The moist blades of grass tickled Joan's bare feet and the wind ruffled her dark blond hair as she tramped across the lawn. She blissfully breathed in the fresh smell of earth while she settled herself on a tree stump to do what she had done every morning since she learned to hold a pencil: draw the sunrise.
A thin gray line on the horizon grew larger and larger, gradually—oh so gradually—taking on an orangy-pink hue. Joan's artist's eye noted that the trees, which at first had seemed mere silhouettes, could now be seen in more detail. Registering a picture of this vivid scene in her mind, Joan turned her attention to the sketchpad.
The world seemed perfectly quiet, which was just fine with Joan. She liked it that way. The only sound was the faint scratching of her pencil. Scratching and erasing minute after minute would have seemed like forever to an observer, but at last Joan put down her sketchpad and surveyed it critically. Satisfied, she gathered up her sketch pad, pencil, and binoculars and went inside for breakfast. She would put in the pastel hues of watercolors, her favorite part, later.
Bacon sizzling in a hot frying pan may have been a welcome sound to other ears, but Joan merely swallowed some cornflakes in surprisingly few mouthfuls and drank her orange juice in one long gulp. This was not because she was hungry, but because she wanted to get the dull process of eating over with as soon as possible when there were more important things, like drawing, to do.
"I warn you, Joan Elise Bailey, you are going to choke if you keep eating like that!" admonished Mrs. Bailey. Even when scolding, Mrs. Bailey's musical voice with its slight southern accent was as beautiful as her looks.
With her short, wheat-colored hair (the same color as Joan's) curled becomingly about her face and her slim, stylishly clothed figure, it was no wonder that Mrs. Bailey had been a small-time movie actress before Joan was born.
It was hard for Joan to live up to her mother's expectations. Mr. Bailey made quite a bit of money at his work and Mrs. Bailey lavished it on acting lessons and an agent for Joan, her only child. She was determined that Joan be a famous actress. Any other girl would have been delighted with this, but Joan wasn't. She hated the dazzling lights of the big cities where she went to auditions, the strange, fluttery feeling in her stomach and the limp, silly-putty feeling in her knees when she got up on a stage. She hated pretending to be someone she wasn't in a stiff, sweaty, awkward costume. Worst of all she hated the discouraged look on her mother's face when Joan didn't get the part she auditioned for (she never did). She didn't want to complain for fear of sounding ungrateful, but Joan would have rather had mediocre art lessons than the finest acting lessons in the world.
One afternoon, Joan and her best friend, Alice, were walking home from school together. Alice was a vivacious girl with fiery red hair who loved to write. Joan had agreed to illustrate all Alice's stories, which was a big job considering how many stories Alice wrote.
"You know, Joan," commented Alice, "you ought to try entering some kind of drawing contest. There's a big one in a magazine I get. Our teacher says you're the best artist in the entire sixth grade, and besides, maybe your winning an art contest would convince your parents to give you art lessons instead of those horrible acting lessons." Alice was one of only two people (the other one being Joan's grandma) who knew about Joan's dilemma.
Joan's blue eyes lit up at Alice's suggestion, for she passionately wanted art lessons. It would be a huge relief to quit acting, too. The girls chatted about unimportant things the rest of the way home, but Joan's mind wasn't on the chatter. She was too eager about the contest. The next day she sent off her most beautiful sunrise picture to the address Alice had given her, and from then on she haunted the mailbox like a ghost.
A week or two later, Joan was rifling through some letters, mostly bills, hurriedly. She was in a hurry because her grandpa and grandma were coming to dinner and she needed to help Mrs. Bailey cook. There was a phone bill, a solicitation for money, a letter from her English pen pal (Yippee! thought Joan), a Happy Easter card . . .
She was almost done when her eyes fell on a small, yellowy-white envelope. She gasped when she saw the return address. It was a response to her contest entry! Joan's fingers trembled as she slowly tore it open, sitting on her habitual drawing stump. In breathless suspense, she drew out a single sheet of paper, evidently a letter. Alice, who had more experience with these things, would have known this was a bad sign, but Joan eagerly began to read it.
"We regret that you were not among the finalists, however . . ."
That was enough.
Joan fell off the stump sobbing. Then she crumpled up the letter and threw it as hard as she could. She didn't have any talent after all! She would never get any lessons now! That was what hurt the most. No lessons. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Joan collapsed into a sobbing heap on the lawn.
A car pulled up on the Baileys' driveway. Grandpa got out and took the cake that he and Grandma had brought inside, but Grandma stopped, noticing Joan. She picked up the crumpled letter Joan had thrown and read it. Sitting down on the grass as carelessly as if she were wearing jeans, even though she was wearing an old-fashioned dress with a flowered print, she explained, "You can't expect to win the first contest you enter, Joan."
Joan kept sobbing and gasped, "No art lessons."
"I see," said Grandma, her kind, wrinkled face frowning. "Lessons are important, but practice is the most important thing. Do you ever watch the sunrise, Joan?"
"Well, imagine that the thin gray line on the horizon is your talent and the orangy-pink hue it takes on is practice. The more you practice, the brighter and more colorful it gets. To reach full sunshine, or full talent, takes determination. But I know you have it." Joan's face was looking brighter now. "As to the lessons," continued Grandma, "I'm a bit of a painter myself actually. In fact, I don't think dinner will be ready for a while, so I can help you with something right now. Would you like that?"
Joan nodded, smiled, and wiped away her tears. Then she took out her sketchpad and began to draw.