Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day-to-day living that wears you out."     ~ Anton Chekhov

… just got back… from… a walk… up the hill from... our… house………… wait… let me… catch what's left of my… breath. 

Richard does this every day, and I used to. It's not just a 2-mile stroll. You start out from our house walking along the sidewalk that goes straight up the hill leading to wilder hills of brush and two or three California Pepper trees, too. Hundreds of wild rabbits live in what must be a huge warren under the biggest tree at the top of that hill, and the "soldier" rabbits nervously rattle away in the brush that lines the sidewalk as you pass.  

Quail live there, too. I know because, nearly every third or fourth day in the winter, Richard leaves about 20 pounds of wild bird seed up under one of the Pepper trees along the way. When the quail "watch-dog" sees him strew the seed, he calls to the whole crew of quail. They get so excited, especially in the winter, that 20 pounds of seed is gone in 2 days… every single little seed.

I've seen coyotes walk across the flattened out, chained-off portion of cemented-ground at the top of the hill. No explanation of why this splayed piece of cement was ever laid there in the first place. It's chained off with a rusted length of chain-metal, but that's never bothered the coyote population. Or me, either, for that matter. I checked it out just once on an early-summer morning, but I was cured quickly when I saw a snake sunning itself on that cement "patio."

Once I saw the saddest thing… a huge, very long, headless bull snake was laying in a reckless contortion. I looked at it for a long time, trying to understand why anyone would cut the head off the only snake I knew of that had the nerve to kill rattlesnakes! Then I realized… The maintence men, who were charged with trying to keep Wild Nature in line along the sidewalk to nowhere, must have come across him as they were chopping off limbs of the wild tag-team bushes. They chopped off his head, and flung his body out and away. Slithering all over that wild domain, he died one day because he was in the way of "civilization," I guess... in the way of the sidewalk that nearly no one ever uses, along a seldom-used road up a hill.

When you get to the very top of that curved road, there are houses with fences and dogs in the yards. There are green lawns and flowers galore and cars parked along the street. The view northward, behind the houses, is immense. You can see across the wide valley below all the way to the first row of high hills that stand in front of Mount Baldy and his buddies. 

That valley is, of course, filled with towns, cities, people, streets, freeways, trees, and even a man-made lake for fishing. Of course, the "lake" is stocked with more trout than the water can accommodate so that "fishermen" can catch them in record numbers. I betcha I could even catch one of those fish. I think they'd jump at the chance to get out of that ghetto called "the lake." Most of them have probably had enough of shoulder-to-shoulder Southern California living!

The streets are much straighter among those houses at the top of our hill. They go right down from those homes towards the the major roads and racing freeways to get where people want to go. Who would rather take the scenic route along the wild hills that continue and continue into more and more savage land? 

Savage, you ask? Yes, I say. Just listen once to a band of coyotes when they hunt down a deer up there. After all these years in Southern California, the barking of the chase and then the screams of the coyote kill-frenzy still make me shiver.

The way back down to our house is softer and more sheltered. Houses perched on small lots with tamed trees line the rest of the walk, more usual, more civilized, more what you'd expect. Once in a while I see someone from one of those houses taking a walk down "my" street," passing the wild place with a dog on a leash, or a bat in their hand to ward off… something or other, I guess.

I only ever saw the tables turned once on a walk around those 2 miles. As I walked along the populated section of "my" street, down into a valley between two hills of backyards, there he stood! A coyote that looked like a hybrid of coyote and wolf. He was standing right below one of the backyards under a large civilized tree with its huge leafy top, and he was staring at me! 

No fair! This was NOT that wild portion of the 2-mile, curvy street. This was MY territory! I stamped my foot and lunged toward him, confident that he would run away, of course. 

He didn't!

He took 2 strong, confident steps TOWARDS me!  ME! …and he never took his eyes off mine

The wild world is much stronger than the civilized world in these circumstances, I finally realized. He wasn't afraid. It was just a private matter to him, between the two of us, and he knew he could take me out! 

I had two chances, go back up that humungous hill or cross the street like a frightened deer. 

Of course, there was only one thing to do, being the asthmatic person that I am… I crossed the street, keeping my awareness on him without a stare-down. He'd win that, for sure, too, and maybe he'd lunge at me.

I kept walking, and he kept staring at me, and we never met again. It was just one of those things… just one of those crazy things… a trip to my fear that now and then rings, just one of those things…  And I was so glad for the end of it!  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"For me, every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did. And I get the sweats. I go in and start working, and I'm not sure where I'm going. If I knew where I was going, I wouldn't do it." ~ Frank Gehry

Once we lived in Montana… "The Big Sky Country." But it was just for a while. The sky IS bigger there than anywhere I've ever been. It's wider and higher and sometimes bluer, and it has the biggest, angriest storms I've ever been in … well, except for Texas. You've got to be tolerant if you're going to live in Montana… of people, of animals, and, certainly, of the weather. Bears wander about like they own the place… and they DO! At least they did for a lot longer than the people who own the place now.

The Blackfeet people live there, and have done, for about as long as the bears have. They both understand how to live together in peace, it seems to me. It's best not to get "the sweats" around bears. I read once that they are the third smartest animals in the world, and that makes them lots smarter than I am most of the time. No need to make them nervous or jumpy or anything… And, for heaven's sakes, don't creep around them like a frightened rabbit. Or in my case, just stay in the car and drive slowly, carefully, away.

We all lived in trailers when Richard's company was building the missile silos in northern Montana for the U.S. government a long time ago. Bears would come around to ravage the big metal trash cans for tidbits and morsels. They'd lumber into the area, and, not being grizzlys, those brown bears didn't look that big on all fours. Their little beady eyes looked for anything that smelled good to them, anything. All they had to do was knock the lids to the ground, slam the cans to the ground, and rifle through the contents… yum!

Wives used to come out and watch them from their porches as though those bears were muzzled and trained. I, on the other hand, cowered inside our trailer, inside the bathroom, and sat on the stool's seat with my baseball bat in hand! 

I could never have been a wife like the one in "Little House on the Prairie"… never, never, never! In my mind that TV show was a farce! They lived miles from any other folks. Her husband would go out to shoot game of some sort for dinner, and he'd lug it back home. Well, people did that in Montana, too, when we lived there. OK, I believe that much, but...

But that "Little House"… Sheesh! It was never, ever dusty! There was no noise of the constant wind rattling through their cabin, I guess their windows were perfectly plastered, or something. And if any of the folks got injured in any way, they were miraculously healed by the next week's episode! And Mrs. Ingles' skin was smooth as silk… always… even when she had beads of sweat dripping down from the perfectly clean hair above her powdered forehead! I say again… SHEESH! 

