Even at a very young age, I knew I should ignore almost everything my grandmother said. She was one of those adults who was always trying to get you in trouble with the other adults, like your parents. But she had such fun doing it, it was hard to resist.
She was the one who taught me to do things absolutely wrong. We’d be in the kitchen & she’d say What do you want for breakfast, kiddos? Pancakes, we’d say & she’d say How are we going to make them? & we’d start laughing & screaming at the top of our lungs, Absolutely Wrong.
We’d throw in a couple of handfuls of flour & then some milk & an egg & maybe some blue jello for color & some chocolate sprinkles unless we were out, in which case we’d throw in those silver round pellets that were like chewing on rocks & we’d mix it all up & depending on how thick it was, we’d add more milk, or we’d add more flour.
One time we ran out of flour & it was still really soupy so my grandma poured some Rice Krispies in a paper bag & we all took turns jumping up & down on it until it was sort of powdery & then we used that. Those pancakes were…interesting.
So the day she said we were going to learn to paint, it didn’t seem at all unusual that my grandma got down her bingo set from the hall closet. She put it on the table & put her glasses on the end of her nose & she said Now we’re going to paint by numbers, kiddos. How are we going to do it? Absolutely wrong, we said.
It was a painting of a lighthouse on a bright shiny day. My grandma pulled out the first bing chip. I-12, she said. We then picked a color with an i in it. Like ultramarine. Or you could pick a color that didn’t have an i in it if you couldn’t spell yet. My sister liked orange. I said there was no i in orange. My sister said I like orange. See? She said, there’s an i in I like orange. That was hard to argue with. Besides, what lighthouse scene is complete without a liberal use of orange?
We painted & my grandma drank coffee & smoked cigarettes faster & faster & we were all laughing & then we were done & she put it up on the mantel & we stood back to see what it looked like. Hmm, we said. It doesn’t look at all like the picture on the box. But we didn’t care. We hung it on the living room wall, so we could look at it in the morning while we ate the things we called pancakes & see what else we could see in it besides a predominantly orange lighthouse.
Over the years, I kept on painting & then writing & then other things, too & you’d be surprised how often I sit down to work & say Now we’re going to paint, kiddo. Or write. Or whatever. Then I smile to myself & say How’re you going to do it? & I know the answer because I can feel the laughter bubbling up in me.
Absolutely wrong, I say, absolutely wrong. & then happily, off I go & you’d be surprised how often I end up with something that’s absolutely right.