Old Bart's Legacy


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          Jeremy never did understand funerals, and he certainly did not want to understand this one.
          He only knew that inside, he felt lost and empty.
          Old Bart was dead.
          The only friend Jeremy ever had was now cold, stiff, and about to be buried.
          Just like that, Old Bart was gone.
          A multitude of emotions and memories coursed through him as he stood beside his mother at the gravesite. The cold grey day added to his misery.
          Old Bart had been the only one in town who had treated him like a real person. People didn't like Old Bart much, either. The kids teased him, calling him 'Monster', due to all the burn scars on his face and hands. People didn't know, (or had forgotten), how he had tried to save his family from the fire. Jeremy had listened to the story many times, watching Old Bart's hands clawing the air as he relived the awful memory.
        The hands. It was Old Bart's hands that had fascinated Jeremy. He could never understand how fingers, so bent and stiff, could paint scenes that seemed to vibrate with quiet internal life of their own.
         Tears blurred his eyes. He remembered it was only a couple of days ago, when, as usual, he had gone to visit Ol' Bart at their special painting spot, and had found him lying beside his easel.
         He knew Old Bart was dead.
         There wasn't any point running home to tell his Mom, so Jeremy just sat beside Bart for a long time. That was where the two of them had relaxed for hours, painting and talking, talking and painting. While Old Bart's hands captured another piece of the world, he had answered Jeremy's many questions about life, attitudes, school, practically everything his mom wouldn't talk about.
          He peered at the faces of the people standing around the coffin. He had heard someone call it Bart's Box. It hurt him inside. He wondered if they had come because they wanted to or just wanted to socialize.
          Jeremy's brow furled as he gazed around.
          "Stop staring." His mother hissed.
          "I wasn't." he protested, perhaps a little too loudly. "I was just lookin'.
           "Well, don't look like that."
           "Well, how am I supposed to look?"
           "I'll explain later." She face went stiff. This meant: be quiet.
            She never did explain things 'later'.
            "And keep your tongue in." she ordered in his ear. "It's embarrassing me."
            He tried to, but it was difficult.
            His mood deepened. His teachers were the same, too. They never explained anything. They always told him things were too hard for him. And some things were; things like reading and arithmetic and spelling.
           Jeremy chewed on his lip. He knew he was not smart at school stuff. School was difficult. He could never understand how the same numbers gave different answers. Anyway, after math and reading times were over, he was allowed to paint and colour all he wanted. He just had to stay out of the teacher's way.
          This went on for years.
          But, Jeremy could read. He could 'read' people. He could tell when someone was genuine.
          He found himself glancing sideways to look at the faces.
          He glared at the crinkly old Miss Tweed hiding under the black net. He never did like her; her and her dried-apple face. She had a sort of skinny deathly look. But, she never died! She always seemed to go to everyone else's funeral.
           Right now, there was something unfair about that.
Every so often she would drive down to Old Bart's to buy some of his pictures. Jeremy noticed that Old Bart would hide the 'really good ones'. He had often watched Old Bart carefully bundle these special paintings into a large box and send them to a place called Gallery. They must have liked them, because they never returned the pictures.
          Jeremy would watch as Old Bart explained the deeper 'meaning' behind his paintings. Squinting over her nose-glasses, Miss Tweed would nod and mumble, "Yes, I see." Jeremy knew she didn't. Finally, she would choose a few and pay Old Bart, who would help load them into her car.
         Jeremy remembered asking Old Bart why he did not charge her very much.
         "She's got lots of money, you know."
         "I don't need her money, Jeremy," he had answered. "She bought what she wanted. I ask enough so that she thinks she is keeping me in paints, brushes and canvases."
         He had paused, and then had smiled. "And a little for food, of course."
           Jeremy recalled how Bart's cracked smiles warmed up the whole cabin.
           "It gives her some purpose in life." Then, thought-fully stroking his patchy whiskers, he had added, "You know, Jeremy. She may be rich and have a fancy house and car and things. But inside, she is hurting. Something must have happened long time ago to cause her to shut people out. One should always strive to do good in this world."
          One day, when Jeremy had asked why the kids called him 'Downsie' and 'Dopey', Old Bart very gently explained how Mother Nature doesn't make everyone identical.
          "It is the human adventure to discover the talent lying hidden inside each one of us."
          It helped, somewhat.
          It was beside the lake and under the trees that Old Bart patiently explained how the horizon was the main focus of any picture, and how each section steps in front of the area behind.
         Jeremy remembered the first time he had used some of Old Bart's oils to make a picture. When he had proudly shown his mom, she laughed. From then on, he kept his paintings under Old Bart's counter.
         Jeremy never told his mom how much he loved to paint. He had a feeling he was getting better, because Old Bart became more and more specific with his suggestions.
         "I like the way you capture the elementary characteristics in your paintings, Jeremy." Old Bart commented one day. "There is an basic honesty about them."