And, where were the bears? I did see them in one episode on our little trailer TV, I think. But bears are big and they aren't afraid of much of anything. Why would they be, these large, smart animals who get to sleep through each cold Montana winter? The humans were driving, working, cleaning house, grocery shopping, and dusting, while trying to keep warm in temperatures that could dip as low as a brutal -43 degrees of winter cold!

Well, that was many years ago, and the SALT talks calmed down the idea of missile silos pointing towards Russia back then. When the agreement was signed, the company sent everyone back where they'd come from, and, with the outsiders gone, the town-folk got right back to small-town life in Montana, the state with "black ice" and no speed limits on any highways… none!

But right now I'm facing my own big brown bear, right here in my own "studio!" OK, OK, my "studio" is really our spare bedroom upstairs. I have to create a original piece of art that needs to be 12" x 10." I've never, ever worked that small! It's much harder to create a well-designed tiny piece like that than the larger pieces I'm used to designing. And that's the "bear" I'm facing right now as I'm writing this, instead of slogging into my "studio" to get to it! 

Well, I guess you'd call it a cub I'm facing, not a bear… right? But I got "the sweats" just thinking about that little, tiny piece of cloth that needs to be deftly designed. Hope I'm up to it… Well, maybe I'll start tomorrow...    

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"One does nothing who tries to console a despondent person with a word. A friend is one who aids with deeds at a critical time when deeds are called for." ~ Euripedes

What a crummy week I had! Perfectly CRUMMY! I lost all hope, all balance, all understanding. I was just miserable. Life had punched my lights out, and my mouth couldn't smile and my eyes couldn't see any brightness and my ears couldn't hear any kindness, anywhere.

Now, don't you dare feel sorry for me! I don't deserve it a bit! It was my lucky lot to be born in a free country, to have a good husband who is still with me after all these years, to have such good health that all I need to do is lose some weight. While half of this world is hungry and so many people in this world have no clean water, my "problem" is a "vanity!" And, no, I won't reveal it to you because I'm ashamed of myself.

Gotta give you just a sampling of 5 minutes of yesterday, though... I was at the post office waiting in line to buy some of their darling padded envelopes to send some tidbits to my two sisters-in-law in Nebraska. The lady behind me had the same envelopes in her hand so, of course, we chatted. The lady said she was 86-years old, and as we talked, she kept looking at me very closely, but that was easy to ignore. She was 86 years old. She said that her daughter had just started selling Mary Kay cosmetics. 

"Isn't that nice," I said. "Does she like it?"

"Oh, yes. She really loves it." 

Then she stared at me again and snorted!  "You don't have to look as bad as you do, you know! I'm going to give you my daughter's card so you can get some of her Mary Kay products. She will teach you how to put them on your face. It would sure help you look better…" (her EXACT words)

"Oh, thank you very much, " I muttered like a frightened child… but she WAS 86-years-old, and it WAS the worst week of my life, so what else could I expect?  

Instead I want you to meet a very close, very dear, friend of mine who helped me get my balance back. She helped me see clearly again while her own eyes are nearly useless now.

Anna is an extraordinary teacher. Ask any of her students who now speak English. Ask any of her collegues who learned from Anna how to overcome the complexities of teaching non-English speakers. Ask the parents in her night-time parenting classes who learned how to be much better parents. Yup, Anna is extrordinary!

Every day at lunch time, Bob, an award-winning educator and all-around good guy, and I would meet in Anna's room and talk, and laugh, and tell each other the silly things that had happened in our classes that morning, or talk about politics or whatever else was on our minds. Oh, and Bob and I would reach into that huge jar of candy that Anna always had sitting there on her desk. Long, tall Bob only ever took one piece, if that, but I think every noontime I'd fill any pockets I had on me with those rolls of sugar called "Smiley's!" Gee, I loved them!

Now, every day, Anna liked to get her grading done and all the set-ups for the next day ready before she left for home after school was over. Bob was so organized and efficient that he wouldn't walk out of his door until all was perfectly ready for his history classes in the morning. I would gather up all the English essays I needed to read when I got home, clean the white-boards so there was no trace of the colored markers on them, revamp the chair arragements for the next day's first period class, and then head for home.

Each of the three of us had different parking places. Bob walked right out of his classroom's back door, only steps away from where his car was parked. I would walk down the front breezeway of our school, past the main office, and into the large parking lot where most of the teachers parked. But Anna always parked in a small parking strip at the side of the our school because it was so close to her room. 

That parking strip held 10 cars, at the most, and it bordered a very busy, very crowded avenue. It was so small that it looked to me like a parking lot on a very strict diet! The best part was that it was nearly always empty, except for Anna's car. It was Anna's own private parking area, thank you very much!

After school one day, Anna walked out to the parking strip, and balancing her load of books and her bag full of student work, she poked around in her purse searching for her car keys. When she got the door opened, she began the wrestling match to tuck her night's work into her car. Just a few feet away cars were speeding past her.

BAM! SMASH! CRASH! A car careened into the parking strip and hit Anna's car, twisting it until it came to a stop nearly touching the school building's wall. Anna was pinned to the blacktop, half-way underneath her car! 

The stolen car that hit her heaved itself backwards a mite, untangling itself from Anna's car, and squealed away through the massive jumble of traffic that had suddenly slowed down so drivers could gawk at the crash site. Anna was alone and stunned, too stunned to know if she'd been hurt. 

Magically, police arrived. An ambulance sped into the parking strip. Cars on the avenue began to move again. But all this happened in slow motion for Anna, and none of it made sense to her.

The truth of what happened doesn't make much sense, even now. A young man had "stolen" a car and was whizzing through traffic with his father chasing after him in the family car. Why he sped through the tiny parking strip is anyone's guess. The father, who must have seen the accident, came back to the crash site and explained it to the police who'd already caught the young man. Case closed. But not quite… 

Besides other injuries, Anna lost the sight in one eye. She could have died. But she told me later that just before it happened, she had both hands on the top of the open door-frame of her car. When the careening car hit her, all she could think of was "DO NOT LET GO OF THIS DOOR!" It was almost like someone was commanding her to "Hold On!" Obviously, at some point the twisting of her car ripped her hands off its door, and she landed underneath her car. But holding on as long as she did saved her from having the car wheels flatten her completely.

My friend Anna has one eye left, but that eye has only a narrow pin-hole for her to see through. Her eye looks well enough outwardly, but she can only see a fraction of what is there in front of her with no depth perception at all. Anna cannot distinguish colors, anymore. Things are gray or black and white, mostly, even though she had the best eye doctors in the country examine her weekly to try to save what she has left. Now, the hope is that she will have her pinhole vision a little bit longer...

And on Tuesday, the day we always meet for lunch, Anna was helping ME feel better! You see, Anna reads people and understands folks better than I ever can, and she is a "no nonsense" person, to boot. Never, in the 15 years we've know each other, have I ever heard Anna complain about HER circumstances, though… never! And her "ticking bomb" of an eye problem is no exception.

