Milam, Hospice patient, living his retirement dream

Published 3:44 pm Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Charles Milam likes to say he is living his retirement dream, spending hours painting intricate designs on found objects as varied as bread boxes, desks and bird feeders. One project might take 40 or more hours, he says, but the time just melts when he is sitting with tubes of paint and a new project. These are some of the better times of my life, he says.

While this may sound like a typical retirement scenario, there is a difference: Milam is a patient of Hospice of the Carolina Foothills (HoCF). Diagnosed with a multitude of terminal conditions, he doesnt let that stop him from painting into the wee hours of the morning when he is able.

Each intricately painted object is unique, but the over-riding style is reminiscent of Middle Eastern, Australian and Mexican cultures. Milam says he does not know where the style comes from. In fact, when he sits down with paints, brushes and other tools of his art, he says he does not even know how each design will look when finished. His latest work-in-progress, a desk for six-year-old great granddaughter Lily, has taken him 100 hours so far.

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After spending 40 years in the grocery business, working for large retail chains in several states, a fast and steady pace is nothing new for Milam. And he gives the impression he wouldnt have it any other way.

Sharing the dining table, and in fact their home, with two of their grandsons and their great-granddaughter, he and his wife Betty seem to take the accelerated pace in stride. It wouldnt be far-fetched to assume Milam gains energy and inspiration from living with extended family. For many years, the five of them also shared their home with Bettys 94-year-old mother and Milams 91-year-old father.

Artistic creation has always been a part of Milams life. Before his mobility was impaired, landscaping the acreage on their sprawling Green Creek property was his artistic outlet, according to Betty. The dogwoods, pampas grass, iris and lilies he planted are complemented by scores of figurines, painted objects, themed gardens and sculptures. I tell Betty it looks like gypsies live here, Milam jokes.

But it was Betty who urged him to take up painting in a more focused and serious way when he became a Hospice patient. I knew what was inside him, she says. She also knew he had taken painting classes and had been into artistic hobbies much of his life. Years ago, I painted all abstracts, says Milam, but he has shown himself to be open-minded in exploring other media. His latest pursuit involves high-gloss spray painting, which lends itself particularly well to other-worldly images of the cosmos and solar system.

But one piece he is very proud of is a breadbox that illustrates the history of the couples life together. Their marriage date, their children and grandchildrens names, hooks for their favorite coffee mugs, inspirational verses and illustrations of sentimental value to the couple.

While Betty is not a painter she does share another artistic venture with Milam. Before his illness, they recorded gospel songs and performed under the name It Takes Three. We kept searching for a name and it suddenly came to us, since we knew it was the two of us and the Lord, Betty explains.

While he does not know what a piece will look like when finished, Milam says he does know the intended recipient. Each one is earmarked for a particular family member or friend to enjoy in his memory and perhaps to celebrate this last artistic season of his life.