The death of Tomie dePaola took way my breath. His presence through art and writing have been constant threads in my adult life. Before children, I emulated (read: copied) his drawing in order to learn illustration. I was, and remain, in love with the seeming simplicity of the lines and appeal of colors, In 1997 I was fortunate to be able to spend an entire half-hour in his presence at a workshop. Forgotten is the place where it was held, the name of the organization hosting it, and the names of others around me. What I do remember is the spontaneous artwork he encouraged: my “Henry”, a young boy, with hair sticking straight up and socks fallen around his ankles. This sketch of mine has been discarded long ago, but not the memory of this encounter.
During the 1990s, which revolved around raising two spitfire boys, Tomie’s picture books were a constant presence. Read alouds over and over and over. Our weekly attendance at the Italian Catholic church, Holy Rosary in Washington, D.C., where I sang in the choir and hauled my sons up the circular steps into the choir loft with me, brought his Italian stories alive. Strega Nona was my own Nona incarnate. Big Anthony, well, we all have a Big Anthony in our lives. How could I not love these characters?
Never was his work two dimensional; never just paint on paper. His art was a good friend with whom one never feels out of sync; one who stands by you through thick and thin. And so, with his death, I offer a goodbye through the eyes of my Prudence, who he nurtured in me unbeknownst to him. A goodbye from a friend he never knew, but who was always there for him regardless.