Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pearl's Inspiration

Many years ago, when I first began working in Long Term Care, there was a resident at the facility where I worked named Pearl. And she was a pearl, a true gem of a woman. Pearl never graduated from high school, only going through 5th grade because it was necessary for her to go to work in order to help support the family. This was back in the late 1930's when opportunities for a young black woman were truly limited. Pearl cleaned houses, worked in a bakery, and was a nanny to countless children. Pearl raised her family alone after her husband of 3 years left and she simply did what she had to do in order to survive. She once told me that living in the nursing home was the most luxurious life she had ever known.

During Pearl's admission interview, I of course asked her about any creative pursuits she had enjoyed over the years. I knew what was coming. No, she shared, she never had the time, money, or resources for creative activities. And besides, Pearl continued, she just wasn't an artistic person. Yet working without patterns, instructions, or any education other than what her mother had shown her, Pearl made clothes for herself and her kids from free and cast off lengths of fabric. She made quilts out of old clothing, fashioned flowers for her church hats from newspaper. Every spring Pearl would lay out her garden and plant the seeds she had saved from the previous year and she could bake anything you suggested, even if you suggested some crazy surprise ingredient. She just knew these things. But Pearl never thought of any of these activities as hobbies and never considered herself to be creative. It was work. It was what had to be done to get through life.

Image via Gatsby and Me

So I asked Pearl if she would like to try some coloring. She had done a little bit of coloring with the kids she had nannied but had never actually completed an entire picture. And she certainly never actually drew anything. But Pearl was a curious soul and so with a bit of trepidation she agreed. Her first picture was an 8 x 10 zerox copy from a coloring book of a bouquet of flowers- three daisies and some leaves. Pearl was stunned. She couldn't believe that she had colored a complete picture. Her second picture was one of those big 11 x 17 pages- a cat sitting in a window with flowered curtains and more fresh daisies. Oh my, you should have heard Pearl protest when I gave her that big blank page and a box of colored pencils. She swore it was too difficult for her and it would never look good and people would make fun because, she was certain, she had no artistic ability. So we struck a deal when I convinced her to color the curtains. That's all, just the curtains. Of course you know that she colored the entire picture.

One day, in the middle of coloring her third picture, Pearl sat back and looked at her coloring page for a very long time. Finally, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "I never knew I could do this." Pearl was 72 years old. And "do this" she could. I started showing her little hints about shading and shadows. I showed her how colors mixed to make new colors- really basic stuff like blue and yellow make green. Pearl was mesmerized. She started coming to every single craft group and I had to work pretty fast to keep her stocked up with coloring pages. Her room became an art gallery. When I proposed that she try some painting, Pearl looked at me for several minutes with one of the most piercing looks ever directed at me before her face broke into a smile and she giggled. Yes, she giggled like a school girl. "You know I'm gonna do that." she said.

One of the most precious gifts I've ever received was a picture from Pearl. I almost named this blog "Pearl's Greenhouse." An elderly maid who couldn't read and who would make up names for colors that were way better than Crayola's names for them has, in a sense, been by my side almost every day of my career as an Activity Director. It was such a blessing to have had that experience with Pearl so very early in my career as an Activity Director. I still call "Cornflower Blue" by Pearl's name for it- "Ocean of My Dreams."

A pearl begins with a seed, a tiny bit of almost nothing. Pearl thought she had nothing but she had a seed. All she needed was nurturing. I love it when someone is able to unearth their creativity, when they respond to a little warmth and nurturing and build the courage to push up through the soil and bloom.

Spruce seedlings 2
By Barnaby S via Flickr

OK- with my next post in a couple of days we're going to get started! I will begin sharing some benefits of creativity and will introduce you to a very super Grandmother.

Take a look at the links in the side bar and don't hesitate for a second to send me some suggested sites to add via my email. I do have some other side bar categories that will be added over time but at least we're started with something. Also, take a look at the Tabs across the top of the blog- these are the some of the main areas (but not the only areas) that I would like to focus on so again, please let me know if you have post ideas to contribute. I will be soliciting Guest Bloggers down the road so get your ideas brewing.

On the side bar are two things in which I would like for you to participate. First, sign up for an email subscription- you'll be notified by email when a new post goes up. Also, please consider becoming a gardener in the greenhouse by becoming a Follower. By Following, you can log into an RSS feed such as Google Reader and follow posts from there. The cool thing about that, besides it being free, is you can add different blogs you are following and read all the recents posts from one place. So if you follow other activity blogs, such as Recharging Retirees just for example, you can get posts for all in one place. Love all that techie geek stuff!

And as always you can leave a comment for a particular post by clicking on "Comments" at the end of each post. Comments are published on the blog after each post and are great for sharing ideas and thoughts about that day's topic.

Hey- I'm getting pretty excited to start on this growing season with y'all and would love for each of you to become part of this community- a community garden for our residents!

See ya next time.

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