          It was just a little while ago, when he had gone for his lesson, Old Bart had asked Jeremy to come into the cabin. He had seemed a little different, because the customary twinkle in his eyes was missing. From the kitchen drawer, he had taken out a big letter with fancy writing on it. Jeremy wondered who the speller was, because he knew L.L.D. wasn't a real word.
         "Sit down, Jeremy," Old Bart had said seriously. "I want to talk to you about something."
          Jeremy had plunked into a chair across from Old Bart. It was always great being with Old Bart.
          Old Bart had taken a deep breath.
          "This," he had said, putting the white envelope on the table, "Is a very important document. It directs a lawyer to leave all this," his gnarled fingers moved slowly around the room, "To you, when I'm gone."
           Jeremy had panicked. "Are you leaving?"
           "No. No. Jeremy." Old Bart had laughed. "It's not that kind of leaving."
           Jeremy had smiled and relaxed again.
           Old Bart had taken another deep breath.
           "You realize, Jeremy, nobody lives forever."
            Jeremy must have looked puzzled, but nodded anyway.
            "Some day, I'm going to die, Jeremy."
            Old Bart had chuckled. "Well, not for a while, I hope. But a person has to plan ahead."
           "Are you planning to die?"
           "No, I'm not planning to die!" It had been one of those rare times he had seen Old Bart irritated.
           "Jeremy. Most people like to do something good for friends before they die."
           "Good idea, 'cause you can't do them no good when they're dead." Jeremy had laughed.
            He had been proud of himself for that deduction.
            Old Bart had squeezed his lips together and had taken another long breath through his nose.
            "Jeremy," he began again. "You have been coming to visit me for years. We have shared a lot of good times. In the mean time, you have become quite the artist."
Jeremy had smiled.
          "You mean, I'm an artist?"
          "Yes. But right now, let me finish."
          Jeremy had nodded, and squinted forward to listen.
           "You are more than an artist. You have become my friend, a true friend that I would like to leave my cabin to."
          "But, Bart, how can you leave it and still be here?"
           Jeremy could see Old Bart was becoming irritated again.
           "Jeremy," he started again. "I lost my family many years ago. You have become the closest thing to family I have had since. When I die, I have arranged for this cabin, the land and my paintings to become yours."
           He had stopped talking, to let the words sink in.
           "You would own it."
           Old Bart stared right at him. "Do you understand what I'm telling you?"
           Jeremy had nodded, although the intensity had begun to worry him.
          Old Bart had continued. "I have seen to all the technicalities. A man, called a trustee, will see that my wishes are carried out."
           Old Bart had paused again.
           "Do you understand?"
           Jeremy had stopped nodding, because he wasn't happy about Old Bart was telling him.
           "I have also set up a trust fund, which will look after you as long as you live here." Bart emphasizes the word 'here'.
          "Was that what those papers are for?"
           Jeremy remembered the day a man with a small suitcase had come to see Old Bart. Jeremy had to put his name beside Old Bart's on some special papers.
         "Yes. That was all part of it."
         Old Bart had leaned back. "Now, Jeremy, tell me what I just told you."
          Jeremy had stared at the table and had shaken his head.
          "Come on." Old Bart had ordered.
          Not wanting to face the facts, Jeremy had shaken his head harder.
          "Jeremy. It's hard, I know, but you must tell me what I told you."
          As if seeking to escape the mental onslaught, Jeremy had buried his face in his hands.
          "Come on." Old Bart had persisted. "I must know that you understand."
          With tears streaming down his face, and gentle urging from Old Bart, Jeremy had related what Old Bart had told him, more or less.
          Suddenly, he had yelled "I don't want you to die!"
          Old Bart had smiled and said, "Well, I hope to be around for a while yet."
          Jeremy had snuffled a smile, which did not lessen the strangeness he felt in the word 'yet'.
          With that, Old Bart had stood up, walked to the door, and called out, "Come on, Jeremy. We're burning daylight."
          Reluctantly, Jeremy had followed Old Bart to their painting spot.
Painting had not gone well that day.
          Jeremy's mind snapped back to the present. He tugged on his mom's sleeve.
          "Mom! Mom! There's a letter!"
           His mom scowled at him.
           "Not now, Jeremy." She turned back to the service.
           "Bart had big important letter made for me."
           "Not-now-Jeremy!" she spit through clenched teeth.
Jeremy brooded. He would have to wait until the minister was finished.
           It seemed to take forever.
           Finally, the people relaxed, spoke normally and began walking towards their cars.
           Suddenly, a man appeared beside them.
           It was the suitcase man!
           "Are you Mrs. Wellesly?"
           "Yes." said his mom, guardedly.
           "Let me introduce myself."
             While they shook hands, he said, "I am Brian Stevens, from Stevens, Stevens, and Brock."
           His mom smiled weakly, but looked worried and curious at the same time.
          "I wonder if I might have a few minutes of your time to discuss a rather important matter regarding the estate of the late Mr. Bart Lawrence."
           He turned and smiled at Jeremy.
          "It concerns Jeremy."
          Jeremy smiled back.



  J. Graham Ducker