Painter Partner: Eben Drake, RIP

Painter: n. a person who applies colored pigments (paint) to walls

Partner: n. a person associated with another in some activity of common interest

Over the course of my life I’ve done a lot of painting. Not the artistic kind–the home decorating kind. Color is like therapy to me. Each room in my house has a mood that is set by the color on the walls, and as my life changes so do my wall colors.

For the last fifteen years, I’ve finally acknowledged that I’m a shitty painter and I’ve hired someone. That someone was Eben (Ed) Drake.  Around here painters are usually known for being flaky and unreliable, a kind of minimally skilled worker who couldn’t do anything else and who maybe spent too much time sniffing paint fumes.

Not Ed. With his CarTalk guys Boston accent, sense of humor, and craftsmanlike skill, he was the favorite painter of everyone I knew. He painted two houses of mine, outside and in, some rooms more than once.

Back when he first painted for me he was accustomed to the local penchant for walls of white or beige. So when I handed him the chips for rooms in cerulean blue, deep green, red, and gold, he was non-plussed for a couple of days.

But as we worked together over the years he began looking forward to my wild color experiments, working with me and the folks at Rodda Paint to get the shade just right. (Chartreuse is the hardest to get right… not too yellow, not too bright, not too green.)  My skill picking the right shade the first time got better and his faith in me grew.

Every couple of days he’d bring his wife by so she could follow the project’s progress, and occasionally his son or grand-daughter (he adored his family) came too.

Whenever he finished a job, he’d say, “OK. After we have a couple shots of Jack Daniels, you can inspect the work.”  Not that he drank, but it was his little self-deprecating joke. I never found a boo-boo of his, though he fixed up a number of ones I made in my amateurish attempts.

He painted for some of my feng shui clients, and they came to love him too. He set me up at Rodda to get a professional discount and introduced me to Fred, who became my personal color mixer there. He would stop by the house every few months just to say hi and catch up on family news.

Early this summer he repainted my bedroom (photos of the “after” don’t do it justice), and he also painted the stairwell wall that overlooks the living room with some of the leftover chartreuse paint from the laundry room(still good after five years).

Ed had a consistently sunny personality, and worked without complaint thru heat, bronchitis, back injuries. But this time he was dragging. He said he was having trouble eating and had what he thought was pretty bad acid reflux. Serious enough that he had his assistant paint anything where he would have had to lean over.

I kept telling him he needed to see a doctor.  By the time he did, a few weeks later, it was already the beginning of the end. Metastacized stomach cancer.

He told the docs to sock it to him, whatever treatments they had – he’d do ’em all at once if necessary. It was a miserable way to go. And Monday he went, surrounded by his beloved family.

At the service this afternoon, so many people showed up to tell similar stories of this lovely man. I will truly miss him – but at least his memory is there in every room of my house. Especially I think of him when I pull into my sunny garage, which was once a dismal hell hole and he transformed with a bunch of my leftover paint.


10 responses to “Painter Partner: Eben Drake, RIP

  1. lovely tribute to Ed.

    As one who does their own painting, I can really be amazed at the skill it took to paint such a clean line between two the contrasting colours of white ceiling and russet wall.

    Your feng shui’d garage looks magnificent – I don’t think I’ve EVER seen such a tidy garage! I’ll follow your example if I ever get a garage.

  2. You should have seen how awful this space used to be! In feng shui, the entrance to the home is of utmost importance. Formally it’s the front door, and my front door is lovely. But practically speaking it was my garage and my laundry room, because that’s how I get into the house. Who wants to be greeted by heaps of crap and with walls still only coated with primer after maybe decades????

  3. What a memorial Ed leaves behind him: each time someone walks into a room he painted, can’t you imagine a little bit of Ed in the room with you?

  4. Many years ago I had a guy help me prune some overgrown shrubs in my back yard. He totally transformed these shapeless blobs into works of grace and beauty by thinning out all that wasn’t their essence. He died of a heart attack a few months later (he was only in his 40s – so sad) and ever after I ask for his hands to guide me when I’m pruning…

    Maybe I can ask for Ed’s guidance next time I pick up a paint brush and have to cut in a corner.

  5. Jesse Drake (Ed's Son)

    What a great tribute to Dad. I miss him everyday…

  6. Wow, Jesse! How did you ever find my blog? I’m so glad you did, though. I wanted to share these thoughts and photos with your mom but didn’t have any email addresses. I hope you’ll send her the link.

    You were lucky to have such a great dad, and I was privileged to know him.

  7. Claire Drake (Ed"s wife)

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS ARTICLE!! I agree with Jesse that it is a great tribute to Eben. He loved to do a great job ,and even more loved to make friends.

  8. I’m so glad you found this, Claire – I’d have emailed it to you if I’d had your address.

    I think of Ed often. He was a special guy.

  9. Hi there,

    I met you very briefly at Eben’s funeral. I just wanted to tell you that I love this entry; I read it whenever I am missing him. You are a fantastic writer, and this entry make’s me smile — You really nailed his personality, sweets. Thank you for capturing who he was.

    Ed was my uncle. He was there for every single big moment in my life (the good & plenty of the bad). Simply put, he is my favorite. ❤ We both shared a penchant for laughter, and practiced this skill often with each other. I miss him horribly. It hasn't eased.

    Hard to believe it has been two years since he left us…

    Thank you again. You made me smile on a sad day. Take care, be well & have a fantastic Thanksgiving.

  10. Tasia – I still think of Ed often, and I’m glad this tribute is of comfort.
    Of necessity, I’ve been practicing my painting skills lately and have improved quite a bit. But not yet up to Ed’s standards, that’s for sure.

    I’m thankful to have known him.