Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Gentle Souls

I was inspired today when I ran across a great photo Mike over at Midwesterner's Guide to Living in New York City has on his blog: a terribly cute pic of him with Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard. Wow, I loved that show when I was a kid. I even had a small plastic General Lee without windows and with doors that didn't open, just like on the show. Check out the snapshot. There's something calming about seeing a picture of one of your childhood icons.

I am not, generally, a calm person. I'm a nice person -- I get that a lot -- but calm is not one of my strong suits. A college roommate of mine once described me as "unapproachable" when I get stressed, which is pretty much dead-on. That's something that's difficult for me to overcome, even though I've gotten much better as I've grown older, so I'm always genuinely impressed and a little awed when I meet someone who's soothing just to be around.

For me, the epitome of that was when I met artist Bob Ross when I was about nine years old. Yep, that Bob Ross, with the "happy little trees" and the Afro and the soft bass voice that could lull a baby to sleep.

As a child I was very into painting and drawing, so, for me at that time, the thought of meeting Bob Ross wasn't that different from the idea of meeting the president. For what I assume must have been some sort of product promotion in the late '80s, he was scheduled to appear at an arts and crafts store deep in my Midwest hometown: a place that most touring book authors wouldn't dream of setting foot in. My parents took me there to meet him, which, looking back, was quite nice of them -- to indulge my fantastical little-girl dreams like that. I clutched a single yellow piece of legal paper and a pen in my hand.

I remember waiting a long time for him that day. Maybe his flight was delayed or he fell behind schedule, but I was worried he wouldn't come. It was blustery outside. Wind can whip through the expanse of middle America at breakneck speed, sometimes knocking pedestrians off balance. When Bob Ross finally walked through the door, wearing a chambray button-down shirt and blue jeans, his Afro had wilted due to the weather: It was parted in the middle, up top, like a triangular slice taken out of a giant cheese wheel.

I was worried that I wouldn't get to talk to him, that he would be swallowed up by the crowd of puff-painted-sweatshirt-clad grandmas that had gathered to greet him. So I walked right up to him, the first person in the store to talk to him, and I said hello and would he sign this piece of paper? Most anyone would be annoyed by that. I was walking and talking out of turn, before he could even see the store manager or put his things down. But Bob Ross smiled and took the lined paper from me. "Let's see," he said. "Let's find a place to sign this." So he walked up to a giant bin filled with Tupperware containers and took one out of the pile. He placed the sheet on top of the lid's hard surface and signed, "Happy Painting, Bob Ross." I don't remember if he asked me about painting, about whether I liked art. He probably did. All I remember was his kindness. His patience. And the way he made me feel like I was just as important as any fan there, if not more.

I still have that piece of legal paper in my old bedroom's closet back in the Midwest. It makes me happy to know it's there.

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