By Robbie Ward
Allison Holloway’s license plate reads “CRPLGRL,” and the mood indicator of her thrift store purse is set to “sassy.” Holloway, 44, spends many of her weekdays painting the backs of magnets, bottle caps and finding ways to turn dried paint skins most people throw away for art. She finds fun and smiles in things a lot of people just as soon discard as trash.
The back of her motorized wheelchair looks like a nest for colorful butterfly decorations, while the front shows off a rainbow of speckled paint.
She does her best to see the color and fun in things, even when she experienced life’s bumps and falls, literally.
Holloway felt a sense of relief when she finally learned what caused her to fall frequently, even breaking a foot, and have a tingling feeling on the side of her body after a 1999 misdiagnoses of carpel tunnel syndrome.
“I do take life very seriously, but I have fun with it,” said Holloway, diagnosed a decade ago with Multiple Sclerosis. “It’s up to you to make the most of it.”
Along with problems walking, she would get tongue-tied and forget words. Knowing the cause of her body acting in ways she knew it shouldn’t helped her explain episodes she’d experience.
After waiting tables, working as a bartender and most performing clerical work at medical clinics, Holloway found herself unable to work full-time in December 2012 when her hand speed and dexterity decreased. MS, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and nervous system by damaging the covering of nerve cells, can cause flareups that last days, weeks and months.
No cure exists yet for it. But Holloway doesn’t let of that keep her from experiencing life in ways that make others smile.
Sitting in her wheelchair, Holloway’s legs sometimes shake, but she doesn’t mind.
“I call it happy feet and say my legs are dancing to their own tune,” she said.
When she stopped working, Holloway decided that wouldn’t stop her from leaving her home each day, even if that meant going to Sonic for a snack.
“I didn’t want to be that person who sat at my house,” she said.
Plus, she has too much personality to keep it all to herself.
When Val Rademaker, 91, met Holloway in 2003 at a camp for cancer survivors that Holloway volunteered at, they immediately hit it off. Their friendship has continued, usually with Holloway visiting once or twice a week at the Traceway Retirement Community.
When Rademaker and Holloway met in 2003, around she was diagnosed with MS, they played Scrabble during their visits. As Rademaker’s memory fades, she just enjoy’s Holloway’s company. They’ll sit near each other, each in a wheelchair, as Rademaker holds Holloway’s hand, smiling.
“I can’t really imagine my life without her,” Rademaker said and then looked toward her friend. “I think I’m blessed to have you.”
Holloway jokes that Rademaker is the “best grandmother I’ve never had.”
Priding herself as seeing the world a little differently than others, her creative side has found a home in other people’s homes. About a year ago, she met William Heard, who invited her to a nonprofit he founded, OurArtworks, which allows people with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, and people with other disabilities to have an outlet to be creative.
She never really considered herself creative before visiting the art studio but then things changed.
“William has created a monster,” she said. “He unleashed my creativity.”
For each work Holloway completes, she signs it with “Ahriginal,” using her initials at the beginning. She even has part of a wall dedicated to her work, which is sold to benefit the nonprofit with a portion going to her.
Her art has included a canvas of puzzle pieces put together to spell “Life is a Puzzle,” and a multi-colored butterfly she created from paint skins others at the studio usually threw away.
“I’m really big into recycling,” she said.
Art has become such a part of her life that she’ll wake up at night with ideas for pieces she creates. Holloway said she has no explanation for her inspiration.
“I really don’t know where it comes from,” she said. “But it’s so much fun. On days I get to come and play in paint, those are the best days.”