Tornado Wolf

Published on 15 September 2023 at 00:44

Medium: Watercolor on Paper

Date: 2009


"I'm not in Kansas anymore!" Those were my thoughts as I found myself in the bustling streets of New York. It felt as if I had flown over the rainbow and landed in a world of endless possibilities. But amidst the urban chaos, I could not help but think back to a different kind of storm-the one that raged within me during my Midwestern upbringing.

Picture this: a red wolf, fierce and untamed, standing atop a tornado that had spiraled up from the heartland. Below, a red barn and a familiar windmill stood in defiance. It was like a scene from the movie "TORNADO WOLF" directed by Jay Ells (see painting) in 2009.

In that image, the wolf gripped two young boys by their hair--one in blue and the other in red. Those were the colors we wore in our childhood, my brother in blue, and myself in red. We grew up on a farm, a place where dreams and tempests both took root. As the years passed, a storm of rage grew in me and him.

Our mother introduced us to the world of literature through Shakespeare and the adventures of James Fenimore Cooper. We played violins starting age 4. Meanwhile, our stepfather, a man who could do well many blue-collar jobs, attempted to impart the wisdom of survival through hard work. We did not have indoor plumbing and for some years no electricity. Our parents were like tigers, pushing us to excel in school, music, and sports. They demanded perfection, even in our table manners. Once brother touched a pea on his fork; stepdad kicked the table over; the kerosene lamp cracked. Not even the smallest question or comment from us boys was tolerated. A sense of silent objection did bloom inside us.

My brother died at age forty-eight. He had achieved great success in music, sports, and his profession of clinical psychotherapy, yet his final words to me were haunting: "l have never felt angry in my whole life. Our childhood has killed me. Seek therapy and save yourself while there's still time."

When we were just fifteen and seventeen, our mother wanted our stepfather to adopt us. Our mother let us boys decide. Our birthfather, in a bid to sway our choice, promised each of us a college education if we declined the adoption.  At age 7 I started working away from home to earn the money to chase my dreams, thus, I was the one who made the decision to accept the money for the college education.

 However, the final word rested with my mother. She approved the adoption. She wanted to keep me on the farm. Over the years, she would often cast a condemning gaze my way, her words like daggers, "How could you? How could you? If anyone truly knew you as we do, they'd want nothing to do with you."

At the age of sixteen, my mother decided something was amiss with me and sent me for three days of psychological testing at the University of Minnesota. The Minnesota psychologists found no fault in me and encouraged me not to run away from home, but to complete my final year of high school. My mother, unconvinced, insisted, "You used your magic on them. You tricked them. You trick everyone you meet into thinking you're a good person." After my three years in the army, I spent a decade staying away.

When this picture of the tornado wolf popped in my head and onto paper, at first, I thought it symbolized the malevolence of my stepfather. Now I realize it reflected my own pent-up anger. In fact, the energy from my tornado-like rage became an unexpected pillar of support as I navigated the streets of New York, my very own Emerald City.

It was not until I was given my brother's psychoanalysis reports from his final year of life that I discovered he had carried as much anger as I had. He wore a perpetual smile and possessed the ability to see all sides of any question -a true embodiment of "Minnesota Nice." We seldom played together, as our interests and social circles were different. Our few conversations we remembered exactly alike. "What will our name be? Can we go to college?" In his last year, my brother said, "I don't remember that we ever had a minute off. We worked all the time." He had yearned for a substantial violin scholarship, but instead, our mother told him to dig the basement for her new house by hand. He dug with a garden spade from dawn to dusk every day throughout the entire summer just before his last year of high school.

I never set out to compose a blog filled with such personal revelations. Yet, how else could I convey the significance of this image? Through this blog, I have embarked on a journey of self-discovery, delving into the depths of my emotions, and attempting to understand why this image resonates with me.

For the past decade, I have been haunted by the idea of crafting a white wolf monster, but the meaning behind it remained elusive. Now, I grasp its significance. It is no longer the red rage that once consumed me; it is now a cherished and forgiven memory of my feelings and the struggles my parents faced. My mother never achieved her dream of selling her freelance writing, and my stepfather lost his Ells Trucking business after seven years of extremely hard work. They had to sell our land, our possessions, and, at last. our house.

During the final eight years of my mother's life, as she journeyed toward the age of ninety-nine, I took on the role of her caregiver. Dementia began to cloud her mind at the age of ninety-one, leading to emotional difficulties on some days. Yet, we also shared countless moments of joy and laughter. She often said, "I am so grateful that we are friends.". At age ninety she heard me give a fundraising seminar for her local Kiwanis Club. Afterwards, she said, "I always thought there was something wrong with you. But now I see there was not. You are an artist. That is what you are!"

Those words made me smile with relief and joy-it was better late than never.

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David Mohr
8 months ago

You are a constant inspiration to me since I was a child.

David Mohr
8 months ago

David, Thank you for this beautiful comment. I am very touched that you would think so.