Artists spend hours in a studio, closet, at a corner table, depending on the available space, creating art. Alone.
I stare at a blank canvas. Quiet or entrancing music plays in the background. Thoughts of food, lunch, dinner, breakfast slip by without notice. Hubby comes in.
“Have you decided what we’ll have for:
A daily multiple choice for which I sometimes earn a gold star.
A gold star?
I remember those.
Sometimes pasted on our foreheads for doing excellent class work. Our papers sported their gold star. We were a matching set. That was really cool from Kindergarten to second grade.
For my sixth birthday, Grandmother sent a birthday present to the orphanage where I lived with my sister. A nun delivered the package to me at play time. Students crowded to see what I had gotten. Some stared across the room from their play area.
Inside were four pieces each of Grandmother’s special fudge: peanut butter, and maple walnut fudge.
She usually made fudge for special occasions like Christmas. I had never gotten it for my birthday before. But then, I was not in an orphanage before. Another small box sat at the bottom of the package. It was filled with gold stars! Lots of them. Smiling wide, I showed my loot to my classmates.
The nun highly recommended I share with my friends.
She meant my Kindergarten classmates who happened to be in a similar predicament as I—enrolled in an orphanage. My sister and I were placed there after Mom unexpectedly died. Dad called it a convent. A place where nuns lived. We went to school, slept, ate and lived there without Dad for nine months. He complained about tuition for his two daughters. Why wouldn’t he just bring us home?
Staring at my cache of fudge, and feeling obliged—coerced—to share, I ate one piece. The remainder was devoured by my classmates like corn tossed to a murder of crows.
But, I had a little box of gold stars! More than anyone could ever earn in one hundred lifetimes in Kindergarten. The nun and my “friends” gawked, oohed and aahed.
The stars were mine. No need to share. I could have given each one a star, sticking it on their foreheads for their excellent job of speed-eating my birthday fudge within seconds of opening the gift.
The stars were mine.
Off to lunch we went to our assigned seats at a long, well worn, wooden dining table. We each had a drawer in which were a plate, cup, and utensils. It was my drawer. No one ate there but me. So I thought. Scheduled eating for 100’s of girls didn’t occur to my little brain. Why would it? Didn’t the world revolve around me?
After the meal, a large basin of hot water and soap made its way down our long dining table. Each girl washed her dishes, and pushed the basin left to her neighbor. A dish towel followed. Once dried, every plate and utensil was returned to the drawer until the next meal.
Having completed my task, I slipped my stars in my drawer for safe keeping. I would retrieve them at dinner time and bring the box to bed with me. A plan whereby I could ponder how to make good use of my gold stars.
Dinner time arrived. Sitting at the table, I retrieved my dish, cup and utensils. The meal was the usual for Sunday evening. The cooks had Sunday’s off. No one worked on Sundays, except the nuns. Not trained to cook for large crowds of children, they turned to a simple solution of carbohydrates and calcium diet. That meant chips and milk. Desert–a popsicle.
One meal I can never forget included a pat of butter. We each had meat, potatoes, vegetable and a slice of bread. The butter arrived stacked in a plate. Obviously cut by the cook and stored in the fridge—or the freezer.
Taking one pat, I placed it on my bread. Spreading was impossible. No matter how hard I pressed, the pat stayed firm. I was determined to spread my pat of butter. The bread tore and twisted. No luck.
Frustrated, I reconstructed my bread, piece meal, placing the butter in the center. Folding the bread, I ate it. It was okay until I bit into the butter. Yuck!
Biting lard or butter is not a favorite of mine. Still isn’t.
I never forgot that pat of butter. I eat butter. I even keep it in the fridge. But I learned to slice it thin to spread as I please. But, I digress…
After dinner and dishes, I reached into the drawer for my gold stars.
They weren’t handy. Climbing off my chair, I peeked into the drawer’s inside. Nothing!
I was troubled. Sad. Angry. Hurt. Suspicious. Someone took my stars. It was my birthday and I had been robbed. Violated. It wasn’t fair. I went to bed, crying into my pillow.
For a long time, I wondered who the thief was. I totally suspected the nuns. Whenever I got a gold star for my forehead, I thought, “Is this my gold star?” Had to be. The nun had lots of them to hand around…so it seemed.
Years later, I surmised a nun finding the box of stars in a student’s drawer, not knowing who’s it was, mine or the other assigned student’s, probably thought they were either stolen from a teacher’s desk or they were true contraband.
And then, I also think a haw-keyed classmate may have noticed my dumb plan, and stole them within seconds after I walked away.
Of all the colors, red, green, blue, silver or gold, I prefer the gold star.
As a teacher, awarding gold stars, I told my students, “This is a special star. Just for you. Cherish not the star but the super work you accomplished. If you never get a gold star again, remember this one. You don’t always have to get a gold star for work well done. Just always do the best you can. Be happy whether you get one gold star or a whole box full. But who needs a box full of stars? Look at the sky. Those are all the stars you need. And they are always there waiting for you to look up. No one can take that away.”
The nuns helped me survive a terrible time in my life. The pain and unhappy feelings were from the separation of parent and child, and the silence of death.
I survived and dwell on the good things that came out of my stay at the convent/orphanage/boarding school.
The gold stars are still with me in memory and in my heart. A gift from Grandmother.
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