The Eaton’s Catalog arrived on a Tuesday near the end of July. Geraldine noticed it the minute her father brought the mail in from the mailbox. “Yea,” she yelled running towards her father, “lemme see it, lemme see it…” she murmured as he let it slide out of the pile of mail for her to grab. She held it to herself as she made her way to the dining room table. There she set the huge volume carefully on the table, like she was laying out fine china. This was what she had been waiting for, the delicious moment when she would slowly page through the young woman’s clothing, jewelry and toy sections, examining everything in minute detail. She was not going to be rushed or interrupted. There were important things to see, descriptions to read and dreams to dream.
Mike who was upstairs in his room, heard his father announce it’s arrival to the household, “The Eaton’s catalog is here!” He heard, but could not make out his mother’s reply from somewhere in the house, but he did heard Geraldine’s voice claim first dibs yelling, “I saw it first!” to no one in particular. He was also interested in seeing the catalog but knew it was useless to even try for these two would be hogging it for the next few days.
Every year during the summer, his mother would do her shopping for clothing and items needed for the family for the next school year. This would eventually result in a huge order, which she would prepare under the watchful eyes of each family member.
It was strange how Mike had slowly became more interested in the catalog but it had very little to do with his choice of jeans he wanted for school. Sure, his mother would ask him about the colours he wanted of this or that shirt and he co-operated for it was for him, really all a cover. He was excited about the arrival of the new catalog but for reasons his family never expected.
A few days later, no one thought it strange for him to ask for the catalog and to take it upstairs to his room. In fact his mother encouraged him, happy that he finally seemed to be showing some interest in his school wardrobe. No one had any idea that this was the furthest thing from his mind.
Once he got past the door to the stairs, he burst into a run going up the stairs taking two steps at a time, rushing to get to the privacy of his room and pour over the images like they were banana splits from heaven. He turned to the underwear sections and examined the images in detail. He pulled out his sketch pad, opening it to a drawing he’d just finished. It had been inspired by the experience he’d had seeing his mother in her mirror while he was trapped under his parents bed. It was an image of a woman reflected in a mirror. For him, this was a new kind of work, the best he thought he’d ever done.
Using an outdated Eaton’s catalog he’d found the appropriate image, tore out the page and taped it to the glass of his bedroom window. Then he placed a sheet from his sketchpad over the one taped to the window. This way the window became a “light box” the sunlight making it possible for him to see through his sheet and trace the image onto his drawing paper. He’d make adjustments in the images to fit what he wanted for his drawing, shade them in to get the three dimensional affect and "wa-la" he had a new drawing.
He loved this process for it gave him the opportunity to practice his art. But there was one niggling problem and that was guilt. You see, Mike did attend church and suspected that what he was doing must be somehow sinful. He could not imagine his Sunday school teacher, any of the ministers, or even his parents approving of what he was doing. Yet, his excitement in experimenting and working with these images was too fulfilling and exciting for him to stop. How was he to learn, but by doing? He was and felt literally out of control.
With the success of this particular drawing, he began to take his sketch pad with him almost everywhere he went. Whenever he had time he’d open it to the drawing, study it, and usually make some alterations or improvements. The sketch pad had become something like the t-shirt he’d worn night and day when he was six.
Therefore when Sunday rolled around he never gave it a second thought, but took it with him when they went to church. There was a whole hour, Mike thought, where he could work on something while the preacher was speaking. What Mike had not counted on was the curiosity and interest or even the malevolence of the other boys that sat beside him in the pew.
The boys, during the service, all sat near the front of the church sanctuary, so the parents could keep an eye on them. Despite the parents best efforts to have the boys behave, things happened that were never seen or expected by the parents. The backs of the pews were of solid wood. So, the boys learned to keep the action below the level of the top of the bench. Also, their heads and shoulders must always appear to be paying serious attention to the stage. So no matter what happened, weather it was pinching, snapping one another, feats of strength, jokes or anything else boys will dream up, all had to be masked by the body language of "holiness." A body language that never gave away the pain, violence or laughter anyone might be experiencing.
Once the minister had begun Mike drew his art pad out of his Bible, opened it up to a new page, dug his pencil stub from out of his pocket and began doodling. He began with a drawing of the minister. Then added a Bible sticking out of his left ear. To balance the drawing he began drawing a second Bible sticking out of the other ear. In his concentration, he did not really notice the interest of the guys beside him and halfway through the second Biblical “earplug” his pad was easily jerked away from him and quickly passed several guys down the bench, out of his reach. He immediately realised what a terrible mistake he’d made bringing this sketch pad to church. He knew there were several drawings or outlines of both male and female figures in the sketch pad and knew it would not be long before the guys would find these. It went down the line of boys and yes, they did found them It was after this that all concerns about "holy behaviour" for the sake of the parents went out the window.
If you were sitting a few pews back you would have known exactly where Mike’s art pad was located in its journey down the pew of boys. There was giggling, pointing, smiling, gesturing, shoulders shaking, heads turning, guys whispering into each other’s ears. There was even elbowing and nudging going on as the guys would point out particular drawings. All of this happening as the pad slowly made its way down the line. One father finally stood up, leaning over the empty pew between him and the boys, and poked his son. Everyone stopped when that happened, but in a few moments it slowly began again, more subdued nonetheless, as the art pad continued its way down to the end of the line.
