Buy Photo

The Californian

Californian contributing columnist Steve Flores.

It was drawing time in our kindergarten class.

The only reason I remember it being kindergarten was because of how much I enjoyed nap time right after milk and crackers. I also remember the long-haired brunette classmate who sat next to me on the classroom floor. I wish I could remember her name.

All my classmates received the same blank outline of an angel for this color-by-number art lesson. Our assignment was to match each Crayola crayon with each number inside the drawing. And we were absolutely not to draw outside any of the lines. Neatness counted. All our drawings should look exactly the same.

My dad, Larry, who was a drill instructor in the Marine Corps, hammered into me and my seven brothers and sisters the importance of following rules and instructions.

So following my teacher's drawing instructions to a "T" was automatic. As our drawing time was coming to an end, I looked over at my classmate and noticed she had beautifully broken every rule our teacher had given to us. She picked her own colors of choice and definitely didn't stay within the lines. My first reaction was that she was going to be in big trouble.

But then I thought, 'Wow, what a beautiful drawing she created.' Then "Ms. Oppressive," our kindergarten teacher, came over, grabbed it from her and began to reprimand her for not following instructions. Not a word about how creative she had been or the uniqueness of her drawing.

My long-haired classmate sat back down next to me crushed by our teacher's comments. I almost cried with her. I should have come to her defense but being only 5 years old, speaking back to a teacher was unthinkable.

It's been 58 years and I can still remember my classmate's crayon drawing of an angel with blue wings, floating on puffy white clouds with a yellow sun shining in the Crayola distance.

The kindergarten art class had turned into a life lesson for me. Of course I was way too young to understand its impact on who I would eventual become.

Now as an adult, and I think partially because of what happened in kindergarten, I take advantage of opportunities to encourage, support and promote the growing talents of young people.

So when I received a phone call last year from my friend Judge Robert Tafoya to help with Kern County's first "Young Writers Writing and Poetry Competition," I thought what a great way to help be an advocate for the budding talents of young students. And besides, when a judge asks you to be a judge, you say "yes." He asked if I would help again this year.

The "Young Writers Writing and Poetry Competition" provides that opportunity to help celebrate, encourage and develop the writing skills of our young children. With this year's topic of "Impact of Agriculture in Kern County," it will be interesting to see students' opinions and observations on the multiple political, environmental and cultural applications agriculture has on everyday life in our valley.

I am excited to read the students' stories and poetry again this year. I hope this event helps creates many more Steinbecks, Hemingways or Sotomayors.

And to my kindergarten teacher, I hope you eventually sought another vocation. To my unnamed classmate, I am sorry I didn't speak up in your defense. I hope you exacted your revenge by growing up to be a world-class artist.

I sure wish I could remember her name. I will pretend it was in renowned surrealist artist...Frida Kahlo.

If you are a teacher, counselor or parent of a student in a Kern County school, I hope you consider contacting the Kern County Young Writers and enter in this year's competition.

Good luck to all you young writers. Remember to pick your own colors and never stay within anyone else's lines.

-- Steve Flores is a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at