"An optimistic look at the magic of life." -- Kirkus Reviews
"The Parable of the Porcelain Figurines"
It was the winter of my senior year in high school and I had the use of my dad's car regularly, an Opel Cadet Station Wagon. Friends teased me that it was a real stretch to call it a car. They said the engine sounded like Chip and Dale were running their little legs off on hamster wheels, with Chip occasionally tripping on one of the rungs. As a precautionary measure I never opened the hood.
But I didn't care if four legged creatures powered it or not. It worked fine as long as you didn't want to go too fast or up a steep hill. I just wanted to go.
I loved that little car because it meant I had the sweet freedom to take off in the evenings and escape my deteriorating relationship with mom. In those days my mom and I were in an endless skirmish. It was as if we had been ordered by our superiors to fight to the bitter end. Which is what we did, relentlessly.
Since I had an adversary instead of a mom, I went looking for a substitute. I puttered along in the little red Opel and each evening it graciously agreed to deposit me at the doorstep of one of the homes I had adopted in search of a mother.
I found several potential surrogates, mainly moms of my friends, but also a few women from the church who helped with our youth group. Being an industrious kid, I would find out what everyone was having for dinner and would go where the food was the best on any given night -- sort of like Tramp in Lady and the Tramp. Patsy Scruggs was always good for a fattening southern cooked meal and Mrs. Tindall had so many mouths to feed that she hardly noticed when I pulled up a chair. Sandy's mom worked long hours, so I tried not to impose on her unless I was desperate, but Vera Smith would absolutely light up when I dropped by, so I frequented her home often, even though she wasn't the best cook of the bunch. But that was okay, the nourishment I was seeking went far beyond food. The big hugs I got from Vera and her family as soon as I walked through the door were better than any dessert.
Christmas was fast approaching and I wanted to get something really special for each of these women. I was working after school and had a little money saved up, but I didn't want to buy them cute knick-knacks that wouldn't have any meaning. I wanted to give them something from my heart. After much consideration, the best idea I could come up with was to make the gifts myself.
I was pretty good with crafts, so I went to the local art store, talked with several women who worked there and got some tips about what supplies I needed. I purchased five unpainted porcelain figurines, each standing around 12" tall, along with the appropriate paint and brushes. Every figurine was chosen to represent some aspect of each woman's interest or personality: an old-fashioned doll for Patsy, a beautiful woman in an evening gown for Vera. I didn't follow any kind of predetermined pattern, but invented my own color scheme for each figure.
Every night when I came home from my visits I would go downstairs to where I had all my supplies set up in our basement and start working. I spread newspaper out on the pool table and all of the materials I needed were carefully organized to one side. I took my time with the fine points on every figure. I'd paint a portion of the eye on one figurine and while it was drying, I'd work on the details of another.
The more I worked, the better I got at it. After a week or so I began to feel confident enough to mix the different colors directly on certain sections to make the designs more intricate. Each figurine was one of a kind. It was a labor of love. I was really proud of what I had done for these women who had been so kind to me. I was beginning to get excited about giving these gifts and seeing the look on their faces when they saw the effort I had made to say thank you.
One night I was finally finished painting the figures and (according to the research I had done) they needed to be sprayed to give them a nice sheen and to make the paint permanent. I didn't want to do this on the pool table since I was afraid some of the spray would get on the felt, so I decided to use an old chair. I put newspaper on it and carefully placed each figurine on the seat where I could spray all five at the same time.
It was late and I was very tired, I don't even remember how it happened, my foot must have bumped the chair because the figurines tumbled onto the concrete floor and broke -- all of them. I can still hear the sound of porcelain shattering. I fell completely to pieces.
My dad came running down the stairs and there I was on the floor, crying my heart out. I couldn't even pick up the figurines to see how bad the damage was, I just cried. Dad put his arms around me, "Don't worry, honey, it will be fine" and he began to pick up each one. "I'll be able to put them back together and then you can paint over the cracks. No one will ever know they were broken, you'll see.
And that's exactly what he did. He took glue and painstakingly put each of the figures back together. He gently calmed me down and showed me how I could paint over the parts that had been injured, the fractures that he had fixed and were now whole again.
There have been countless times that I have inadvertently broken things in my life. I have remembered back to that beautiful moment when dad comforted me and then fixed what I had accidentally broken. Over the years I have prayed to God again and again to please fix what I have unintentionally damaged -- to put the porcelain figurines back together in my life. I've prayed, God, please fix it."
And He has. Every time.