Rosalie’s House

I was sitting with Rosalie the other day.  She was coughing with this cold that has made its rounds to everyone, it seems.  She was perky, though, up for passing the time together.  We made some small talk.  News.  Weather.  Recent dreams.  While we talked, I kept hearing a squeaky noise.  It came right from her chair, which she was sitting in, legs raised, looking pretty comfortable.  Una was on the couch, nearby.

“Do you hear that, Una?”

“Yes, earlier today I heard that squeak and I wondered, ‘What is that sound?’”

I thought it must be Rosalie, but it couldn’t be.  It was too loud.  That would mean she was really sick!  Rosalie is 98, so we keep a close eye on her.

I got up from the rocking chair I had been sitting in and sidled up to her big auto-recliner.  I leaned over her, bending my head into her chest area.  She had on her holey, old, green sweater.  A new, lavender shawl was draped over her shoulders.  A beige, heavy-weave wool lap-blanket was spread over her abdomen and legs.  I moved in slowly, bending at the waist, listening. Closer and closer I drew my hearing toward her, until my left ear was a mere few inches above her chest, and I stayed there.

“What are you doing!” she burst out. “You’re invading my space!”

I pulled back.  She had a grin across her face and sparkles in her eyes.

I leaned in again. “Be quiet, Mom.  I’m listening.”

“Listening to what?!”


I didn’t want to ask her if she was wheezing.  She probably couldn’t hear it inside of herself, anyway, especially with hearing aids confusing everything.

Then, I heard the squeak, again.  It sounded like metal rubbing on metal.  It seemed to come from two places at the same time, right in and about her chair.

“SHH!!!” I kept my position, bent over Rosalie.  I watched the cat eyeing her lap.  It wanted up and I was in the way.  “The cat wants to take a nap in your lap, Mom.”

“It always does,” she sighed, and spontaneously she took a deep breath.  Una and I  looked at each other.  We both heard the squeak, loud and clear.  It came from Rosalie’s lungs. No doubt about it.

“Mom, you sound like the Tin Man in the Land of OZ.”  Rosalie gave me a look like she enjoyed how  ridiculous I was.  “You’re squeaking, right inside your chest!”

“Oh, MY! Where’s my oil can!” (Truth be told, we had just watched the Wizard of Oz a couple of days before.)

“And you over there, you’re like Cowardly Lion.”  I have no explanation for having said that to Una, but it seemed to be inclusive.  Una has been Rosalie’s caregiver for a good length of time. “That makes me the Scare Crow,” I continued.  “You know, the one without a brain!”

Rosalie was really laughing now, more laughter than squeaks.  We were having fun.  A good test of health.  We couldn’t control or predict the squeaks, and Rosalie did not seem distressed, so for the time being, as long as we were all enjoying ourselves, we just kept on it.  We decided to give my son, Paul, a call, just to do something, and share our good mood with him.  He answered immediately.  We put him on speaker so Rosalie and I could both talk.  He was driving home from his work at the base in Fayetteville, N.C.  “It’s a good time to share a conversation,” he assured us, and that he’d pay attention to his driving.

It may be that the nature of a good sharing is that it turns into something bigger.  It did on this day.  It just grew.  While Rosalie and I talked with Paul about his snowy trip to West Virginia, my sister Sylvia called from Colville, Washington.  So we merged the calls.  “Hi, Mom,” she sang out to Rosalie.  Sylvia was surprised that Paul was on the phone, too, but was immediately  excited to talk to him – a rare chance for them.  She asked him all kinds of questions while Rosalie and I just listened a lot.

After a few minutes, my husband called.  Ron wanted to tell me about his building adventures and the arrival of a special delivery package.  So, we merged him in to the conversation as well.

“Hi Dad!” Paul greeted him.

“Hi Ron!”  Sylvia joined in.

They all began to talk together.

“Mom, this is like a party!”  I said to Rosalie, pulling my phone aside so the other three wouldn’t be interrupted by our side conversation.

