The beginning was pretty innocuous.  Salvation Army was having a half-price sale last Saturday, and Peggy wanted to go. She has a knack of finding Ann Taylor, Lands Inn, and lots of other brand names. If I were a size 4, maybe I could, too. I hoped to find a couple of warm tops, and my mission was accomplished. Scored a suede jacket that had never been worn, a Kauai zippie, and an Alaska sweatshirt. Warm is warm. And all of it was $15.00.

Peggy had a stack of clothes bigger than she was — couple pair of jeans, Land’s Inn tops, a cute designer dress, I can’t remember everything.

But once we were finished with the clothes shopping, I spotted a pine table.

There’s nothing Peggy loves more than power tools….and wood.....and putting the two together. Twenty-some years ago, she gave me an electric screwdriver as a divorce present. Over the years, I added a power sander, electric stapler, nail gun, etc. There’s nothing more beautiful than a woman with power tools who knows how to use them.

The pine table came home with us. After all, at half-price, it was only $7.50.

We hadn’t been home half an hour before I heard the whirring of the sander taking off years of varnish from the table. It’s what happened next that threw me for a loop.

She brought it inside, plopped it in front of the couch and told me, “You’re the creative one. Paint it!” She was way too gleeful. I hadn’t painted anything for over six years. Oh, I painted a pillow for a new member educator at my first house with the Greek letters on the front and all her pledges names painted in script on it, but that hardly counts.

But living in sorority houses, there was no room to paint canvas’, no freezers to store the oils (pretty sure that’s a health code violation), and stained glass was out of the question. That takes a garage wall worth of storage space and a ton of equipment. And it leaves tiny glass shards everywhere. When it was just Abbi and me, we were used to walking on glass, but, this wasn’t home.

Peggy pulled out a crate full of acrylic paints, many of which were dead dry and unusable, and told me how excited she was to see it finished. I couldn’t even think. She wanted it finished that night, and there was a time I could have whipped the table top up in a couple of hours and varnished it the next morning…..but that was years ago.

So, here we are a week later. During the last week, I realized I’d even forgotten how to double-load a brush. I winged it. By the time I figured out some of the basics, the top was painted. I wanted to go back over the whole thing and redo it, but Peggy liked it the way it was, so I proceeded to finish it the way it was started, almost crying at the process. Painting is like many other things….”What you don’t use, you lose.” I’ve officially lost it.

It’s fine. It blends with the room and looks like it belongs, but I don’t like it. It’s not perfect. It’s not the calibre I’m used to. It’s not something I could/would be proud to sell. Or display in my own home.

Which took me back years.

When Bill & I were in Hawaii and Abbi was a baby, I was frustrated that I no longer had the time to keep my spices arranged alphabetically by cooking and baking and would realize after a couple of days that I hadn’t made the beds or taken a shower. A friend from the base chapel came up to me and said, “I teach an art lesson every Thursday morning. It’s $7.00. I supply the brushes and the paints. Bring Abbi, my kids will babysit with her.” And I showed up the next Thursday.

I’d always been “artsy-fartsy,” and that started in high school. Several of us were notorious for making a skirt one night and knitting a sweater to go with it within the next couple of days. But painting? That was for those like Carol Zika, who majored in art in college. Her work was creative and exciting, and I loved looking through her work. I was a lowely sewer of clothing, even if that meant trying on clothes, drawing pictures of them, and going home to copy them for myself. I also picked up needlework and crewel for awhile. When I went back to West Virginia to visit, I’d load up the trunk of the car and relatives would pick from my finished pieces of yarn work.

But Rae  Copeland and her art classes brought me to life. She never told us anything was difficult. I learned to paint on silk, glass, and anything else that would stand still long enough to apply paint with brush. It took no time for me to be picking up furniture to refinish, paint and sell. Folk art figures and projects came next. I sold out my first showing at an Officers’ Wives Club craft fair.  And if that worked, why not canvas’? They sold well, too. People started bringing me pictures taken on vacations for me to copy on canvas. Faces were tough for me, but I could do them….they just took a little longer. My favorite was a leathery, weather-beaten portrait of an old fisherman…..long grey beard, tired eyes, strong but tough hands…..I hated to see it leave.

During my first Hellishly hot summer in Oklahoma, all I wanted to paint was winter scenes — a house from Durango, snow-topped mountains, ice-covered lakes…..and during the Arctic cold winters, I painted cheerful summer scenes.

Next came stained glass. Abbi had started competing with a cheerleading gym in Moore, OK, and I would drive around during their practices. On one of my straffing runs, I discovered Zee’s Stained Glass. And a sign on the window that said, “Classes starting soon.” I signed up.  New passion.

In no time I was making window-sized pieces to add a little privacy to the living room, and stepping stones. I loved creating angels, birds, all manner of lovely creature and seeing them immortalized in concrete to be displayed in gardens and across yards.  One year, I ended up making presents for all of Abbi’s friends to give their parents. And of course, there were the OU & OSU stones I made for friends.

When I closed up housekeeping, I packed up a car full (front and back seats and trunk) of glass I’d purchased over the years and took it to Zee’s. She had to put it in her storage barn because there wasn’t enough room in the store. I also took my grinder and all my tools. Her students could use them.

So, since June of ’06, I’ve been artless. The closest I’ve gotten to creating anything was making cosmetic bags, dop kits, and pillows for cheer squads and knitting afghans for the girls to snuggle up with during “Boy Meets World” marathons or “Shark Week.” (Fins UP!) They were appreciated, but once one was finished…….I’d just start another one. Eventually, the patterns were memorized and I no longer needed books.

So, here’s my challenge. Painting the damned table made me realize how much I miss being creative. Writing isn’t the same as getting paint all over my clothes and legs, or realizing too late that a speck of Cobalt blue was spreading and there was no way to get it off gracefully. I miss the smell of paint thinner. I miss seeing a square of glass meld with others to create a beautiful mosaic, or dolphin, or mountain scene.

My reality is that regardless of where I live from now on, whether it be another sorority house, that houseboat I’ve been lusting after, or an apartment, there won’t be much wall space (and I have my favorites that will fill up all that’s available). And there probably won’t be much work space.

As soon as I figure out where that’s going to be, I’ll have to find a way other than writing to be creative… Painting sorority gifts? I don’t know. I just know that I long for the smell of oil paints, paint thinner and cleaning brushes. A piece of me has returned.

So until next time…..and I know, they’re less frequent now….be safe out there. And find something to make the world more beautiful. Even if it’s just smiling at a stranger.