Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Childhood Memoir - Part II

As I mentioned last time, museums were not exactly a favorite pastime of the Neal brood. My parents wanted us to be educated and intelligent vessels of knowledge. But really, it was just a fabulous opportunity for my parents to quench a bit of their own insatiable thirst for knowledge. The real point of home-schooling, I believe, is so that the parents themselves can keep learning. As much as I enjoyed being home-schooled, I think it was really for my mom’s enjoyment more often than my own. But three or four rowdy and irresponsible ruffians like my siblings and me did not yet understand the importance of keeping the teacher happy. We were still young enough to believe that this entire journey of life was intended for our own specific enjoyment. If we were not amused, no one else ought to be, either.

My mom is an extremely complex mixture of sophistication and earthiness. She loves babies, is not afraid to do cartwheels in a dress or dive onto a snow-sled, and yet listens to (and sings) opera, loves fine art, and can discuss politics, religion, and philosophy with the best of them. On this particular day, she was determined to sate her thirst for a bit of sophistication , and to teach her wild young ruffians a lesson or two on propriety, politeness, and art, of course. She therefore took us all into the National Gallery of Art. If you haven’t been there, it’s a huge, formal building of marble with fountains, statues, and fancy floral arrangements. It also has high, echo-y ceilings and docents (or should I say security guards) in every room to ensure that no one disturbs the art by touching it or, as I found out on a high school trip, standing too close.

Now, my mom is not inexperienced as to the amount of patience that resides in four small children. She hurried from room to room, glancing as long as possible at each work of famous art. Now that I look back, I realize just how quickly she was hurrying through the galleries. But hurried or not, it wasn’t fast enough for my siblings and me. We were very decidedly against art. It was practically against our religion, considering that some of it was nude! Frankly, we were bored. And so we proceeded to systematically destroy our mother’s sanity.

We tried everything we knew to convince our mom to take us away from this quiet, boring place and back to our beloved park, where we could be free to run and squeal like the monsters we were. We tried whining, begging, and bargaining, all to no avail. My mother was quite determined to see as much art and soak in as much culture as she possibly could in the short time she had allotted herself.

But we, the Neal children, are not quitters.

Cajoling and annoying was not working. Each time, my mother sternly told us to “Go look at a painting. Find your favorite picture and then I will talk to you, you can to show it to me.”

We began to get rowdier. We whined louder and louder, and tried a quick game of tag. She collard us and lectured us.

“You WILL behave yourselves like civilized people. This is a quiet place. BE QUIET and LOOK AT THE PAINTINGS.”

Poor mom. Didn’t she know who she was dealing with? Whatever anyone might say about us, we were extremely persistent children. We knew how to plug away at a goal with ceaseless diligence. We did not want to be there. We refused to be forced to look at boring art any longer.

We grew louder and louder and more and more contentious. We argued and bickered amongst ourselves. It was a beautiful display of teamwork. One of us would distract her with angry complaining or crying while the others would approach the art and make mocking faces or dances at it. Eventually, the decision was taken out of any of our hands.

A docent approached my mother.

“Ma’am, I’m terribly sorry, but we are going to have to ask you to leave. Your children are just causing too much of a disturbance. I think this one just licked the Monet.”

My mom, cheeks flushed with humiliation and rage, grabbed us all by the arms and dragged us from the gallery. She needn’t have been so rough, seeing as we were all, her excepted, quite willing to leave. Once outside the gallery, we were so delighted with ourselves that we proceeded to run up and down the mall, screaming our joy and cavorting in triumph.

And poor defeated mom, deprived of both her pleasure and her pride in one fell swoop, sat down on a bench, stared at her outrageously ill-behaved persecutors, and hadn’t even the energy to punish us. 

She sat, as we flew about in victorious glee, and cried. 

(drawing and text via me)


  1. Ah, that is so sad! Poor Jayne! The things we do to our Mommies when we are little! We Neal children are little vagabonds, aren't we? I'm sure we did similar things to your Grandmama. BTW I like your drawing! I like the way you captured the emotion of that day! Nice!

  2. Wow, you are a great story teller! I really enjoyed reading this... Can I ask for more???