The artists’ egg

The long-lost Tougas-Bunkert picture book, The Robin's Egg.

The long-lost Tougas-Bunkert picture book, The Robin’s Egg.

Mom gave me a hope chest for high school graduation. The chest came with a lock and key to protect my memories and treasures. I remember piling stuff into the hope chest after college, when I moved to Mankato for my first job.

And what a lock on that thing!

I immediately lost the key, securing everything inside it for 20 years, like a Shelley time capsule. I’ve picked a lock or twelve in my younger years, and let me assure you: the only way inside that chest was a chainsaw. When Mom gave me the chest, the first thing she said was, don’t lose that key. Want me to keep the key for you? Yes, I know you’re an adult, but I just know you’ll lose that key.

Obviously I never told her I’d lost the key. Would you? And I couldn’t go the chainsaw route, because she’d definitely find out.

This weekend a key was found and a lock opened. I honestly had no idea what I’d find in the chest. My memory is terrible. I can’t remember the sentence I just typed. (Did I mention my memory is terrible?) I guessed I’d find jewelry, some photo albums and, if I was really lucky, my grandpa’s coin collection.

Nope. The chest was packed full of notebooks and folders. More on that in my next post.

Because the real news (for me) is I found the first story I ever wrote. A Robin’s Egg. I wrote it; my best friend Denise illustrated it. We were seven years old.

Collaboration, 70s style.

Collaboration, 70s style.

Years later, when I’d searched everywhere for that notebook and couldn’t find it, I accused Mom of throwing it away. (Like I’d blame myself? Really. Do you people know me at all?)

My stepdaughter was here this weekend for the grand hope-chest re-opening. I wiped away tears and hugged the notebook.  My stepdaughter said something like it’s cool that you and Denise were just kids, and she wanted to be an artist and you wanted to be a writer, and here you are nearly forty years later, and you’re a professional writer and she’s a professional artist.

And we’re still heart-of-the-heart friends. Sisters.

Denise and I followed the same path. She dreamed of painting; I dreamed of writing. But we had fathers practical influences in our lives who insisted suggested we blend our passion with a real paycheck. So I pursued journalism and, later, public relations. Denise became a graphic artist.

I’ll never regret my journalism career. I lived a lifetime in those seven years at The Free Press. Eventually, news writing wasn’t enough.

Denise did it first: she leapt from the corporate world and landed in an artist studio. Since then, she’s become a respected artist. She’s been commissioned for major projects, painted in Monet’s garden, won juried exhibits, and published her work in a book of poetry. Look for her here.

None of that came easy for Denise. The money came in spurts. Rejections eroded her self esteem. She felt isolated. She had to fight against the tide of people suggesting she “get a real job.”

Inspired by her, I took the same plunge: small income, rejections, isolation, annoying people. I’ve done okay. I got lucky in the educational market with Little Rock Girl. It opened the door for my novel, The Graham Cracker Plot, which will be out in a year.

Back to the hope chest. An hour after I opened it, Denise called to chat. We shrieked about the discovery of The Robin’s Egg.

She asked, is it bad?

Terrible, I said.

Later, I knew I’d misspoken. The Robin’s Egg is perfect in every way. It’s the beginning of our friendship and our dreams. It’s us.

Mom never knew about the lost key – and since she’s not a blog reader, she never will. All those years, when she’d asked me about the hope chest, I’d smile and tell her it was a wonderful way to keep my personal treasures. She’d say, you didn’t lose that key, did you?

No way. Key. Hope chest. Me. We’ve come a long way together, Mom.

God I hope she never finds out.

3 thoughts on “The artists’ egg

  1. Denise Bunkert

    HI Shelley,
    I always believed in your writing! Even in the days of swimming pools, swing sets and pop cycles- we knew there was hope for professional appearances in the creative world. I hope this Robin’s Egg inspires a young writer or artist to move toward their dreams despite what others might think. Thank you for sharing! I love it!


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