Yes­ter­year in a park with the Arts and Crafts Lady

The Progress-Index Weekend - - PETERSBURG - KIM­BERLY ANN CALOS — Kim­berly Ann Calos is a com­mu­nity ac­tivist and owner of Peters­burg Pick­ers.

It’s funny how seem­ingly not re­ally life chang­ing mem­o­ries re­main fresh in your thoughts for decades. It’s in­ter­est­ing how clear some child­hood events re­main for­ever etched in your brain. Like my days at the play­ground in Hopewell’s City Point neigh­bor­hood. A play­ground con­structed dur­ing the World War I gun­cot­ton boom by the DuPont com­pany as a haven for their ex­ec­u­tives and their fam­i­lies. Once the war was won and the need for am­mu­ni­tion waned, DuPont closed its doors and the play­ground be­came prop­erty of the city.

There was once a club­house on the prop­erty but it burned (twice) be­fore I was born. The grounds housed a lovely pool, tremen­dously tall swing sets (of which I was deathly afraid af­ter my cousin Manuel pushed me so hard I tum­bled back­wards, did a com­plete aerial som­er­sault, and mirac­u­lously landed on my feet) and a very, very tall metal slid­ing board that got so hot in the sum­mer, your bot­tom nearly burned.

Dur­ing in­te­gra­tion, shame­fully, the once re­fresh­ing com­mu­nity wa­ter­ing hole was qui­etly filled in with dirt (dur­ing the dark­ness of night). I don’t re­call ever swim­ming in it but I do re­call the hor­ror when I learned why they “cov­ered it up.” I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that whites thought blacks would pol­lute the wa­ters. Pee pol­lutes the wa­ter and it’s all yel­low no mat­ter who so rudely uri­nates in the pool. I must say, I never got over that ugly swim­ming pool in­ci­dent and vowed one day I’d ex­ca­vate it and re­store it for every­one to en­joy.

I so looked for­ward to go­ing to the play­ground as a young girl. My fa­vorite ac­tiv­ity was prob­a­bly not sur­pris­ingly Arts and Crafts time but I loved the daily sto­ries shared us by our play­ground leader Mrs. Hen­dricks. She lived a half-block from the park and was from far­away West Vir­ginia. I just adored her and her rather in­ter­est­ing sto­ries of her child­hood. Once when we were com­plain­ing of how the sun-baked black­top streets burned our bare­foot feet, Mrs. Hen­dricks told us (in her sul­try, grav­elly voice) they were so poor where she was from, they’d dig the oozy tar from un­der the streets and chew it like gum. That an­swered my ques­tion (that I never thank­fully ac­tu­ally asked aloud) about why her teeth were dark and scary look­ing and why her voice was so low. No mat­ter, I still loved hear­ing her tales about grow­ing up dirt poor in far­away West Vir­ginia.

My very most fa­vorite sight of the sum­mer was the sparkly, mas­sive, white Ford galaxy pulling up with the horn toot­ing her ar­rival, to re­plen­ish our wooden toy and ac­tiv­ity box with craft sup­plies. At least once a week, Mrs. Ida Cook would visit us with a new craft project and sup­plies for for­mer ones. We made key­chains and neck­laces out of plas­tic string, pothold­ers, and I can’t re­mem­ber what else. I loved in­ter­twin­ing the plas­tic and cre­at­ing key­chains, even though I had no need for one. My poor fam­ily was gifted many of these cre­ations each sum­mer.

I thought Mrs. Cook was the bee’s knees. Her choco­late skin was dif­fer­ent in hue than any­one else at the play­ground, but that didn’t seem to faze her one bit. She was al­ways dressed to the nines, even don­ning stock­ings and high heels in the swel­ter­ing heat of sum­mer. Her com­mand­ing voice al­ways got our im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion. She was pa­tient while in­struct­ing us and com­pli­mented each child who chose to par­tic­i­pate in Arts and Crafts time. She never stayed as long as we wished, for she had to move on to the next play­ground. I knew I wanted to be just like Ida Cook when I grew up – well dressed, artis­tic, loved, and com­pletely in com­mand of a big, stylish au­to­mo­bile.

I kept up with Mrs. Cook, who resided in Peters­burg, through her niece Ce­celia John­son, a faith­ful pa­tron of my many shops. She would tell me of Mrs. Cook’s many trav­els and de­scribe her lat­est out­fits and cloth­ing shop­ping sprees. I learned she passed away last week at the ripe old age of 94. I’m sad for her fam­ily but happy she’s in heaven, once again teach­ing im­pres­sion­able young­sters arts and crafts. I won­der if she re­ally knew the pro­found im­pact she, as my Arts and Crafts Lady, made on my life? It’s the lit­tle things that mat­ter. I won­der if I looked through the draw­ers at my par­ent’s house if one of those lit­tle key-chains just might be stored away in the dark­ness of a dresser drawer?

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