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June 4, 2014

Fare Well Dad. A Life Well Lived.

Vitty A. Mattus. 1914 - 2014. My dad's self portrait from 1960, when he was my age.
My dear friends and readers, I am sad to announce that my father passed away this past Monday. I'll be taking a few days to deal with plans and family matters, but obviously, at one hundred years old, this is both a life loss, and a life celebration.




Many of you have been following his life on this blog, as he we were so blessed to have had him for such a long time. He died peacefully, but the past few weeks have been difficult, as he suddenly began fading. His memory and sight getting worse, but not his appetite!. He had some fresh strawberry shortcake and rhubarb from the garden Saturday night, (as well as a double scotch!), but we had made plans to place him in a nursing facility on Sunday  because we simply could not care for him in a safe manner anymore.

He died 12 hours later at the home, which is so sad, as we are still trying to wrap our heads around that, but he simply didn't know who we were anymore, and he kept choking on water and liquids ( we assume that he chocked, which stopped his breathing, but we'll never be sure). I'm glad that he did not suffer, but this was the only glitch.  He remained remarkably healthy right up until the very the end. What an amazing life he had. Attached are a few images from some of his sketch books and projects over the years - clearly, he was a bit of a documenter, as I am! But he would have illustrated his blog!

I may not be posting for a while, but I am sure that you all understand. I may share a few photo essays here and there, as the garden is really blooming like crazy right now - almost as if it knew.


We are focusing on preparing for his service and memorial on Saturday, June 14 here in the  same home and garden where he was raised as a child which is pretty cool. I keep telling people that my dad and I were not that close, (what ever 'close' means, today), but I am realizing that our relationship could better be described as 'brothers' -- we have many similar interests and passions, and that kept us closer than most father/son relationships. I am probably over-sharing here, but my other brothers and my dad could always talk about sports, but it was with dad that I could get excited about discovering some painted trillium or a yellow lady slipper with, and he would share stories with me about his discoveries.




I realize now, that I have many memories of plants and my dad. Everything from him showing me my first trillium when I was very young, to picking winter greens to make wreaths and garlands for the holidays. From hunting for Mayflowers in the early spring, to foraging for wild nuts, mushrooms and berries ( which we all felt was just child labor!). Just this week, I thought about helping dad plant tomato plants, tearing neat pages of old Life magazines, and folding them into cut-worm collars, to helping him peel sweet corn, pick buckets of string beans or digging potatoes.

It now seems that all my early memories flow along the cycle of the four seasons, with each one involving the garden or plant life in some, unique and deep way. Pussy Willows had to be picked on March 4th, and we would load the station wagon with long whips that he would force in the cellar, and in October, apples would fill the car with bushels that would last the entire winter in our storeroom.


Growing up, dad kept us entertained with things like this - home made postcards, this is one he sent to my brother John when he was at summer camp circa 1959 - it seems we liked that corn that he grew, and that he missed. Yes, that's me on the end.


Blueberries? Don't even get me started. For three weeks in late April, he would have us kids picking wild blueberries from sunrise to sunset, with canning jars tied to our belts. He knew that 8 quarts was about our limit, and he could tell if I, or more likely, my sister, under-delivered to home base. This was serious foraging. I could not do it now, but when I was 9 years old, it was fun.

He taught me my first botanical Latin name - Uvularia perfoliata, when I was about 5 years old, and he would take me bird watching every warbler migration when I was young, letting me skip school just so that I could spy a Scarlet Tanager or a Chestnut Sided warbler during that single, short week of migration in mid May. All this,  simply because he felt that it was more important than fractions and Math (I still consider it so).

Fishing for 'Kivers and Hornpout" ( local slang for blue gills and catfish) to making sure that we cut the lawn in neat plaid patterns, because after all, he was an artist, and at one time, a part-time greenskeeper. Help us boys build a love/hate relationship with summer, as once June came along and school was out, most of our time was spent weeding, and hoeing. We did know that at the end of everyday, we could go jump in the nearby lake and then down a few dozen ears of sweet corn for dinner.

