My eyes half opened as the sound slowly registered into my sleep-filled brain. A distant, persistent drone of a motor was somewhere in the vicinity. Burrowed under the pile of blankets, I vaguely registered the sound, took note that it was still all but dark, and drifted back into my dreams.
Hours later when I got up, it was to a bright new snowfall. While I like snow, the work that comes with it to clear away walks and driveway is one of my most hated chores. I dutifully bundled up and shuffled outside, so that could I shovel and then shower away the sweat and get ready for work. I stepped out of the garage and stared, blinking in the morning light, at my freshly cleared driveway and sidewalk.
I moved to Wisconsin in January. It was a very cold, snowy winter that year. Almost every time it snowed, my walks and sometimes driveway were cleared by a mystery visitor whose presence was announced by that very early morning drone of a snowblower. Once or twice I caught site of someone bundled up to the eyes, wrestling with the large machine in the dark. I didn’t get a chance to meet him or thank him, all that first winter. To my shame, it was actually a few years before I did meet him–my neighbor 2 doors down, Norm.
He stopped to say hello as I was raking leaves, and when I asked if he was the angel who cleared my walks, he said, “I don’t know about the angel part, but I do like to clear the walks.” Turned out, he’d been doing that for many years, for all the neighbors around us.
After that we bumped into each other on occasion, as I walked my dog or worked in the yard. We didn’t know each other well. He knew I was a graphic designer. I knew he was a Vietnam veteran. When he told me they were planning to move south to Missouri, I was sad because he was one of the few neighbors I knew at all.
Their house went up for sale, new people moved in, and I got used to shoveling my own walk and driveway. A few years later when I began the FAMOUS portraits project, Norm was one of the first people I thought of, and knew I had to paint. He was the epitome of the spirit of being “Famous.”
One problem: I didn’t know his last name.
By this point they had been gone a couple of years. I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to find him. As my friends can tell you though, I am the queen of internet research. After puzzling about it for a few weeks, it occurred to me to look up the city tax records on their old house—and there it was.
From there, I googled his name and “Missouri”, and actually found him on facebook. Sent a message off, and was overjoyed to receive a message back almost immediately. He gave me permission to paint him, and from a photo I chose from his facebook profile, I painted the first portrait that was specifically for FAMOUS.
This was actually fairly soon after I started being able to even admit to people that I was an artist. I don’t have an art degree. I didn’t really think of myself as a true artist. When the concept of FAMOUS was given to me, that started to change. I now had a direction and a voice, and I knew where I was going with the work. A small sliver of confidence began to grow within me, starting to own that title: “artist.”
What I love about Norm’s portrait, besides my connection to his kindness and helpfulness, is the story about finding him back after he’d moved away. Because you see, that in itself gave me a directive that I have been striving to be true to ever since.
Because you see, Norm’s last name is Goforth.
So today I pass that along to all of you, where ever you may be in your journey. Maybe you’ve found your voice; maybe you’re still looking for it. My wish for you is to keep striving, keep looking, and once you have found it, stay true to that calling. It is sacred.
Find your purpose. Be famous. Go forth.