“Yeah!” Rosalie’s voice was melodic, like the robins and finches that show up at her bird feeders.  “It’s an old-fashioned party-line!”  she chirped.  Her eye brows moved up and down, the pleasure of it all exuding through her open smile.  I brought the phone back near to our voices.  Rosalie took the phone into her hands and pronounced carefully into the phone, “This is like an old-fashioned party-line!”  Everyone stopped talking.

“What, Mom?” Sylvia asked.

“What did you say, Gramma?” Paul wanted to know, too.

Rosalie gladly repeated herself.  “This is like an old-fashioned party-line!” Everyone giggled.  She said it one more time, just to make sure everyone had a good chance to laugh at her joke.  (If you don’t know what a party-line was in the early days of telephones, look it up:

Earlier in this party-line call, I had asked Sylvia to start a Facebook page for Rosalie so that she could get responses from family on pictures and posts.  Paul offered to do it, assuring Sylvia that it was easy enough.  He’d make it a private group page.  Sylvia was glad to know there would be some security if she posted art work.  But we had stopped talking about the endeavor when Ron merged in. The topic of conversation was flowing pretty rapidly.

Ron never really got a chance to tell us much about his copper sinks that had arrived.  He was eager to go back to his work, anyway, so we let him peel away from the call.  His hanging up prompted Sylvia to start her goodbyes.  “I’ll be looking forward to the Facebook group page, Paul.”

“Oh! It’s done! At least it’s begun. I did it here, while we all talked.”

“What do you mean???” we all asked him at once. “You’re driving!”

“Well, I’m at home now, in the car. I guess you could say I’ve been having a driveway moment – such a great conversation!  I’ve  set up the Facebook page using my phone.  And my phone is operating off of the car’s system.  Anyway, the group page is all ready to go!”

“How do I join?”  Sylvia’s voice had the energy of a kid getting a chance to ride a pony at the county fair.

“Accept the invitation when you see it.”

“I will!”

Sylvia gave us all her love and said goodbye, leaving Rosalie, Paul and me to finish up the conversation.  “Well, Paul, this is the second-best thing to seeing you in person!” Rosalie told her grandson.

“Yeah, we should do this more often,” he replied.

“Before we all go, Paul, is there anything I can do for you?” I asked.  “Anything we can help you with there on the east coast from California?”

“Just say YES when you get the invite to the group.”

“Will do. Ciao, buddy.”

“Bye, Paul!”

“Bye, Gramma.  Bye, Mom.”

All during the conversation, Rosalie had not coughed or squeaked, not that I noticed, anyway. We’d all forgotten about it. But Rosalie was ready to wet her throat now.  Una went to make her some lemon tea. She was going to melt a cough drop into the tea. “It will help her a lot.”

Waiting for the tea, Rosalie nibbled at some pomegranate seeds and called to the cat to come sit in her lap.  Sitting quietly now, her lungs squeaked a few times.  Each side of her chest seemed to produce a slightly different pitch, thus the metallic sound.  If only there really were an oil can.  The talking had been good for the squeak, apparently.  It kept all of us breathing deeply and laughing.   The Facebook group would be good, too.

Gathering my things to go back to my house and check out Ron’s copper sinks, I got a ding on my phone.  I looked.  My text window read:  “You’ve been invited to join the FB Group Rosalie’s House.”  Already!  It had only been an hour ago we began the conversation.

“I’m heading out, Mom.  Una’s getting you tea.  You going to be alright?”

“There’s nothing wrong with me!  I have a little cold, that’s all.”  Her usual attitude.  “Go home.” She waved me out the door into the mid-afternoon sun.



Empty House

It was deep summer.  The family had already left for our new home in the mountains.  I had stayed behind to see to repairs, close up business, and find a tenant.  Everything I owned was packed and gone. I wouldn’t see some of it for months. The 18-wheeler moving truck had been parked at the curb for three days. The movers had worked with good cheer – hard and methodically. They wrapped and boxed, labeled and color coded, heaved sofas and beds for hours at a time. Where the workers went at night, I never asked. And then, at the end of the third day, they drove the truck away – with everything in it.