There are secrets about my dad that only the closest of my friends know….but it may be his secret to long life. He liked to sunbathe nude - I mean, right up until two weeks ago. 'Nuf said. But he did believe that the secret to a long life is wild blueberries, sardines everyday, sun where the sun don't shine, and a double scotch and soda every day. He had his last ear of corn last saturday, and his last Scotch on Sunday. Not bad.

So,  yeah… Enough said. And although he may have been deficient with the more 'traditional' fatherly advice, he sure made up for it by inspiring me so much - as I can thank him for my deep love of plants, birds, and my true lifelong appreciation for the arts and the beauty of the natural world.

Thanks dad, for being you.

Godspeed, Pops.





A gardening article my dad illustrated for our local newspaper.

I am finding so many of my dad's Feature Parade covers in his files. Many are just beautiful pieces from the 1930's and 1940's. I literally have hundreds - up to 600 so far.

In WWII, his professional art career basically ended, but that didn't mean that the US ARMY didn't overlook his talents.


Also during the war, he created a few hundred posts like this. A little more racy, for the 'boys' of WWII.
Most people and curators are familiar with his watercolors, and WPA work as an American Regionalist working between 1935 to 1942. This early work from Hawaii, shows a classic 1940's color palette. It reminds me of Tibor Gergely, an contemporary of his. I have about 20 of these Hawaiian pieces, the rest are in private collections.

I particularly like this watercolor from the early 40's in Honolulu - the Royal Hawaiian Hotel - alone on Waikiki beach!


These are from some full page sketch articles that my dad used to do for our local newspaper in the 1940's.


I discovered this today in one of his scrapbooks. Dad actually had a pet woodchuck named Capoosty! 
I guess Kapoosty didn't' live that long, so along came Kilbahsee the Woodchuck. Now I know what we can do with those pesky woodchucks!

32 comments :

  1. So VERY sorry for your dad's passing, Matt; but as you said he had a great, full life and you have a lot of warm, wonderful memories to think about. He passed a lot on to you, making your life that much richer. Take care now.

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    1. Thank you, hopflower. I think you are right - I sort-of got a good dose of his talents and interests, at least, some of them. I don't think I realized it, until now.

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  2. Anonymous7:52 PM

    Thank you for posting your father's cartoons / drawings, which are stylistically so much of a time past--I enjoyed them very much. There is always so much to do when a parent dies, not the least sorting through the memories...in fact, that goes on forever, doesn't it? Rest easy.

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  3. Thanks for sharing - having lost both my parents, the memories and life-long lessons they share are what help us and future generations. What a life - wonderful tribute to your Dad. My sincerest condolences, Matt.

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  4. I'm very sorry for your dad's passing. I lost my dad in March. I hope you continue to find comfort in the memories of your time with him in the garden and the natural surroundings.

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    1. Thank you, Jenny. I'm sorry to hear about your dad. You are right - memories become so important now, I learned that when I lost my mom, and never realized how precious memories can be - in a good way!

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  5. A great tribute for a very interesting man. My condolences to you and your family.

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  6. Rahtamian9:13 PM

    My prayers and thoughts with the family for comfort, strength, and peace. I know the family through my good childhood buddy Jet and always felt welcome visiting the house on occasion as a young man. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Wow, Rahtamian - I remember you! How are you? Do you ever speak with Jet? I can get you his contact information if you wish. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

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    2. Rahtamian12:17 AM

      We are on FB. Will have to ping him again to make contact though. Been well. Take care. All the very best.

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  7. My condolences to you and your family. I lost my mother last week on the day before Memorial Day. I don't think any child can be prepared for the loss of a parent. Take your time in this process and find peace in what brings you comfort.

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear about your mother, Patricia. Indeed, these times are difficult, but with time, we move forward. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  8. Matt,
    What a lovely tribute to your father. He was quite a renaissance man. Turning points like this are very important in our lives. Thanks for including us. Best wishes to you and your family.

