Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Abraham Lincoln's Neon Log Cabin

No, that's not a theme for the next Log Cabin Republicans event. You'll see why I picked that title in a bit.

Today I got an entire department at my office to holler, "That is SO WRONG!" My work husband is already filled to the gills with Christmas music, and that's pretty bad considering that, unlike me, Christmas is actually his holiday. You know those Christmas song parodies and funny songs you hear on the radio? Bob Rivers, a DJ in Seattle, is responsible for many of them, and you can listen to his work here. I e-mailed B. "Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire". (Scroll way down for it, past a huge favorite of mine, "The Chimney Song". My brother's seven years younger than I am, and I'd sing that one to upset him.) It sounds like Nat King Cole's lovely song that leads with the roasting chestnuts (I know it has another title, but can't be bothered to remember it), interspersed with the squeals of Alvin and the Chipmunks. My swamp rat ex-boyfriend would probably feel all homesick if he listened to it. You, however, will want to make sure no children are in the room.

Speaking of children, I thought I'd written the last thing to write about Gummy Maggots candy. In my last post, I noted that the two 7-year-old girls at Thanksgiving took half a bag to L'Ailee's sewing room in the attic to play and talk. Well, L'Ailee had childproofed the room just in case, locking up sharp things and hiding her more expensive and delicate fabrics. When she put it back the way it was yesterday, she found a few of the candies in what looked like strategic locations.

But it gets even better! The girls both took a few to school. One decided to hide them in the desk and lunch bag of a classmate she disliked. The other actually gets Show and Tell in her class, for now, and she showed and told about maggots. Both of the girls' parents were called, which is how I know about it. Because one's father and another's mother are very good friends of mine, I did my best to suppress my laughter for an entire second! And because they are my friends and not humorless killjoys, they laughed, too. But I don't think I'll let either of these girls have any other stuff from Archie McPhee, at least not for a while.

I could be bratty as a little girl, too. My mother reminded me of that on Monday night. She's been going through some of our crafts that she saved when she encountered a log cabin scene entitled, "Abraham Lincoln's Childhood Log Cabin". It was a coloring sheet, the kind passed out to kids as busywork. I had signed and dated it, as I did everything I colored for class. She saved it because of the striking color scheme I'd used: the logs were black, the cut ends of the logs were neon orange, the sky was neon blue, the leaves of the trees were neon green, and the roof was hot pink. Mom told me there was more neon all over the scene besides. She asked me, finally, "Why did you color Abraham Lincoln's cabin that way? Was it just because you loved neon colors?"

Well, I did. I still do, actually. I grew up in Florida in the 1980s, after all. But that wasn't entirely it, and I explained it to her, 25 years after I colored the picture. It was for President's Day, and we would hang the finished pictures up on the wall for parent-teacher conference night. Yellow has never been a favorite color of mine, but I was inspired by the way light from the windows hit objects in the room. I colored the scene in perfectly nice, normal shades: brown for the logs, lighter brown for the cut tips, sky blue for the sky, plain green for the leaves. But I added a bright sun in the sky, and I drew sunbeams coming down from it. I went over the cabin with my seldom-used yellow crayon, trying, in an 8-year-old's fashion, to make the little house look bathed in sunlight. I gave the Lincolns lavender curtains, too. I thought it would look nice.

My teacher got angry. "They were poor! They didn't have curtains! And what is all of this yellow? They would not have had paint, and if they did have paint, it wouldn't be yellow, and if they had curtains, they wouldn't be purple!" I tried to explain what the yellow was, but she wouldn't hear it. She instead crumpled up my paper into a ball and threw it away. She gave me another coloring sheet. "Don't waste it," she said. "Do it right." She held up the paper of a girl who sat close to me. Her cabin was neat and tidy and conventionally colored, no curtains or any other added details. "Tara's" work was always very neat. The teachers adored her. She was, however, Eddie Haskell redone as a girl-child in the 1980s, and I was a favorite target of hers. "Tara" smirked at me. "Why don't you just color things the way you're supposed to?" she hissed as the teacher went away. "It's easier. It doesn't look so stupid."

