When I was a little girl, I couldn’t draw worth beans. I colored pictures like nobody’s business, but my luck at real art was, well, really, really horrid. You know that poem about the little girl with the curl. For sure, that was me. When I was good, I was really, really good: making up stories, playing my flute, getting good grades, and playing with Little Kids. I loved those things. Just like that little girl with the curl, when I was bad, I was horrid: drawing, painting, making things out of clay. Oh my. The worst part was, I really, really wanted to do those things. And I made such a mess whenever I tried.
I was super-good at stories. When I was a really little girl, I even got one published in the Wide Awake Club. Here is what I wrote:
Once there were three little children who didn’t have a mother or a father, they were orphans.
The didn’t know where the orphan home was. The decided to pack their clothes and try to find the orphanage.
As they were going along, all of a sudden they met a big black thing. They didn’t know what it was and they were real scared.
They began to run and run. Soon they saw a big gate and thought that must be the orphanage.
They climbed the gate and on the other side they found a mother and father, and they lived happily ever after.
Okay, Mom wrote the words down in the squiggly writing she learned when she went to secretary school, so she could write as fast as any boss could talk, but I made the story up; all by myself. Mom didn’t change a word. I know, ’cause first I said “they went like this,” and made climbing motions with my hands, then I said, “No, ‘they climbed the gate'”, ’cause when you read a story, you have to see it in your head, you can’t see hand motions. I had to get the story out in a way other kids could see it.
Mom said, “Just a minute,” and she erased what she wrote and put down new squiggles. I liked that she let the whole thing be mine, letting me make my own corrections; not like Betty’s mom who stopped Betty from making her own peanut butter sandwich because when she tried the bread ripped and jelly stuck up the table.
I tried to make a picture for Wide Awake Club. I had to use India Ink. That was horrible. India Ink seeped into the paper, and nothing came out on the paper the way it looked in my head. The picture of me and Deanna and Bonita playing hopscotch on the sidewalk leading out to the clothesline, turned out like Frosty the Snowman, only all black, and with black blobs for hands; even then it took a lots of imagination to see anything except a mess. I had ink all over the table and on me. I cried until I hiccoughed big sobs that kept coming, even when I tried to stop. I think India Ink tears might have come out of my head, ’cause my face got all smeared with ink, and the smell was stuck up inside my nose, right next to my brain. Anyways, I never did see that bottle of ink again. Every Sunday, I looked at the drawings in Wide Awake Club, and wished I could do that.
One year, the main thing I wanted from Santa was Presto Paints. For sure I could be an artist with those. I had lots of things on my list, but I had to focus on one main thing, ’cause Santa never brought me everything on my list. That was impossible. For one thing, there wasn’t enough room in his sleigh, and for another thing, I was never that good. Like I said, I was sorta like that little girl with the curl.
Some kind of weird thing happened that Christmas. The Presto Paints came, but Bonita’s name was on them. The six-shooter, Bonita asked for had Deanna’s name on it. Deanna got something Vickie asked for, and Vickie got a Tonka Dump Truck. And poor Loren Dee-Dee-Bopper got knee-socks that wouldn’t fit him for years. He was just a baby, who barely knew how to walk, so he never even noticed; he just played with Vickie’s Tonka Truck. Santa’s list got all mixed up somehow, anyways, that’s what Mom said, when Bonita’s big brown cow-eyes got all brimming over with tears, and Deanna’s rose-bud lips turned down in a frown. I cried about a lot of things, but that day, I forgot to be sad, ’cause it was a mystery how Santa could have made a mistake with the Presto Paints. I was really clear about that: in my letter and on his lap, and talking out-loud about it to everyone, just in case anybody wanted to put a good word in for me. Teacher knew I wanted Presto Paints. Even Jesus knew, ’cause after prayers, I asked him to bless everyone, and I asked him to make sure Santa remembered the Presto Paints. Besides, Bonita never even liked to color all that much.
I figured out what went wrong, ’causes I was good at puzzles – very, very good. Mom and Dad went over to Mr. and Mrs. B’s Christmas Eve. Mr. B worked for Ma Bell, just like Dad and Mrs. B stayed home and made sure everything ran like clock-work, just like Mom. Only Mrs. B had two kids, so she had lots of free time on her hands, for planning parties and making cocktails. My mom was way too busy with diapers and cooking and sewing, and teaching kids prayers, and listening to times tables and spelling words, and even writing stories down for kids with her squiggly secretary writing that no one but she could understand. She never planned parties or made cocktails.
I heard Mom giggling and whispering when she and Dad came home. I always slept with my ears open on Christmas Eve. Dad said stuff to Mom in his down-low voice that felt just like a hug with words. All that giggling and down-low talking usually made me feel super good inside, but it was way past bedtime, even past The Tonight Show, when those two got home from Mr. and Mrs. B’s. Santa was on his way, and if those two didn’t get to bed, and go to sleep, he might just pass us by.
Santa must’ve got in too much of a hurry, and made a bunch of mistakes when he dropped things off. Mom said hurrying always led to mistakes. She was all the time telling me to take my time with stuff and to be patient, especially with myself. Mom should have stayed home and skipped the party and cocktails, then Santa would’ve had more time to get it right. She laughed out loud when I told Mom I got it all figured out. Dad rubbed the back of his neck and one of his smiles slid up one side of his face and across his eyes. He looked down at me and said I was a pretty smart little girl, which he said before, so I already knew. Still, I never got tired of hearing that one. Mom just nodded and rubbed her fingers into the sides of her face.
Bonita had about as much use for Presto Paints as Deanna did for a six-shooter. We didn’t exactly trade gifts, ’cause Santa knows what kids want, even if the kids get confused about it. Still, Bonita let me use the Presto Paints anytime I wanted, without even asking. That’s for sure part of why Bonita always was my best-friend-sister. I was right, I got be pretty good at Presto Painting and my face and clothes stayed clean as a whistle. Plus, Presto Paints smelled good, not at all like India Ink.
I never did get good at painting. I did learn to be patient and trust that most of the time I still get exactly what I need. Even when I’m too foolish to ask for it; even when I fail to realize I already have everything I really need: Gentle advice, a slow smile, some low-down talk to match my giggle, and trust that I really do know what I’m doing. Even if I am still a lot like that little girl with the curl.