Six decades ago my father fought forest fires in Idaho.

My father's boots

He and his lab partner, Merle Bunker, hitchhiked to Idaho from Indiana, stopping along the way to invest in a good pair of boots.  We found my father’s boots in the attic in Martinsville when we cleaned out the house in September.  Why did he keep these boots long after he stopped wearing them?  Why do I still have my Super Guides hanging from a nail in my own attic three decades after I stopped mountaineering and ice climbing? Hmmmmmmmm.  Maybe I should draw those, too, so that I can let go of them.

Sketch: Contour drawing drawn first with Waterman Phileas fountain pen filled with black ink followed by Ciao Copic Markers.

Alexis’s addiction to photo booths came to mind when, among the endless piles of papers we sifted through, I found these photos of Gramps as a youth.  I wonder how old he was.  Pretty wild hair and tie!

Gramps, his silly and his serious sides

A little while later I found a note Alexis typed when she was seven years old.

“February 1992

by Alexis

My hero is my Grandpa.  He was in World War II.  He likes to fly planes.  We go to New Yourk city on a train.  We like to go for walks to the Bagel Smith when we sleep over.  He also tells storys at bedtime when we sleep over.”

….. and a little later, in another pile, a letter written by Gramps on December 21, 1991:

” Oh, Yes.  the Moon Was Very Beautiful.

It could have been the two junk-cars along the walking path in the woods, one of them turned upside down.  Or perhaps it was the enormous bang that came from the other side of the valley that dark night.  Something had frightened the children.

We didn’t go for a walk to become scared.  It was the night of the full moon, and it was family custom to take a walk every full-moon night.  The children were going to show Gramps (that’s me) a moon ripple, but we never made it to the reservoir, where they were going to throw a stick in the water and show how the reflection of the full moon made a ripple.  Hands and feet were getting cold, and we had seen the junky cars.  Being cold and nervous, the consensus was that we would turn around and return to the car.

Their mom had given the children a surprise package to be opened before starting the walk.  It contained three flashlights, one for each of them.  But even with the three flashlights, we lost the path and were groping in the woods, when it happened: the air was suddenly filled with a loud bang.  It was louder than a big bass drum, or a giant shotgun.  The shuddering blast echoed up and down the valley.

Gramps said not to worry.  Then he said: “Here’s the path”, but it wasn’t.  We were wading through the dry autumn leaves and the brush.  The children were getting more scared by the minute.  Then Alexis cried a little when a branch hit her in the eye.

When things seem to be getting out of control, the path was found.  Then we saw cars and knew that the road and our parked car were near.

Snug in the car we had started home when we met a police car on the road.  The policeman may have been trying to find out where the bang had come from. Perhaps someone had seen our flashlight beams and thought that WE had made the bang.

We returned home safe and sound, and had started a nice fired in the fireplace.  We were enjoying chocolate milk and other warm drinks that Gram had made, when we saw a car drive by, flashing a spot light here and there.  Were they looking for soemone?  Were they looking for us?

Thing like that didn’t bother us any more, for we were by then quite relaxed by the fire, and enjoying the comforts of our warm, cozy house.

Oh, yes. The moon was very beautiful.


I had forgotten this adventure with my dad.  I’m not sure who he was writing to.  I also don’t know what other warm drinks my mom might have fixed for us that night.  It certainly was not the first or the last time we got lost on an adventure with my dad.

After searching, without luck, for an apartment in Boulder, CO that would allow dogs and wasn’t in a basement, Michael Vergalla and I headed back East to New Jersey. The year was 1977

Pulaski Street, South Plainfield, NJ

When I first saw this sketch in one of my old sketchbooks, I thought it was the little house Michael and I rented at the end of Pulaski Street.  Now that I look at it again, I realize it is the house next door to the one we rented.  Our landlord owned both houses.  My neighbor and I were given permission to dig up some of the yard between the two houses for vegetable gardens.  My neighbor fenced his garden to keep the rabbits out.  I planted marigolds all around mine, for the same reason.  The marigolds worked and the fence didn’t.