But yesterday at lunch, when I dragged out my distress with my "poor me's" and my "ain't it awful's," Anna told me something that I certainly never knew. As I teared up and whined about my unhappiness, Anna looked at me and said, "Cry, Terry… just cry. It helps."

"But you never cry, Anna! Wha…"

"Oh, yes, Terry. I DO cry… sometimes I cry a lot."      

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do." ~ Maurice Sendak

"It's raining.
It's pouring!
The old man is snoring.
He bumped his head
And fell on the bed,
And couldn't get up in the morning."

When I was a little girl, I sang that song over and over until my Mom asked me to learn a new one! She didn't know that I was concerned about that "old man" and how bad his injury might be, and I wanted to help him, but I didn't know him. I was sad when I sang that song.

Now I know that the old coot was probably just drunk, and when he finally got home from the tavern, he probably fell across the bed and passed out.  He couldn't get up in the morning because he had an hellacious hang-over. And that's that! I've very little sympathy for him now.

A while back I wrote a piece about my three best friends in Culver City who all liked me but didn't like each other very much… There was Bobby, the sweet one. There was Linda, the selfish one (but don't forget, she was an only child). And then there was Sandy. I've not written about her, mostly because she wasn't either one of those kinds of people. She was Sandy.

Of course, now I'm looking at Sandy through older eyes, but then I was as innocent as a dove. And I wasn't what you'd call a child. I was 12 or 13 years old, but back then, most of us at 12 or 13 were not very worldly-wise. Most of us, that is, but I'm pretty sure that Sandy had been born worldly-wise.

Sandy was about two years older than I was and she lived caddy-corner across the street from us. Her parents owned a gas station in Culver City, or maybe her Dad just worked there, I don't remember for sure. They were nearly never home, though, and Sandy was on her own most of the time. She had an older brother who I nearly never saw, either. 

Sandy went to a private school somewhere, not to Betsy Ross Elementary School or Culver Junior High, like I did. They must have taught lots more in that school than they ever taught at my school because she sure did know more about life than I did… well, the parts of life that no one had ever introduced me to. I learned things from Sandy that I learned nowhere else.

We'd walk for miles talking, talking, talking about things that most teenaged girls talked about. On one of those walks I told Sandy that I "liked" a boy named Jim. 

"Wha'ja do with him?" she asked me one day.

"Well, in speech class the teacher picked Jim to do a scene in front of the whole class, and she asked him to pick someone to be in the scene with him, and Jim picked me!" I still remember feeling my face flush. Jim picked ME!

"So what!" said Sandy. "Wha'ja do with him?"

"Well, I sat in the chair next to him and we were supposed to pretend it was a car, and…"

"Who cares about THAT! What did you DO with him!!!"


"AFTER CLASS, SILLY? Didn't you kiss him and stuff?"

"Noooo. Of course not! We were in speech class. But what do you mean "stuff?"

"You know…. STUFF!  STUFF!!"

No, I didn't know. I hadn't even had my first "real" kiss with Chris yet. (Remember… I wrote about that a while ago, about the party at Larry's house… you know, my first real-life kiss. If you don't know look back a few entries… it's there.)

"C'mon… tell me… what's 'stuff'?"

"Well, I have a boyfriend, too," Sandy said. "He likes me, and we've kissed and stuff."

There she went again with at that "stuff" stuff. What in the world was she talking about, anyway?

"If you don't tell me what "stuff" is, I'm going to…" What, Terry, what in the world are you going to do? The truth is that you're going to do nothing. After all, you couldn't threated to tell her Mom like you always did to your little brother Jack! I bet her Mom knew what "stuff" was, though. 

"Oh shut up!" Sandy snorted. And I followed after her, still wondering what "stuff" meant. But the Foster Freeze place was just ahead, and my mind turned to bigger and better things like a tall vanilla ice cream cone double-dipped in hot chocolate coating that would quickly harden just after the lady twirled it in the chocolate sprinkles.

On the bare-footed walk home with chocolate sprinkles still sticking to my face, I realized that I hadn't asked Sandy about "her boyfriend!"

"Who is he, Sandy? Does he go to your school?"

"Nope," Sandy giggled. "He works at my Dad's gas station, BUT DON'T YOU TELL MY DAD ANYTHING!"

"I wouldn't do that, Sandy!"

"Well, he's 28 years old and he likes me! He told me that he did, and we kissed and stuff," Sandy announced proudly. "He's married, but he said he didn't love his wife anymore, he said he liked me more, so we did stuff and he said he's my boyfriend now!"

That was a lot to swallow for me. Poor man… he didn't love his wife anymore… How could that be? I mean once you were married ALL the books I'd ever read said that "they lived happily ever after!" Sandy must be wrong about that. It couldn't be. Wait… what did "stuff" mean, anyway? Hmmmmmm………….

Well, time passed and Sandy announced one day that she was going to have a party at her house, and I was invited. She was going to ask some kids from her private school to come and I HAD to be there. No threats were necessary, though. I'd be there, for sure.

We probably had cake and ice cream, but I don't remember. I DO remember that we played "Spin the Bottle," though. And I do remember that one of the boys from her class was there and he was cute! Now, I didn't have a clue what "Spin the Bottle" was, but Sandy said that we all had to sit on the floor in a circle, so we did. I noticed that Sandy's floor wasn't as clean as our floor at home, but that wasn't part of "Spin the Bottle."

Now, I've always liked Coke, and the first part of the game, evidentally, was finding an empty bottle. Sandy only had full bottles of Coke, so she handed me one and said, "Terry, drink this, and hurry up! We need the bottle!" So I did. I figured this game was going to be good. So far, the first part was fun!

Well, we were all sitting in a circle on the floor and I was full of Coca Cola and the cute boy was sitting right opposite me and he was smiling at me. I was starting to LOVE this game. Who'd thought this one up, I wondered?

Then Sandy grabbed the empty bottle out of my hand, set it so carefully in the exact middle of our circle, and she gave it a spin. This was the dumbest game I'd ever seen! You sit in a circle and you spin a bottle around… must be a game for lame-brains, I thought. But the silly empty bottle finally stopped spinning and it pointed to me! Sandy grabbed the bottle and gave it another spin. Is this all there is, I thought? Yuck!

I did notice that she had given the bottle a slower spin this second time, and when it finally came to rest, it pointed to one of the boys in the circle. Sandy nearly broke her knee stretching over to reach that boy, and they kissed! They KISSED! So that's the gist of this game… It was a "kissing game!" Hmmmm…. 

Well, the bottle made the rounds of the circe and it finally came to me, and I gave it a mediocre spin. When it stopped, the mouth of the bottle was pointing directly at the homeliest boy in the circle… one I had no desire to kiss. He looked at me sheepishly, and I leaned across the bottle for the shortest kiss in human history. I was always one who abided by the rules, mind you. But why didn't that stupid bottle point at the cute guy directly across from me?  Just my luck, I thought.

