mom reminded me of Mr. Harmon, and not just because she wanted
me to call her Amanda. She was very talkative and friendly
and treated me as if I were an adult with opinions worth listening
"What do you think about this cartoon, Lisa?" she
asked me about a half-hour after we'd met. "The negative
space doesn't really work, does it?"
When I agreed, she grinned at me and asked, "So how do
you think I should fix it? Or should I give it up and try
some other angle?"
I was shocked but also a little gratified that she asked for
my feedback in such a serious way. "I like the idea,"
I said, "but maybe you need to reduce the number of lines,
you know, cut the crowd down some."
She nodded and erased a few of the figures milling around
in the background of her drawing. "You know, I think
you're right!" She smiled at me gratefully. "Sometimes
it takes another artist to see what can be done," she
announced to Jason, who was coming into her work room to tell
us that coffee was ready. I hoped she'd still think of me
as an artist after she'd seen the sketches I had brought with
She didn't say anything about my sketches at first. I sipped
coffee and watched her examine them carefully. Jason's eyes
were on me as intently as mine were on her. Finally, she looked
up and grinned at me. "You are a phenomenally good illustrator
with a great eye for nuance and detail. I wish I had half
I wasn't sure if I'd heard her right. She'd called me an illustrator
rather than an artist, but then she said she envied my talent.
I shook my head to clear it and then replied, "Thank
you. I think."
She looked perplexed. "Why? What's wrong? I think your
sketches are really good."
"You called me an illustrator."
Amanda laughed. "Don't worry. I don't use the word illustrator
to belittle your sketches. It's just that they look like illustrations
for a book. Very good illustrations."
"I hadn't thought about what them that way," I replied.
"To me they're just my sketches."
"But they're all pen and ink portraits of people or animals,"
"So, there is a narrative quality to them," she
continued. "That's what made me call them illustrations."
I considered her comment for a few minutes as she drank her
coffee. "I guess I know what you mean," I finally
"Don't sound so depressed," she chided me. "There's
nothing wrong with them. They're just one way you can use
your considerable talent." She breathed. "Jason
tells me that aside from some art classes in grade school
you've had no formal training."
"That's right," I replied. "They don't teach
art at school anymore, and I don't have time or money to take
"Well," I can certainly understand that and sympathize,"
Amanda said cheerfully. "I don't have time or money for
much either. But if you ever want to come here and talk about
drawing and show me your work, I'd be glad to see you. We
could give each other feedback too."
I felt myself relax in a way that was unfamiliar. "You'd
help me with my drawing?" I asked.
"And you'd help me," she answered. "Sometimes
an old hack like me can really benefit from having a fresh
eye look at her work."
I felt as if I were in heaven.
"Hey," Jason said. "Don't look now, but Grandma
Lore Harnisch is coming up the driveway."
"Oh my God!" Amanda gasped. "What does she
"Relax, mom!" Jason interjected. "Lisa knows
about her. I told her the Everett Bard story."
"Oh, Jason, you didn't!"
"Of course, I did. I think it shows Grandma at her most
authentically absurd, don't you?"
Amanda looked upset, and I felt bad for her, but I didn't
have time to react very much before there was a loud and persistent
knocking at the door.
"Amanda! Jason! Let me in!" I heard a querulous
voice demand. "I left my umbrella in your kitchen."
Jason stood up and opened the door, letting his grandmother
"I can't believe you won't give me a key to this place,
Amanda," she complained. "Whoever heard of someone's
locking the door against her own mother? You should be ashamed
The tirade stopped when the old woman caught sight of me.
"Hello, what do we have here? You look like Ralph Dunn's
girl. Don't you work at the bank?"
I stood up. "How do you do?" I began.
"Oh, don't bother with the formalities, girl. Are you
or are you not Ralph Dunn's daughter?"
"Yes, I am," I replied, wondering if this introduction
was going to turn into an interrogation.
"Thought so," she said. "You have the same
stubborn expression. Are you after Jason?"
"After Jason?" I repeated idiotically.
"Yes, after Jason! What's the matter with you? Are you
hard of hearing? Or just stupid? He's an eligible young man.
