By Harry Welty
My Mother went to college in 1947 intent on getting an art degree. She got her MRS degree instead. Having an artistís temperament the joys of post-war, 1950ís homemaking probably didnít have much appeal. For a couple of those years she also lived isolated on the outskirts of town with my baby brother and me her only companions. If the story that made my kids giggle is any indication she must have been relieved when I finally entered grade school.
Harryís Nap tells about what happened when a new Mother tried to get some peace and quiet by locking her restless son in his room. Writing it was one of the many ways I tried to cope with the unrewarding call of my own housework. In my case it wasnít just an artistic temperament that kept me from being a good little Donna Reed. I was ill prepared because when I was growing up Moms were Moms. It was my tough luck that I had bought into the idea of gender equality back in college. After I lost my job it was time to walk the talk and help invent the other side of the ďWomenís Liberation movement.Ē
Although Dr. Spock, the 1950ís authority on child rearing, would not have sanctioned my Motherís tactics that didnít bother me. The story had made my kids laugh and I could imagine writing a whole series of similar stories. If they were successful I could share in the breadwinning. I figured that my Mother was the perfect partner to enlist in the project.
My Mother always had her fingers in some creative project. She took a pottery class from a neighbor. She got into paper mache′ which allowed me to bask in her reflected glory in fifth grade when she taught my class how to make paper mache′ puppets.
When I was in junior high Mom finished her Batchelor of fine arts degree. When I was in college she was invited to join half-a-dozen other women in setting up an artsy boutique. She was a little chagrinned to learn later that she had gotten the invitation partly because her husband was a lawyer. The other partners were counting on him to draw up their business agreement gratis much as another husband, an accountant, was going to help with the books. She more than proved her worth to Harpies Bazaar by becoming their in-house graphic artist and drawing hundreds of ads which won the Mankato Free Press numerous advertising awards.
The same year that I lost my teaching job and had to reconcile myself to a few years of homemaking my Dad died. Within a yearís time my Mother did a most remarkable thing. She sold her house, left all her friends, moved to the big city, and enrolled in the Minnesota Academy of Art and Design. She was determined to become an artist. She was sixty years old.
While I struggled with the same sort of drudgery that Mom had once endured she rented a studio in the warehouse district and began painting. It was a few years into that new career that I asked her to illustrate our story.
Mom wasnít really very interested in being an illustrator again but like lots of Mothers she succumbed to her childís enthusiasm. I knew I was imposing on the career she was trying to get started but I told myself that if the book was a success it would create demand for her work. She completed enough illustrations for about half a book, some in watercolor some in pen and ink, before I let the project drop. It had finally dawned on me that the story of a child locked in his room would not have much commercial appeal. Not finishing the project is one of the few regrets Iíll always carry with me.
Iíve recently started cataloguing my Momís art which has helped give me a fresh appreciation for the illustrations she did for me. I asked The Reader Weeklyís editor to let me take a vacation from my regular column by publishing the story and illustrations such as they were. It wasnít a vacation I wanted so much as a chance to share my Motherís talents with a wider audience.
Richard, damn him, pointed out that the Reader is not a literary magazine and demanded that I preface Harryís Nap with an explanation as to its Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus. So, this is it, the story behind my story. After youíve read the musings of the Readerís other fine columnists keep flipping pages and you will eventually find it.
Thanks for humoring me Richard.
Welty is a small time politician who lets is all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com