I was sixteen the year we lived in Cleveland. My Aunt Lois was the principal of the pre-school at the Jewish Community Center (JCC), where I took art lessons.
The future teacher in me wanted to help out some kind of way. Lois found that some kind of way, being a woman of creative insight and wisdom. She handed me a children’s picture book, Little Blue and Little Yellow, by Leo Lionni. It was about two dots, one blue, one yellow, and how, when they hugged, green happened. It’s a story of valuing differences.
Her idea was, I would learn the story and tell it out loud while illustrating it with paints on an easel. Rather than hold up the picture book, I would make the story come alive with paint right before their very eyes. Captivated by the idea, I said yes.
I practiced telling the story with my paintbrush, so I could make color dots and blend them into green decently. The only problem was, I practiced on a flat surface. Of course, the easel was nearly vertical so all the kids could see the story unfold as I told it. I hadn’t factored in gravity.
Undaunted, I plunged ahead. Put a blob of blue paint on my brush, describing an imperfect circle on the butcher paper-covered easel. And as if on cue, the blue paint ran down the page as if the poor blob was bleeding.
I tried again.
A little less paint this time, letting the new yellow dot kiss or hug the blue dot. Now there was yellow blood dripping down the page. Pooling with the blue blood, making a cascade of green blood.
I kept going with the story as best I could, feeling shaky, but did not stop. The show must go on, right? The kids stared, a bit dazed, but I managed to hold their attention for the duration. They might have even clapped.
No discussion. No Q & A. They were too young. They went back to free-playing as I gathered up my supplies, tucked my tail between my legs, and skittled back to Lois’ office, where I burst into tears.
Now, Dolly, she said in her unconditionally loving way, you did fine. You made the story even more interesting than the book. Yours was alive and in the moment, and the kids were mesmerized. They’re too young to know about pigments.
What they do know is a nice young lady came to tell them a story in a really different way. A way that made the story come alive for them.
I dried my eyes on her final words — You did good. I did. I did good.
Fast forward to 2015.
That was 1968. I last saw my Aunt Lois alive in May of 2015. We had a family gathering for my Mom’s 85th birthday at a lodge in an Ohio state park. We went for walks, looked at birds, swam, and played bridge. Lots and lots of bridge.
I live out here in California. She called me not long after. I saved the message. In it she says, I’ll see you in June, Dolly. Her memory was not all there, even though she hid that fact well.
At the end of June, something wasn’t right. She threw up one morning and went back to bed. She didn’t know it, but she was having a stroke in her brain stem. Her last words before losing consciousness were — and this is typical Lois — fooey, fooey, fooey.
She had wanted to die in the hospice. She got there the next day after a night in the ICU. Once she sensed she was where she wanted to be, she let go and floated away.
So, in a way, I did “see” her in June. At her memorial, sitting in the front row. It wasn’t until I got up to share this story about Little Blue and Little Yellow that I saw our group had grown. The river of folks filled the parlor we were in and turned a corner and continued into the entryway.
Lois, once you asked me to be thinking of you when I went over the Golden Gate Bridge. Lois, I think of you every time I go over the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, I think of you often and miss the way you called me Dolly and reminded me, against my own judgment, I did good. I did good.
Marilyn Flower writes political humor and satire to delight socially and spiritually conscious folks. She’s a regular columnist for the prison newsletter, Freedom Anywhere, where she writes about faith and prayer. Clowning and improvisation strengthen her resolve during these crazy times.