It was a quarter to one, 15 minutes ahead of schedule, when I rolled up the driveway of Pamela McVie's Charlotte home, came to a stop and cut the engine. Stepping out of my taxi, I faced west under the azure sky. Extending my arms outward, I bent forward into a full-body stretch, my idiosyncratic version of sun salutation.
The view, when I looked up, was classically lovely, reminiscent of a Bob Ross landscape composition. Pamela's modest-for-the-neighborhood house sat at the border of a sweeping meadow. Beyond the grassy field was a copse of newly leafed trees, and further in the distance, the shimmering, midnight blue lake. As the far-off backdrop to this verdant scenery, the mighty Adirondacks rose, first cousins to Vermont's Green Mountains.
From the house emerged "retired art professor" Pamela — a description she had shared when she booked the fare. As she strode toward me, I was struck by her appearance: tall, lithesome, her face framed by softly layered red hair, naturally tempered by streaks of gray. She looked, I thought, too young to be retired.
Shaking my hand, she said, "Two of the women are here already, and we're waiting for one more."
"That's cool. I was early, and we built in plenty of leeway time, so no rush. So, you're leading a sightseeing tour to — where did you tell me? — northern Italy?"
"Yup, that's right — painting and sightseeing. We're going to paint the sights we see," she clarified, chuckling. "We'll rendezvous with a few others at Trudeau Airport for the flight over. They're getting up there on their own. And a couple of people will hook up with us in Milan."
"The whole thing sounds utterly delightful," I said, "especially when you add in the Italian food and wines you'll undoubtedly be enjoying nightly."
The last traveler showed up, dropped off by a friendly neighbor. I helped everyone get comfortably situated in the minivan and loaded the luggage into the back, and we were off. Two of the other women were, like Pamela, of retirement age, and the third was a sophomore at the University of Vermont majoring in art education.
As commander of this mission, Pamela sat in the front with me, while the others chatted in the back. As we made our way toward Route 7, I remarked on the beauty of her property. "Was the house already up when you bought it?" I asked.
"It was, but we did major renovations. My husband was an architect."
"What a great combination for home design — an art professor and an architect. He's retired as well?"
"No, Reece passed away quite a few years ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said.
"Don't be," she said. "We had many terrific years together. He was a beautiful man."
"How did you meet?"
"The usual — a friend of a friend." She paused, smiling in remembrance. "The week after we met, he proposed to me."
"Dude was one fast worker," I said with a laugh.
"We were together 11 years before we got married. He actually proposed five separate times during those years. I would tell him that I already felt married in my heart and had no need to make it official."
"What was your hesitation?"
"I had been engaged in college to my high school sweetheart. He was a great guy, but I broke it off. I realized that I was young and didn't really know who I was yet. I just felt that marriage would stifle my process of growth and self-discovery."
"Pamela, I got to say, that showed remarkable self-awareness for a young person. At that age, I was convinced I knew everything about life. Your thinking at the time brings to mind a quote from Cher: 'Marriage is a great institution, but who wants to live in an institution?'"
"Well, I just looked around and didn't see any marriages where both partners were self-actualized, and that scared me. I distinctly remember when I was a little girl, my mother had friends over for tea. One of the ladies said to me, 'You see, Pamela? When you grow up, all your friends will be the wives of your husband's business partners.' And I thought, No they won't. My friends will be people I like!"
"That's great. You were a little feminist from the word go! So, what changed your mind about marriage?"
"One winter day, Reece simply said to me, 'Honey, today is the day,' and I just knew he was right. He had proven himself to me as a genuinely supportive partner. And he had prepared everything — invited a few close friends, chosen some poems for the ceremony. It was all so very sweet. We got married that same afternoon outside in the snow."
"That's a beautiful story, Pamela," I said. "I'm touched you shared it."
We reached the border in no time and breezed through the checkpoint with the minimum of questions. Cruising along Québec roads, I asked Pamela about her career. Beyond teaching about art, had she also painted, herself?
"Oh, yes. I paint in mostly watercolor and acrylic. I'm allergic to oil."
"Not to box you in, but could you categorize the genre of your stuff?"
"Sure, I guess you could say landscape, impressionistic. Except for fruit. For some reason, I'm driven to paint fruit quite realistically."
"Do you ever have shows of your work?"
(Pamela was being modest. When I got home later that day, a Google search revealed the brilliance of her career: winner of numerous awards, exhibitions around the world, her work held in many private and corporate collections, and on and on.)
"So, is there a thing you strive to capture in your paintings?"
"Good question, Jernigan. And the answer is 'yes.' I focus on capturing the feeling of movement. Like the wind on your face."
I looked over at Pamela and smiled. Her life, I could see, embodied her vision — that feeling of movement, the wind on her face.
All these stories are true, though names and locations may be altered to protect privacy.