Caught Off Guard
By John R. Greenwood
“Hey Johnny, I got something I want you to have.”
That was the text message I received on a random Tuesday afternoon. It was from my friend Chris Leske.
Minutes later, we sit down for a quick cup of coffee in the maroon booth at the corner Stewart’s. Chris and I had been collaborating on a magazine article that would be a snapshot of his life as a musician, cook, and artist. It came out days earlier in the Simply Saratoga Spring 2022 Edition. I wanted others to see what makes Chris and his story worth reviving and sharing. Read it, and you’ll better understand the connection we shared and the time lapse between then and now.
With two fresh coffees and another ten minutes of story swapping, neither of us could wait another minute. I’d been staring at the parcel wrapped in brown paper lying on the table between us. I’m far from Sherlock Holmes, I’m more of a Get Smart tripping on the clues type, but even I knew the package in front of me was a painting.
“Well, go ahead, open it!”
As I peeled off the masking tape and pulled back the paper, I had the same look as Ralphie Parker opening his Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model, air rifle with a compass in the stock.
I was overwhelmed and speechless.
I was looking at ten years of my life rolled into one not-so-simple watercolor, all of it passing before my eyes like a Rolodex of scenes. Instantly, I envisioned those early morning milk deliveries to Lou’s/Comptons, Shirley’s, and the Spa City Diner; the long dark hall leading into the cellar of Lillians, and the steep decrepit stairs under the Tin & Lint; my Friday afternoon finale at the Parting Glass, Madame Jumel’s, Hatties, Mother Goldsmith, and Caffe Lena. It was a flood of warmth and nostalgia, a flash of joy, and a tinge of regret that it didn’t last longer.
This was more than the gift of a painting; it was an artist’s look into my heart and soul. Our conversations and recollections over the last few months had manifested themselves into Chris's paintbrush and creative eye. It was his way of thanking me for my writing, while all I wanted was to convey how grateful I was for him opening up his artistic mind to me.
For me and many, these are the snippets of life that make the dark days worth muscling through. It can be hard to wrestle away the negatives, but when that sun comes out, boy it feels good. It takes a unique eye to decipher the needs of others and then place them on a piece of canvas or in a musical note, and many of the people in my life have that skill-set.
Banjo Man Chris “Lee” Leske is one of them, and I want to thank him for the gift that will keep on giving.
My "Clem" painted Price's Dairy truck loading at the
dock of the now extinct Saratoga Dairy on Excelsior Ave.
Photo is from Bill Barton's
Facts and Tidbits of Saratoga's Dairy Industry From
Early 1800's To 1988
By John R. Greenwood
colors are secondary
to the story shared
the gift, a painting
wrapped in brown paper
years stacked neatly
in a old red milk crate
revived in an instant
the hours, the work, the friends
an artist’s gratitude
overwhelms the receiver
memories framed and hung