A CAN OF YELLOW PAINT
Little Tommy Bowers had become an avid bird watcher
in the few weeks since school let out for the summer. He had passed from
the second grade to the third with all A’s and his parents were very
proud of him. Being an only child and living in the country, he had no
one to play with and soon became bored with toys.
Watching T. V. was only allowed for a few early morning cartoons
and certain family type shows in the evening. He preferred to be outside
anyway and watching all the birds in the back yard, kept him fascinated
He was sitting on the back steps, deep in thought,
when his father came home from work.
“What are you thinking so hard about, son?” asked
“ Hi dad. I’ve just been thinkin’ that it would
be nice if we could build us a bird house.”
“That’s a great idea. I’ll tell you what,
we’ll just get ourselves up bright and early come Saturday morning and
“You bet! But now let’s go see what mom’s got
good for supper.”
Tommy’s father was quite adept with woodworking and
even had a wood shop out back. He woke Tommy bright and early on
Saturday morning and after breakfast they went out to the workshop.
Tommy watched as his father cut the wood into six squares and two
triangles. Then he cut a large round hole in one of the squares for the
door and a small round hole under it to drive in a peg for the perch.
Tommy helped by handing his father nails and brackets and it was not
long until the house was made.
“Now we will have to paint it before we can put it
up, said Tommy’s father, what color would you like?”
“Oh, I like yellow, it’s so bright and I think
the birds would like it.”
“Well, I don’t have any yellow. We’ll have to
go in to town and buy some and you can pick the exact color of yellow
you want. But first, let’s go get a cold drink. I’m thirsty.”
“Me too. I’m parched.”
In the store, his father told him they would have to
get a paint made especially for outside because the summer sun and rain
and winter snow would be very hard on it, and showed him which group to
Tommy picked a bright, sunny, yellow.
When they returned home, his father told him that it
would be his responsibility to paint the house and asked if he thought
he could handle it.
Tommy was thrilled and said he was sure he could.
“Well, you better go in and ask your mother for
some old clothes. It’s going to be a messy job and if you ruin your
good clothes, mom will have both our heads.” said his father.
Tommy emerged from the house wearing a long sleeved
shirt that came well above the wrists and an old pair of jeans that were
on the verge of being to snug. He opened the can of paint, picked up the
brush, and took a deep breath, wondering where to start. He wanted to
make his dad proud of him, so he took it very slow. He started with the
roof. It took him about an hour to paint the house and when it was done,
he sat it aside to dry and cleaned the brush the way his father had
Even though he was almost as bright yellow from head
to foot as the house, he did an excellent job and was very pleased with
Both of his parents came out to review his work and
praised him greatly for a job well done. His father put the house up in
the center of the back yard. Only a day or two went by when Tommy
noticed a bird coming out of the house. It sat on the perch for a second
and flew away but it wasn’t long before it returned with straw in its
beak. Back and forth it flew, each time bringing straw. It’s building
a nest, he thought and ran in the house to tell his mother.
While sitting on the steps one sunny day, watching
the birds, he had a brilliant idea. He went into the house for a few
minutes, and then returned with a sketchpad and pencil. He sat down and
began sketching a bird. When he finished, it was a little crude but for
someone his age, it was really quite good. With practice he became much
better. Now he had two pass-times, not only watching the birds but
sketching them as well.
Summer passed much to soon for Tommy and it was time
to return to school. This was good because he was not so concentrated on
the birds and began sketching other things. By the time summer break
came, he had sketched the view from the classroom window, the teacher,
her desk with the vase full of flowers, the black board, books and all
his class mates.
School was out near the end of May and Tommy’s
birthday fell on the third of June. For a present, his parents decided
to buy an inexpensive art kit and see what he could do with it. Tommy
was overjoyed with the gift and seemed to have a natural talent for
blending the paints. That summer he painted everything in sight. He did
a panoramic view showing the front of the house with the flower lined
walkway, and the shutters. The Gardenia bushes under the windows were so
life like you could almost smell their aroma. Then he did a side view,
which included the back yard with the birdhouse.