Alone, I walked through my empty house, an echo box, with no food (they took the refrigerator), no place to sit (they took the furniture) no personal character (the art, photos,  piano, house plants, contents of the junk drawer, it had all been removed), no entertainment, books or people.  It was silent and noisy at the same time.

I anticipated it would take two weeks to do the repairs, paint the interior, buff the floors, and wash all the windows. It would be easier to get the work done with the house empty, the space unobstructed.  And there would be nothing else to do.

The place was not entirely empty, though. Here and there were piles of organized materials: things to donate, things to give to particular people, precious things to be kept with me and moved in the car, cleaning supplies and tools, my sleeping gear and clothes, trash. For the first few days I really kept my nose to the grind stone and made good progress spiffing up the house.

I had pulled from the filing cabinets before they were loaded into the moving truck important papers that would help me do the business of moving.  I had put the papers into a used shirt box and labeled it DO NOT PACK.  By the end of the first week, having moved and reorganized my supplies almost daily, I couldn’t find the shirt box.  I was afraid it had been included in the haul.  It could be sitting in the new storage unit, 300 miles away, and I needed the information in those papers.

It was Saturday morning. I was just back from a good-bye visit with a friend. I was getting straight to work, organizing my run to the Goodwill donation drop-off site. Everything was piled in a box the size of a bathtub positioned between the fireplace and the picture window.  It held things like the old vacuum, a plastic Christmas tree, and a dish rack.  On top of these were clothes and fabrics, tucked together in white pillowcases which were too rough for my liking.  I lifted the top two pillowcases to run them to the car, and there, on top of a third pillowcase, I saw it – the lost shirt box. On the white cardboard, neatly printed in red marker, were the wonderful words: DO NOT PACK.  In relief, I snatched it up and moved it to the kitchen counter where it would always be visible. Then I looked carefully through all the other donation items, double checking their status before packing them into the car for the trip to Goodwill.

The thing about living in an emptied house is that I had to take up residence in it all over again, but in a different way.  I slept, now, not on a bed but on the floor on a two-inch foam pad and in a different room than I used to use as my bedroom.  My regular room needed some electrical work, so I set up camp in what had been the study.  It turned out that the study was not blessed with the morning sun, so I had to set an alarm clock to wake me. The timer on the stove worked for this. I set it each night for six hours, plus however long I thought I would read before falling asleep.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I would wake up.  Nothing unusual about that.  I have a long standing routine for sleeplessness.  If I have tossed and turned for very long, I get up and make myself a cup of tea with lots of milk. I sit at the kitchen table with my feet propped next to the teacup, drape a blanket over my legs, and read the latest magazine.  Sometimes I have a second cup of milk tea and a bowl of granola.  I enjoy the midnight solitude.  After about an hour and a half, I find I’m interested in going back to bed.

But in an empty house, waking in the middle of the night was terrible. On Sunday night, or really it was early Monday morning, I woke in the quiet darkness and could not get back to sleep. Eventually I got up and headed to the kitchen. There, I was struck, as if in a nightmare, by disappointment. There was no place to sit!  No table for my feet! There were no extra blankets to drape over my legs.  The latest magazine was in pieces on the floor where I painted earlier. The magazine wasn’t supposed to be used that way, but the morning paper of the previous day, the usual floor covering for painting, had been late.  I hadn’t wanted to wait to get started on the job, so, I sacrificed my magazine, which in the middle of the night, I very much regretted.

I had kept a teakettle with me in my “transition kit,” along with an electric wok for a little cooking, so I was able to make myself some tea. When it was ready, I turned to the refrigerator for the milk.  But. . .what? There was no refrigerator!

Where, then, I wondered, was the milk I had purchased?  I looked around. It was not on the counter top near the sink where it used to always get left out. A heap of paint supplies was spread out there, and the shirt box. I felt a general confusion come over me.  The stupor of having tossed and turned prior to getting up was affecting me. I slowly turned around, befuddled, and then I saw it – the cabinet that used to have napkins and vitamins.  That’s it! The milk was in the cabinet where I had put it with the bread and butter, where it was not supposed to be.  Nonsense, but true.  I got the milk down and smelled it.  This was its second day in the cabinet.  It was still good, thank goodness. That didn’t make sense either. Still, I fixed the tea and cuddled up in the corner of the kitchen with my sleeping bag.

