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Goats from Bob’s Mobile Petting Zoo munch the begonias along the front walk of the brownstone. On the front stoop, kids bottle-feed spring lambs and pet others. Nearby, a saddled pony tosses her blonde mane and waits with her handler for the next rider. Ducks squawk as a neighbor, broom in hand, shoos them from her roses. Rock music and squeals of laughter pour through opened windows, their lace curtains frisked by winds within the froth of play.

It’s Chris’s surprise party for his twelfth birthday.

Inside, multi-colored streamers festoon the walls and fixtures, helium balloons smooch the ceilings, paper plates drip with remains of pizza and ice cream. Upon the dining room table dances the father who organized this after-school party; Chris and his buddies gyrate in tandem with him. In all the rooms more kids wearing party hats jump on sofa cushions and dance.

A sense of concerted play makes complete sense of this apparent mayhem until abruptly ended by the return of the irate mother, an interior design executive. “The party’s over,” says the father, and their shared camaraderie fizzles.

So the 1994 movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, begins.

Had not the mother axed this party, it would have continued into the evening; its momentum, open-ended and spiced with joy, fired imaginations of the participants and blessed them.

Imagine if Mrs. Doubtfire (the father’s later disguise) would throw a similar party on Capitol Hill—It would have to be a surprise.

 

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Have you ever watched a child play with watercolors? Her brush sloshing paints upon paper affixed to an easel, her brown eyes alive with discovery, her brunette braids pirouetting upon shoulders covered by a smock? How a low hum enlivens her classroom?

 

Such was my experience at Glenridge Elementary School. However, more education distanced me from that child enlivened by riotous colors splotching butcher-block paper. Over the years she disturbed my visits to art studios, museums, galleries; she itched to pick up a brush and again create messes of color.

 

A breakthrough occurred during a recent workshop facilitated by a seasoned artist with tapered fingers. In the middle of her studio ran a long table covered with painter-cloth. Across from our six chairs were sable brushes, tins of Prang semi-moist watercolors, sheets of 140 pound weight, tubs of water, paper towels, and small sponges and salt shakers, all neatly set before us, as if invited to a banquet.

 

“Let’s consider two basic techniques used in water coloring, wet on wet and wet on dry,” the artist said, smoothing her wavy hair from her forehead. “A good place to start. I’ll demonstrate.” It looked so simple.

 

My brush limp in my hand, I sprinkled drops of water into each color in my tin, then saturated my sheet in front of me, then stroked it with red as if it were my lover. Suddenly that little child at Glenridge Elementary School grinned at me. It had been too long. Other riotous colors emerged from the tip of my brush, blending and bleeding with each other.

 

Next came the technique, wet on dry. I listened for the inner prompting. It would be a spring garden; tulips, delphinium, and narcissus emerged upon my white sheet. It felt like the first morning of creation.

 

I had been visited.

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