Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pumpkin Blue...

This past Sunday at St John's - Staten Island was family day, where friends and family of the entire community gathered together for fun and reflection. The reflection took place at the mass that was held at 11:00 to start things off. It was so well attended that they had to bring in more seats after the mass had started. And as the crowd dispersed to the great lawn outside, reflection gradually turned to activity, as the great tent and the bustle greeted us outside.

All through the mass, my almost-three year old daughter, Lucy, kept wanting to see out through the window behind us where they had begun to inflate this large play track. She had noticed it just before the mass started when we were still outside and as it expanded and distended, she could begin to make out the shape of the car that crowned the plastic structure. This drew her attention. This and the ice cream trucks that she saw parked in the driveway. As any child, she was drawn to the activity and impatient of the reflection.

So after mass no one renounced reflection more quickly than she, eager as she was to get outside and see what all the fuss was about. We walked slowly through the student staffed tables, past the bandstand, and found our way under the tent, where we waited for grace. Lucy liked just looking around, being carried, and sometimes walking through the crowds, and she kept asking, "Where is Connie?" and "Where is Harry?" (My colleagues, whom she met last time we were on campus. The memory of them anchors St John's in her thoughts.)

But she also got to meet, as did my wife, Johanna, some of my students, past and present, and their parents. And she loved the band and the flags that were on the table that she waved and brandished.

One activity that occupied her attention more than the others, though, was the pumpkin painting. With Halloween just around the corner and all the stores on 5th ave. in Brooklyn festooning their windows with harvest colors, Lucy is well-conditioned for the season of witches and mellow fruitfulness, as long as that fruit is a pumpkin. We already have a small pumpkin or two around the apartment and she is seeing orange everywhere. So it was no surprise to us that she gravitated towards the pumpkins that were on the ground behind the pumpkin painting table.

And when she saw what the kids were doing with them -- drawing on them! -- she was even more enticed. So she went over, picked out a pumpkin she could lift, sat down at the table, and began to paint...

There were several plates in front of her all with different colors, some containing sparkles, some phosphorescent. The plate she chose was one with a generous puddle of deep blue paint on it, with streaks of yellow swirled in the periphery, from the previous kid. Lucy began to paint, at first tracing delicate vertical lines and applying small and random (to me) dots to the surface of the gourd. But as she became more comfortable and got a feel for the brush and the spherical shape that was her canvas, she began to more liberally and totally apply the paint. She went for completeness, total coverage, and gradually all traces of orange began to be obliterated. She would have me turn the pumpkin to assure that all spots were covered. She did so with care and precision, not with wild abandonment, which was frankly the effect that was achieved. Her method, her technique, if one could call it that, was slow and almost meditative, like some kind of obscure ritual or service that provoked a reflection in her that was lacking when we were at mass.

After one final circumspection, she was done. She put the paint brush down (she was remarkably clean, not one spot on her dress or hands, a testament to her focus and devotion) got down from the chair and had me carry the pumpkin over to where the others were. We told her that it would dry there and then we would take it home with us. She seemed satisfied by this, and we then walked around some more.

By the time we left, we had seen other things, met other people, and had some cookies, and we didn't remember until we were almost home that we had forgotten Lucy's blue pumpkin...

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