At least I think he is. But then maybe he doesn't like girls.
He wouldn't be the first in my late husband's family. His
cousins were a bunch of nellies. But now they're all gone.
And good riddance!" She chuckled mirthlessly and peered
at me hard. "Do you like Jason? He's never dated anyone,
"Mother!" Amanda squawked, looking truly appalled.
Her mother ignored her. "Your folks are dirt farmers,
aren't they?" she asked me. "Nearly bankrupt from
what I hear. But if you work hard enough at the bank, maybe
you can get into a responsible position where you could embezzle
Amanda gasped, and her mother gave her a very smug, satisfied
look. "Stranger things have happened," she added.
"And she looks like a sharp one. For the daughter of
a dirt farmer, that is."
I wanted to laugh. "Actually we have plenty of dirt.
We don't need to grow it."
"Very funny," she growled. "Jason doesn't need
a girlfriend with a sense of humor. He needs one with some
drive to compensate for his own lack of ambition."
"Mother!" Amanda squawked even louder this time.
"I hate to disappoint you," I said, surprised at
how unfazed I felt. "I'm not Jason's girlfriend."
"Good!" she said cheerfully. "Good for you
and good for us! He really needs someone with prospects. He's
never going to earn much. He takes after his mom." She
snorted and then said loudly, "Arty!"
I looked at Jason who was very red in the face. I felt sorry
for him, not so much because his grandmother was embarrassing
him in front of me as because it was clear that he, despite
his great sense of humor, couldn't see her as a cartoon character.
I kept seeing her that way, which made it easy to stay calm
but hard not to laugh. She reminded me of a yappy lap dog
that growled and snarled but was too small to do any real
harm and didn't have teeth anyway.
"Well," the old woman went on, "I'll just get
my umbrella and leave you to whatever you were doing."
She marched into the kitchen and I could hear her opening
drawers and cupboards. Then the refrigerator door slammed.
I looked over at Amanda who looked back at me with an extremely
distraught expression. I felt quite sorry for her.
"Did your mother leave her umbrella in the fridge?"
I asked, hoping to make her laugh.
She just rolled her eyes. "No, she just has to inspect
everything whenever she gets the chance. You'd think she hadn't
been here in weeks, but she was just her this morning. She
told me that my fridge needed cleaning, and I suppose she's
checking to see if I cleaned it."
"Well," the old woman announced, charging back into
the room without any sign of an umbrella, "I guess I
left it someplace else." She showed her teeth at me in
a bad imitation of a smile. "Go find yourself another
dirt farmer's kid and leave Jason alone," she said. "Good-bye."
She was out the door before anyone had a chance to respond.
No sooner did the door close behind her though than I started
to laugh. I couldn't help it. I laughed so hard and so long
that Amanda looked alarmed.
"Are you okay?" she asked and then immediately started
to apologize. "She's awful, I know, but she is my mother.
I'm so sorry. I hope you won't judge us by how she acts."
She wanted to say more, but I held up my hand and struggled
to get control of myself. "Please don't apologize,"
I said between giggles. "I really couldn't take her seriously.
No wonder you draw cartoons!"
I felt Jason's eyes on me and when I made eye contact, he
was looking at me as if he'd never seen me before. For a second
I didn't know how to read his look. Had I offended him with
my remark about his grandmother? It took me a moment, but
then I realized that he'd gone from being curious about me
to being really interested. The look was pure admiration.
Jason smiled. "You know," he said, "there's
an art show next weekend at a gallery near Washington U. Do
you think you'd like to go Saturday after your done at the
bank? I could borrow mom's car and we could drive there, see
the show, and go out to dinner." He looked over at Amanda.
"If that's okay with you, mom," he added.
"Or you could come with us," I said to Amanda, but
Jason looked slightly pained at that. "Uh," he replied,
"I was thinking it would be nice for you and me to spend
some time alone together," he said, dropping his eyes
so that he appeared to be staring at his shoelaces.
"Oh!" I replied, a little taken aback. "Well,
I'll check with my mom, but I think it should be okay. Saturday
late afternoon and evening is usually time I have for myself."
And that is how Jason and I began to date.