(Back of envelope, no reference, 5 minutes.) Today’s my father’s birthday and I drew him a train on the back of his envelope.
You can stop there and laugh at the terrible lack of regard for perspective or how locomotives work, but you can also read the longer story of why I love trains, of the most beautiful painting in the world, and of the time my father spent all day with just little old me.
The earliest birthday I can recall is my 5th. It was my first birthday in America and my mother had flogged six balloons from a person who worked in the same food court she did, and worked late so we could afford to buy me a cake. My father spent the entire day with me and stayed home to wait with me for my mom to get off work. He even paid attention to me for the whole day. I remember being satisfied that the cheapest option for candles was still the most colorful option: a detachable train set, complete with a caboose! I wasn’t as much of a fan of locomotives as I am now, but I chose them because they were colorful and we were poor and I wanted so much to feel special. What makes a kid feel more special than so many colors?
I recall privately figuring you could reuse the trains, which were little plastic candleholders and didn’t actually move, and had selected them hoping I would get a cake in future years, too. It seemed an impossible and luxurious dream at the time. Who gets cake every year?!
But what I remember most of all, was my very busy father sitting down, still, painting a beautiful card for me on printer paper. It was my colorful set of trains carrying a birthday message for me. I’d never known there could be so much beauty in his harried soul. To this day, after seeing so much sublime art, it’s still the most beautiful painting in my heart.