Round and round the bottle went, and round and round the circle we went, and finally, finally the bottle landed where I'd hoped it would land. The cute boy across the circle had his turn, but he never spun the bottle at all! He brazenly took the bottle in his hand, laid it on the floor, and turned it carefully so that it pointed at me! I guess he wasn't abiding by the rules, but I didn't care at all, because this game was finally getting interesting! I think the homely boy said something like, "No fair!" but who cared! I loved this game! What genius had thought this one up, I'd like to know! 

Well, that was the only time I ever played "Spin the Bottle," and it was many years before I learned what "stuff" meant. I was always a "late bloomer," and, as much as I hated that term when I was young, now I think that I was lucky. In fact, I think that luck was always on my side! Whew! 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."  ~ James M. Barrie

Now that was fun! And as I drove out of the parking lot, I got the best reward ever… the most beautiful peach-colored sunset was drifting across the entire evening sky.

I woke up today feeling sort of blue, a little down, not my usual self. You see, Thanksgiving is next week, and our family members live more than halfway across the country. I miss the big Thanksgiving turkey that my sister-in-law is expert at roasting, and I miss the fun and laughter of all the families sitting in that wonderful farmhouse out in the country. I miss making the pies or appetizers, whichever was my offering that year. I guess I miss the old days

After all, that's what Thanksgiving is here in the good old U.S.A., right? Having a feast with family, and then sitting around, groggily, watching a football game on TV, and dozing off, right?

Well, yes it is, but maybe it shouldn't be only that! 

This may seem very trite to you, but I started thinking about the word, Thanksgiving… Moping about what I don't have isn't giving thanks at all! And I ought to have known that. I'm old enough to have learned that a long time ago, but I guess I didn't. If I just join those two words the other way around, I have it! Giving Thanks… yup, that's the right way.

And then I remembered what I used to do…  

Have you heard of Operation Christmas Child? It's also called Operation Christmas Shoebox. Does that ring any bells with you? I'd forgotten all about it, and I'm sorry that I did. All you need is a shoebox and the suggestion list. Then you're off on a lovely Christmas shopping spree for a child who lives somewhere in this world and has nothing. You'll never ever meet each other, but you will bring so much happiness and joy to that little one. You can pick whether you'd like to fill a box for a little girl or a little boy, and you can also pick the child's age range, too.

The suggestion list is divided up into 4 categories:  Toys, School Supplies, Non-Liquid Hygiene Items, and Accessories. Each of these categories has suggestions to help you choose the brand new items for this nameless, needy child who you are befriending anonymously. 

There are toys like dolls, stuffed animals, yoyos, and balls that you can include. There are school supplies like paper, crayons, markers, notebooks, coloring books and picture books, too, that you can choose. Hygiene items like tootbrushes, combs, and washcloths will fit just perfectly into that shoebox. I don't think of socks and tee shirts as "Accessories," but they are on the list of suggestions, so in they went!

There is a fifth category called "A Personal Note," and it's optional, of course. But you can enclose a note to the child  and even a photo of yourself and maybe your family, too. The child can see your face, and I bet it would be like looking at the face of an angel! 

At the end of the list of suggestions there is an important paragraph called "DO NOT INCLUDE," and it's written in bright red so you can't miss it. "DO NOT INCLUDE: Used or damaged items, war-related items such as toy guns, knives, or military figures; chocolate or food; out-of-date candy; liquids or lotions; medications or vitamins; breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol cans." 

Well, off I went to my nearby store-that-has-everything, and I had so much fun! I got things in every category, things that I would have liked when I was young. It was the most pleasant hour of shopping ever, shopping for someone I'll never, ever know. As I deliberated over colors and styles and sizes that would fit into that shoebox, I kept seeing the wide eyes and the huge smile on my "mystery child's" face.

I'm home now, and all has been stuffed into that shoebox, except a book called "Silly Monkeys" with 5 monkey-faced finger puppets included... oh, and an orange baseball. Not a problem, though.  Guess that just means that I have the beginnings of another shoebox. And I guess that means that I get to go shopping again tomorrow… Think I'll be filling a box for a boy. My husband said he'd go with me. He'll have a much better eye for what a boy would like, of course. An ORANGE baseball, Terry? 

If any of this interests you, just Google "Christmas Shoeboxes," and all the directions are there. They even explain the "drop off" procedure.  

C'mon… this must be just how Santa Claus feels when he delivers his presents, right? After all, Operation Christmas Shoebox delivers these shoeboxes to 10,000,000 kids in this world! Yes, that's TEN MILLION kids who've maybe never received a present of any kind in their entire lives. 

Giving thanks always spills out all over, and sometimes it even brings a sunset that takes your breath away!      

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough."          ~ Mario Andretti

"Eat anything you want!" she told me. "Taste everything!"

"OK," I answered, "but I don't like ice cream…"

"Oh! Well, we don't sell much of it. But some people like it so we have it over there in that little freezer, just in case."

It was the second day of my summer vacation. I'd be a university sophomore when September came around, but this was my first day of work at the best bakery in Stamford, Connecticut... my sweet tooth's idea of Heaven!

The doors opened at 7AM, and people crowded in and elbowed their way out for two and a half solid hours, people on their way to work who wanted donuts, croissants, cinnamon rolls, and coffee. The price tags were on the front of each tray, and written on the back of the tags, too, so this new employee could ring up the totals quickly and satisfy the mob.

By 10AM there was finally a lull. The owner left me in charge of the front, while her husband, the baker and co-owner, was in the back making the last batch of strawberry tarts in the compact workroom. It took me two weeks before I found out the secret of bakeries. Bakers' hours are NOT the same as their clerks are. A baker's day begins at approximately 2 or 3AM! His work would be done way before I could go home, but then, as he said, I got to sleep in until 6AM every day. What more could I ask for, he asked!

I was hired to work, so I cleaned the finger marks off every speck of glass in the bakery. I straightened the left-over pastries in soldierly straight lines so they were as perfect as before the shop opened. I polished the wobbly, sliding mirror doors so they glittered. Then I heard the owner/husband/baker yell, "See ya tomorrah," and he was gone.

Now what to do? Hmmm... I stood on one foot… then I stood the other… then on both feet. Then I decided to do some releves from my ballet days. Oh, I know... this must be the time for me to taste everything in the shop. As a good employee, I would follow the owner's directions to a fare-thee-well! 

I did taste… EVERYTHING! Then, since all was quiet on the bakery front, I went back for seconds! By the time I was taking "thirdsies," the homemakers began coming into the shop, and I had to quit my wild foraging. 

