A blacktop masterpiece

Yesterday I came home to the prettiest, most colorful driveway in the neighborhood. Adorning what had been plain black asphalt was a yellow mermaid with green tresses who sat on an orange rock under a pink palm tree. A flag in robin's egg blue, representing a nation I could only imagine, fluttered in the breeze. The names of our dog and two cats – Puck, Milo, and Moxie – were punctuated with red exclamation marks. Here and there were hearts and flowers, stars and snowflakes, rainbows and spirals, smiley faces, and the outlines of small hands.

The 7- and 9-year-old girls who live across the street created this masterpiece with sidewalk chalk. Kiana left her signature in three places, in neat cursive. Jenaya, her younger sister, scratched hers in block letters with a backwards "N."

Although the driveway to the bungalow that the girls call home is also paved, they prefer our longer, broader expanse, even with its cracks and dips.

I have no children or grandchildren, but vowed when my husband and I bought this, our first house, that kids would always be welcome to cut through the yard, pick a few flowers, or play with the kitten.

I wanted for the dozen children here the same acceptance I had felt as a child. In the 1950s, our neighbors, May and Bob, lived in what seemed like a mansion compared to my family's second-floor apartment. They knew that my mother, exhausted by three kids under 6, occasionally needed a respite. They kept their door open so that my sister, my brother, and I could go in and watch the black-and-white TV that we didn't have at home, feast on cookies and milk, and peer curiously into the trinket-crammed bedroom of their teenage daughters.

Now, as I back out or pull into the garage over Kiana and Jenaya's expression of sunny exuberance, I feel a pang of regret that my tires will cause a smudge. I look out the car window, down to their gift on the pavement, and hope that rain never comes.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude have spent millions to drape the world's buildings, bridges, parks, and islands, but I know that the best in public art is outside my door – thanks to two girls, a driveway, and a $2 box of sidewalk chalk.

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