Helena Writes #13: On red, green, and writing for children

Helena Writes
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Helena Clare Pittman, one of the Center’s most dedicated teachers, has written, painted, and taught her entire life. In her monthly Helena Writes series, she shares a lifetime of wisdom, one pearl at a time.

In her 13th post, Helena digs deep into her memory to retrieve the sensory experience of painting with a schoolmate—a first experience of both color and friendship. Enjoy!

Red and Green

When I was in kindergarten, at four years old because I had a January birthday, I met Donna Pukatch, who would become my best friend until I left Brooklyn, when my family moved to Queens. We were already bonded by the time of this recollection.

We were working as partners, sitting at an improvised table, our two desks moved together by Mrs. Shimberg, our wonderful teacher—I’m your school mother, she said on the first day. We were using paint brushes and red and green enamel paints. I can smell that wonderful smell, and see small, new paint cans. Or maybe time has replaced what were used soup cans—would kindergarten children be given brand new cans of enamel paints to have to themselves? There were 25 or more children in that class. Yet there they are in this memory picture, as I write.

Donna and I are dripping, rather than painting, lines of red and green. The paint is luscious, syrupy, shiny, red and green dribbling onto paper coffee containers, the cup and its lid, substantial things—the top a paper disk with a good two inches of collar, made to fit the bottom cup—just right to fit the fingers to turn and lift it off. It’s designed well, and we are, I have noticed, slowly returning to them, after this age of Styrofoam and plastics, choking the oceans, poisoning the planet.

That paper coffee cup is white and shiny, but not for long. I am savoring the red and green, each with its own brush, making its swirls and lines, covering it over, making a small beautiful Jackson Pollack dripped thing in red and green, the paint one with that wonderful fragrance, dazzling to my four-year-old eyes and sensibility.

I didn’t say, hmm, red and green, complimentary colors that vibrate where they meet because they have the same light reflecting value on Goethe’s scale. No. I didn’t say anything. I’d awakened from life’s dream to the gorgeousness of those colors, that interaction, flickering. It was an affinity, a natural love, and it got deeper and richer with the years, and blooms in me now.Helena's gladiolas

Love of red and green persists in this original painting by Helena Clare Pittman (2019).

One of the great elements of my marriage to color.

On Writing for Children

Where is Donna now? I have tried to find her. I found her brother and left a message, but that was years ago. I wrote about her in Ruthie Pincus of Brooklyn, and there the story of our friendship is, I hope, monumentalized.

I can see Donna, picture her, and she feels like a peer. Inside I am still that child. I had no age, it feels to me now. Donna and I related one person to another. We rode bikes and they were horses. Imagination was the foundation of our relationship, and, as I consider it now, it was the foundation of life.

Through writing for children, I can travel back through memory; but there seems to be no time involved, as if that time travel doesn’t involve time. Memories feel like rooms I can enter, and from those spaces, that place, I can connect with children, as if I were connecting with Donna, through imagination. Considering things for the first time.

In Ruthie Pincus, I spent a lot of time re-entering childhood. It was a wonderful place to be again, with the perspective of now to sort out its wounds and relive its wonder. I discovered I can pull that wonder forward and it becomes part of daily life. I merge with the child I was. And the child I was is me.

I have come to believe that writing is one of the great contemplative paths. It takes an extraordinary state, a quiet that is above, apart from the world’s struggle. There in that quiet state, wholeness comes; and in wholeness, there is peace.

What is one of your earliest memories of a strong sensory experience? What did you think of Helena’s latest post? Share with us in the comments!

Related reading: Read the previous Helena Writes posts

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