Oh, I was pissed. I didn't want to color at all, and I loved coloring. I had been quite pleased with the previous paper; now I wanted to tear this one up. Just color things the way I'm supposed to. Why were there blank spaces for me to fill, like those windows, if I couldn't fill them sometimes? Why did she want us all to waste our time on this, if all she wanted was a bunch of papers that looked the same? I got out my crayons, and saw the crown jewels of my collection. My aunt had recently given me a pack of fluorescent-color crayons. I loved them so much I didn't want to waste them, and so I used them sparingly. I was inspired anew. If she thought my sunbeams were something to complain about, then I would give her something to really complain about. She was going to learn that I was not "Tara," I was me, and I didn't want to be anything different. She always talked about how she couldn't waste materials. She wasn't going to give me a third copy. Black makes fluorescents really pop, I thought...

Her jaw popped wide open, and it was like she couldn't shut it again for a very long time. She couldn't even yell. She was just quiet. Finally, she said, "I told you to do it again, right. This time it's even worse!"
"I think it looks nice," I said. I did, too. So did several of my classmates.
"We'll use the other one," she decided. "It's not dirty. It's at the top of the wastebasket." She was about to crumple up the neon cabin.
"Let me keep that," I said. "I like it. I don't want you to throw it away. And you can't use the other, because you messed it up. I'll tell my mom you said it was garbage. That's the truth." I don't think I entirely understood what I was doing, but I knew I had her right where I wanted her, and it felt pretty good. I signed boldly in neon purple, in the middle of the neon green grass. I smirked as she put it on the far end of the wall, way up high. No matter where she put it, mine was going to stand out. The next evening, all of the parents noticed it, including mine. My mother threw her head back and laughed. "That's my daughter all over!" she told the other parents.

Back to 2008. "I didn't know there was so much behind it," my mother said ruefully. "Why didn't you tell me she was that way? I could have done something. I could have said something. You know I would have."
But the thing was, at that point in time, it wouldn't have worked out so well. My father had died the year before, and Mom was still a bit of a space case. It was enough that she kept a roof over our heads and food on the table, enough that she took care of my baby brother. This was just a teacher being stupid and acting even more like a child than the actual children she taught. "I took care of it," I told my mother. "I think I did all right." In fact, I know I did. That conference night was the first time in a long time that I'd heard my mother laugh out loud.

Mom considered. "I'm glad I found it," she told me. "It really is you all over." It's coming in the mail for me later this week. I hadn't thought of that thing in ages! I only wish I'd thought of it when I was taking interior decorating classes and my instructor, who was far more understanding than my third-grade teacher, asked us to explain how our "aesthetics" came about.

Links, links:

Has everyone seen the New York Times article on the company that genetically tests toddlers to determine their future athletic aptitude? Totally creepy, right? And talk about cookie-cutter kids! Well, it gets creepier yet.

Why does America love dystopias? Well, I know I love 'em, and I'm writing one of my own. So I was very interested in this.

Now elected officials are getting into the "War on Christmas"!

Finally, tomorrow's your last day to vote on Zoo Atlanta's baby panda's name! I went with Wei Li, or "large and strong," as a good wish for his future.


Queers United said...

haha i really thought it was going to be a log cabin post

cats said...

you should have it framed. i just framed a few of the kids pictures because they are so bright and colorful. the princess kitty has an eye for color. i'm going to hang them in our new home where everyone can see and enjoy them.

btw, sorry it's been so long since i've been to visit.

Eugene said...

Why were there blank spaces for me to fill, like those windows, if I couldn't fill them sometimes? Why did she want us all to waste our time on this, if all she wanted was a bunch of papers that looked the same?

I so want to use that quote sometime, if you don't mind...

CrackerLilo said...

@ QU: I saw that title and thought, "Better clarify!" :-D

@ cats: Glad you have time for blogs again!

@ Eugene: Don't mind one bit.

Thanks to all y'all for reading that.

Dr. Deb said...

That Times article made me shiver. And not in a good way. Sheesh.

Snooker said...

How wonderful! An individiual's spirit was coming out! Silly teacher taught more than she intended that day.