A long time ago in a faraway land (actually, it was 1974 in Mrs. Cleaves’ kindergarten classroom at the Nash Elementary School) there was a magical corner with coveted toys. Among these treasures was a set of finger paints, only one of which had the royal color, purple, the color befitting a fairy princess.
Not every child could use the finger paints everyday. No, indeed, the finger paints were special and could only be used on a rotating basis, two children at a time, once a week, and so, of course, every child wanted the paints all of the time. In retrospect, this was my first exposure to the principles of economics, a brutal lesson in supply and demand, but at the time, I didn’t care about all that, I only wanted the purple finger paints.
Nowadays, mothers can insist that their children have regular access to all special things at all times, citing potential self esteem damage as a severe and inevitable repercussion, but back then, mothers generally told their children to suck it up and wait their turn, especially mothers who were pregnant and due any minute with their fifth child. My mother was just such a mother.
Finally, my turn came. It was a glorious September day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the crisp smell of fall hung in the air. I skipped to school in a sweater and red plaid, Polly Flinders dress with smocking, lacy ankle socks, and brown, buckled Mary Jane shoes. I clutched my snack for recess (two graham crackers and an apple wrapped in a pleated, plastic sandwich bag – No, Ziploc had not been invented yet – You know what? Just shut up.) in my fat, dimpled, baby hand. At age five and still a voracious thumb sucker, I was adorable, and that day, all those years ago, it was finally going to be my special day. My name was on the list AND on the finger paint chart, or at least that is what I was told. It is possible that I couldn’t read my own name yet.
Mrs. Cleaves had thought of everything. There was an apron to protect my dress, an easel so I could stand and create like a real artist, and a table nearby to hold my supplies which were, well, um, just the finger paints and a roll of paper towels.
I can see it all in my mind’s eye as if it happened yesterday. The sun streamed through the windows, the other kids busied themselves with whatever peasants did when they were not allowed access to the special toys, my apron was tied snugly, and my sleeves were rolled up. Finally, I dipped my hands into the gloppy, sticky purple substance that I had so yearned for for so long, and that smelled faintly of chalk and Elmer’s glue.
I was about to apply purple to paper when, what a surprise! That’s Papa! My father strolled into my kindergarten classroom in his suit and tie, the same one he wore when he left for work several hours before. What is he doing here? Come to see me, of course. This is a special day – my first, wonderful, long anticipated day with the purple finger paints.
Time sped up and events unfolded in a bit of a blur after Papa arrived. My hands were washed and dried with the rough paper towels, my apron was removed and replaced with my sweater, and before I knew it, I was in the car on the way home to be cared for by my grandparents while my parents sped to St. Margaret’s in Dorchester to prepare for the imminent arrival of my baby brother.
About a week later (post natal hospital stays were far more civilized back then – six days minimum), I finally met the boy who stole my purple finger paint moment. Okay, I didn’t get to meet him right away, exactly. I had a cold, you see, and so I had to stay far away from the new baby, but my mom made me some chocolate milk, which we all know is an acceptable substitute for painting with purple finger paints and getting to hold the new baby, NOT. Wait, did that last remark sound bitter to you? What makes you think I’m bitter?
Turns out, it wasn’t long at all before my little brother Dan, who arrived on that glorious September day in 1974, became one of my all-time favorite people, so I guess I got what I really wanted in the end – someone to endure my teasing and complaining about the Purple Finger Paint Debacle for the next forty years.
Happy Birthday, Dan!