Watercolors

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Click the pic for the original challenge. Written for Ermilia’s Picture It & Write.

I was literally the last girl in my high school allowed to wear makeup. Mama didn’t campaign for my right to self-beautification until I was nearly fifteen. Even that battle was really a diversion. I capitulated when Daddy agreed to let me pierce my ears, and the battle was forfeit, at least temporarily, for the greater cause of the war. Until that time, makeup was an abstraction I mostly doodled in my diary.

Makeup and me is really another story. This is about one of the things Mama argued that night that stuck with me long after Sir Lanced-a-lot did my ears a couple of months later. Daddy still calls makeup whore paint to this day, but the argument Mama gave him to chew on along with his overcooked roast, was that a woman makes herself pretty from instinct, not from some desire to attract boys. The fact that boys like him were attracted to it was incidental. Daddy just grunted and chewed, but her argument gave me pause for one of my rare moments of teenage reflection.

Nature or nurture?

Back before we moved to Great Falls, I was enrolled in a preschool. My teacher, Miss Lacey, knew my family. She was the first woman besides Nana I remember giving me a real hug. Miss Lacey called me Florence in front of the other kids, though it was a few years before I figured out why. Looking back, it’s probably good I didn’t understand the unfairness of how much extra attention she gave me, but at the same time, it’s probably why Nana paid to enroll me there.

Next to Miss Lacey, there wasn’t much I remembered about preschool – milk and cookies, Robert peeking at my underwear at nap time, kids who’d rather poop their pants than tell Miss Lacey they had to go, and some giant plastic building blocks William liked to hit everyone over the head with. But I remember the first time Miss Lacey gave us fingerpaints. I’ve explained my travails with Daddy, so it bears no mention I’d never played with paints, or crayons, or anything else that would likely subject me to fantasies. Miss Lacey was well aware, but she insisted I paint too, and it would be our little secret.

The paints were an explosion of red, yellow and blue delight squeezed from little tubes. What my four-year-old vocabulary would have dubbed such a thing, I don’t know, but I remember thinking the bright yellow was like liquid sunshine in a little dimpled dish. The sun, to my thinking, was a giant eye. I imagined it hiding behind a giant magnifying glass trying to burn us all the way Carla’s brother showed us to burn ants… But anyway, it was an eye, and that gave me an idea.

Miss Lacey showed us how to mix the colors, thin them with water, clean our fingers between colors without wiping them on our clothes. Then she gave us paper and set us free to create. I listened with swelling pride to her comments as she stopped by each painting in turn, asking each artist about their inspiration, praising each child’s efforts. The other kids all said things like, house, and bird, and mommy. The most inventive thing anyone said was, “That’s you, Miss Lacey!” It was nearly time to put the paints away when she finally realized with some excitement that I was missing.

“Oh my God! Where’s Florence? Has anyone seen Florence?”

My heart raced with adrenaline as I was suddenly sure I was in trouble.

“She’s in the bafroom,” said Robert. Underwear-peeping rat fink.

Miss Lacey flung the bathroom door open and surveyed the scene. I had climbed up onto the bathroom sink to get in front of the mirror. My paper had been abandoned in favor of a more interesting canvas, and I had carefully painted all around one of my eyes with the watercolors.

“Florence, what on Earth are you doing?” It was probably obvious I was nearly in tears, as she quickly corrected, ” I mean what are you painting, sweetheart?”

“It’s posta be God,” I remember saying a little shakily, mad that it suddenly sounded just as boring as everyone else.

Miss Lacey gave my artwork a wrinkled expression. “Why is God crying?” she finally asked.

I looked at myself in the mirror, puzzled. I’d never seen anyone’s mascara run from crying so I had no idea what she meant. “He’s not crying,” I said, shaking my head. “He’s shining frough the window.”

“The window?”

“The one in the sky,” I nodded. “Nana says eyes are windows to the soul.”

Miss Lacey gave it a moment of thought. “Sunshine,” she said at last, sounding somewhat bewildered. “What are all the little colored dots?”

“People!” I said, pointing proudly to my reflection, unaware that she couldn’t tell what I was pointing at. “The red ones are on fire, cuz he burned ’em wif his mag’ifyin’ glass.”

Miss Lacey stood quietly for a while to admire God’s soul with me. Eventually, she took a picture of me, and then made me wash my face so the other kids wouldn’t get any ideas. She kept her promise, and so my parents never found out about our little secret.

Nature or nurture? I’ll leave that up to you. Answers are just places where great questions go to die. But sitting years later, listening to Mama’s argument at the supper table, two things were for certain. One, at age four, I’d had an instinct to paint my face. Two, it had nothing to do with attracting boys.

As I said, I capitulated.

