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This is a true story. I haven’t changed any names. It will be published over a series of posts in the coming days and weeks.

December 1966

Cocooned in a pile of blankets, I listened to my infant brother snore softly on the other side of our tiny bedroom. The cold winter moon illuminated the plain pine walls, and I could see the icicles forming in the corners where the walls met the ceiling.

I wondered if tomorrow would be the day we’d go home.

Home was an idyllic kid world where my bedroom was painted lavender and my furniture was white French provincial. I had a child-size vanity table with a barrel-shaped stool. The seat could be removed and the barrel part used to store prized possessions.

easel
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Drawing and painting were among my favorite activities. I had a blackboard that doubled as a painting easel. Sadly, I had been born without a creative bone in my body, so my masterpieces were limited mostly to houses. An A-framed house with a door in the middle and a window on each side of the door. A chimney with curling smoke and a tree with red apples to the left of the house. The house would have a path and the sun always shone in the upper right corner.

Occasionally I would stray from the house theme and paint a single giant splashy flower, always with five petals and a yellow center, a stem and two leaves. Sometimes I would paint a cat, with a round body and a tail that curled to the right, ears, eyes, and whiskers, a triangle nose and a smiling mouth.

But usually it was a house. Once in a while, I planted two flowers in the yard or added a shrub. Occasionally a two-humped mountain would loom in the background, with the sun peeking out between them. But I generally preferred my standard design.

As I reflect on my masterpieces, I can imagine a psychologist finding all sorts of meaning in my returning again and again to the same A-framed house. And perhaps there is meaning to be found. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the lavender bedroom where I painted my pretty pictures was my fifth home. Or perhaps a psychologist would agree with me that the most obvious explanation for the recurring house theme in my artwork was merely an astounding lack of creativity.

Certainly, that explanation is bolstered by the results of my other artistic efforts. I learned to make baskets using construction paper and a stapler — or tape, if a stapler was not available. Not woven baskets or painted baskets or even decorated baskets. Just baskets. I was delighted with my new-found skill and set about making dozens of baskets. When I ran out of construction paper, I would use notebook paper.

As with other of my masterpieces, I would present the baskets as gifts to those I believed loved me unconditionally, both because I knew they would accept my gift with praise and also because I thought my little baskets would make them happy.

Later, I would find these collectors pieces cast aside, sometimesĀ in the kitchen trash, under broken eggshells, or sometimes in a drawer or box, flattened by other items people tend to receive and not know what to do with.

crayons
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But my lack of artistic talent notwithstanding, I lived a happy existence. I could walk to school, and as far as I know, no one gave a second thought to the safety of three little girls — my friends, Kim and Valerie, and me — walking two blocks twice a day to and from school.

I loved school. I loved wearing my flower-shaped name-tag, held around my neck by a piece of red yarn. I loved the smell of new crayons and I loved lining up to go down the hall to the cafeteria or the auditorium or outside for recess.

(Next: Life in 1960s Suburbia)

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