As I passed by the glittering mirror, I saw a swath of chocolate smeared on my cheek, but I had no time to run to the lavatory and wash it off. Besides, I thought, it might be good advertising… That, or the customers would think I was licking the very pastries they were buying! They'd call the health department! They'd have me fired on my first day of work! Or worse, I'd be working in the jailhouse bakery… Oops, Terry, your imagination is once again running wild… 

I got a hold of myself quickly when I remembered why I NEEDED this job. It wasn't only that I loved sweets. It was that I needed to buy books for my British Literature classes and paint for my art classes next semester. Without this job, in the fall I'd need to live inside the campus library every moment I wasn't in class, and I'd have to learn how to make paint from the berries that must grow somewhere in those Nebraska fields… Sheesh!

You probably think that I was off work every day at 6PM or something. NO! This bakery was opened until 9PM… 9PM!!! Don't ask me why, because I never asked the owners that question. In fact, I never asked them anything. I just did what I was told. 

As I write this, I'm thinking… what did you do for lunch, Terry? You must have had a break. And what did you do for dinner, by the way? Can't remember… I must have eaten something besides pastries, but I can't remember ever leaving the bakery until 9:01 every night. Sounds like slavery to me. Maybe it was, except for the wonder of eating every good thing that talented baker created.

Now, Connecticut public schools have a longer school year than universities do, so after the lunch crowd had left the bakery that day, the kids from school swarmed in for something good to eat as they ambled home. After all, they needed some energy for the mounds of homework that Connecticut teachers loved to assign. 

 Again there was this lull for about an hour, after the school kids left and before the adults leaving work would stop in to buy fresh baked bread and those beautiful strawberry tarts for their after-dinner desserts that evening. So the owner began chatting with me. She told me that they had opened their first bakery in New York City where they were from, but they had finally left there and moved to Connecticut. 

I listened closely as I crammed another cream puff into my mouth, anxious to chew it up so I could accomodate the brownie with the superb chocolate frosting waiting in my other hand.

"Why'd'ja leave?" That was hard to say with that last bite of brownie sticking to the roof of my mouth.

"We got tired of paying 'protection money' to those 'goons!'"

"Wass that?" I managed to ask as I chewed. And she explained the "protection money" concept to me and how it was initiated and what a "goon" was. It was nearly as exciting to listen to the details of the racketeers as it was to select my next sweet treat to eat.

Well, finally at about 6:30PM the lady owner said that she'd be back at 8:45 so she could count the money, put it into the safe, and lock up. "Will you be alright, Terry?"

"Sure!" I said, thinking of the rising cost of red paint and the campus bookstore's price of just one 5-inch-wide required British Lit text.

But at 6:30PM, it was getting dark. All the other stores on the street had closed a half hour before. The bakery was on the corner of the main street in town and a cross street, and both the front and the street-side of the bakery were made up of large windows. You know what? It feels creepy to be inside a fishbowl! I could see car headlights as they rolled past the windows, but that's about all. But I knew that anyone driving by could see everything inside that bakery… well, like you, Terry. You are the only one in the shop! And they could see things like the cash register sitting right there in plain sight of the passers-by, and, of course, everyone understands that it has money in it… You know, things like that… creepy things like that…

Maybe if I stood behind the back counter next to the cash register, I could run through the workroom and out the backdoor… only if I needed to... just precautionary thinking, mind you. Good idea, Terry, I thought. I think I thought that, but who knows… I had chomped down at least 23 delightful bakery creations so far that day, and I was probably light-headed from all that SUGAR!

As I tried to casually saunter back behind the farthest counter, I accidentally bumped into that darn wobbly sliding mirror door. I barely hit it, mind you! But, part of it seemed to jump out of its runners and crash to the floor, spattering splinters all over the aisle! A jagged piece of mirror was left in its runner, jutting out awkwardly into the space between.

I grabbed a broom and swept up the broken glass, but the huge piece of jagged mirror had me flummoxed. I'm ashamed to say that I was actually frightened of it. I left it leaning out into space there.  

Of course, at about 8:30-ish or so, the lady owner arrived! How would you explain the debris? 

Well, I explained it to her just like I've written it here, and she didn't fire me! I suppose she figured that the worst had already happened… or maybe it was the sight of my tears… or maybe she understood, even back then, that a huge overdose of sugar all the live-long day, that sugar contained in her husband's delicious, mouth-watering pastries, was not the best way to determine if a new employee was going to work out.

Her invitation to eat anything I wanted, had worked brilliantly! The only thing that I couldn't resist for the rest of that summer was the heavenly smell of bread baking. There just isn't any aroma in the world better than that! I never did get over the weird feeling during those night hours that I was on duty in the bakery, though. And I did eat a pastry now and then, but never more than 3 a day… or maybe, 5. Well, it all depended...   

Sunday, November 2, 2014

"Why do 'slow down' and 'slow up' mean the same thing? Why is the third hand on the watch called the second hand?"  ~  George Carlin

Why would our next-door neighbor knock on our door on a cold winter night, and then come in, take his shoes off, lay down in front of the fireplace, and plant both his stocking feet on our wall?  That was the question... 

We'd never met him, this man who lived inside the half-circular house on the huge over-grown, tree-strewn, creeping-vine-covered plot of land on the other side of the fence! We'd never even seen a living soul come in or out of that house… unless you counted the naked psuedo-violinist who wandered down the street that dark night, torturing that poor violin with the bow.

He'd knocked on our door one night to borrow a battery, he said... not for a car, if he even had one, but for his flashlight. It was so cold outside that I asked him to come in, of course. When I said, "Warm yourself by the fire," I assumed he'd stand in front of it, and maybe turn around to warm his backside, too. But that, we'd just found out, wasn't his way.

Richard gave him two AA batteries, and he left… warm feet, and all.

It was about a month or two later in early spring when he knocked on our door again and said, "I've got to go on a trip. Would you feed my cat for me while I'm gone?" and threw a set of keys over to me. As soon as I said, "Yes," he left for parts unknown. 

The next day, when Richard got home from work, I begged him to go with me to the house next-door while I fed the cat. But he said, "What are you afraid of, Terry? It doesn't take two people to feed one cat!"

What was I afraid of? What was I afraid of? Hmmm… that was the question… What did I expect to find, anyway? How silly of me to be afraid to go into a house to feed a cat. I liked cats… I LOVED cats… even though I was deathly allergic to them…  and cats liked me. Of course, when my asthma kicked up and I'd be sitting straight up in bed trying to breath and sleep all night, every night, for the next month, it might be a nuisance. But what's a stiff neck and a sore back, while gasping for air, when you're teaching 7 classes of high school kids to draw everyday, all day!

It was a high round-topped wooden door that I approached with key in hand. That door looked like a door in one of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales. I went into the house, and the cat meowed and rubbed my leg, and then she rushed me into the kitchen for some din-din.

I won't describe the kitchen because it might be dinner time for some of you readers. Suffice it to say, the cat's bowl was the cleanest plate in the house, and it hadn't ever been washed except by the cat's tongue. 

