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 for hours.

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 his father.

“ 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 do that.”

“Really?”

“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 choose from.

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 shown him.

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 himself.

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 Saturdays.

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 drive.

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 same day.

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 permanent home.”

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 carved.

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

 

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