He gave all the paintings to his mother who framed
them and displayed them proudly on the hall walls. Of course his father
was proud also. Tommy over heard him saying to his mother, “And to
think it all started with a can of yellow paint for a bird house. To
speak of the bird house, we need to take it down, clean and repaint it,
the elements have taken their toll.”
They never got around to it that summer though, it
flew by so fast. Before they knew it school started again. Then
Christmas rolled around. Tommy’s parents went all out for his present
this year and bought him all the art supplies he could possibly need.
By the time summer came again, he had painted
portraits of his parents, several winter scenes and various animals. He
was not too happy with the portraits and decided he was much better with
scenery and animals.
The day came to repaint the birdhouse; Tommy and his
father were in the wood shop. “Do you want to paint it yellow again?
Asked his father as he took the can down from the shelf, if you do we
will most likely have to go buy more. Paint just doesn’t keep for two
years.” He pried the lid off and looked in the can, picked up a
spatula, he used for stirring paint and began to stir. “I don’t
believe this! He exclaimed, this looks good as new and the can is half
full. Heck, you had half of it on you and half on the birdhouse when you
painted it the first time. So how can we have a half can left? It’s a
mystery.” he laughed.
Tommy painted the birdhouse without being as messy as
he was the first time. Then he cleaned the brush and the rim of the can
and placed it back on the shelf.
That’s the last time the house would be painted for
many years. Time was flying fast and things were changing. Tommy’s
father had to put in more hours at work, even working half a day on
The years rolled by, Tom, as he was now called,
graduated from high school, went to college, fell in love, went to work
as the art instructor at the college, married and had a little boy of
his own. The local museum held annual art shows and he sold enough of
his paintings to put a down payment on a small home. He was now
thirty-five and life was treating him well.
He and his little family visited his parents almost
every weekend. His father took an early retirement because of arthritis.
He had fought it for years but now it was getting him down. He spent
most of his time puttering in his wood shop.
It was nearing the Christmas season and Tom’s aunt,
his mother’s sister, invited everyone for Christmas. She lived five
hundred miles away.
Tom couldn’t make it because his wife was expecting
their second child anytime. But his mother wanted to go. She said it
might well be the last chance she would have to see her sister, as they
were not getting any younger. Tom wanted them to take a plane but his
mother had a fear of flying and assured him that they could handle the
It was only five hundred miles, they could make it in
a day easily and the weather was supposed to stay nice.
So they packed the car with warm clothes, blankets,
food and a thermos of hot coffee. They left home at five a.m. on
December the 23rd. Their plan was to spend Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day and return home on the 26th.
The trip was uneventful until they were fifty miles
from their destination. A winter storm blew in from out of nowhere.
Freezing rain came down in torrents. Tom’s mother was driving and
tried desperately to find a place to pull over before it got so bad but
on that stretch of highway there was nowhere to pull off. On a down hill
grade the car went into a skid, she could not control it and met head on
with a semi-trailer.
When Tom received the news from the highway patrol he
was told that his parents died instantly. He was in shock and said
repeatedly, “There must be some mistake.”
One hour after hearing the dreadful news, he called
his mother-in-law and asked her to come and stay with their
four-year-old son because he had called an ambulance to rush his wife to
the hospital. After being in the hospital only fifteen minutes, she gave
birth to a beautiful baby girl.
Tom’s emotions were so mixed up. It was the first
time in his life he had thought about life and death. He wondered; if we
call the birth of a baby a miracle, what do we call the death of
parents. Tragedy! He asked himself, why God had given him both on the
After seeing that his wife and child were safe and
resting well, he got in his car and headed for his parents home. He knew
he had to find insurance papers so he could make all the necessary
arrangements. On the drive, he thought he would sell the place. He and
his family were comfortable in the city and he wouldn’t want the long
drive back and forth to work as his father had done for so many years.
When he pulled in the driveway, he went all the way
to the back and sat there, taking in the view. It was a beautiful place,
anyone would be proud to own it.
