Sometimes a Picture is Just a Picture


I loved to draw and color and play with clay, but I could never get the media to do what I wanted it to do.  When I was a little girl, Mom thought I might like a paint by number set; perhaps she thought some guidance would help me get the hang of things. That was a disaster.  Still, Janet, a daughter of one of Dad’s army buddies, did teach me a thing or two about drawing and I passed what I learned on to my little sister Vickie.

Shirley and Bob adopted Janet from Germany.  They adopted her brother, too, whose name I don’t remember, so I’ll just call him Gordon.  Dad and Mom knew Shirley and Bob from way back when they were alive, before they all got married.  I could call them by their first name with no Mrs., or Aunt tacked on or anything.  God forgot to give them babies of their own, so they adopted some from Germany.  That was Janet and Gordon.  Bob went to work every day in Sunday clothes.  Shirley smelled like lily of the valley; she was tall and so skinny her hip bones stuck out of her skirt like giant elbows.  She was a mother, same as every woman I knew, except teachers, who lived at the school and had enough of kids all day long, so were happy not having any of their own.

Janet was super-good at drawing things.  She showed me her lesson book that she got in the mail every month, same as I got books from the Weekly Reader Summer Reading program.  Janet said she could share her lessons with me next time I came over.  My mom learned everything from books, so I gave it a whirl, too. I learned how to draw a tree with branches and bark from Janet’s book.  I never did learn how to put the leaves on, though, ’cause that lesson came the next month, and by the time I saw Janet, she and I forgot all about the art lessons she promised me.  Anyways, I just drew bare-naked trees with terrific branches and bark, so all my pictures were either fall or winter pictures.  I knew how to draw a big pile of leaves on the ground, and anybody can draw snow:  You just have to color the ground white, or even leave that part blank.  Janet had a box of special charcoal pencils, which worked way better than the Number 2 pencils I had, but Number 2 was good enough for me, ’cause those charcoal pencils smudged around on the page, and on the heel of my hand and before I knew it, black smudges were on my face and blouse, and it seemed like they even got in my nose hairs so I smelled charcoal all day long, which was kinda a good smell and dirty smelling all at the same time.

I learned a bit about drawing people at school.  Teacher told me people’s eyes are about 1/3 the way down their face, and ears are about level with eyes, and elbows reach the waist, and hands are the same size as the face.  I got the face down alright, and the arms the right length, and I got the hand the right size, but I never did figure out how to get the fingers right.  Just like with the tree leaves, I figured out how to fix my picture so nobody knew about my drawing handicap:  I either made closed fists on the people I drew, or I put their hands behind their back.

Vickie was the littlest of the big kids, and she sorta looked up to me, even though lots of times she did stuff just as well as me.  Vickie had gigantic blue eyes that always looked like she was asking a question and lips that pouted out in a nice way; plus she had hair just like a guardian angel’s, all wispy and white. When Vickie was sad her face got all still and  her eyes filled up with tears, just sitting there like a little lake, until her eyelashes pushed them over the edge and the tears ran down her face in little rivers.  That face was just about impossible to say no to.  My face got all squinchy-pruney when I cried, which made people laugh and take pictures.

Vickie got interested in drawing ’cause she liked me and wanted to do stuff I did.   I taught her how to draw trees and people, the same way I learned how.  Vickie had a hard time with hands, just like me, so I taught her how to draw fists and hide hands behind the people’s backs, and I taught her how to draw leaves on the ground.  I liked teaching stuff to Vickie.  I already knew I was a pretty smart little girl; still, the way Vickie looked at me when I was showing her stuff I knew made me feel super-extra special.

That's Vickie on the far left with my brother Loren in the middle.

Vickie was sorta late getting started talking and never did like to talk all that much, so she was kinda quiet in school; not like me.  I was always getting “talks to much” in Citizenship.  Sometimes it’s just about impossible to please a  teacher:   Vickie’s teacher said she had low self-esteem, because she hardly ever raised her hand and because of her drawings.

“Look at these picture,” Vickie’s teacher said to Mom.  “Every one of them has the hands behind the back.”

Mom just sat there listening because she thought all her kids were wonderful, so this was a new one on her.  I wasn’t there, of course, but I heard all about it when she told Dad.

“Perhaps you should consider counseling.”  Teacher said to Mom. and I bet Mom’s eyes went wide and her lips pressed together in her figuring-it-out look.

Sure enough Mom set about getting to the bottom of what was really going on.  Mom was smart enough to ask questions.

“Vickie, why do you always draw people with their hands behind their back?” Mom asked.

“I can’t draw hands.” Vickie said, and her big blue eyes looked right into Mom’s brown eyes, just like inside Vickie was saying any dodo bird knows that’s how you do it.

I heard Mom tell Dad that Vickie was smart like a fox.  I figured Vickie was pretty darned smart, ’cause only the fox knew how to catch the runaway gingerbread boy.

To this day, I can get blinded by looking at things through the lens of what I know.  It seems so simple, to ask questions, to challenge what is familiar, to step outside myself and imagine what is going on for someone else.  Still, life is more interesting, albeit challenging, to recognize that there’s always more to learn.

14 thoughts on “Sometimes a Picture is Just a Picture

  1. I was on the phone with my mother when I got an e-mail notification of your new post. I read it outloud to her, and she laughed until she cried…Isn’t funny how complicated people try to make things? Here Vicky was only doing what you showed her because she didn’t know how to draw hands, and they tried to make something out of it…

  2. Pingback: Once A Little Girl

  3. Pingback: Friends and Work and Work Friends « Once A Little Girl

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