Sidewalk Chalk

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At what age does a person forget how cold and dreary a gray square of cement sidewalk looks when there’s nothing on it? At some point, the urge to cover a square or two of sidewalk with colorful creations ebbs away until the blank canvases seem just fine how they are. Before, the best toy to have in a closet was a big bucket of sidewalk chalk. There didn’t have to be many different colors. Three or four would do the trick. One could spend hours out in the sun drawing whatever came to mind, making up stories as the picture progressed, but now it seems like the desire to do so is lost.

My little cousin is one that can’t pass up a blank slate. The moment he notices that the sidewalk in front of his house is empty, he heads to his coat closet, takes out his big bucket of sidewalk chalk, and drags it through the front door and across the lawn. I watched him do his work one day. It amazed me how much I’ve changed since I was his age.

As usual, he decides to start with the basic flower. He sits down and digs into his bucket until he finds some kind of green, wraps his little fingers around the hunk of sidewalk chalk, and draws a curved line from the bottom of the concrete square. He then makes a shaky circle on top. Fishing out another color, this time it doesn’t matter which, he draws three or four semi-circles around his first circle. Satisfied, he takes a look.

A couple moments later and he goes at it again. He makes another flower beside his first using the same technique. Then another, and another, and one more, so that he has five different colored flowers sprouting up from the bottom crack of the sidewalk square. Then he finds a white piece of chalk and makes little humps, all connected in an oval-like form, to make what passes as a cloud. Dropping the white piece and taking a hold of a yellow, he creates a circular sun in front of the cloud.

Then his imagination runs wild. He picks up a blue piece of sidewalk chalk and makes a large stick figure with a square top hat. Trading out the blue piece for a red one, he writes out elongates “M’s” beside the figure’s left arm to create a flock of birds. He uses a yellow piece to draw out a sack of gold in the man’s right hand and the purple piece to make what looks like a bowl in his left.

Confused, I ask him why he drew such an odd picture. He tells me he likes top hats. He said he thinks it makes people look cool. He also tells me that the man in the picture is feeding the birds seed from the bowl in his hand, just like the man from next door. As for the bag of gold, he says that the man is actually a pirate and has plenty of it. I nod, tell him he’s doing a good job, and head inside for a while.

When I come back outside about an hour later, I notice my little cousin is riding his tricycle up and down the street, obviously finished with his masterpiece. I walk over to the almost completely covered cement square to take a look.

When I get there I realize what I had seen before was only the beginning. A tree and a multitude of shorter flowers now join the five original flowers. The stick man now has a beard down to his chest and piles of gold at his feet. The birds are joined with parrots and bats, all three eating out of the same purple bowl as before. The cloud is raining on the flowers and the gold and the sun has a rainbow springing out of its side. A pot of gold rests on top of the cloud and a little parrot is perched on the pot’s side.

I clearly underestimated this little boy. There’s a lot more going on in his head than what I had thought before. The picture I see in front of me is packed full of hidden meaning only a little kid can really understand. Things he sees and doesn’t understand, things he likes but doesn’t know why, and things he likes to draw over and over again are smashed into this one little square of concrete.

Honestly, I’m a little jealous of this imagination. I wish I could think of the world the same way he does sometimes. Though I like being older now, I wouldn’t mind going back and doodling on a cement square for a while, just to remember what it was like to imagine crazy pictures like my little cousin draws.





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