Courtesy Betty Smith
Story by Betty Smith
On a damp, dreary, stay-in-the-house kind of day, I was a 4-year-old artist armed with a new treasure: my own big box of crayons. Somehow, the usual paper borrowed from Mom’s typewriter wasn’t special enough for these 64 perfect, waxy, sweet-smelling sticks of vivid color. I looked around for a bigger canvas. The walls presented an inviting yet forbidden landscape. If only there were hidden walls, walls that people could sometimes see and sometimes not. Walls like the ones in Mom and Dad’s closet.
Slipping quietly down the hall to the bedroom, I stood on tiptoe to reach the string for the closet light. Using my whole body, I pushed aside the heavy clothes and shut the door behind me. Words and images filled my mind faster than my hands could make them. Bright reds, sky blues, greens, purples, bright explosive yellows and oranges, fuchsia and lime — all became pictures, numbers and letters.
A brilliant rainbow arched across one wall, with a cheery golden sun peeking out from above. Below, a giant shade tree supported a rope and tire swing for stick-figure children. Around them, flowers bloomed everywhere. Then I drew my reddish-brown cat with its slanted green eyes and long black whiskers.
My masterpiece! All my very own magic! I took in the walls, the colors, the brightness, and joy swelled inside me. But as my creativity wound down, a thought popped up: I’ve got to show Mom! Suddenly I was still. I looked around with new eyes. What had I done?
Mom called out, “Dinner’s ready.” After a short time, her footsteps approached, and then finally, the closet door opened. I stood nervously in the corner, still clutching the canary yellow crayon in a sweaty fist. Oh, please don’t be mad, I thought. Please, please.
Mom inhaled sharply, then stood frozen. Only her eyes moved as she slowly looked over my masterpiece. She was quiet for a long, long time. I didn’t dare breathe.
Finally, she turned to me.
“I like it,” she said. “No, I love it! It’s you! It’s happy! I feel like I have a new closet!”
Forty-five years later, my childhood artwork is still there. And in my own house, the closet walls are masterpieces, too, created by my own daughters when they were little girls.
Every time I open a closet door, I remember that, as big as that box of crayons and white walls seemed when I was little, my mother’s love was the biggest thing of all.