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Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Touch of Polish
















When I was in Jr. High, the only subjects I loved about Art Class were my teacher's fingernails. She had almond shaped perfectly manicured fingernails adorning slender fingers. I noticed because she often demonstrated artistic techniques with them, wrapping her hand around a brush or a pen with such fluid, confident ease. I noticed too, because I kept my hands tucked deeply under my armpits. My fingernails were an artistic masterpiece of my utter lack of confidence. I bit them down to the quick. This was well before the days of faux nails and French manicures. It was, however, the glory days of my faux artwork.

In Jr. High, Home Economics was divided into three content areas. The first...Sewing & Cooking...the second...Shop...and the third...Art. Let us review. In Sewing we were given a pattern and taught how to sew. I chose a pattern for a simple shift, the armholes and facings a challenge. I opted for gray wool. Yards and yards of gray wool. I am slightly dyslexic when reading charts and diagrams. No, actually, I am dismally dyslexic. The armhole facings looked great when I cut them out. I followed the dotted cutting lines. Perfect. I missed the part about notching. The part that makes the armholes match the openings in the jumper. I did not make armholes. I created phalanges. Wings, if you will. I thought the ruffles looked kind of cool, but my teacher felt otherwise and took it upon herself to teach me by doing it herself. All that remained, two side seams. ---------one and ---------two. Then I could hem and be finished. Two straight seams. However, having limited proficiency on the sewing machine itself, I was unaware of the "speed" factor. The delicacy of managing the pedal to control the MPH. We didn't have a car. I only had a bicycle. I knew one simple law of physics, put your foot on the pedal means go. Take your foot off the pedal equals stop. I like riding fast. I floored it. The result? I sewed a perfectly straight seam. I sewed TWO perfectly straight seams, the full length of the fabric. I clipped the trailing threads and slid the jumper over my head and down down down my body. I was encased like a sausage, from my chin to my ankles in perfectly seamed gray wool. I could not walk. I had to hobble to a table, where three friends helped me slide on and lie down, red-faced, while my Home Ec teacher performed an emergency fabricotomy. Once my knees came into view, I inched off the table and back to my sewing station. I recall her encouraging words. Perhaps I could make a matching cape for my woolen ensemble with the excised material. Great. Cape and phalanges. A gray woolen flying sausage. 

Next up...Shop. A Short story. Our assignment. Make a box. With a lid. A lid that fit. Both ways. Using a jigsaw with delicate blades and a racing motor. I broke three blades. Pulled out splinters for a week. Glued my wood pieces into a box. The lid did not fit. Either way. I gave it to my father for Christmas. He kept a picture of me in it. 

Finally. Art Class. A special and remarkable day. We could draw or paint anything we wanted. I was reading Black Beauty at the time, and had an extraordinary film loop in my head, of a stallion flying across the grass, back lit by sun kissed mountaintops. I could see, in my mind's eye, the muscles and sinew, the flare of nostrils, the pure abandon of running free. I put my brush to paper. Stepped back. A miracle. A horse. A wild running beauty of a horse. It took my breath away, as I have never been able to draw the beauty I see around me. Maybe, this was one of those rare moments, when what you imagine comes to life. One of those I can't moments morphing into I can, fueled by the fire of imagination. If it was, it lasted mere seconds. My teacher strode over, glanced down at my work, and reached for a brush. She said, "It needs...", then dipped her brush into bright orange paint and outlined my horse in a neon glow and set fire to the mountaintops. She turned to me and said "There, now your painting is finished." I replied, "No, now YOUR painting is." The principal let me off easy for sassing. My teacher got even with me by displaying my Orange Beauty in the hallway with my name on it, even though we both knew who the artist really was. 

I don't bite my fingernails anymore. A different teacher helped me break the habit. She brought in nail polish and buffed one little nail. She told me I could nibble on the other nine, but to give just one a chance to grow. Over the months, I added one at a time to admire, until I had a full set. 

The teacher, my manicurist, was also my English teacher.

She introduced me to the wonder of words,

and when I began writing, kept her red pen to herself


To Miss Phillips...

...who must have seen the words waiting,

right at the end of my fingertips

...and taught me everything can be made beautiful,

with our own hands,

a little at a time.

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