The Adventures of Helen Keller and Joe Balasko

Published June 27, 2011 by rlmcdermott

It’s funny what a drawing reveals;  The Adventures of Helen Keller and Joe Balasko was an early sketch I did of my sister and I as kids.   I drew it to try and kick start an idea I had for my dissertation.  I was going to write a fictional memoir of my childhood.  The idea was to explore the relationship between memoir and epic poetry with a process piece-the memoir.  Well, needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway,  the dissertation was never done, the idea got laid aside and the drawing was almost filed away in my then and now overflowing file for old drawings–the garbage can.  I found the drawing a few months ago in a sketch book, took a couple of pictures of it and downloaded or uploaded (I’m never sure which one is right) to my computer.  Today I looked at the photos and was astonished to see something I never saw before–how pissed off I was as a kid!  When I drew the sketch it was just a quick rendering and I  had no intention of depicting my mood either as an adult or child.  But there it was, right in front of me, in the drawing, and I couldn’t help but remember.  I’m the one in the school uniform and my sister’s the one dressed in a man’s suit.  The suit was my father’s only good suit, and the hats (she always wore more than one hat) were his gray fedoras.  I’m dressed in my school uniform because I wore my school uniform all the time as a kid.  No, I didn’t have an early fetish for uniforms, although I do spend a lot time as an adult wearing a uniform (I’m not telling why).  I wore the uniform because that was all I had!  Now where is the logic in my parents sending me to private school (although it wasn’t very expensive ) when they couldn’t afford to buy us clothes?   Maybe that’s why I was pissed off?  If you look at the drawing you’ll see a disheveled little girl with her knee socks down around her ankles, rat’s nest hair, a downturned mouth and a clenched fist that looks ready to pop the nearest person in the mouth.  That was me!  I use to pretend to be Helen Keller because I saw The Miracle Worker on television and decided that was how I was going to live my life–throwing dishes around the room and generally causing trouble.  My sister dressed in my father’s suit and hats because she was Joe Balasko–private detective extraordinare!    Well, as Helen Keller and Joe Balasko we teamed up as kids and investigated crime in our family, and believe me there was a lot of crime.  Cases that we were famous for (in our own minds or maybe just  in my mind) were The Mystery of Arthur Blumberry and Miss Edie, The Mystery of the Old Man’s Wife, The Mystery of the Men on the Loading Dock, The Mystery of Why  Our  Parent’s Ever Got Married in the First Place.  Joe Balasko was a kind of hero to my then and still is today.  You can see that that little girl dressed in a man’s suit wasn’t pissed off.  Indeed she grew up still being a kind of detective–a social worker who helps abused children.  Me, well I look pretty much the same as I did in that picture, except much, much, much older.  I still have the rat’s nest hair, my socks still slide down all the time and my face and mouth now have enough wrinkles that I look pissed off even when I’m smiling.  The only thing that’s missing is the clenched fist.  I learned to cope with the world with  more powerful tools

My sister and I as kids

–my sense of humor and my art.

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