Flowers are red, young man

In 1978, Harry Chapin released his song “Flowers are Red.”
I was 15.
Already being a lover of Harry
through his 1974 release of “Cats in the Cradle,”
I was certain I had a best friend in this man.

I still remember the day. I was a fourth grade in Mrs. Lance’s room at Newton Estates Elementary School in College Park, Georgia.  We were in the last room on the hall … to the left, just before the heavy, royal blue double doors that appeared to lead into the woods, but in fact, went onto the playground. Our door was close to tall, lanky-legged swing sets. “Rock City” (an area in the woods that was a catch-all for huge rocks when the school was being built – a fun place to play and climb and sit … tucked in the shade of trees) was on the other end of the playground. We weren’t supposed to go into the woods, but it was my place of preference. And oh, those beautiful boulders. I still remember.

I still remember how much I enjoyed art. While our home today is full of everything creative …. stamps, paper, scissors, tape, glue, glue guns, yarn, spray paint, looms, and more … my mom wasn’t the creative type. It wasn’t that she didn’t allow me to be creative … I don’t think she knew to supply me with the tools because it was out of her realm of experience. Since I didn’t many have resources at home for creativity, art at school was my creative outlet.

I remember the day that we painted the big flowers. The tall roll of stiff brown paper was unfurled. Our teacher drew the flowers for us – a gracious three-foot tall each. We cut them out and were encouraged to paint them. I don’t remember the teachers instructions at all. She may or may not have given us limitations.

The flowers were all painted with petals that matched. Stems and leaves were green. Flowers were yellow, white or blue. Flowers were orange, pink or red.

My flower had petals that were all different colors.

My mom kept a neighbor girl whose mother worked. Her mom drove us to school, before she went off to work … while she and her mom fought over brushing the tangles out of her hair. A “rats nest,” they called it. It was a daily ritual, as I remember. My mom picked the two of us up every afternoon in our powder blue, metallic 1960’s Mustang. Robin i and I fought a bit … like siblings, I guess. She was one of my first friends when we moved to Atlanta, just before kindergarten. She was sitting on the curb of the street near my house … making pepto-bismol pink foot prints on the asphalt with paint that was put out for the trash.

She had things that I did not because her mother worked, but I had my mom.  I was always grateful that my mom stayed home with me while her mom worked. I wore hand-me-downs and was perfectly content. Robin’s mom referred to my mom as “Poor little ol’ Lee.” I always wondered why.

I don’t remember if Robin was in my classroom that year … but I would guess that she was not. Because I remember when she came to the door of the class room, our flowers lining the wall that once full of windows but now bricked in with cinder blocks. We lived near the Atlanta airport and this cut down on noise, but blocking in windows was a trend at the time. I’m sure it helped keep the children from daydreaming or being distracted. Robin looked up at my flower and made a disparaging comment. I remember that she commented that
flowers petals aren’t different colors … a flower has petals that all match each other.

….. that thought hadn’t even occurred to me …….

at all.

In fact, I liked my flower!

Several years later when Harry’s song came out, I could relate to every word. I knew what it was like to think outside the traditional box. I knew what it was like to see things differently than most others.

Life happens. Most of life just passes us by
but
there are those things that happen to us
or around us
that make us change our minds
about how we will live or feel …
about which parts of us we share
and which parts we hide.
We make daily decisions
for or against
words, choices and actions
according to what has been
said or done to or around us.

At nine years old, I certainly didn’t know
that at forty-seven I would still remember words spoken to me in a doorway
of my fourth grade classroom.
I didn’t realize that the sight of a shirt hanging in a department store
would remind me of the flower I painted with powdered tempera paint
– royal blue, sunshine yellow, fire engine red and true purple –
would bring back memories from decades ago.

I don’t fault my friend Robin for her words.
They weren’t painful for me.
And we were just children.
In fact, her words had impact
and helped shape my opinion
on encouraging individuality,
embracing creativity
and seeing the beauty
in those we relate to …
and those we don’t.

That experience,
like so many others,
reminds me of the power, strength and ability of words.

We make choices everyday
to build up
or tear down.
We can intentionally encourage
or carelessly waste our words on destruction.

Lord, be my filter.
Help me to see how my words might be taken
before they spill from my mouth.
Help my words draw people to you.

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