Mike never did get his sketch pad back. He had no idea, who had actually taken it or where it was. For all he knew it might be under the pew or somewhere in the church, waiting to be discovered by one of the ministers. Mike was sick.
All the way home, Mike was in pain. His mind spinning, wondering where his sketch pad was and who would be seeing it. He knew, that if this fell into the wrong hands, he was done. He would be considered the greatest sinner in the world. The whole church, he thought, would confront him and make a rule that he never draw anything again. This was his greatest fear, he would be forced to give up his art! He was distracted and distraught, waiting for life as he knew it to end.
“What’s the matter Mike?” his mother asked him, turning to look at him from the passenger seat of the car. He was sitting in the back, bent over rocking back and forth, his arms across his stomach groaning as if in severe pain.
“I don’t feel so good.” He said. “Do you have a stomach ache?” she asked concerned.
“Yea,” he said. Then before he knew what he was saying he added, mumbling, “and a head-ache too.”
“I’ll give you an aspirin when we get home.” She offered. “We’ll be home in a few minutes.”
He stayed in his room all that afternoon feeling miserable. When his mother offered to bring him something to eat for dinner, he accepted but pushed most of it away. On Monday, he stayed in his room, his mind creating worse and worse scenarios about what would become of him when his drawings would be found. One was that he’d be driven from the community and from his home. He began to think about running away and living off the land in the willows growing in the cow pasture. He imagined himself living off of rabbits he’d shoot with his slingshot. Possibly sneaking into the barn for night, sleeping on straw in an empty stall or manger. It all seemed like suddenly his life was in ruins and that there was no answer to his dilemma.
By Tuesday he just wanted it to be over. His mind and body were tired and he just wanted someone to find his sketch pad already. He was thinking of confessing admitting his guilt and just taking whatever punishment they would hand out for sinners like him.
It was also on Tuesday that his parents phoned the Doctor to inquire about his health.
That evening Mike suddenly noticed a car drive up the driveway and roll to a stop on the yard. Were these visitors? On Sundays it was an accepted practise for families to come and visit, often without any warning. Who could this be? A few minutes later Geraldine knocked on his door telling him that two of the Ministers from the church were downstairs visiting with mom and dad in the living room and that mom had sent her upstairs. “Finally,” he thought, “they've found my sketch book and have come to tell me to never draw again.” Then he would have to leave, he’d run away because he knew he could not live without the freedom to draw.
He waited anxiously, sitting, perspiring and rocking on the edge of his bed, waiting for them to call for him. He started at every noise he heard, but nothing happened. Finally the car drove off the yard. He concluded that they had told his parents what they had seen in his sketch pad and that they would now be the ones to tell him that he could never to draw again. He crawled under the blankets and waited for his mother to give him the dreaded news that would end his life as he knew it.
“How are you doing, feeling any better?” his mother asked breezing into the room with water and some aspirin. Mike was under his blankets, shivering in fear and dread. He waited, but his mother seemed to be much too happy and in no hurry to tell him what would happen to him now that his art had been found.
“Did the Ministers want me to leave?” he finally asked his voice trembling. His mother stopped in her tracks and looked at him. “What did you say?” she asked.
“Did the Ministers want me to leave?” he whispered, “did they want to talk to me?”
His mother was stunned. “Of course not!” she exclaimed, “Why would you even say something like that?” They just came to thank us, your dad and me for how we helped cook meals for that week of meetings we had two weeks ago at the church.” She sat down on the side of the bed and in her kindest voice said. “You know Mike, they said some very nice things about you and Geraldine. They saw that horse you drew, that’s still on the blackboard and they really liked it. They said that you had very skilled hands and that one day you would probably be an amazing finish carpenter and make furniture or kitchen cabinets when you grew up. They like you Mike, and there is no reason for them to ask for you to go away.”
She patted his hand, mussed his hair, kissed him good night and was gone.
They had not found his sketchbook, relief welled up in his heart. He sat up in his bed. Obviously, one of the guys still had his sketchbook, for if it had been left in church it would have been found by now. He began to feel a lot better.
A finish carpenter eh? Why he wondered, a finish carpenter? He’d recently been noticing how many pictures there were in books and papers around him. His reader at school was all full of pictures for each story. Even the church Sunday school books had art in them. Someone must have drawn all those pictures. Why could he not be that person? Why should he be a carpenter when he already was an artist? He was confused. Maybe they had seen his sketch book and this was their ruling? Mmmmm
That line of thought was too hard on his mind. Despite the fact he still did not know exactly where his book had gone, he actually began to see something positive about that Sunday morning. He remembered the expressions of interest, wonder and fun on the faces of the guys as they had passed his sketchbook down the pew, each of his friends looking at his artwork. Not only was that a compliment to him but, he realised, this must have been one of the most fun Sundays his friends had ever had at church, of that he was sure.
“Yes!” he said aloud, pumping his fist.
English Gardens, Winnipeg MB
Photo by: Cliff Derksen