I was working on a list of things I’ve never done or experienced: seeing the movie “Avatar,” or being stung by a bee, or breaking a bone. I was about to write that I’d never made a piece of art that was appreciated by anyone other than my parents, but as I wrote it out, it occurred to me that it wasn’t true. Allow me to tell you the story.
For a few years during my extreme youth, I lived in the northeast suburbs of Columbus. Not long ago, I found myself in the area, and decided to have a walk (or drive) down memory lane. I found my house, still in rather good shape forty years later, and the tree we’d planted in the front yard one arbor day had made respectable progress skyward. I found most of my old friends’ houses, and the place where I went to Cub Scout meetings. Locating my old school was a bit more difficult, because I didn’t know the address, and could only go by my ancient memories of walking there, day in and day out. But in due course, I found it, and I selected the most unobtrusive parking spot I could find (one does not wish to appear to be child molester, does one?) outside the side door. Inside and to the left, if things hadn’t changed, was the gym. Straight back was the “pod,” a big open classroom space that was popular at the time. To the right was the activity room, the nursing station, the library, and the office. And, of course, the big display case, where the students’ artistic wares were shown to the world. This was what I was interested in.
We didn’t have an art room. Art classes were in the activity room, which also served as the music room, meeting room for the teachers, and the cafeteria. Like most things, I wasn’t any damn good at art, but unlike my other areas of shortcoming, I don’t remember anyone making fun of me because of it. Perhaps that was because our art teacher, Mrs. Aldis, was so sweet. We all loved her, and we all wanted to please her, but I alone was certain I would marry her someday. No matter if we were working with clay, or watercolors, or wood blocks, or those sheets of copper that you scratched stuff on, she always had the highest praise for me, and for all of us. But I was sure she liked me best.
One day, she brought in some paraffin so we could pour candles. Of course, she did all the real work, but we each still claimed credit for our creations. Each of us was to bring in a glass jar to use for our candle container. I waited until the last minute, and all mom had available were my brother’s baby food jars, so I was experiencing severe container envy.
My turn with the wax came. Mrs. Aldis said, “Pick your color!” I said, “I’m not sure…blue maybe.” So she started pouring the blue, and I said, “Wait, no I don’t like that. Can I have yellow instead?”
She frowned just a bit and said, ”Well, I think the wax will stick to the sides if we try to pour it out. But, if we wait a few minutes, we could pour the yellow on top of the blue, and you’d have both! Wouldn’t that be great!”
Her enthusiasm was contagious. I happily waited for the yellow to come around, and as she poured the first splash, I said, “Stop! Let’s go green next!”
“Aha!” she laughed, “Just like a layer cake! I like the way you think!” I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life, at least up to that point. By the end of the class, I had eight color layers in that tiny jar. ”Brilliant,” she said, holding up so the class could see. Then, she turned back to me and said, “You know, I think this belongs in the display case. Is that okay with you?”
Was it okay with me???? It was the crowning achievement of my young life! From then on, I couldn’t pass by the spot without stopping and admiring my work. This canceled out the fact that I couldn’t throw any kind of ball, or do a flip on the trampoline. I mattered! Here was irrefutable proof!
At the end of the school year, I didn’t realize I would be going up to the Middle School the next year, so I never asked for the candle back, so there it stayed. I thought of it often, thought. But that was forty years ago. Mrs. Aldis had to be long gone, retired, maybe even dead (most of my old teachers are). All the art in that case had long since been cleared away, of course, and put on a storage shelf someplace, or probably thrown out. There was no reason, none at all, for me to believe that my little candle could still be there after all this time. Still, I sat in the car, fighting the urge to go in that door and look. When school let out for the day, I thought it unwise to hang around. But I thought about that candle, and that wonderful time, all the way home.
Maybe I should write them a letter.
*** Copyright 2017 by Mud Toe Sasquatch – all rights reserved