Aw, c'mon, Terry, dish the dirt!!! NO! On that first afternoon in our neighbor's house, I was supremely ethical. I would NOT explore the cave… I mean the house. It was none of my business! After all, I was a high school teacher! I must always live according to the highest ethical standards. That's what I preached to my students, and I must live by those standards, even if I, alone, of all the people in these sacred United States……  Aw, SHUT UP, Terry! What did you do on the second day? 

The next day was a whole different story. I wasn't being nosy, though. It was the mysterious dotted line that wandered its way up the enormous two-and-a-half-story wall, from the desk below up to the strange wrought-iron stairway that lead to another round-topped door halfway up the middle of that 2-1/2-story wall. The dotted line was at least 30 winding feet long, going sideways and upwards. What was it? Why was it dotted? Had someone graffittied those dots that went nowhere? Why would they do that in their own house? And what was a room doing halfway up a 2 1/2 story wall with only a wrought-iron stairway to reach it? 

Well, Terry! What was up in that room? 

How should I know??? Do you think I would hazard a 2 1/2 story wrought-iron stairway that was only anchored on one side of the wall? OK, I DID try it, but when I put my foot on the first step, the entire stairway swayed and creaked, and I swear one of the bolts fell out of its hole-in-the-wall and clattered to the floor. 'Nuff said!

Once, this house had been a showplace! That huge half-round front room must have been a small concert hall. It still held a gorgeous grand piano that was decaying under carpets of dust. I tapped one of the keys, and it didn't sing, it screetched. The rest of the room was a rectangle that could have effortlessly seated 24 refined music afficionados. The wood that encased that part of the main hall was teak and cherry wood, too. The room looked just like Gloria Swanson's house in "Sunset Boulevard." But we were in Happy Hollow in Omaha, Nebraska.

And, yes, there was another staircase, an elegant circling stairway, and I did walk up those stairs. Were you chasing the cat, Terry? Is that why you went upstairs? What do you think? That cat never left the kitchen except to greet me at the front door about 4:00 PM every day and lead me to the cat food cupboard door!

Up those stairs were bedrooms, and about the 4th day of me "helping my neighbor," I went up there to look. There was a cavernous master bedroom and others, too, I guess. I would have looked at more, but it was the second room whose door I opened that stopped all my snooping. It was such a small room with a bed that had been slept in the night before… you could tell. There were clothes spattered across that bed and over the floor… teen-aged boy's clothes. That must have been the naked violinist's bedroom. 

That room was private... none of my business… NONE! And finally, I realized… How dare I! That house was none of my business… NONE AT ALL! Who was really the creepy neighbor… who, indeed! At least the cat would never rat me out.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear."         ~  Buffalo Springfield

It was summer…  delicious summer… I could sleep in until 7AM, even 8, if I felt like it! School was out, and we were all moved into our first house. When people wanted to sell their house in Happy Hollow where we'd just moved, they didn't need to advertise it. Not at all. That neighborhood was so desirable that word of mouth would sell the house before a "For Sale" sign could be hammered into the front lawn. 

And now we lived there on 58th Street! It was an 80-year-old 2-story all-brick Tudor home, small but uniquely one-of-kind, as every house in Happy Hollow was. The driveway was long and curled down around the house to the garage that was half underground and half above ground. Figure that one out for yourself! On the first floor there was a tiny master bedroom, a large bathroom with an enormous claw-footed bathtub, a kitchen with stairs leading down to the basement, and a dining room with a paned glass door into the kitchen and another one into the living room. Both had the old glass door knobs.  I loved those door knobs in each and every room. And oh, that living room… 

When you entered our house, you were in an entry room surrounded by authentic diamond-paned windows. From there you walked into the living room. The shape of that living room had been copied from the floor plans of a shrunken Medieval catherdral. The "apse" was our brick fireplace. The "transcept" was a door to the patio that fronted our house. If you stood with your back to the fireplace and looked at the 2-story wall at the other end, you'd see a "leper window," just like all Medieval cathedrals had. Of course, in this "leper window," you wouldn't see a swathed leperous face staring down at the nave. Instead, the only thing you'd ever see were the feet of anyone who walked across the 2nd story hallway. That entire tiny living room was surrounded by windows, and they looked out on the biggest, best pine tree I've ever had. I should have named him, but I was young and new at life, and I never even thought to do it.

Now, besides the "leper window," the upstairs had a bedroom and a playroom with a bathroom inbetween them. That whole upstairs was only ever used when family came to visit. Today, the playroom would be my "studio." But this was then

Richard would leave the house for work every morning (5 1/2 days a week, mind you) in one of his perfectly tailored 3-piece suits, briefcase in hand, to catch the bus to work. That was the cue for our big Old English Sheepdog, Clancy, to give me the "It's time for my walk, Terry" look, and off we'd go.

Our house was better than any dream I'd ever had when I was a young girl. Now, the property next-door to us was a mass of wild trees, straggly bushes, and creeping ivies covering every bit of ground so that you couldn't really tell the front from the back. The large, curvy, white 1930's house looked like something that Norma Desmond would have lived in… you know… that old movie "Sunset Boulevard" with William Holden. I never saw a soul there, but it was built on a large, large half-circle lot. I wasn't thoughtful enough to name my pine tree, but I sure did have interesting ideas about who it was that owned that runned-down palacial property…

As soon as my head hits the pillow, I'm asleep… never had a problem with that in my life. But one night in our cozy little house as I lay dreaming, some discordant "music" started in my head… It was a violin, scratching… It wasn't music, at all. It was screetching, sawing, a seething noise, and I was awake, frozen and scared, but awake.

I tried to wake Richard, but he told me to go back to sleep, so I didn't.

I crept out of bed to the window, afraid to pull up the shade. What might be there so close to that window of ours? You know… curiosity, the cat… you know… I finally knelt on the floor, raised the shade an inch or two, and there he was, strolling along the sidewalk in front of our house with a violin under his chin and no clothes on… none at all… skin… bare, bare skin and a huge mop of black curly hair. That was it... the back of him, the entire back of him.  That's  what I saw as he strolled down the street past the other next-door neighbors' house. 

No lights went on over there, and none snapped on in our house, either. It was 3 o'clock in the morning, and the nude, wandering, would-be-violinist ambled past our window and kept going on to screetch to others.

I went back to bed, frozen, waiting for the stroller to wander back past our house to that weedy, palacial mystery of his own. And he did that very thing.

And no, Richard never woke up. And Clancy, all 88 pounds of Old English Sheepdog, never woke up, either. I was left alone to shiver all night at what we'd moved in next-door to.

