The best Christmas present I ever received was a painting set. I was twelve years old that Christmas. Perhaps you remember how intensely a twelve-year-old can focus on a wanted item. It was all I could think of, yet I can’t begin to tell you now why I wanted it. I had no known talent for drawing, nor had I ever shown any interest in visual art, either appreciation or the desire to create it. Yet, for some reason, I wanted the tools that would open the world of creative art to me.
My parents were baffled, and resistant. “You’ll never use it!” my mother said. This was our second year in our own home, and we were not well-to-do, still struggling to furnish the house and make ends meet. Such an expensive request was not welcome.
When the family opened presents on Christmas Day, I was handed a large heavy box, and inside was the longed-for paint set. I stared at it without a word—I had been convinced I would never get it, and couldn’t believe what I held was for me. It was not just any old paint set but the king of all paint sets! Inside were about fifty tubes of oil paint, cakes of watercolors, an assortment of brushes, palette knives, charcoal sticks, linseed oil, a wooden palette, canvases, a professional-looking sketch pad, a collapsible easel, instruction books, color-mixing guides—all very adult and awe-inspiring.
You’re probably thinking the present brought out a hidden talent that became an important part of my life; but no, my mother turned out to be right—I never used the paints. Here is what I did do: I valued them. I’d take them in secret to a quiet corner, open the box and pick up each tube, memorizing the names of the colors, opening the ones I was unfamiliar with to put the visual with the name, thumbing through the instruction books over and over, handling the knives, palette, and canvases, not wanting to get them “dirty” by using them, making a few swipes with charcoal on scrap paper. I’d assemble the easel, prop an empty canvas on it, and play-act painting for hours on end—then carefully pack it all away as it came, sparkling new and unused, hiding it until “next time.” It was so valuable I was afraid of using anything up.
What I don’t remember is what ultimately became of the set. I grew up, of course, got involved in teen activities, then married and moved on, leaving behind the things of my youth in the family home. My mother probably ran across it in the attic and threw it away, shaking her head and thinking it had been a wasted gift. But I never forgot it, nor the feelings it engendered in me. Sixty years later I can still picture it in detail, still feel the awe of owning such a thing.
Before she died, I told Mom how important that gift had been, the knowledge that she loved me enough to give me something useless (in her mind) just because her daughter wanted it so bad. Telling her made her smile, but she didn’t remember the occasion. It didn’t make any difference that she didn’t remember. That’s the way between mothers and daughters.
Happy Holidays to all!
It’s been a great year, with the birth of granddaughter Mia and the publication of The Mystery at Sag Bridge. Thank you for sharing it with me!