The Paper Plate Studio Story


I skipped down the sidewalk of the brownstone aparment complex to Aunt Ev's building.

My paper plate masterpiece swung on my wrist by a yarn hanger.

The crotchety front door resisted my tug. Its pane-glassed window stared over me into the courtyard as if to say,

"Kindergartners and their art work are not welcome." 

I knew better. Aunt Ev was in her two bedroom apartment preparing dinner for me and my family. Now a retired kindergartner teacher, my great-aunt poured her repertoire of short stories and jingles into my ears every time she visited us. Before she could settle her things in the guest room, I would tug her hand and clamor, "Tell me a story. Tell me a story. Please? "

She would laugh while I let pulled her downstairs to the maroon, kidney couch in the living room. Her wrinkled hand, rich with rings, covered my little one. I curled my feet under me.

Now, my kindred spirit was two flights up waiting for me. With a harder pull, I won the tug-of-war with he old door and pranced into the foyer, then punched the buzzer on her mail box. With a click of the lock, the inside door responded,

"Come in. Come in. She's waiting for you."

 Aunt Ev stood in the doorway, curtained at the waist with a lacy white apron. The drop leaf-table behind her spread its wings in the middle of the living room. Crackers and glasses of V-8 Juice sat on the coffee table in front of the couch to the right of the door..

The tangle of purple, orange, and black scribbles slipped off my wrist and fell to the floor.  She leaned down and picked it up.

"What is this?"

"That's for you, Aunt Ev."

"For me? Oh, Tracy, how beautiful. I will hang it where I will see it everyday."

She walked through the living room, past the tray of custard that sat on top of an old bureau in front of the kitchen window. Wind sneaked through a crack just wide enough for the song of the sparrow to follow.

"There," she said as she stepped back to see her new piece of art. "Right on the refrigerator where I can see it from the couch."

In the next seven years, I moved beyond kindergarten abstracts into still life and landscape oil paintings. Aunt Ev paid for my lessons.  We still went to Aunt Ev's for dinner, though not as often. The crotchety door never stopped grumbling. V-8 and custard always bookended the meal. The wings of the drop leaf table spanned the breadth of the living room, and the bird's serenade tirelessly slipped under the window.

My first painting remained in its place of honor until, yellowed and droopy, it disappeared.

Now at an age when paper plate art and an insatiable appetite for short stories was not cool, I assumed—with relief—she had thrown it away. My first oil painting of a covered bridge hung over her bed.

She asked me one day, "Tracy, do you remember the first painting you gave me?"

I laughed, "Uhhh, yes. I do."

She stooped in front of the old bureau where the custard cooled and tugged at the bottom drawer.  It groaned, but opened just enough for her hand to grope through her archive of treasures. With a slight twist of the wrist, the paper plate emerged.

Age had licked away the waxy vibrance.

With an art curator's reverence, she fingered the edges of the decrepit paper plate. I wondered what she saw in that kindergarten mess. Now a grandmother and writist (writer/artist), I like to think Aunt Ev knew an ageless commodity easily smothered by comparison and competence—

a child's joy lacks perfection and does not depend on recognition.

Such delight is the magic for anyone who creates with a kindergartner's heart.