Charm School

When my sister Joyce was born, they threw away the pattern. She was a beautiful 15 year old when I was born. Since mom already had seven children, Joyce dropped out of high school to be a surrogate mother to me. I'm sure she told me stories from the beginning. She had a gift for telling stories—sometimes lies—and I've heard many of them from before my time. When she and her younger siblings, Oleta and Harry, were children, mom told Joyce to clean the front yard. Not wanting to be bothered with that job, Joyce told Oleta and Harry that Mr. and Mrs. Findlay were coming to visit, and mom wanted the two of them to clean the front yard. They finished the job before thinking to ask who the visitors were. Joyce said that Mr. and Mrs. Findlay had decided not to visit. But the yard looked so nice!

Our house was typical of those of poor families on the wrong side of the tracks (the KATY tracks). Run down. Beds in every room. Too much torn and water stained wall paper, et cetera. But Joyce got the idea she would open a charm school for girls in our house. She asked our sister Ada to advertise the project with girls in her grade school. Several girls signed up, and they came to our house on Saturdays. Joyce taught them how to stand with poise by balancing a book or two on their head. She taught them how to introduce people to each other. She said when they walked to pretend they were dropping pebbles as their arms swung. She taught table manners and to keep their little finger straight when lifting a glass. I have no idea where Joyce learned all of this, and I don't know how long her charm school lasted. But when I think of hutzpah over the years, it makes me love her more. And it makes me smile.

Joyce lived to be in her mid 80s, married three times, had six children, and adopted two more. A few days before she died, I had some prescient thought that I should call her. We hadn't spoken for a while. After a good long talk the last thing I said to her was, "I love you, Joyce." She replied, "I love you too, little brother." I still wish I knew all the stories she told me in pre-memory days. I know she taught me to follow my dreams, and that has helped me shape my life as an artist.

Roger Winter lives and works in New York City. "I have used all the shutdown time so far to write memory stories from my years and to illustrate them with collage/montage images. I have a portfolio that holds 24 images and stories, and I'm six away from finishing it. I suspect that the shutdown will last long enough for me to write and make collages for six more. It seems that there is never enough time in a day to complete all that I would like to. I have not had one boring moment so far in this strange moment in our history. Before it started, I was painting daily in an objective and reductive way. The isolation has painlessly moved me back into a subjective approach in my work. None of us know what is in store, but I will continue to work as long as life allows."