"I like your sister's whimsical and intricate artwork," one person commented after ordering a copy of my sister's coloring book, In the Garden, off Amazon. "It is very happy."
I thought that was perceptive of her. My family has always been impressed with the way my sister, Megan, has a positive attitude and can laugh even when she's going through something difficult and painful.
And she can even turn a past unhappy experience into a bit of whimsy to delight other people. Take, for instance, the dragonfly she drew for her coloring book.
My oldest brother, Jamie, not to put too fine a point on it, was a beast when we were kids. For some reason his victim of choice was usually Megan. One day he decided to terrorize her by telling her that dragonflies had a poisonous bite. He described with scientific precision what the poison did to a person--I've blanked out the horrific details, but I remember it was graphic and nightmarish.
There was a method to his madness. He'd found a large, dead dragonfly, perfectly preserved, and his evil plan was, after filling her full of his bloodcurdling tales of death by dragonfly, to produce the preserved dragonfly, its wings frozen in flight, and chase her with it.
She ran screaming, with him and the dragonfly in hot pursuit, along the salmon spawning creek we grew up beside. I managed to catch up and tell her he was lying--though, to tell the truth, he was so convincing I wasnt entirely sure about that. Despite my reassurances, though, she was scared of dragonflies for a long time to come.
Yet, all these years later, she draws them with her characteristically joyful and quirky style.
While my sister visited us this year, from her home in Florida, she shared that she was going to do another coloring book, this one based on the Alaskan sights of our childhood.
As I watched her draw an orca (killer whale), I was suddenly reminded of the way she and I, as teens, used to draw dust jackets for imaginary books. We would draw and color a cover picture and then on the back, we'd summarize what the imaginary book was about.
These summaries were chock full of high adventure and romance. It cracks me up now, thinking about those outlandish tales. Growing up on the fringe of civilization, in the remote bush, gave us fairly extreme ideas of what "normal" life was all about.
My mom loved coloring long before the current craze for coloring books, and has perfected the art of it. We grew up watching her and wanting to be as good as she was. Her shading skills, in particular, made us despair of ever producing anything even remotely as fascinating. She'd always tell us, modestly and generously, that all it took was practice.
I've long since realized that no amount of practice will give someone the innate genius she has for capturing light, texture, and nuance with crayons, pencils, and pens. All the same, as children, we believed it and, as Megan wrote in her dedication to my mom on the first page of her coloring book, we spent many hours in our floathouse home in the wilderness lost for hours in stacks of coloring books.
My mom would play her books on tape (audible books) as we colored, exposing us to the classics. I still get images of the pages I colored when I think of those readings of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (read by Basil Rathbone) and the more typical children's fare of Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, The Railway Children by E. Nesbit, and The Call of the Wild by Jack London. And so many more.
It does not surprise me at all, with our many fond memories of coloring that my sister would one day create a coloring book of her own and have my mom color the pages that she'd put on the front and back of the book.
Color, in all its forms, has always been a big part of our life.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)