I remember making maracas out of light bulbs in Vacation Bible School during the summer after third grade. I was not an attentive art student, and I seem to remember being slapped a bit on the hand after my inattention nearly ruined my project. In grade school music classes, we sang lots of songs, many of which I have never really sung very often since. One was called "Con el Vito", in which we sang the refrain in Spanish, but sang English verses about a Spanish lady beset by Moorish bandits. Another was a Hanukah song, which went "hanukah, hanukah, holidays are fair; glowing lights, candles bright, happiness we share". Although everyone in our school was protestant except one Catholic family who commuted fifteen miles each Sunday to church, we all listened attentively while the dreidl was explained to us. The dreidl, after all, was in the international cultural language of fun. One song we sang I'm apt to sing even yet. It's the song "Skye", the folk song in which the narrator laments the passage of Bonnie Prince Charlie over the sea to the Island of Skye. At seven, I found it, and at 42 I find it, extremely haunting and rich.
When I was 8, I auditioned for the community theater version of "The King and I". My audition song was "Let's Go Fly a Kite" from Mary Poppins. Although there are roughly roles for 63 children in "The King and I", the audition was very competitive, with far more applicants than roles. I made the Arkadelphia high school auditorium windows shake with my amplified trilling. I got the part, and later got to go on "Eye on Arkansas", a noontime Little Rock talkshow, along with seven other kids, who had all, like me, drawn an "x" on a piece of folded paper. We played our roles with spray painted dark hair, tons of pancake makeup, and wearing caps of fabric in the shape of a pillbox held up by styrofoam along with odd colorful wader looking pants. The woman who played Anna seemed so exotic and English to me. She was of course from rural Arkansas as I was, and her family was several generations from the boat. I still know all the words to "Hello, Young Lovers", though.
Our small town had annual "follies", in which townspeople sang and did comedy skits for a charitable cause. A companion event was the Junior Follies, in which kids did the same thing. One year, I wore my father's civil war era sword, and sang "Jubilation T. Cornpone", from L'il Abner. I got a heavy laugh when the sword kept clanging against the mike stand. Another year, my mother made the cleverest bear costumes, in which my two siblings and I sang "Bare Necessities" from Disney's "Jungle Book".
In my county, virtually everyone white was a Clark or a Wingfield, other than my family. They would gather for Clark/Wingfield family reunions, at which those of the Clarks and Wingfields who were minor country western recording stars would perform. I remember one year a set of Wingfield girls from another town appeared at the Junior Follies. I remember them as so attractive that I wonder if I have romanticized the memory.
At home, we had one of those miniature "loom squares" on which one stretched circles of yarn to make pot-holders. It was also possible to learn to make blankets that way, but we never had that ambition. I wish I had such a loom square now; maybe I'll go and get one.
When I was junior high age, church camp featured arts and crafts. The one art I persistently remember following was the one in which one entwines multi-colored plastic ropes to make keychains. I was not of an age to use keys at that time. Indeed, at that time, my family, like every family in town, could leave our cars unlocked at night, with the keys inside the ignition. I don't think that the sum total of honesty in the world was all that much greater in my small town. It's just that anyone who took a car would be found out, as the whole area was just not large. I also learned to do macrame then, as I have repeatedly at several passages in my life. Somehow I have the impression that if my spiritual quest in this life is unsuccessful, I will be sent to an afterlife in which I must perfect my macrame skills. I am tempted to learn for a fifth time, so that hell might be a bit more pleasant.
For high school biology, we had to make butterfly collections to earn credit for class. Our teacher, who had just won "Science Teacher of the Year" for the state, got us all together in the evenings to craft our boxes. I remember using the battery powered styrofoam cutter to mold the backing. I have never felt as artistic as when I effortlessly cut that styrofoam. Taking an art class in high school would have been unimaginable to me. Indeed, even taking French was unimaginable. Most guys, including me, took shop. I have always been grateful for the "lecture" portion of shop class for teaching me how to make concrete, the proper components of fertilizer and leaf identification. During the "shop" semester, however, I had to struggle to saw my way out of the woodworking portion of the class. Woodwork was the bottom rung. The bottom task on the bottom rung was sawing a single board in a straight line. I could not do it. My father set up boards on a vise for me to practice at home. I still could not do it. I am not sure that I ever did it, but eventually my teacher promoted me to other boards, and then, for a brief time, to plumbing, where I learned to put threads on pipe. I never made it up to electric welding.
I sang in church choir from the time I was 8 until the time I was
18. Our high school church choir did special programs. My voice was not very good, but it was what one did. I was placed in the tenor section, although I was a baritone. I do not believe I ever hit a high note correctly without using my falsetto voice. Fortunately, I was a big Sparks fan, so I had a good falsetto. I sang the part of a rat-voiced priest in a summer church camp production of "Jesus Christ Superstar", at which time my limited vocal skills reached their public performance perigee.
Now I sing showers and karaoke, and I do mail art. This morning I got up early, so that I could use crayons to draw flowers onto a postcard for a nervousness.org exchange. Then I nearly finished remixing the music on my forthcoming art exchange CD of droning electric football fields, psychedelic electric instruments played slowly, and assorted kazoos and rhythm instruments. Anyone who saw all the artistic expression with which my rich childhood was filled could have predicted that's what I'd be doing now.