This drawing is in the sketchbook that is in line to be the next completed sketchbook.  Thirty-seven pages to go.  The first entry is October 10, 1974.  I lived in the 2000 square foot attic, the seventh floor,of a warehouse in the North End of Boston, around the corner from Haymarket Square ( just prior to the beginning of the renovations).  Seven flights of stairs was a lot of steps to carry my bike and paints up and down every day.

The last entry is a page of ink sketches I did on Opening Day of the Green Brook Little League, April 17, 1994.

Pencil sketch using full range of value scale.

My father, Gramps, is quickly losing his memory.

Gramps, 1980. Watercolor portrait

At the moment, my father still remembers life as a young boy living on the family farm in Indiana.  I fear that soon, those memories too will fade.  There will be no new stories to add to those my siblings and I grew up hearing at bedtime.  Tears still fill my eyes when I hear him tell of gathering a tin cupful of violets for his mother only to lose them all as the nasty rooster chased him across the meadow.

There are stories to be told to my children of my own past and the events that brought their father and I together not only once in marriage, but twice (oh my!).  Life is short.  I don’t want them to have only memories of the less than good times in their minds.

I painted this portrait of Gramps in 1980 when my name was hyphenated, Carter-Vergalla.  The hyphenated name was acceptable in the Boston area but not so in New Jersey.  The second time I married Michael Vergalla I didn’t change my name.  Alexis, Nicole and Michael were born during the second marriage. Having a different last name never presented a problem.  Chris Carter worked well as a name for the first 26 years of my life and it continues to work well for me.

In 1980 I was struggling to make a living as an artist.  Life hasn’t changed too much in that respect.  I began to show my work at outdoor art festivals and to accept portrait commissions through a local art gallery/frame shop in South Plainfield, New Jersey named “The Artist’s Touch”.  It was there that I had my first solo exhibit.

Link to Family History Index Page

The letter waiting for me at the Boulder post office was to determine whether I would catch a ride back to the East Coast with John Bragg or head to Yosemite with Michael Vergalla.

My brother, Dave (Howard), Tetons, Wyoming Summer of 1977

” Monday, June 20, 1977 after breakfast of pancakes and mud we began our journey.  The three of us, Howard, Nell and I rolled down the hill at about 7:30 AM leaving Mom and Dad and their instamatic cameras smiling and waving.  We’re pretty damn lucky to have folks like Dave and Annette.” (entry in the red sketchbook)

The odometer of the 1964 Dodge Dart read 67955.

The plan was to head across the country,  rock climbing along the way.  We would drive to Seattle to see our sister, Louise, then head to Boulder, Colorado where Howard was to start college in September.  The Dodge Dart would stay in Colorado. I would find a way to get back to the East Coast and set up housekeeping with Jason, a woodsman living in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire.  John Bragg had offered me a ride if his sales trip went as planned.  He was a sales rep for climbing gear and clothing. The letter informed me that his trip back to Boulder had been canceled.  After writing a letter to Jason, I threw my backpack into Michael’s blue van and headed West.  It was August 27, 1977

The Red Sketchbook, Family History beginning in 1977

My recent determination to fill the empty pages of my accumulated sketchbooks has led to another project. Flipping through the pages I realize they illustrate not only my history but my children’s history.  There are stories to be told, the memories triggered by the sketches.  Slowly, as time and energy permits, I will tell those stories.  The stories are for Alexis, Nicole and Mike.  The rest of you are welcome to read along.

Michael Vergalla driving the blue van, heading to California in the summer of 1977

I haven’t figured out how I’m going to do this yet.  If anyone has a good idea, I am open to hearing it.  What I thought I might do is to post something brief that links to a separate page under a new tab “Family History”.  That way, the artists that check in on this blog to see drawings and paintings can still enjoy a few of those without being bogged down with stories that may not be of  interest to them.

On another note:  I brought the plants in today. They thrived on the front porch this summer.  I spent many happy hours on the front porch drawing, painting and watching them thrive outdoors in the north light, protected by the roof from too much rain or sun.  I hope they make it through the winter indoors.

Indoors for the winter

There are three more huge pots of aloe in the bedroom, half a dozen more small plants as well as the nespera are in the Florida room and more oxalis in the bathroom.

Link to Family History Index Page