A lesson well-learned

June 02, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Mary Alice Baumgardner doesn't remember why she thought, at age 6, that she and her sister, Sally Kay, a "submissive" 3-year-old, needed to earn some money.

But that's what she decided in mid-1940s Hagerstown, and the little girls visited some of their neighbors, offering to clean houses for a quarter.

Nobody hired them, but one neighbor called their mother, Sarah Dress, to tell her what her daughters were up to.

Not angry, but amused, Dress asked the girls why they had done that.

"For some reason, we both denied having done any such thing," Baumgardner wrote in a story about the incident.

That story, "A Fib and the Matinee," was published recently in "Chicken Soup for the Mother & Daughter Soul, Stories to Warm the Heart and Honor the Relationship."


Dress confronted her girls with her knowledge of the truth. They had "fibbed," and she tried to explain why a lie hurt.

Feeling that they didn't really understand, Dress decided to show them.

She asked them if they wanted to go to the movies.

Mary Alice and Sally Kay were excited and eagerly dressed up for the afternoon outing. As they headed outside to wait for the downtown bus, their mother told them they weren't going to the matinee.

Hugging her daughters with tears in her eyes, Dress explained "this is what a fib felt like."

Baumgardner never has fogotten her mother's "lesson of love." "That really stuck to my whole life," she says.

Baumgardner, who years later became the mother of three sons, lives in an 18th-century farmhouse south of Waynesboro, Pa.

She has a scrapbook with a newspaper photo - taken about the same time as the "fib" - of the little sisters in an art class at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. A graduate of Gettysburg College, she received a master or arts degree in studio art - with an emphasis in children's book illustration - from Marywood College.

Baumgardner spent several years as a teacher. Children often hurt one another's feelings, and she wondered how to make them understand the value of kindness.

Just telling them to be kind isn't enough. There has to be a lesson, she says. Baumgardners' mother knew that.

Although Dress anguished about teaching her daughters in the way she did, Baumgardner says it was done with love.

She didn't use similar methods with her own children, but when she recently asked her son Matthew about the topic, he told her she had gotten the message across to him.

The fib story was not the first time Baumgardner has had work published. She wrote and illustrated "Alexandra, Keeper of Dreams," which became a book in 1993. It is the story of a little yellow duck's perseverance, a story that reminds her not to give up on her writing and illustrating. Her second book, "Buzzy Newton's Terrible Discovery," was published in 1999.

She did stop writing for a few years after the death of her son Michael in a 1998 car accident.

"I was just numb," she says.

A walk down the tree-lined country lane on her 100-acre farm provided the inspiration to begin again.

She heard the call of a bird she couldn't see. She says it helped her realize that not being able to see her son, "doesn't mean he isn't here." He still is part of her life.

That story, "The Unseen Bird," can be found in a book published by the inspirational magazine Guideposts. Another story inspired by her son's childhood pet - an iguana - also made it to a Guideposts book.

Other projects are in the works and will continue to be pitched to publishers. "Esther Oyster's Irritation," done in watercolors, is a story to help kids deal with hurt, Baumgardner says. She sees "No Excuses for the Skunk" as a musical. Baumgardner has made some preliminary sketches of a sweet-faced caterpiller for another book.

Baumgardner's work is more than pretty pictures and clever words. There's a message - a lesson - in every story.

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