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Sunday night walls were a ritual in our house

There was nothing sacred about walls in our home — especially in our bedroom, which my brother and I shared.

I was 5 years old. My brother was three, when my father started making his Sunday evening forays into our large bedroom. Armed with paints and a willing imagination, he entered our young world, giving permission to our child-like fantasies to run wild.

“What would you like tonight?” he would ask. Initially we would ask for Mickey Mouse or a giant pumpkin or a picture of our cat, Pepper. Moving the furniture we chose a wall as the evening’s canvas. My father, the actual painter, was a talented illustrator and artist. Whatever my brother and I would dream up, he would paint on our walls, each Sunday evening, before the Ed Sullivan show came on.

We wanted a picture of “Chesty,” the neighborhood white and brown shorthaired terrier. He received his name because the next-door neighbor was a heart surgeon, who implanted one of the first heart pumps into the dog’s chest.

We asked for a grandfather clock, complete with mouse running up its face, the clock  spanning the entire 8-foot floor to ceiling expanse. No space seemed out of bounds on Sunday nights.

Not content with just painting images from our daily lives, or comic and nursery rhymes, he began to paint made-up animals, which he encouraged us to imagine. The Snoad was a creature that combined a snail and a toad — the toad leading the way with a snail shell on his back. A Flouse was a hybrid of a fly and a mouse—mouse body, fly head, and wings.

Sunday night paint flying onto our bedroom walls seemed like a normal activity to my brother and me…until friends would come into the room, and wide-eyed, jaw droppingly look around, seeing these paintings on all four walls and ceiling.

“You mean whatever you want, he’ll paint?” they would ask incredulously. Because of  their “wows” and “gees,” I felt special, suddenly understanding that something out of the ordinary was happening here.

Looking back at this time of our childhood, I now see that he was showing us “out of the box” thinking—not only by painting our walls, but by involving us in the process—stoking our creative imagining. He would often give me the paintbrush, suggesting that I start the painting with a few lines. It really didn’t matter how poorly I put the lines on the wall, because he could make them become anything.

He was also giving us his undivided time, allowing us to decide this visual agenda. Most rules, (such as not drawing on walls), did not exist here. His fairly proper daily demeanor belied the fact of his extraordinary creativity. One of his favorite sayings, there is a time and a place for everything, became our Sunday night mantra, as he walked into the room, paint box in hand, declaring that “now is the time, and this is the place.” Showing us that there is no limit to imagination, he gave us the creative gift that would weave its way through the rest of our lives.

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