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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, May 22, 2005

'Portrait in trash' is treasure in dad's eyes

By Michael C. DeMattos

I can always tell when my daughter is really excited about something because she cannot wait until I get home. She will often call me at the office or on the cell if something tragic has happened, like when two of her goldfish died, or if something really cool happened, like when her mother bought two tickets for the Hilary Duff concert.

Here is the DeMattos family as portrayed by the author's daughter, who used recyclable material and household items to create the figures. It was part of a project by her second-grade class. Her father finds that in an imperfect world that at times "uses, abuses and then discards you," the project taught an important lesson.

Michael DeMattos

Hey, wait a minute. Two tickets and two dead fish. Have they heard Hilary sing too?

Nah, couldn't be.

Anyway, about a month ago I got the strangest call. My daughter was speaking a mile a minute describing some bizarre school assignment. She said something about trash and then mentioned our family.

As it turned out, the second-grade science class was tasked with making a "trash creation." The pupils were allowed to use any recyclable product or household item as long as it was not purchased for the project itself. They could find their objects at the beach, in the trash can or lying around the house. There were no limits to the creative process; she could make anything she wanted as long as she used junk to do it. I guess when my daughter thinks trash, she also thinks family. Or maybe when she thinks family, she also thinks trash. In any event, the collection of materials started in earnest.

She used golf balls for our heads and glued yarn-hair for the girls. She dusted my head with some yarn shavings and I must admit her choice to leave much of the dimpled golf ball showing was a nice, if all too realistic, touch. She cut out our faces from old photographs and gently stuck them on, covering the golf ball labels. Our bodies were made of tubes from rolls of toilet paper and our limbs out of old dowels from my scrap lumber pile. We were clothed in curtain remnants and stuck onto a piece of

pine shelving that was covered in a cup of sand taken from Lanikai Beach — I hope this is not a crime — and old blue tile from a bathroom remodeling project. In our hands we held trash, of course.

On a recent Friday, the second-graders' "trash creations" were on display for family and friends and they did not disappoint. One pupil created a realistic coral reef out of plastic and Styrofoam; another pupil designed a cityscape out of juice cartons and packing peanuts; a third created some prehistoric creature called a coelacanth. I can't pronounce it but it sure looked creepy.

I loved all the exhibits. The pupils demonstrated creativity and I think they gained an appreciation of all that can be done with the things we call waste products — an important lesson for sure. Still, my daughter's project was particularly apropos for our clan, not because it was any better than the others but because it reflects who we are as a family. We are a portrait in trash, not soft pastels or rustic sepia.

We are far from perfect, with chips and dings and unraveling strings, yet we fit together well.

This can be a cruel world that uses, abuses and then discards you, but if you have someone to love and if you are loved by another in turn — if you think creatively and pour your heart into what you do — you just may find that it makes for a beautiful portrait indeed.

Family therapist Michael C. DeMattos has a master's degree in social work.