“We’re going to draw the four seasons of the year,” Mrs. Young, my first grade teacher, said.
She plucked a piece of chalk from the tray and drew two lines on the board, one intersecting the other. This made four quadrants, and she snapped her pointer stick on each, assigning the seasons. On the top left, she wrote S P R I N G. Summer made its appearance in the top right. Then came fall in the bottom left and winter in the bottom right.
Mrs. Young distributed pieces of paper, her posture erect. A polyester dress in shades of brown and a tan cardigan hung from her thin frame. Her shoes, chocolate brown patent leather, were slip-ons with a square heel. All of it was neat—and exacting.
When I got my paper, I dragged a pencil across it, making a vertical line, then crossed it with a horizontal one, imitating my teacher’s example. I would label it later. I positioned my 24-pack of Crayolas nearby but would save the coloring until my pencil drawings were done.
I gazed at Mrs. Young, now pacing the room. Contrary to her name, she was old. Fifty years old. How was she still alive and teaching? She had turned fifty weeks earlier and had written the digits on the chalkboard for us in writing so precise it was indiscernible to me from the font in my math book.
I jerked my thoughts back to my task. A few students around me had completed one season and were already onto the next. Yikes. If Mrs. Young saw me daydreaming, I might get in trouble. And she was no stranger to tugging a kid’s ear when the occasion called for it.
I sketched a tree in the top left square of my paper. I set to work drawing leaves on the ground. More skittered in a breeze that was stripping the tree of its foliage. A pumpkin squatted under the tree; a rake leaned against its trunk. I would fill in the leaves with shades of brown and gold when I was done with all the seasons, but for now, on to the next.
In the top right corner of my paper I drew a snowman. But there better be a kid by it, if this were to be as realistic as I envisioned. I created a boy. The wind in my picture blew, ruffling the scarf at his neck. I smiled. It was genius, this picture, if I could say so myself. Mrs. Young had asked for a simple drawing of every season, but I was a true artist and would give her a beautiful, intricate rendering of each.
I glanced around me. Several students already worked on picture four. I was behind—way behind. I moved on to the lower left. I shaped baby birds and fresh leaves on new branches and could almost smell the damp earth as I applied the final touches. In the bottom right came my favorite season of all. The sun shone on the boy, now wearing shorts. Sunglasses would complete his—
In the distraction of my creative bliss, I had messed up. It was supposed to be spring in the top left square, followed by summer in the top right. I had started with fall, then winter. My mouth went dry, and my hands moistened, the two body parts swapping jobs. What now? I snapped my attention again to the students around me. They were finishing their pictures, and I needed to start over. Would Mrs. Young be angry? Would she punish me? How could I survive this mistake?
My heart banged in its cage; my face ignited. I had only one solution. I turned over my pencil—pink rubber tip down—and went to work on my Rembrandt, erasing my creation.
The student next to me, apparently telepathic, leaned into my space and tapped a finger on my masterpiece. “Or you could just put the names of the seasons in the different boxes to match your pictures.”
Light doesn’t usually have a sound, but I heard the bulb in my head ping. She was brilliant. I could leave my pretty pictures where they were and just apply the labels to each where they sat on the paper. So what if the top left box was fall? If I labeled it F A L L, it would still be correct, wouldn’t it? Even though mine would be different from all the other students’ papers, it would still be right.
Back in first grade, I didn’t know what “thinking outside the box” meant, but with a classmate’s help that day, I practiced it. Today I’m almost as old as Mrs. Young was back then, and yet here I am, often fretting about how my picture looks different from the others’.
Be a little wild today. Make your picture stand out. And if you want to plunk fall into that top left box, so be it.
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.