Art Imitates Life by
(295 Stories)

Prompted By Lemons to Lemonade

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I don’t remember my mother Jessie saying  “When life gives you lemons,  make lemonade”,   but it certainly was her modus vivendi.  (See My Game Mother)

Coming of age during the depression in New York’s Far Rockaway,  my mother’s parents were necessarily frugal.   But although money was tight,  her lawyer-father was able to send her older brother,  my uncle Milt,  to a private,  out-of-state college.  (See Rosie and Milt, the Literary Lady and the Second-Story Man)

But one private school tuition was all the family could afford,  and so Jessie went to the public Hunter College,  traveling on the Long Island Railroad several hours each way between Rockaway and midtown Manhattan.

Then Mayor LaGuardia appointed my grandfather as a city magistrate,  and with his larger salary,   he asked my mother if she’d like to transfer to a private college.   But by then she’d met my father,   they married in June of her sophomore year,   and she was happy staying at Hunter.

Early in their marriage my parents took jobs at a summer camp – she as arts and crafts counselor,  and he,  just out of med school,  as camp doctor.   She had to borrow clothes from friends,   she once told me,  so she’d have enough of a summer wardrobe to take with her.

My folks went on to lead a financially comfortable life,  but like many of their generation,  they never completely shed their Depression mentality.   Both were handy with their hands and with tools,  and repaired things in their house that I would’ve paid a handyman to do without hesitation.   And before sending anything to the dry cleaners,  my mother would attack it with a rag and a little soap and water which usually did the trick.  (See Elbow Grease)

And my mother sewed,  not all her clothes,  but some.   A whiz with a sewing machine, she could even make curtains and slipcovers,  and was known to patch carpets and rugs with a big curved carpet needle.

A high school art teacher by vocation,  Jessie was a talented artist and painted wonderful landscapes,  still lifes,  and portraits in charcoal,  watercolor,  and oil.   (See Still Life)

“Never regret an accidental line you’ve drawn,  or an unintentional brush stroke you’ve made,”   she told us,  “and never abandon your canvas.   Accept your mistakes,  incorporate them into the design,  and make it a beautiful picture!”

Dana Susan Lehrman


Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Art, Painting, Artists
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    Your mother was a very wise woman. I think what she told you about art applies to life in general. If we all accept our mistakes and learn from or build on them, we would be much happier and more productive.

  2. Marian says:

    Wonderful story about how our parents’ generation, which was dealt some pretty big lemons, made lemonade. We could learn a lot from them, Dana. My former husband’s parents saved tinfoil and string, and while I wouldn’t go that far, I admire that generation’s resourcefulness.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your mother made it her life-long vocation to take lemons and squeeze out the best lemonade that she could attain, Dana, even if it meant learning to use that misplaced line or brush stroke. What a woman. A real beauty too.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    I love the advice at the end! Wise words indeed. They could be incorporated into the upcoming prompt on “regrets” quite nicely. I think that the Depression mentality we absorbed from our parents has probably served us well overall. In difficult times, we are better prepared. Lovely story.

  5. I would like to hear more about this Jessie person. That quote sent the story from interesting to thought provoking. Thanks for sharing.

  6. OH, I just realized on rereading, Jessie and your mother were one and the same! Well call my first take the lemons and the second more fruitful one the lemonade.

  7. Suzy says:

    I have to admit that when I started reading your story, I wasn’t quite sure how it fit with Lemons to Lemonade. I guess it was the Depression that was the lemon, and the good life your parents made in spite of it was the lemonade? Or am I being too literal? Certainly your last paragraph, with the advice about accidental lines and unintentional brush strokes fits perfectly – and as Khati points out, also applies to the Regrets prompt coming up.

  8. John Shutkin says:

    As noted, Dana, what a wise woman your mother was. And what a perfect last paragraph!

    More broadly, your story makes clear that the Depression, much like the COVID pandemic several of us wrote about, was very much of a “mass lemon,” affecting millions of people. And that your mother’s approach was one that many others of her generation followed to make the best lemonade that they could of their lives.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    Trauma changes us, especially if we are young. I am curious what scars, fears and coping mechanisms that people growing up during this ominous time will be left with.

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