My brother recently posted pictures of his daughter's science project. It is a model of our solar system that he and his daughter built, well, together. It reminded me of the school project I was assigned many years ago -- and built -- with my mother's help.
My mother had an artistic temperament, and artistic ability. Her handwriting was something out of the Official Guide to Perfect Handwriting. I remember mom-addressed Christmas cards with each name and address perfectly written. In green ink, from an old dip-and-write fountain pen, no less.
But I had never seen the real artistic skill in action until my fifth grade history teacher assigned each student the task of building a model southern plantation. I was prepared, as any kid would be, to glue a couple of pillar-type sticks to the front of an old show box, paint it white, and call it a day. Mom would have none of it.
First, a sturdy board foundation was pulled out of a crawl space, then some white paint. The foundation was painted, and a shoe box was turned upside down and wrapped in stiff white paper with a smaller box glued on top. Holes were cut out for windows and doors. Walkways were painted on the board and greenery glued down. On and on it went until the final touch of any respectable southern plantation: the pillars were installed, which were made from unused wallpaper turned inside out, dampened and rolled tight, like pillars. They were perfect.
I remember bringing my uber-plantation into school with some pride but also a little embarrassment, thinking that others would know that I had a lot of help. But my most vivid memory was thinking to myself -- how could my mother create something like this out of household leftovers and enjoy herself doing it?
When I look at the picture of my brother in front of his daughter's solar system, I know.