He forced himself from the car and slowly ascended
the steps where he had sat so many times as a child. He put the key in
the lock and opened the door. When he stepped into the kitchen, all the
golden memories of childhood came flooding over him. He sat down in a
kitchen chair and the emotions he kept hidden from his wife and child,
gushed out in agonizing, and gut wrenching sobs. When he was able to
compose himself he said aloud, “ God! Why did you make it so hard for
a man to cry and so easy for a woman?”
He went into the living room, taking everything in,
touching little what-knots his mother had sitting around. Then he went
into the hall where his mother hung all the paintings he made as a
child, he stopped and looked at each one.
When he finally came to his parent’s bedroom he
recalled running and jumping between them on stormy nights when the
lightening flashed and the thunder rolled. What a cozy, comfortable,
safe feeling, snuggled between his parents. The tears welled in his eyes
but he was stronger now and brushed them aside.
He went to the closet and took down a metal box, sat
it on a nightstand and opened it. Inside he found the insurance papers,
the deed to the property, and bank account information with his name
listed so he could withdraw any money and a will. He closed the box,
took it with him and left.
As he came to the end of the driveway, he stopped and
looked at the house again, knowing in his heart, he could never part
with the place.
On the drive home he thought, he and his family could
keep the house and use it for a summer home. He would fix up the wood
shop and make a studio for his artwork. He had always wanted a studio.
He returned to the hospital and told his wife of his
plans. She was thrilled, saying, “It will be our home away from home
and when you retire, we can sell the house in town and make it our
After she regained her strength, they spent every
weekend at the house. She cleaned, although it was no effort because
Tom’s mother had been an immaculate housekeeper. She cleaned out all
the closets and drawers, knowing this would be too painful for Tom. He
spent most of the weekends cleaning the wood shop. Boxing up wood, tools
and paint. While boxing the paint he found the can of yellow paint that
was used to paint the birdhouse. He wondered why his father had kept it
all these years for surely it was no good. It had been well over twenty
years. On a whim he pried the lid off. Sure enough the paint was dried
to a crust. As he put the lid back on and threw the can in the box, he
heard his father’s voice, “And to think it all started with a can of
yellow paint.” At that moment he realized why his father had saved it.
It was because he was so very proud of his son.
Tom hired men to come in and lay tile on the floor,
install windows all around three sides of the building so there would be
plenty of light.
Next he wanted all the shelves on the back wall
replaced and designed them in sections for his paints. There was to be
one small shelf in the very center of the wall and it was to be ornately
When they were finished, he moved all his supplies in
and arranged the paint on the shelves. Except for the small one in the
middle. It was reserved for something special.
There, Tom placed a battered old can with faded yellow streaks on
the cracked and peeling label. He placed it there as a reminder, that no
matter how great our material possessions are, it’s the little things
in life, like the smile of a friend, a hug from a child or even a can of
yellow paint, that give us our most treasured memories.
Tom is retired now; he and his wife enjoy good
health. He spends a great deal of time in the studio, still painting.
His wife writes poetry, short stories and is working on a novel. Their
son followed in his father’s footsteps and became a commercial artist,
living and working in New York City. He is married but has not made Tom
a grandfather, as yet. He comes home each summer and he and Tom repaint
the birdhouse. Although it isn’t yellow anymore. Tom’s son changed
it to light blue with a brown roof and painted little windows with
curtains on it.
Their daughter graduated nursing school and is
working in a nearby hospital. She comes home on her days off and
recently brought a nice young man with her, an intern in the hospital
where she works.
And so, life goes on. Except for the one great
tragedy in his life, Tom considers his to be a good one. He looks
forward to the day when he will have grandchildren who will ask him why
he keeps an ugly old can on such a special shelf. He will tell them they
have it backwards. It’s a very special can on an ugly old shelf. When
they ask why it is so special, he will tell them, because it holds one
of the world’s greatest treasures. Loving Memories.
© Lora Cox