Her mother let us bake whatever we wanted in her kitchen. I knew my way around in there because my family lived in the same-but-different sort of power camp house. Those old company houses came with twelve-foot high ceilings, no insulation, and heater boxes mounted underneath the single-pane windows. Bare wood floors and cupboards so tall you had to stand on the counters to reach the good stuff hidden on the top shelf. Nadine lived more than thirty minutes (by vehicle) downstream from my family’s home.
We were seven, mixing flour and baking soda with cinnamon and chili pepper and two scoops of powder from a Jell-o box, finding out nothing good could come of that sort of combination. No matter. We also had several science experiments taking place in the bathroom sink. We made jars of snotty-soap from left-over slivers of Ivory. Spending the weekend at her house was akin to 48 hours of discovery.
I tell her this now, and she tells me my family’s home back then was more magical — with all our noise and laughing and commotion. But back then, I thought nothing could ever happen in my house quietly. In her home, we could spend hours in her bedroom drawing and playing music. Scratch that. She drew, I colored. Even back then, Nadine had the eye of an artist. I sensed it, just didn’t know how to define it. She played the violin; I sat back and listened. Discovery, awe. Adventure. Eventually, I went home and found a way to say: I want to learn to play viola. I want to learn to
draw. I want to learn.
So, some things I never learned, but I did learn to play the viola. And when her family moved to a power camp too far away to visit, we both learned to write novels to each other. In this way, sharing the world of art with each other has never ended.
In art, the sense of discovery is waiting to be found out. I realized this in her finger-painting, her water colors,
(maybe not so much in the way she played violin when she was eight). I sensed it, even, in the way she mixed ingredients in her mother’s kitchen. In scrolling through her online photo albums today, I came across this photo she took last December, eight hundred and fifty-seven miles away. I can smell the cinnamon and lemon Jell-o.
Photography by Nadine Hergenrider.