Huberta Hellendoorn

One Saturday morning in September, while you were sipping your cappuccino, I asked, ‘Would you like to make me a painting of a Madonna? I thought it might be nice to send it as a Christmas card to our family and friends. Everybody loved the other card you made.’

Your body language and the expression on your face was clear enough.

I said, ‘Of course I’ll pay you!’

Your face changed into a smile.

‘Think about it.’

Nothing more was said about your plans for a Madonna Christmas card.

In October you were invited to be a delegate at an IHC conference in Tauranga where you would be interviewed about your art work. You’d had quite a bit of publicity by then: the IHC in Dunedin had bought a number of paintings for their office and for some flats and the clients enjoyed your work.

I’d also written an article about you and your art which the Australian Women’s Weekly published in September 1997. A similar article was published in the IHC’s Community Moves in October 1997. Later I used some of the material for a short story which was produced by National Radio. Although you enjoyed hearing about these exciting happenings you stayed calm and focused and did your work.

After you’d told us about the invitation to go to Tauranga you said, ‘Can I get a suitcase, please?’

The day before you left for Tauranga we dropped off a suitcase for you. You straightaway packed it with everything you'd need for the next few days. I wanted to ask you about the Madonna but thought the better of it. You had enough on your mind.

You rang us soon after your return, your voice full of excitement about the conference. ‘I’m home! Can you pick up the suitcase? No room for it in the flat.’

‘We’ll be over after dinner. We want to hear about the conference and the interview.’

We arrived in the early evening. You beamed as you and Janine gave us a cup of tea, and, once we’d heard about your experiences Dad picked up the suitcase and put it into the boot. I hugged you and Janine, and after we’d settled ourselves in the car I wound down the window ready to wave goodbye. But I knew there was something you wanted to tell us. And then you said, an edge to your voice, ‘The Madonna is in the suitcase.’

My mind jumping from Tauranga to a Madonna, I said, ‘What? Oh, I see! You did it? That’s wonderful! Thank you! I’ll ring you.’

When we got home we opened the suitcase and I cried. There she was: your Madonna, proudly showing her child to the world. There was no meekness, but only a mother holding her child safe in her arms from where it could look out into the world.

I said to Dad, ‘Aren’t we lucky she told us about the painting? We would’ve put the suitcase into storage and might not have seen it for years.’

‘She would have reminded you about the money!’

Remember how we sat down together and wrote those Christmas cards, you writing your name on them as well? The cards went to our families and friends in New Zealand and overseas. And even now, each year we get cards saying, ‘Miriam’s Madonna will have pride of place again amidst our Christmas decorations.’