I was no artist. Even when I was little, I didn’t paint pictures, I painted lines. I have laughed to cover my shame about it for most of my life.
I was four years old when I stood at an easel and painted a page full of green in nursery school. I didn’t paint the sun or a tree or a rainbow. I painted green. Green lines. All green lines. Green line after green line until the page was full.
Of course, I was thinking about art and artists in the days leading up to Hutchmoot. I was retelling my soul that it’s okay to go, even if I’m not an artist. And yes, I know that “Everybody’s a Creative”. But let’s face it: some folks, like Monet, paint The Poppy Field, Near Argenteuil, while others, like me, paint boring green lines.
So back in October, when I was mulling over which childhood memory I could write about for Jonathan Rogers’ Pre-Hutchmoot writing class, I couldn’t think of anything to write about, at first. But after typing “I can’t think of a memory to write about,” and staring for a while out the window at the hackberry trees, still green in October, I remembered again those green lines in nursery school. But this time, instead of making fun of myself for being embarrassingly uncreative, I let the memory sit down and talk to me. This time, I paid attention. This time, I listened. This time, I focused on that four-year-old girl, standing at the easel.
I watched her, and she surprised me. She smiled as she painted. She wasn’t the least bit ashamed that she was painting green lines instead of an animal or a flower or a tree. She took joy in lifting and lowering, lifting and lowering a brush full of green. She was downright proud of those lines she was making. She loved her painting.
I probed my memory for more explanation. I typed questions: Who was this four-year-old girl? Where did she come from? How did she end up at the nursery school in the first place?
A year and a half before, her father (my father), had relocated our family from Texas to a little town in Tennessee called Dickson. This move was traumatic. It tore my older sister and me away from our grandparents—Mom and Pop, who, since our births, had cared for us while our parents were at work. Mom and Pop were farmers. My sister says that she rode on a tractor with Mom. She says I rode on a tractor with Pop. I don’t remember the tractors, but I’ve always been particularly fond of my Pop.
I typed more questions. “What did the tractor look like? What about the land?” I pictured an old rusty tractor. I pictured a hard metal seat. I pictured little towheaded me, in front of my grandfather, underneath a big Texas sky.
Then I remembered the peanuts.
When I was little, my grandparents farmed peanuts. I remember the smell. I remember piles of peanuts stacked in burlap sacks on the back side of their house, in an area they called the breezeway. Surely, I would have ridden the tractor when Mom and Pop were harvesting peanuts. From that seat in front of Pop, I would have been looking out at a field full of peanut plants, growing in the sun.
I stopped typing questions. I summoned Google, typed “peanuts growing in a field,” and clicked on the Images tab. My jaw dropped. My eyes teared up.
The field was green. Green, green, green. Rows and rows of green.
No wonder I painted green lines with such pride. I painted rows of green because I loved rows of green. I painted rows of green because I loved riding on the tractor with my grandfather. I had seen that field, not from a side road or from a television show, but from the middle of the Texas prairie, from the top of the tractor, next to my grandfather. I had been an eyewitness.
How much I must have missed my grandfather. But with an easel in front of me and a paintbrush in my hand, I had found a way to feel closer to him. I had found a way to feel closer to the peanut farm.
I had painted with creativity. I had painted with imagination. I had been an artist.
I am not ashamed of that painting anymore.