Explain something from nothing.

Annemarie, the teacher, stops talking mid sentence.  She glances at the clock on the wall: 12:30.   Rising from her chair, she heads to the whiteboard, picks up the marker, and scribbles, “Blue.”

Was the ink blue?   I should know.   The second week of class she had taught, “notice everything.”

I’m one of a dozen in her Memoir Writing class.  For eight weeks we gather in chairs around the formica table in a study room at Countryside Library.  Each session ends with a ‘prompt’: our writing assignment.

First I think: “oh, no, everyone’s going to write about being depressed.”   Second:  “that’s my favorite color…wait, white is actually my favorite color, being the presence of all colors.”  Then, “think harder… Dad’s eyes were the most beautiful blue.”

I signed up for the class to be accountable to write about my Mother and Father, and the house where we lived on Abbott Avenue.  I try to tie each week’s prompt to that.

I hear singing: “I’d rather be blue, thinking of you, I’d rather be blue over you, than be happy with somebody else….”

My little sister Pam, only 4, and I, fifteen, belt the tune into the mirror, our arms around each other, in the 5 x 8 foot bathroom.

“…Blue over you, I’d rather be blue over you, than be hap hap happy with somebody else else else else else!”

I fell in love with Barbra and “Funny Girl” in high school.  Every afternoon after school I’d lay on the living room floor listening to her albums, singing every word by heart.

Born for the stage, Pam practiced the song from the “Funny Girl” album with me.  Even at one year of age, she had been a star: the Christmas angel in the annual church pageant.  Dad, spiffy in navy suit, carried her in her taffeta dress, shiny black Mary Janes and gold tinsel halo, up the steps for the finale.  She smiled and glowed, capturing the congregation’s hearts.  Dad was so proud.   His delight deflated, after the show, when someone remarked, “Your granddaughter looked so cute!”

Annemarie asked a few weeks ago in class, “Does anyone sing in the shower?”  She was probing us on how we express ourselves.  I did not raise my hand.  I sing.  But the shower has poor acoustics.

The bathroom where Pam and I sang duets had excellent sound quality.  The mirror was our audience; our television camera.   The sound of our voices blending and bouncing around the room energized us.

We loved us.

But nothing else was lovely about that bathroom.  Four sisters squeezed into it every day for daily routines.  Small does not necessarily eliminate beauty.  My mother spent time and love decorating her house.  But Dad had chosen the wallpaper for the bathroom, when we were out of town visiting family.

A color blind person in an unlit factory created the turquoise with brown daisy patterned mess.  I can’t understand why Dad, a fairly artistic person, thought anyone would like that wallpaper.  Was it low price? To him, choosing the paper and getting it glued to the walls was a gift of his love to Mother.  He was so proud of his work.  So eager to show her.

Mother was not a crier.  But she could have.

On that ugly floral wallpaper opposite the toilet, she hung a small wooden plaque with the quote:

“Why were the Saints saints?

Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful, patient when it was difficult to be patient; and because they pushed on when they wanted to stand still, and kept silent when they wanted to talk, and were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable. That was all. It was quite simple and always will be.”

Mother, always a teacher, had placed that plaque in a spot we would see every day.  So the wallpaper stayed.

Where do these stories come from?

From the prompt…

What has come from the stories we write and hear each week in the five minute timed readings we share?

Delight and awe.  We’re revealing ourselves to each other.  I, we, want to be known.  Each story is a surprise.  For me, to only look at a person doesn’t help at all.   As I write, I think I know myself.  Think I have a plan.  But writing takes me where I did not expect to go.

From a “blue” prompt  on a whiteboard, jump to the idea of ugly wallpaper.  Then jump to love, which is the story I always want to tell.

Thank you, Annemarie.  Thank you, Countryside Library, for providing this magical learning space, with the giant window framing the tree that reaches into the azure sky.


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