Sunday, February 14, 2016
June Fine (June 30, 1932 - February 14, 2016)
My mother died peacefully in her sleep this morning. Her imminent death was not a surprise, and everyone in her family was able to see her and/or talk to her during her last several weeks, but the finality of it is still profound. Michael and I, along with my brother and his wife, were with her last Saturday, and I feel that nothing I wanted to say to her was left unsaid. I played her a recording of my Piccolo Sonata, which had been performed a few days before our visit, and I read her "The Pen and the Inkwell," a Hans Christian Andersen that always made me think of her wit and motivations, particularly for her artwork.
But there are things I would have wanted her to know. Yesterday, for example, Michael and I were at the Van Gogh exhibit at the Art Institute in my mother's home town of Chicago. It was a members-only preview so we actually got to get close enough to really look at the paintings. Michael and I both remarked that some of Van Gogh's early work is similar to some of my mother's work. They painted the same kinds of things, and it feels like there was a similar resonance in their emotional connection to objects, houses, and things of nature.
You can see my mother's paintings here.
My mother came to art later in her life. She was born with a great musical ear, a tremendous intellect, and an iron will. She went to Chicago Musical College as a flutist and studied with Julius Baker for a while. I'm pretty sure that the reason Baker took me as a student was became of my mother, who often mentioned how much he enjoyed her name (June Blume). There was one point in my childhood in Newton when my mother, who taught at the All Newton Music School, had a flutist colleague named April Showers. My mother did not make her maiden name public, so the beauty of this synchronicity was only appreciated by a select few.
My mother had rheumatic fever at the age of eight, and it left her with rheumatoid arthritis which compromised mobility in her hands. She began playing the flute for finger therapy, and became an accomplished flutist. She and my father met playing together in the Grant Park Symphony in Chicago. They married and moved to Cleveland, where she was active as a flutist (she loved Cleveland), and then they moved to Newton, Massachusetts when my father got a job in the Boston Symphony. In addition to teaching at the All Newton Music School and playing principal flute in the Newton Symphony, my mother also went to Emerson College to study music therapy, which was a relatively new field in the 1970s.
Eventually my mother's arthritis (and complications with surgery) made it impossible for her to play the flute, so she devoted her musical energies to singing. She was a founding member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which became the official chorus for the Boston Symphony. She had a good voice (and absolute pitch), but not a great voice, so she moved her expressive energies in the direction of art.
My mother always drew well (I have some of her early artwork), so she devoted her time and talent to learning how to paint with oils and water colors. Eventually she got a job working as a secretary at Mass Art, and was able to take classes there. She wanted to study seriously, and had to persuade the faculty members at Mass Art that as an older student she was just as capable of learning as a younger student would be.
She spent every weekend painting, and she had a storefront studio-gallery in Newton Highlands. All was well, until macular degeneration set in and slowly robbed her of her vision. When she could no longer see colors sharply, she did fabric collage, and when she could no longer do fabric collage, she had to stop doing artwork altogether.
When she began to lose her vision she threw her energies into writing (something she had always done, to a certain extent), and she wrote three novels and a couple of children's books, none of which have been published. She was always an avid reader, so her blindness made her a huge consumer of audiobooks (thanks to the Perkins Library). One of my greatest joys was going on their website and picking out books that I thought my mother would enjoy, and then talking with her about them. After Michael and I read Moby Dick together this past May (the inaugural book of our reading club), my mother read the audio book. In addition to audiobooks, she was an avid NPR listener.
When she knew that her life was coming to an end due to tongue and throat cancer, which was at stage four when she was diagnosed, she elected not to treat it because treatment would include not only chemotherapy and radiation, but the removal of her tongue and part of her jaw. This would end her ability to talk and eat, which were the two pleasures left to her. Her family and friends supported her in her decision. Her greatest desire was to remain alive long enough to vote in the primary. I think that she left this earth knowing that the political winds were blowing in a slightly more leftward direction.
[Michael also wrote a post about my mother on his blog.]