settled back home in M’town by the time they stopped down to see Larry’s new place. They came in for a drink and Larry showed them around. And when Karen saw the mural of the flying horses she was absolutely stunned. She recognized what a huge feat it had been for me to paint it and she loved every inch of it.

When Karen got back home she gave me a call to tell me about it.

“It was amazing!” she cried. “I always knew you had that kind of talent and you should be famous and making millions of dollars! You should be rich with what you can do!”

And actually, I hear this kind of thing from my supportive friends all the time but I know it doesn’t really work that way. Still, I was grateful for her words. It encouraged me a lot and made me feel somewhat less homesick. I basked in her praise.

Karen then explained that she had been so emotional when she saw the mural that she felt rather overcome. She asked Larry to help her on with her coat as she feared she would pass out. (Pure Karen!)

“Oh, don’t exaggerate,” I cautioned. “It’s good, but it’s not that good.”

“Yes it is,” replied Karen. “And you know what the best part is?”

“No, what?” I asked in reply.

“Everyone will think I did it!!!!”

And of course they would – she’d been taking credit for my work for years. Which I didn’t mind at all because of the way she did it. She was just being ornery and I do hope there were those who thought she created this work of art. She’s my doppleganger and I hope she got a lot of mileage out of the whole thing!

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