© 2013 Anne Schilde

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About Anne Schilde

Image "Webster's Kiss" © 2011 Anne Schilde Thanks always for reading! ♥
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37 Responses to Watercolors

  1. AR Neal says:

    Great take on this piece, Anne!

  2. joetwo says:

    That is amazing! Preschool teachers are always the best of the bunch.

  3. A child’s heart combined with imagination is a wondrous thing. This story is so sweet with a lesson as well

  4. Beautiful story 😀

  5. cshowers says:

    Anne,

    What a beautiful story. I used to have a home daycare, as well as teaching Sunday School, and your story written from a child’s expression was spot on. It reminds me of when I was a child around three or four years old, and I convinced my cousin, Mike, who was the same age as I, to go to the bathroom with me so we could play beauty shop. In the early sixties, no one thought about child-proofing anything, so I climbed up onto the toilet and leaned over the sink, and, opening the medicine cabinet, I grabbed a tube of what I thought was shampoo. It turned out to be something they called “airplane glue”, and it was thick and black and gooey and sticky. Mike climbed up on the little stepping stool that was in the bathroom so that he and I were able to reach the faucet and wash our hands, and I began to “shampoo” his hair with the airplane glue, and then, he “shampooed” my towhead. We were having a lot of fun until my grandmother and his mom saw us.

    My aunt washed my hair, and my grandmother washed Mike’s hair, and suddenly, what had started out as a fun time became very painful, and scary, as they washed and washed and washed and… well, you get the picture. I think they even poured kerosene in our hair in an effort to remove the black glue from our hair. And then, when the glue was finally removed, they had to comb our hair. I don’t think my hair has ever been that tangled and matted, before or since that day. I can tell you one thing though… it was a long time before I played beauty shop again, and when I finally did, I used pretend water and shampoo, and real scissors, but that’s another story.

    Lol – Anyway, your story was very good and it stirred up good memories in me.

    God bless you,
    Cheryl

  6. Glynis says:

    This was an amazing wonderful story! The innocent of youth through the voice of the emerging young adult. You weaved them wonderfully. Nicely written.

    • Anne Schilde says:

      Thanks! I’m so glad you think so. I wish I could really remember things I said as a little girl. I always took everything super seriously.

      • Glynis says:

        Well, you captured the voice of your inner child wonderfully.

      • Anne Schilde says:

        It’s very rewarding to hear that. I really try hard to be an actress more than a writer, throwing myself into the setting and then interacting with it. It’s turned into some cute stories… stealing the neighbor’s peaches, feeding my breakfast to the dog, etc.

      • Glynis says:

        Wonderful!
        Each have a way to bring forth the best of the other it seems, within you. 🙂

  7. I really liked what you got out of this piece! “Nature or nurture? I’ll leave that up to you. Answers are just places where great questions go to die,” great line. I especially enjoy your introspective pieces 🙂

  8. II says:

    Aww cute little tale!

  9. So the child’s nature was artistic even at that early age –and so creative that she used her cheeks instead of canvas. That would get into MOMA’s – a human painting.

    Now as I write this. it reminds me a little bit of Duane Hanson’s work – but that was creating actual figures of people who looked quite real – not the painting of real people people as an art form.

    Fun, nice, little piece. Randy

    • Anne Schilde says:

      Haha! Thanks, Randy. When Jessi and I are wandering the exhibit hall at the Madison County Fair in Cotton Candy, I make the comment that I had better fingerpainting accidents than one of the art pieces we saw. Nothing I ever do will get into the MoMA though.

  10. Anna says:

    This is so wonderful, it’s really given me a different perspective on what making my face up means- and while I’m sat here all snotty and gross, it means a great deal. Also I absolutely love ‘What my four-year-old vocabulary would have dubbed such a thing, I don’t know’… sometimes words just aren’t enough ❤

  11. Nicholiovich says:

    I don’t know about nature or nurture but what I do know is that Miss Lacey is the bomb!

  12. Nanda says:

    I know I’m more than late but I’m glad I chose this one to start! I think it was because I just love watercolor paints. Anyway, I love the word self-beautification. Cause we do it for ourselves, not others. And that’s why I love the mom here – she’s so right! 🙂

    I don’t know if I believe in god either, but made me laugh the idea a kid could think about him as having a magnifying glass to burn us down, haha

    xx

    • Anne Schilde says:

      I love taking the moment to be the little kid and come up with this stuff. I don’t ever intend to suggest what people should or shouldn’t believe, even about Annie’s mom, but us scurrying around like ants with the sun trying to burn us is a pretty funny image to me. 🙂

  13. nightlake says:

    Intriguing. My favourite of your stories so far. lovely and well written. An encouraging pre-school teacher shapes a child’s life and helps him/her mature into a confident human being.

    • Anne Schilde says:

      I’m glad you liked it! It wasn’t one of my favorites, but sometimes they take a while to grow on me. The most important role models in my life were teachers! ♥

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