On the other side of our little brick house there was another mystery, but it was a silent one. Every morning I'd wake up and fix breakfast. Every morning Richard would get up, eat breakfast, dress himself immaculately, grab his briefcase, and leave for work. Every morning Clancy would give me his most searching Old Engish Sheepdog look and off we'd go so he could hunker down and poop on top of the carefully clipped hedge of an unknown homeowner two blocks down the street. Clancy loved his stool! 

It wasn't until nearly noon, though, that the man who lived next-door on the OTHER side of us would emerge from his front door and jump into one of his many cars. He looked like Hollywood! No 3-piece suit. No briefcase. No hurrying. He'd just stroll out of his front door, rev up whatever car he'd decided to drive that day, and squeal off down the street wearing a relaxed pair of jeans and a colorful shirt. Who was this unmasked man, anyway? At least he didn't carry a violin with him...

"Richard! I think that guy next-door is a criminal!"

"A criminal, Terry? Why would you think that?"

"He never leaves his house before noon (I was exaggerating just a bit here), and he has soooo many cars! No regular guy could ever own that many classic cars. I think he's a con man or something… no, not a con man… He's a Mafia guy! That's it!"

"A Mafia guy, Terry! A MAFIA GUY??? Where do you think we live, in New York City? Get a grip! See you tonight after work."

"But everyone else on this block goes to work at a normal time, except HIM! There's something bad about that…" I whispered.

Time passed and the Mafioso next-door kept up his leisurely pace, and kept driving his band of cars at their revved-up 'get-away" pace. Silly Richard… he'd never lived Back East like I had, near NYC, near the "rackets." Richard was a corporate attorney, not a DISTRICT attorney!

And then one day I met the lady who lived with the Mafioso. She was nice, especially for a gangster's moll. Of course, I'd never knowingly met a "moll" before, but she sure didn't act like the "molls" I'd seen in the gangster movies. She had the most beautiful hair that she would wash and then just let dry into glorious black curls that surrounded her pretty face like an angel's hair would do.

I really liked Sheila, and we got to be friendly. In fact, we'd sit on her front porch that whole summer and talk about everything under the sun. It was a long time before I noticed the wedding ring on her left hand, though. Now the dilemma… If they were married, what do you call a gangster's WIFE? I guessed you'd call her his... w i f e…

It must have been a year or so later, by the time that we all became inseparable friends, that the truth came out. Sheila and Walt had been watching Richard leave our house every morning, nattily dressed with briefcase in hand. Over the weeks they had decided that their new neighbor MUST be a "hit-man" for the Mafia because they just knew that briefcase he carried every day had to be hiding a gun! That suit and his clean-cut image was the perfect disguise for a "hit-man!"

And what about the Mafia gangster Walt? He had is own successful advertising agency, and he could go to work whenever he wanted, dressed however he wanted, because his business was all his own. And he didn't need a gun to do it! Once he did dress up in a bear costume for a TV ad, though. His clients LOVED that ad! So did Richard and I!

Terry, get back to what you do best… Decide on a good name for that gorgeous pine tree.  Your detective skills are sorely lacking, my dear!

Oh, and by the way, Sheila reminded me, again, yesterday that she and Walt never heard the screetching of the naked wandering violinist from next-door on that frightening night… But he was there… really… he WAS!  Really, truly...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Writing is both masking and unveiling."  ~  E.B. White

I've got a pimple on my elbow! My ELBOW! WHO gets a pimple on her elbow?

Now, pimples on my FACE, I had! Every time I looked into a mirror, there they were.  All I saw on this face of mine were those alien bumps, sprouting everywhere on my face. They were all I didn't ever see on anybody else, it seemed. Why me???

And they didn't go away even when I wasn't a teenager anymore. They kept busy like popcorn in the popper. Oh, eventually they would go away, one by one, but they'd leave pits in my skin as remembrances, and then there'd be more popping up. … never-ending… always there…  I had dates with some wonderful guys in high school and college, and they didn't seem to notice. Didn't matter, though. I saw every one of those nightmare bumps and their going-away gifts - perfect pits.

Now, when you study art, you study light, too. You must know where the light source is coming from to understand shadows and highlights when you draw or paint. For me, there was another reason to study light, and I still do it today. It's a fact that very few people look good sitting directly underneath an over-head light bulb. It creates strange shadows on every face under it. It also highlights things that shouldn't be in the spotlight. So, I've always checked the ceiling light fixtures before I sit down, wherever I sit down. Still do. Soft, quiet light, like moonlight, is best for hiding a pitted face, but for me sun light, or any other overhead light, is taboo!

Terry! You sound like an egomaniac! Maybe so, but I'm also telling the low-down, utter truth, as I've lived it.

Cosmetics are the answer, Terry, you twit! Maybe so, but cosmetics don't help when you're afraid to walk up to the cosmetic counter, itself, where those ladies with perfect skin are going to look closely at YOUR skin and try to match your skin color with some foundation they are selling. I think that's called a "double-bind," or something like that.

After years and years of living with that selfish fear, and even after getting married to a wonderful husband, I still tried to hide my face as best I could. But one day, somehow, someway, I realized that there are doctors who can "sand-paper" your face so the pits aren't so deep. Well, off I went to the office of a plastic surgeon who was recommended by my G.P.

I sat down in the darkest corner of the waiting room, after carefully studying the lay of the ceiling lights system, dreading the relentless eyes of a trained skin examiner. I nearly walked out of the office many times during that 30-minute wait for my examination.

The doctor was professional, curtly pleasant, with a discerning eye. He said, "This is going to be fun! Now, you can't expect a clear, smooth skin with what you're bringing me! I CAN smooth it somewhat, though. Boy, you have a face-full!" It was hard to believe he could say that to me, or even see me. You see, by this time I was crouched underneath the examining chair in his office!

"Your head will be fully bandaged for a week, of course."

"Ask the nurse for an appointment time. Now, don't expect a miracle, for heaven's sakes!" And off I went, expecting no miralces, and not much help, either.

The day came, finally. I was "sanded" and it was finally finished. My entire head was encased in bandages that wrapped around my head, up and over my head, and under my chin, too. It looked like he'd had to do a labotomy, not just a carpenter's sanding job.

Then the day came for the "unveiling." He unwrapped me, and my face was as red as a roasted beet! "I want you to come back in 4 days so I can see the healing."


That day came. I slithered into the office, looking for the least light, but there was a brilliant flourescent tube on the ceiling with the only chair left in the waiting room underneath it. I sat my red-face down right under it. As I sneaked peeks at the others in the waiting room, I saw her…

She was younger than I was, still a teen-ager. Her skin was white, absolutely white like the sheet of paper I'm writing on right now! That thin white skin on her face was transparent, so thin that I could see the pattern of her blood veins, clearly blue, like a map all over that face. I looked at her hands. Her fingers had melted away so each one had only one knuckle left. These half-fingers tapered to soft curved points.

But it was the smoothness of her hands that I couldn't understand, either. The skin of each knuckle was stretched so tightly that none of her knuckles had wrinkles. It looked like those fingers might not even bend.