There were other things out of place, as well.  Like the cats.  The little one was curled up with me on the kitchen floor, but her sister, a robust, fluffy girl, had gone missing. We had gotten the two as kittens from the animal shelter several years ago. They’d been brought in from a local ranch. The two cats had always been together.  Now, only the little whiny one was showing up each morning.  Her meow had sounded like a complaint ever since she was a kitten. Now, it seemed to express fear and loneliness. She visited me frequently during the days while I worked, no one but me to amuse her.  Her big sister was not to be found in any of her usual spots – under the coffee table, on the piano, or next to the refrigerator.  They had all been moved out of the house. The last time I saw her, she was on the deck.  She had been skittish, like she had been the summer before when the raccoon kept coming close-in to the backdoor, looking for food.

Drinking my tea and petting the little sister, I told myself the missing kitty was someplace safe, just in the wrong place. I wondered if she was locked in the basement, or the garden shed, the way the milk had gotten lost in the cabinet.  She was probably at a neighbor’s house, fat and happy.  What really worried me was that she may have gotten trapped inside the moving truck.

Living in the empty house was a challenge. I still needed to have stuff. Some things were not available, like the iron which I thought I wouldn’t need. Things that were available —tools, cat food, bills to be paid — had no clearly designated place, so stuff was all over the place.  It felt like a mess even when it was organized. The repairs and the cleaning were time-consuming because things had to be moved and moved again. I could only hope I would remember all the changes.  Moving things also drew my attention to other tasks that needed to be done. It seemed everything was urgent.  It got overwhelming.  I tried to be practical and orderly, but in the middle of a job, supplies would often get put down just somewhere, really anywhere, just out of the way, and in some way so as to be able to retrieve them later.  But it ended up being too much to remember.  Things became evermore simple, not always by choice.

For instance, a single pair of underwear got washed nightly. The extras that I had packed in my “transition clothing kit” were buried and lost in the closet under the “transition bedding kit” and the “transition office kit.”  I found them on my final day, while packing my car to leave. The ibuprofen never showed itself after the first day.  And the paint opener which I used for cracking open fresh, cold beers – it should have been with the knife, fork and wine screw in the newly assigned tool drawer.  But it often was not.  That misplacement was easy to figure out, though.  The opener would be with the painting supplies, the other place it belonged.  And on it went.

Sitting in the empty house, surrounded by dark windows, I whistled a bit. The acoustics were vibrant.  Singing was good, too, with the rich echo.  Little kitty, trying to snooze on my lap under the sleeping bag, took all the sound as disruptive noise, though, so I returned to silence.

Work, then, would be the entertainment!  The project needed to move forward, anyway.  There were windows to polish and cabinets to detail. That was why the house was empty, anyway, to get the work done.   My two-inch foam bed was not that comfortable, and there was nothing else to do.  I thought, maybe big-sister cat would see me in the lighted windows and come home, but I knew different.  Poor cat.  Her porch cushions were no longer where they were supposed to be, all shipped away now, just like my antique bedroom set.  A few nights before, hoping she would come home, I had bundled up my bathrobe as a bed for her on the porch. I put it right where her cushion used to be. It remained unused.  Too silky, maybe, and it was not her normal bed.  It wasn’t next to the deck chairs and potted plants.  There were no dinner scraps left for her. Her sister was inside, with me. Everything was different. She was a good mouser, though. She would make it, somehow, on her own.

On that early morning, a lot of thoughts went through my mind, a lot of memories. I didn’t really do much work. My heart wasn’t in it.

