The Annunciation

ART WAS MY FAVORITE CLASS and we had it every Friday. One such class changed my life forever.

Sister Mary Alma Rose presented me with a picture of the Annunciation to copy. I had seen it before in my prayer book, depicting the first joyful mystery. Mary was sitting on her back porch, arms folded across her chest, while Angel Gabriel told her his big surprise.

Armed with a 64-pack of Crayolas (sharpener included) and a sheet of Manila paper, I meticulously duplicated each color of each feather in Gabriel’s glorious wings. I labored over every blade of grass and each flower in Mary’s back yard, and I included all the nails in her fence. The folds in Mary’s and Gabriel’s dresses were hard to draw, but I did those, too. As finishing touches I added all the cracks in Mary’s porch.

My picture was really good! Sister Alma Rose thought so, too, and hung it in the front of the classroom.

When I came to school the following Monday, Sister asked whether I wanted to draw more pictures instead of doing spelling. I couldn’t believe my ears! Art on Monday!

She pulled my desk to the front of the class and gave me a pile of paper and a stack of holy cards to copy. I riffled through them to see whether there were any I didn’t already have. (We Catholics swapped holy cards the way normal kids traded baseball cards.) There was one of St. Theresa of Ávila I’d never seen before, and since I was born on her feast day, I started with her.

“I will give your pictures to the other sisters as gifts,” Sister noted as she checked my progress. I beamed inwardly learning the fate of my pictures.

I worked my way through the stack of holy cards. As it shrunk, my pile of drawings grew. When the final bell rang, my hand was tired and my middle finger hurt, and I was proud of all of the pictures I’d drawn. Maybe school wasn’t so bad after all.

As the week wore on, I continued drawing saints in the front of the room. I never knew there were so many — saints with names like Ignatius, Pancratius, Polycarp and Caius. By the final bell on Friday, I had drawn them all.

When Ma checked my hands at lunch on Saturday, she gasped, “What happened to your finger?”

I tried to hide it. But it was too late. The inside of my middle finger had grown a hard, purple-green knot where I held my crayon. I told Ma what I got to do at school that week, and she marched straight to the telephone and dialed the convent. (She knew the number because I had older brothers.)

The following Monday my desk was back in its usual spot. I expected Sister to pull it back to the front where I would resume drawing, but instead she asked us all to turn to page 34 in our readers. Sullenly, I pulled out my book, realizing my burgeoning career was over — at least for the time being. For now it was back to reading, writing and ‘rithmatic. And to this scholarly repertoire I had added a personal fourth R: rendering. Thanks to Sister Alma Rose (and Fra Angelico), I’ve been enthusiastically drawing ever since.