My parents hung the drawing of a man’s backside over the staircase. A charcoal sketch, skillfully rendered with accents of gold and sepia tones. Laurie and I called it the “Butt” painting. We introduced it to any friend who came over and were quick to explain that although our dad did every other drawing hanging on our walls—he did NOT do this one. His weird artist friend, Marge, was the butt painter.
We only saw Marge on Dad’s art show days. She’d say, “My, my, how you’ve both grown. Francie, I hear you like drawing…and Laurie, you’re twirling at competitions?” Her head wiggled when she talked, making her voice shake too. She also talked slower than most adults with drawn out syllables and pauses in mid-sentence where they didn’t belong.
One blustery day, as gold leaves swirled above the lawn like halos, mom had me shake out the fancy lace table cloth. She gathered her rose teacups from the hutch to soak in bubbly hot water. Then I helped her spread the table cloth, fold cloth napkins and set out mini plates for teacups and éclairs.
“We’re doing all this for one guest?” I asked Mom as she laid out the shiny spoons and sugar bowl.
“Marge doesn’t get out much. She never married and doesn’t have anyone to celebrate with when she wins her art awards.”
“Is that why she’s so weird?”
“Frances Anne! She’s not weird, just artsy and a bit eccentric.”
“Doesn’t eccentric mean weird?”
“Okay, smartypants…maybe a bit weird, but she’s kind and lonely. So we’re going to show her Christ’s love today.”
“Okay. Just tell me, did she win an award for another butt painting?”
Mom gave her warning look as the doorbell chimed. “Really? She’s fifteen minutes early.”
As Marge stepped inside, Dexter scampered over to inspect the latest visitor. He barked to say hello and kept barking to get a belly pat. By the look on Marge’s face, Dexter was going to be disappointed.
“Oh, oh, get him down, please.”
Dad grabbed his leash and passed him to me, whispering, “Put Dexter outside before Marge has a heart attack.
“I hope I’m not late.” Marge slipped off her tweed blazer.
Mom set a vase of daisies on the table. “No, not at all. Come sit. We want to hear about your latest artwork.”
Thirty minutes later, Marge still rambled on about how she sketched her cats from life in their daily activities. I prayed we wouldn’t have to hear about their nine lives. Laurie was smart to go to twirling practice and miss the tea party.
Mom brought out three rose teacups and a plate of éclairs. “Would you like coffee or tea?”
“I’d love a cup of chamomile tea.”
Mom handed her a yellow teabag from a tin and poured hot water in her cup. Then she poured Dad’s coffee. I got milk. There was a moment of silence as we all sipped our drinks. I decided to stick around for an éclair.
“Oh, this is so nice.” As Marge talked, tea dribbled down her chin. She dabbed her face with a corner of the napkin.
“How many pieces do you have in the gallery?” Dad asked with arched eyebrows.
“About twenty-two etchings and woodblock prints.” More tea dribbled down her chin. “Excuse me. I don’t know what’s wrong with me today.”
Marge sopped up the tea filling her plate. I wiped my mouth to stop a chuckle from escaping. Mom set a fancy tea party for a slob?
Mom said, “That happens to me all the time.”
Dad held in a laugh that whistled through his nose.
Marge sipped her tea with her soaked napkin underneath. “I’m so sorry. I have to go…I’m not feeling well.” She scooted into the kitchen to drop her cup in the sink. No one could convince her to stay.
Mom shot us an accusing look. “I don’t think laughing at poor Marge showed Christ’s love.” We hung our heads like Dexter caught stealing Dad’s lunch.
Weeks later, at Thanksgiving dinner, Dad dribbled his coffee on his lap. “I know Marge’s problem. Look here. My cup overfloweth…through the crack.”
We rolled our eyes.
Mom had a good laugh with Marge over the cup incident. She was happy she wasn’t losing her mind and bodily control.
Her drawing still hangs over the stairs and reminds me of tea with Marge…an unusual reminder to be compassionate to all; even butt painters have feelings.
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