We all know the importance of not judging another person by skin color or ethnicity or sex or age and that it’s not really possible to take the true measure of person until he or she reaches adulthood when we can see the kind of car driven and the labels on the clothes. In fifth grade there is an entirely different social pecking order.
I remember during the second or third week of school when we were starting to settle into a routine and Sister told us that we would be studying art. We had all drawn and colored pictures but now we were going to learn how we could make our pictures actually look like something.
“We’re going to learn about colors and highlights and how we can bring our pictures to life” she said before telling us to leave our crayons alone and just listen.
Taking an apple from the bowl of fruit display on her desk she walked over to the window and held it to the sunlight in order to catch a reflection but the clouds forced her to hold the apple toward the ceiling lights.
“See the reflection? Do you see the spot of light? That’s a highlight, it shows us the apple’s shape. Today we are going to color, leave your crayons in your desk, a picture of an apple including a highlight, leave your crayons in your desk” and with that she began to hand out a paper with a mimeographed outline of an apple with a stem and one leaf.
“Now, take your crayons out, do not open the box, and place the box on the top right corner of your desk.”
We all opened our desks and pulled out our “school supply” crayons. Everyone had the same black box of eight crayons (red, blue, green, yellow, black, white, brown and orange) except for Mary Ellen who had the giant Crayola 64 flip-top box of crayons with 64 colors including Burnt Cinnamon Toast Brown, City of Milwaukee Fire Department Red, Swedish Navy Blue and Deepest Darkest Black.
Mary Ellen sat there with that mammoth assortment and made sure that all her classmates saw her place the box on the top right corner of her desk—the same position that would carry a gold star on her soon to be perfectly colored, perfectly highlighted picture of a red apple.
I sat there just knowing that my picture would have a “brown” stem and a leaf the color of the green linoleum in my Aunt Ruthie’s kitchen sitting on top of a “red” apple with a “white” dot for a highlight. As I glanced at that box of 64 I looked over at Peggy on the other side of Mary Ellen and could tell from her eyes that she was having the same thoughts.
But then Sister said, “Open your crayons and begin”, and that’s when it happened. Now I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person but I know what I saw. Just as Sister said, “begin” the sun broke through the clouds and light streamed through the window lighting up Mary Ellen’s desk as she opened that big box to reveal a melted mass of colored wax.
Peggy screamed, “It’s a miracle” as the rest of the class smiled or laughed or oohed and Mary Ellen began to cry and ran out of the room. I’m not sure but I think Sister believed she had also witnessed an event or at least something that needed further investigation.
The next morning Father Ahern came into the room with Mary Ellen and her mother to explain that the crayons had been left in the car, had melted, that was all there was to it and to stop this silliness about a miracle. He made it clear that he did not want to hear any more from us or our parents about miracles or Fatima.
Mary Ellen transferred to public school shortly after that and then Peggy dropped out of fifth grade and entered a convent (she later became a noted theologian). There was talk about building a little shrine but the decision was made to just paint the classroom instead and hope that eventually the cars would stop slowly passing the school.
All these years later whenever it’s time to buy a new car and I start to think about getting something flashy, something that I can show off I think about that Crayola 64 flip-top box of crayons and about the lessons we all learned that day. The Lord works in mysterious ways.