Thursday, June 1, 2023

“The Girl with the Purple Horse” by Maryanne Giangregorio


As a child riding a big orange bus to school every day, I used to pretend I was riding a tall orange horse. I’d hold on to the top of the seat in front of me, pretending I was holding the reins, and would always try to sit beside an open window so I could feel the wind on my face as I imagined myself riding through the open fields we passed.

I didn’t have my own horse, but I remember loving horses that I saw on tv or in picture books. I thought they were big, brave, hardworking animals with the most beautiful eyes that could tell you stories if you were able to read them.

A funny thing happened though when my cousin decided to call me Mare as a short form instead of my three-syllable name, Maryanne. When I told my mom what my cousin had called me, she told me that a mare was a female horse. I was mortified! As much as I loved horses, I was not a horse, and no one was allowed to call me Mare. That argument didn’t work and eventually Mare became my nickname.

Starting Kindergarten in the fall of 1965 made me feel grown up and even though we had to take a nap every day after lunch, I still felt like a big girl who was ready to learn everything my teacher had to teach me.

One thing I loved doing in kindergarten was painting and, of course, horses were my favourite subject. A really fun part about painting was that I got to wear one of my dad’s old fancy shirts which was way too big for me and felt like a long dress. It used to make me giggle when I put it on over my clothes and I loved that I could get paint on it and not get in trouble. 

I remembered that my mom used to iron this shirt for my dad before it became my painting shirt, so it was like having both of my parents there with me, which made going to school not quite so scary.

One day, during our afternoon nap, which I truly did enjoy, my teacher came and woke me up. I was confused and didn’t understand why she was doing this. Mrs. Blunt motioned for me to follow her to where we had been painting that morning.

When we were both standing in front of my picture that was drying nicely in the breeze coming in through the open windows, Mrs. Blunt whispered these words to me, “Maryanne, you did a lovely drawing of your horse this morning (I could feel there was a “but” coming), but there is a little problem. I would like you to redo your painting because you painted your horse purple and horses are not purple.” 

I took a big gulp of air. I didn’t want to cry in front of my teacher, but I did want to cry. My feelings were hurt and I was sad. What was wrong with a purple horse? Why did we have so many different colours if we weren’t allowed to use them? Would I be punished if I refused to change the colour of my horse? Would I fail kindergarten?

I finally did as asked, as I couldn’t take the chance of failing kindergarten, but I never loved or enjoyed art the same way after that. I always feared that I would do something wrong.

As a teacher, some 35 years later, I would tell my students my story about the purple horse and how tool away all my confidence.  No matter what I drew, even if it was just a stick man on the board, they would compliment me and say, “Ms. G., that’s the best stick man ever!” They were so sweet and considerate of my feelings and truly understood the pain I’d felt.

This childhood experience helped me understand the power I had as a teacher to encourage or to destroy creativity. I always wonder what would have happened if Mrs. Blunt had not stomped all over my creativity. Perhaps I would have created an equine playmate for the purple dinosaur named Barney.


Maryanne Giangregorio is a retired elementary school teacher, originally from Fruitland, outside of Hamilton, who has relocated to Chatham, Ontario, where she enjoys the most amazing sunsets that settle on the farmer's field across from her backyard. 

See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

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