Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Tribute to Virginia

Two more mismatched people could not be imagined.

It was 1970, I was in my second year of teaching at Varina HS and assigned, for the second year, to be yearbook co-sponsor. Sponsoring extra-curricular activities was part of our teacher duties. I suppose you could request an area of interest but since I was on the yearbook staff in high school, it was an okay assignment. Or so I thought until I walked into the room and saw a beautiful but well beyond my age teacher assigned as my partner. This did not look good. The year before I had been paired with a guy teacher that had his opinion of how the book should be put together and as I jumped in mid-year I went with the flow. It was a pretty dreary book but the kids were fun. I was glad to not be with him again. But this teacher looked like trouble. She probably thought the same about me.

It only took about three sentences before Virginia and I discovered that contrary to both our beliefs we no mismatch at all but a match made for each other. Neither of us would settle for anything less than perfect and that was the way it would be. We took the staff to workshop weekends, taught them how to take pictures, crop pictures, write copy and layout a decent book. The staff spent countless hours and days at the Mistr farm, where Slim & Virginia fed us and put up with us, getting everything right. Class time was just not enough.

It worked. Our book went from uninspired to trophy winning in just one year. We were elated. But never one to rest on our laurels, the next year we let the staff go for the big kahuna. They really wanted a tie-dye cover. We checked with our publisher, the American Yearbook Company. Yes, they could build the book with tie-dyed cloth we provided. That's all any of us needed. Nothing was impossible, not even hand tie-dying 500+ yearbook covers. They all looked to me to figure out the logistics, after all I was the art teacher. Easy enough. One step at a time.

We took a weekend field trip to the mountain corduroy fabric outlet where we bought bolts of cheap uncut non-dyed corduroy. Back home in Varina, we cut the cloth into rectangles. Then the dying began. Not to be satisfied with just one color, we had to have two. And so first we gathered by hand one at a time, several spot areas of each of those 500+ rectangles, dipped a spoonful of green dye into the middle and bound the spot with a rubber band. Then more rubber bands were applied to the rectangles until we had a knotted ball of sorts. These were then dropped into huge vats of blue dye. All of this was done on the Mistr's farm using their big kettles set up in the yard. No other way could we have accomplished such a huge task.

After the balls were dyed and removed from the hot dye the rubber bands were removed and each piece ironed flat, boxed and shipped to AYC where they worked their magic and made our yearbook into yet another winner.

Of course, even with the tie-dye cover the book only became a winner with someone like Virginia keeping her sharp pencil at the ready to fix any bad or wrong copy. We were fortunate to have Jim Mahone write most of our copy. His quick wit and way of saying much with just a few words was a dream for any yearbook to have on board. He went so far as to write his copy and captions on graph paper so that he could instantly know how many letters and spaces he had used. His own form of personal computer (his brain) letter count.

Virginia and I remained friends long after I quit teaching to have Emily, which was actually during the great tie-dye experience. I had to quit teaching at four months. I got an extension to stay until six months which coincided with Easter but after that I had to leave. Of course everyone knew I was pregnant but policy was policy. I could have come back the following year but Donny & I were fortunate enough to be able to let me stay home with the kids as they came along.

Donny & I moved into Slim & Virginia's tenant house a few months after Emily was born and there we lived until we bought our first house, just around the corner at 54 Oakland Road, when Emily was 5 and Donald 3.

Slim & Virginia were unique people who crossed generation barriers with ease. They were simply a delightful couple who loved life. Virginia was a go to school and get your degree after the kids are grown mom. So actually she was as new to teaching as I was. We just came in through different doors.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Never on Sunday 18/7/10 Day Seven

Sunday brings me back to the drawing table and my never ending never project. The name came about when good friend Katelyn Rea was commenting on orientation at East Carolina. She said so many kids were breathing sighs of relief to be there, proclaiming that the school was their first, second choice. She said she just looked at them and said that it was her never choice. She never wanted to go there. She was even pretty sure that her folks finished her application.

That's it I tell her since my project had been in the conversation too. It's my never project. I never wanted to do it. It just fell into my lap. I do admit that things falling into my lap is my preferred form of work. But even with a project tossed at you there is still a choice. And for this one I was quite content to say that it sounded interesting but no thanks. You know how sometimes you say those things but you're secretly hoping for a different outcome. Well, I really did not care. It was completely fine with me if I was never a part of the project. It was a fun idea, but I had plenty of other things on my schedule.

Well, things didn't exactly turn out like I thought they would. The author's vision of a mother-son collaborative which I firmly supported was off the table. The publisher wanted my work. In a moment of weakness, I had sent the author some sketches to include with her original proposal to the publisher so that it would look fuller, never expecting that to go anywhere.

But go it did and when I finally realized that not only was I the illustrator of choice but also that the book was on track to actually be published, my ego had stepped in and accepted the challenge.

The project had a short deadline made even more so by indecision about the illustrator. Hence, Donny suggested Paris for full focus sketching. Never would I diss that idea. As I got into the project it began to grow on me. I would never have taken it on, ego or no, if I had not been interested. But I was very apprehensive about drawing Santa. He cannot be just thrown out there. He has to look right, really right. The sketch of a Santa scene that I had submitted to the publisher when they asked for more samples still haunts me. It seemed fine at the time, but now when I look at it, I see a pigmy Santa. Just. Wrong.

Today I am pleased. Santa, and the scenes, are looking very good. And I am getting close to the last pages. But enough for one day. We dress for a quick dinner downstairs. We usually eat outside at one of the four two seater tables. But they are all occupied and so we go inside and get a table. Midway through our meal a family comes in. A twenty something who has a Winona Ryder look is among them. I comment to Donny that it is surprising that she would be content to wear an ordinary hoodie in Paris. I wonder if her eyelashes are real, they are so long. Perhaps I stare, I don't know. It's an annoying Jett trait that can cause trouble. They are sitting not exactly next to us, but quite near. It is a very small cafe.

We are eating our dessert when this gal pops up from her seat (I never saw this) and suddenly she is in my face shouting did I have a problem with her and some other English words (no cussing) that I do not recall. And she turns and walks away. The family is still eating their dinner. She has moved to a seat farther away from us. Donny and I try not to laugh for fear of offending her more. Donny has just made a comment prior to her outburst about the little sister looking like Wednesday from the Addams Family.

Never a dull moment in Paris.