I headed back to the study, which was not a study anymore.  In an hour, the stove timer would start beeping.  I wanted to be asleep before then. I wanted to be awakened from a long, comfortable sleep under my familiar, well-worn featherbed, the sun streaming in, my first sight the same as every morning for the last many years, with the meowing of two cats looking wide-eyed in through the window, demanding to be fed, just like normal used to be.


Spider Webs 

It seems senseless, my efforts to sweep away the spider webs.  My brooming them down from the ceiling only makes the spiders work harder.  The critters always rebuild their nets.  Spiders need homes, so they build them.  It is only a matter of time before I will be at the task once again.

And yet, the task is natural, this cleaning up of the silk that grows across window corners and between beams.  There is a natural balance in our mutual efforts.  The spiders build webs.  I take the webs down. We share the house.

Imagine if I were to delay sweeping the cobwebs away.  The invisibly fine threads would accumulate over the weeks.  In them the dust of insect carcasses that have been sucked empty and then air-dried and disintegrated would accumulate.  The sticky nets would sag under their own powdery weight, and sway, slackly, in the motion of the air.  Gravity would tug at them.  If the power of the earth did not tear the dirty filaments from their moorings, some flying object eventually would.  They would come down one way or another, whether by natural force or random action or my cruel broom.  By routine removal of the cobwebs I spread into many small acts the drama which would otherwise build up into a great collapse.

The whole affair is not unlike the tussles we all engage in as we go about any particular day.  Struggles emerge almost constantly – personal little puzzles  that can be solved or left to develop into full-fledge problems. For instance, how did it happen that my sister thought I was mad at her?  Was I?  Is she mad at me, now?  Suddenly, I’m feeling a little indignant!

So, we push back.  We push back against misunderstanding, against fear and inertia, against excess and decay, and especially, we pull together to escape isolation.  Keeping troubles to a minimum demands a lot of honest, kind communication,  especially with oneself, but also with all those we care about.

That’s why it’s best I deal with the many little problems promptly, rather than let them build up until they collapse upon my life.  If I let the perpetual strands of chaos play out, they become a real tangle.

It’s tempting to tell myself that removing the webs is unnecessary. The threads are barely noticeable.  But these are traps, these steely-strong webs.  I feel for the spiders.  I do my best not to hurt them, but I take their webs down as soon as I see them.  I want to be free of mind and heart, and free of cobwebs.

Here comes my broom!


One Summer Night in Reedley, CA 2002

Tonight, in my garden, the air is warm and moist. Nature is alive. The sprinklers have roused a swarm of tiny white flies from their egg laying orgies amongst the cherry tomatoes. These silent insects fly ecstatically from plant to plant, though the important activity is on the undersides of the plants’ leaves. It’s been going on for days.

Several times, while tending the plants and picking tomatoes, I have felt the tiny flies get lost in my ears or consumed by my breath. Their soft white bodies are smaller than aphids, and sprightly like gnats. White flies are considered an agricultural blight and so, this colony, my colony, will be losing its tomato plants tomorrow. Game’s up. Life cycle interrupted.

The Fresno Bee ran an article just this day about infestations of this fly being especially bad in our region. The agricultural experts request homeowners remove plants where the white fly is found swarming.

They are swarming in my crops.

The problem is purely esthetic. The tomato’s even, bright-red color is compromised by the infestation. It happens during the growth stage from egg to larvae, on the underside of the leaves. The plant’s respiration is disrupted by the little colonizers. The reduction in the leaf function causes the fruit of the plant to be malnourished, resulting in pale veins showing up through the skin of the fruit. My cherry tomatoes display this symptom. I’ve been eating them anyway. Their texture, granted, is a little off.

Thanks to the Fresno Bee, I know why my tomatoes are veiny. I also know what to do about it. Tomorrow I will tear out the tomato plants. I will put the uprooted plants into the yard waste bin, along with the swarm of white flies that follow on. This action will relieve my garden of the pests the tomatoes suffered. Of course, my tomatoes will be gone, too.

My Neighbor and Me

On September 7, 2004

Suburban living is close living. It’s so close that I can easily hear the neighbor scooping up dog food and pouring it into a ceramic dog dish.  I heard the scooping and tumbling of kibble yesterday, also, and the day before, too.  He feeds his dog every day, of course. There is usually a second scooping and when the food nuggets hit the half-filled dish, the sound is more muted.

