Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Up the wall

Itty bitty study for a great big mess …
Lord, what fools we kindergarten parents be!

Hopped up on hope, we storm the school with our philanthropy, certain that we will propel our tiny scholars — nay, the entire school! We'll exalt the entire school! — to unforetold greatness.

We, having chosen private school, nobly accepted paying tuition atop property taxes for propping up public schools. We held out both arms to receive the volunteer tasks our school would heap upon us. Little or no say in the welfare of our children while at school? No problem! Advice and complaint and recommendation — so unchristian!
Please, ma'am, may I have another?
My idyll stretched and thinned and burst by the time our first child made fourth grade. By the time our second was finishing eighth grade and moving on, I had been all scooped out. My hollow husk skritched along the parking lot out to the car for our final ride home from there.

No great loss: A fresh batch of new parents had long before taken my place, toiling in the volunteer vineyards.

With the fall auction upon our old school, I think of the latest group of new parents, and hope they're made of sterner stuff, or at least pace themselves better than I did. A student announced at Mass Sunday she'd be selling raffle tickets outside afterward; just the mention of auction still catches my breath.

Besides the fall auction, our school also conducted a spring fashion show at the time, and soon enough had resurrected a country fair, meaning three big tasks to which parents were to commit time and energy.

Unwilling or unable to perform the vital tasks necessary to carry out these events, I gravitated to the decorating committee. I could paint.

The theme for the first auction in our school-parent career was Alice in Wonderland. Decoration was already well underway, begun in late summer, since it happens only two months after school starts.

The look was decidedly more Disney than Tenniel. Parents were putting the finishing touches of Wonderland characters on plywood cutouts, and I was able to show how to outline the shapes in dark color, to give it the animated character look.

I was useful and could stay, and for several years after helped art-direct the auction and fashion show, and designed signs for the fair.

For several years we did our best with donated cardboard and chicken wire and cheap foam brushes by the bagful and incorrectly mixed paints sold at discount at the end of the hardware store aisle, and no budget whatsoever. 

In our little parish hall, the lobby, walls and especially the little stage had be decorated. Auction attendees would see the stage first as they entered the semi-dark hall for dinner, so it needed the most "wow!" we could wring from it.

In my new zeal, I agreed to design and paint a mural onto a gigantic seamless roll of photographer's backdrop paper, perhaps 10 feet wide. I did not know how to say "no."

The little painting above is the study for it. Call it cubist Disney. I had to madden the Mad Hatter's party by bending his table to fit the shape.

With no space or uninterrupted time at the school, I brought the roll of paper home, the end of it sticking out the car window. I moved the furniture in our little living room to one side and taped the paper to the long wall. The ceiling in our old house slanted down at one end, so one top corner flopped awkwardly. About three feet of the bottom sheet cascaded onto the floor, so I had to roll it carefully to paint the top, then paint the bottom kneeling down.

For most of a week we sat on one side of our living room, legs across chairs across tables, craning necks to watch TV, so I could get the mural done.

Once done and affixed to the wall of the stage with 12 pounds of low-tack tape, I discovered the five-second rule of decoration: No matter how long a decoration takes to create, people will look at it for five seconds before asking, "What'd we order for dinner again, the chicken or the steak?"

Somewhere in a living room or garage nearby, somebody is painting or sewing or gluing or assembling, getting scooped out little by little.

I wish him or her the best.

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