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  9. john in cranston11:35 PM

    I'm sorry to hear... keep the good memories close

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  10. Anonymous12:14 AM

    I am very sorry for your loss. I have enjoyed reading your stories about your dad, about the house he built. You have some lovely memories. I'm glad you chose to share them with us. He will live on in our memories, as well.

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  11. I can't imagine a better tribute, Matt. Clearly, your father led a beautiful, insightful and lighthearted life that he shared with the world and you are continuing the family tradition. Thank you for sharing your dad with us. I'm sure he will always be with you. My deepest condolences.

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  12. I feel so lucky to have been a part of this family. Vitty was indeed a gifted and talented man. This took me back to times we spent in Massachusetts with the fam. I still proudly have the blueberry picking at Quabbin Reservoir painting hanging in my living room. So thankful we were able to be there for his 100th birthday celebration. You have done him proud! Love to you all....

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    1. Oh, all those blueberry picking memories! (I assume you heard about the one where my mom and dad were caught 'doing it' one time while our blueberrying?!). tsk tsk. Thanks inot.

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  13. A perfect post Uncle Matt. I find myself mesmerized every time I look at his work. I look forward to seeing more as is a great way to remember him. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks Tay. Lots of memories here. Hope you are making the best of your time in New Zealand - if you take anything from Granpa Vitty, it's that you should enjoy life and maximize all of it's experiences. So please you are doing that! Enjoy!

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  14. Matt, This was such a fascinating post to read. Thank you for sharing it. Your father was obviously a very talented man, who knew how to live well. My condolences to your family, and my hat's off to your father's spirit. All the best to you.

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  15. so sorry about your dad. what a wonderful talent, role model and inspiration he seems to have been. and that sounds inappropriately gushy. he seems to have taught you a kind of simplicity and rigor in his habits and devotion to "nature's schedule".

    your description of your childhood reminded me of rabbit hill - a very lovely children's book - and a very distant memory too, so sorry if i get the comparison not quite right.

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    1. Thank you so very much. So, your comment inspired me to buy a copy of Rabbit Hill ( I really think that it inspired some childhood stories that my father told us, since Rabbit Hill is what he called the hill behind our house., I am going to use the book in his eulogy this weekend. Thanks for the the inspiration.

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  16. Yours is the only blog I read regularly. Your dad must have been a truly special guy to have produced such a terrific son. I'm sorry he is gone.

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  17. So sorry to hear about your loss. I have very vivid memories of trekking through the woods from my grandparents house (Nancy and Peter Pockevicius) to go visit him.
    We were always picking and eating the berries along the well worn path. I used to love visiting and seeing his paintings and garden. He was one of the first people who got me interested in art! I even went on to work at the Telegram where many people had memories of him. He was so talented, I wish our family had stayed in contact after the passing of my grandparents.
    My condolences to you and your family,
    Stacey Arsenault (Maiden name "Dailida")

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    1. Oh Stacey, what a touching memory. Thanks for sharing it. I too can remember running through the woods to deliver eggs to Nancy and Peter, running faster to get past Peter's bee hives, then stopping to look at the chickens and pigeons! What great memories. I think the path is now grown over, but I hope those blueberry bushes are still there! Thanks so much for the condolences, and for the flash back!

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  18. So sorry for your loss.

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  19. What an accomplished and talented man, traits he definately passed on to you! I love that, even though you said you did not have a traditional father-son relationship with him--sports, etc, he found ways to connect with you & things the two of you could do together that were interesting to both. that's a great dad!

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  20. Sounds like a life well lived, and what gifts he gave you. Peace to you and your family.

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  21. Sorry to hear of your loss. You've put together a great tribute to him not just here in this post but in others over the years. He really seems to have lived a fulfilling life and it's always inspiring to see someone with talent who develops it and gets the most out of all their experiences.

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