These sounds come from beyond my backyard, just across the wooden fence, from a yard I’ve never seen. But I know it.  I know the yard’s shape and various features, even its inhabitants.  I know because I have been hearing life happen over there for a year, and I have developed a sound map in my mind of the yard and its activities.

There is a fountain at the rear corner.  A lawn, which is cut with a hand mower, stretches forward to the patio.  You have to step down a level to the patio where a wooden table sits close to the house. It may be a picnic table, as I never hear chairs moving. He leaves the sliding glass door open a lot while he putters around outside.  He listens from there to the sports channel playing in what must be the family room.  He always roots for the home team.

Other times when my neighbor is in the yard for a while, music streams from speakers that hang from the eaves.  He likes 70’s rock and sometimes classy well-known jazz.  The music is loud enough to distract me from the sounds of cars and airplanes, but not so loud as to demand my attention.   I’m always glad to hear it. It’s just that hearing his activity means he is there, and that means he can hear me, too.

We never acknowledge our awareness of each other.  That would draw out the fact that we hear each other doing things, such as talking to inanimate objects, setting up dinner on the patio, or singing. I want to be able to sing, but I feel inhibited.  He may feel a little inhibited, too, I tell myself.  So, I move to another part of the yard.  I let myself forget that my privacy is less than perfect. I whistle some and soon regain the comfortable personal freedom of being in one’s own space.

I believe that my neighbor and I honor each other more by not acknowledging that we know the other is there than we would by voicing salutations.  I hope that’s how he takes it. In this deaf-neighbor way, I have gotten to know his interests and tastes pretty well, and even some of his opinions.  He probably knows me equally well, as I am often outside, and I’m not quiet except for when I know he is there.  He’s probably there a lot more than I notice.  I’m glad for it though, that he comes outside, grills his meat, plays with his dog, enjoys his music and his privacy. I’m glad that he likely knows me in the same silent observer way that I know him. It makes me feel both vulnerable and solidly real. It’s very personal to be, and let be, in tandem with a stranger.  It helps that he seems to be a nice guy.



Happy Cats

The last few days, I’ve been on the phone a lot.  Mainly, I’ve called out to family members, just catching up on news really. It feels good. Very social. I’m bonding to them. It feels like they’re bonding with me, too.

Cats are known to rub up against each other: paw, paw, lick, lick, head knock, nose touch, lick, paw, lick, paw. There is a rhythm to it.   In my family, we rub our voices together: I speak, you speak, I interrupt, you parallel talk, I exclaim, you enthuse, I jest, you moan, we’re quiet for a spell, then you speak, I laugh, we talk and talk, pawing, and purring like happy cats.


A Dark Error

Two little girls in brightly logo’d t-shirts, their hair groomed in snug, beaded braids, grabbed eagerly for the supplies in front of them.  Fat pencils, crayons and paper were in easy reach at the center of the kidney-shaped table at the back of the 2nd grade classroom. The girls eyed each other’s supplies, then her own.  Happy enough with the fairness of their acquisitions, they turned their attention to the task: writing.

But it was not the task that energized these girls.  No, they were driven by an instinct, partly competitive, partly protective.

The girls arranged their papers on the table so that each could see the other’s. Pencils, crayons and erasers were place conveniently between their papers for friendly sharing.  Only one red crayon, claimed by the girl on the right, and a sky-blue crayon, claimed by the girl on the left, were kept squarely within the “property lines” of the writing papers. As they began their work, each offered the use of her special crayon.

The paragraph they were to copy was written on a white board resting on a chair across the table from them.  Earlier in the hour, the table group, which included two boy classmates as well, constructed the paragraph about their Halloween fieldtrip to a local pumpkin patch. Each student had contributed memories about the trip while the teacher wrote on the white board what the children said.  Each spoke in turn until the story was complete.  They all read the paragraph over together, and then the children were left to copy the sentences onto their own papers.