"Mrs. Waldron! Mrs. Waldron, the doctor is ready for you," said the nurse at the admittance door.

When I sat down and the doctor took a look at his handy-work, I got the courage up to ask him, "Doctor, I know you can't talk about your other patients, but that teen-aged girl in the waiting room… What happened to her?"

"She was lighting some fireworks in her hands, cherry bombs I think, and they all went off at once. She's had 11 surgeries, so far. It takes a while to get all that scar tissue off. Now let's look at you…"

ME? Yeah, me, and all my self-pity and the rest of it. That poor young girl, you mean!

And I'm ashamed to admit that it took me many more years to understand that the best thing your face can have on it is a smile… a REAL smile… a genuine smile that has no guile.

A simple upturn of your lips does not a smile make. That's called a sneer, and I've seen lots of those. What good are they? You can see right through them. In fact, have you ever seen a chimpanzee "smile?" They turn back their lips until their teeth all show and they "smile." It's a sign of fear and nervousness. I see more of those "chimpanzee smiles" today than ever the real deal.

I've learned one thing about real smiles. They start in the very heart of you, and then shine out through your eyes… that is IF they are REAL. Finally, they might spill out onto your mouth, but they don't have to. Those smiling eyes have already let the world know what you're feeling inside, you see.

And guess what? I make friends with cosmetic-counter ladies, now. They don't scream and run away when they see me. In fact, they are sooo happy to see another customer ready to buy their new mineral powder, guaranteed to hide all skin flaws.  And I just smile right back at 'em!

Friday, September 19, 2014

"With the pride of an artist, you must blow against the walls of every power that exists, the small trumpet of your defiance."  ~ Norman Mailer

I HATE coloring books! HATE them! 

I learned to HATE them when I was in 2nd grade in San Antonio, Texas. Now, don't think we lived in the San Antonio of today with its River Walk and its elegant homes… NO! We lived in the dry, dusty, old-time San Antonio with "talking" wind and dust in your eyes and the little bitty Alamo in the middle of town. We lived there because my Dad was an instructor in the Air Force back then, and the city had not gone through its metamorphosis, yet.

I'd loved coloring books up until then. And I especially LOVED it when Mom would buy me a new box of crayons every so often. The first time she bought me that 3-tiered box of 64 crayons was the day I nearly swooned! It wasn't just the colors, themselves, either. Their names were exotic, too. I took a piece of paper and scribbled every color on that page just to see them altogether in riot-mode.

In the house next-door there lived a girl with a coloring book. I still can see her naturally-curly blonde hair that fluffed her head… maybe addled her brain inside, too… don't know, for sure. We met, we talked, like little girls do, and then she asked me to come over to her front porch and "color" with her. I started to trot over to her house, but she yelled out, "Let me see YOUR coloring book first!"

I LOVED coloring, and I was happy to show it off to my new friend. I raced into the house, found my coloring book, and raced over to her porch. She snatched it out of my hands, and, beginning with the first page, she examined each colored design like a detective looking for clues. Mothers and teachers were the only people I'd ever seen do that in my whole life… never another kid!

After she studied the last page, she looked at me and said, "I guess it's OK if you color in MY book. BUT, YOU HAVE TO OUTLINE EVERYTHING ON THE PAGE FIRST! THEN YOU CAN COLOR IT IN! BUT YOU HAVE TO COLOR IT IN LIGHTLY, SO THE LINE IS THE DARKEST PART!" 

That settled it! I feared for my life! I would do exactly as I was told for the very honor of coloring in that sacred book of hers. Especially after she said, "You're the only one on this whole block I'm letting color in this book, Terry!" (She was a year older than I was, and she talked in that elevated fashion… or was it my fear of her that made me think she did? Shhhhh, don't talk loudly… She doesn't like others to talk loudly! She 's the only one who can do that. And remember, coloring book lines are sacred to her!)

"TERRY! What are you DOING?"

"I'm coloring a giraffe."

"You're using a PURPLE crayon! Everyone knows that giraffes are brown and yellow, NOT PURPLE!"

Purple is pretty, I thought… "OK," I said, and grabbed the stupid mud-brown crayon, carefully coloring INSIDE the poopy brown lines I'd drawn.

That was summer in San Antonio, Texas for me, until one day when a new girl moved in across the street. She was even more timid than I was, and she was shorter, too. She was nice, and I liked that. It was a wonderful change from my next-door "friend."

"Do you like to color?" I asked her.


"Well, come next-door with me. That girl has a coloring book and colors… Come on and color with us," I said to the short, nameless little girl.

"OK," and she did.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING!" That wasn't a question. It was a royal oral beating from the Queen of Coloring Book Land.

"I'm coloring…" said the new kid.


"But I'm not finished coloring the grass…"

"I said, 'Let's turn the page. NOW!'"

I didn't cry. But I didn't obey. I guess I just crouched there, looking at her more clearly, as we sat on that summer-hot cement porch in San Antonio, Texas.

Then I stood up, and I walked back over to my house. The little girl followed me, but I guess when the door slammed in her face, she didn't know what to do, so she just cried there on my porch.

I was back within a minute or two, MY coloring book in hand, and a box of crayons, too. No, not what you think… The crayon box I brought out to the porch had 16 colors in it. I wasn't going to let anyone else touch my 64 glorious colors, not even a crying little new friend! I was no angel, just ask my little brother!

We laid down on that porch and spread open two pages full of animals. We picked any color that wasn't the "right" color, and we scribbled and laughed and made a mess of all the animals, not staying in any lines for love nor money! And we made polka-dotted lions and striped bears and tangerine horses with green manes and tails made up of 16 different-colored hairs! It had been a long time that summer since I'd had that much fun.

Later, much later… so much later that I'd been through art classes at the university and graduated, taught high school art for 11 years, and moved with my husband to California. I'd substitute-taught for 6 months, and I was applying for a permanent teaching position at a junior high school near our house. The interview was going pretty well, and I was trying to be genteel, while answering his questions truthfully. I wanted that job. 

"Now, Mrs. Waldron… your credentials are in order. You've taught before… good. We're looking for an art teacher to replace the one who's leaving, as we said. But we need someone who can keep the kids' hands busy, busy, busy… you know… like coloring books… stuff like tha-"

"Coloring books? COLORING BOOKS! Keep their hands busy? KEEP THEIR HANDS BUSY!!! Mr. I-Forget-Your-Name! Art is NOT "keeping their hands busy"!!! Art is decision-making at its highest level! When you face an empty page, you have to make your first and most crucial decision. That first decision informs your second decision, and that second one then informs the next one, and that one the NEXT o… 

"OK, OK, Mrs. Waldron!!! You've GOT the job! Go to the District Office and sign the papers today. But will you PLEASE STOP POUNDING ON MY DESK?"