The little girl came home from school in tears, saddled with an assignment she knew she couldn't handle.
"I'm supposed to make something for art class!" she cried to her big brother. "But I'm no good at art!"
"I'll help you," he assured her.
This is what big brothers do, even when the big brother is only 8 years old and his sister is 6.
As luck had it Tony, the big brother, happened to have more than a little bit of artistic talent. He took a bar of Ivory soap and proceeded to carve it into the shape of a kitten. His sister Rose watched in wonder as the soap shavings fell.
"Now for the whiskers," Tony announced when the carving was done. He raided their mother's sewing basket for a few straight pins and pressed them into the kitten's muzzle.
It looked like a kitten, all right. Rose stared in amazement at her brother's creation. "Take that to school tomorrow," Tony said. "Let's see how the teacher likes it."
Off Rose went the following morning, carefully carrying the soap kitten to P.S. 108 in Brooklyn's East New York section.
But when she came home from school that day, she was crying even harder.
"What's the matter?" Tony asked. "Did the teacher hate it?"
"She loved it," Rose wept. "And now she's putting me in the ADVANCED art class!"
Well, the jig was up. Rose had to fess up about what she'd done. The teacher took it easy on her, because she was just a little kid, but here's the funny thing -- Rose's true artistic achievement would come years later.
She was a wife and a mother of four when she unveiled her remarkable creation at the conclusion of her always-sumptuous Easter Sunday meal: a popcorn lamb.
No, really. It was a lamb-shaped creation made out of buttered popcorn, marshmallow, yellow food coloring and two raisins, for the eyes.
This was one hell of an imaginative way to commemorate the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ.
Rose set the crouching lamb on the table, and the room went silent, but not for long. Italian-Americans don't fool around when it's time to tease somebody.
"My favorite flavor!" somebody said. "Yellow!"
The wisecracks flew fast and furious, and we tore into that lamb until it was nothing but crumbs. I got an ear, and it was delicious.
Just like that, a tradition was born -- every Easter, Rose made a yellow popcorn lamb. Every Easter, we made fun of it.
And every Easter, she laughed about it even harder than we were laughing.
I think Rose's life took a wonderful turn on that long-ago day, when she got caught claiming credit for the soap kitten. From then on, I'm guessing, she never bothered with pretense. She was delightfully honest, warm, and just plain funny.
I was always glad to see her, and I can't think of a better thing that can be said of anybody, but I won't be seeing my Aunt Rose anymore. She died the other day at age 84.
"She was special," said her brother, my father, the guy who carved that soap kitten all those years ago.
By the way, that popcorn lamb wasn't the true artistic achievement I was referring to a few paragraphs ago.
Rose Ambrosio's true achievement was the way she made us all feel good, made us laugh, no matter what was going on in our lives.
That's an art form, maybe the most precious one of all, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Charlie Carillo is a producer for the TV show "Inside Edition." Before that he was a reporter and a columnist for the "New York Post." All seven of his novels are available on Amazon Kindle - "God Plays Favorites," "Found Money," "My Ride With Gus," "Raising Jake," "One Hit Wonder," "Shepherd Avenue" and "The Man Who Killed Santa Claus: A Love Story."
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