WHEN the kids were growing up, part of their library were three comic books called Dante for Fun: Hell, Purgatorio, Paradiso. We had stumbled upon them in a museum souvenir shop and I decided they should have it as an easy introduction to a rather difficult classic.
The illustrations were decidedly age-appropriate and the retelling of Dante’s work was wacky and sometimes irreverent. I don’t know if the boys ever finished reading all three, whether they remembered it or even liked it. I know I for sure need a major refresher. Soon they outgrew their entire children’s library and the books, including the Dantes, were passed on to friends.
It was a far cry from my own introduction as a child to the Inferno, which was a rather dark and disturbing illustration on yellowing paper, framed and hung on the door of my grandmother’s music room.
I learned it was my grandfather’s senior high school project, his interpretation of hell. The grade given by his American Jesuit teacher (for English or drama? I’m not sure) was still visible on it. Lolo would proudly point out that grade to us as we were growing up.
It was probably a prized possession from his school years that my grandparents as a young couple decided to have framed. It must have gone with the house to house from when they married in 1938 to that house I would always visit growing up, and eventually lived in.
When Lola passed away in 2013, one of the few things I asked to keep from her room was the Dante frame. By then it was a whopping 80-year-old artwork. I wanted the kids to have “my” version of the Inferno with them too.
I never got around to taking it with me back to China where we were living at the time. A few years later, my grandparents’ house and the lives of the people in it went through major upheaval. The Dante frame got misplaced along with half of their possessions that were there but just couldn’t be easily located.
Now, in clearing out that latest version of Lolo and Lola’s house, as a result of my father passing away and the need to move away, we stumbled upon the Dante frame. My mom had never forgotten that she had promised it to me.
And so I finally carried it home yesterday. To a new house, to only one child, no longer really a child, and soon to fly the coop as his older brother has done, to a life that has undergone its own kind of upheaval and layers of what sometimes feels like desolation and darkness, well before 2013, and in all the years since. And the only certainty is that there will be more such days, months, years.
But the frame that holds Lolo’s ideas translated out into his hands and onto that piece of yellowing paper will always remind me that some days feel like hell, but other days are days of finding your way back out and up again.