The two boys sitting to the left of the girls were leaning in over the table trying to get close to the white board as if the memory of the muddy field, with its smoky tractor and warty pumpkins, and the scary haunted house were actually in the words on the white board. The excitement of the gooey mud and the earthy scents in the pumpkin field lived on in the hands and feet of the boys as they wiggled in their chairs. One of the boys’ pencil accidently tore through his lined paper in his attempt to copy out the words. He was not daunted, patting the paper back together with his thumb.

The boys had lots to say to each other about the fieldtrip and the pumpkins, indulging in one-upping each other’s graphic descriptions. Making gestures and throaty sound effects, they recounted how the tree had fallen on the haunted house and how the tractor tires spun in the mud.   One of the boy was leaning in, with eyes focused close on the tip of his pencil’s movement on the paper.  The other boy took a break to stretch around and see what action might be going on elsewhere in the classroom. Disappointed that no adventure was calling to him, he turned back to the paper in front of him, reaching over and poking his steady co-worker with his pencil before applying it to the task of writing.

Meanwhile, the girls’ work proceeded carefully and full of pride. They announced the completion of sentences and compared the tiny-ness of their printing.  Their discussion was all about the shapes of letters and the rules for placing periods and capitals properly.  Recommendations came generously from each of them as to how to better perform the task and each politely incorporated those recommendations, with modifications, of course.  They were making good progress.

Then, a line of trust was crossed.

The girls had just begun illustrating their writing with stick-figure children and happy-faced pumpkins.  The girl on the left was coloring her pumpkins orange.  The other girl decided to color in her stick-figures.  She chose a knobby blunt crayon to color the figure representing her table-mate. Applying the crayon to the face of the figure, it turned out to be pitch black in color and smudgy.  She stopped short, but it was too late, and worse, it had already been seen.

“I am not black!” cried the shocked girl, indignantly.

“I know that!” the illustrator affirmed nervously as she tried unsuccessfully to erase the crayon. Her efforts to erase the marks pushed the oily pigment out past the pencil lines that formed the circle of the head.

“I’m not black!” she protested again.

Both of these girls were definitely “of color.”  Nevertheless, the crayon error was taken as a deep offense by the girl represented by the dark messy mark.  She could not take her eyes off of the heavy smudge.  The drawing misrepresented her severely and she could focus on nothing else until the insult was removed. Their four hands worked feverishly to fix the picture. They tried to cover up the blackness with various creamy toned crayons, but none would lighten the color. They scrubbed the mal-colored face, originally a happy smiling face, with white crayon and still found no success. The dark wax absorbed anything that was laid down over it.  They even tried the sky-blue crayon. It did not work either.  The blurry dark mistake was not going to go away.

As the girls worked in shared terror, the mark on the stick figure’s face smudged out bigger and bigger until the head was huge on the skinny stick-torso. They were in real trouble. They dared not look at each other.  Lower lips were beginning to protrude and tears were welling up.

Then, the girl who had made the unfortunate choice of crayons got an idea.  She blurted it out, full of hope.

“Let’s turn it into the haunted house!”

All movement stopped. They just stared at each other. Nobody at the table said a word.  Then, in hearty reply, “Yeah! With the tree fallen on it.”

“Then I’ll draw you over here on this side of the picture.”

“Yeah!  I can be next to the pumpkins.”

“And let’s put a cat in, too!”

The girls looked smack into each other’s eyes, totally re-energized. They were in sync again.  They could repair the picture and their friendship.  Neither said another word about the dark error.

“Do you want to use my sky-blue to make some clouds?”

“Sure. And you could make some flowers with my red.  If you want.”

“After I finish with the grass.”


They stayed at the table until the end of the hour, drawing leaves onto sprawling pumpkin vines and chirping birds with nests in the fallen tree. They even put in a gray mouse for the cat.

The boys headed off, one to the bathroom, the other to read at his desk, but he happily detoured shortly after leaving the kidney-shaped table and engaged another boy by poking his arm with his pencil.