Pass the burnt sienna
It was late August. I took my twelve-year-old daughter on our ritual back-to-school shopping trip to K-Mart, purveyor of anything a reasonable person could want or need, including magically delicious Lucky Charms.
We made our way through the Martha Stewart clearance table and passed the Tommy Hilfiger tool collection. Finally we arrived at the school supply section. It did not yet have a designer name attached but it was impressive none-the-less. The first aisle featured everything paper. The next aisle held an array of pens and more types of glue than I had ever imagined. There was white glue, clear glue, stick glue, sparkle glue and the beloved mucilage, with its familiar angled, rubber tip. There was even something called “School Glue” that washes out of clothing and for which I think the inventor should receive the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Next, there was the art aisle. Then the Great Wall of Scissors. Small ones, big ones, squiggly ones and ones that would only cut paper, not hair, for which I think the inventor should win the Nobel Prize in physics.
As we strolled past the parade of items I felt the thrill and sheer terror of preparing for kindergarten. It was then that I spied the crayon collection. My daughter breezed by but I was frozen before the altar of Crayola. There were boxes of five crayons, boxes of 12, boxes of 24 and then, with a holy light shining all around it, the big box of 64. I knew that box included gold, silver and bronze next to Carnation Pink. And it still had the sharpener right there in front. I think Messieurs Binney and Smith did, in fact, win the Nobel for that nifty concept.
I was mesmerized and I knew, just as I had known long ago, that I had to have that box or my life would be empty and meaningless. It was $4.89 and I was all grown up now, with a job that paid at least twice that per hour. I grabbed the box and held it close to my heart. I caught up to my daughter at the checkout counter. She was bemused by my selection, saying, “Mom, in 7th grade we don’t use crayons anymore.” When I explained that these were my crayons she was horrified. Her lovely head spun wildly around to see who might be watching us. “You’re too old for crayons!” she squeezed painfully out of her clenched teeth. What did she say? Too old? Should I be browsing in the Depends aisle? Should the only silver I needed have the word “Centrum” in front of it? “Not yet!” screamed every 45-year-old cell of my body. So I stuck out my chin, stamped my foot and shrieked “Well, I don’t care what you say, I’m getting these crayons and you can’t have any.”
When we got home my darling girl mocked me in front of the rest of the family. “Tell them what you got at the store, Mom” she hissed. I proudly, defiantly displayed my treasure. They barely looked up from the Animal Planet special “Finding Your Poodle the Right Agent.”
Undeterred, I rummaged through some basement boxes and came up with a coloring book called “Pretty Puppies.” I retired to our living room, where no one ever lives, and settled onto the floor in front of the coffee table, which has never held a cup of coffee. With all due pomp I opened the box of crayons. I reached into the brown section and pulled out a puppyish color. It turned out to be my old friend “Burnt Sienna.” I colored until my arm ached. Time to take a break. Just in time to start dinner. See why I wanted to color?
I hummed as I placed the rosemary-encrusted Cornish game hens in the oven and opened the box of instant mashed potatoes (what Nobel category are they in?). My family disappeared, as they were known to do whenever preparations for anything began. When the kitchen timer cheerily dinged I called to my errant group. No answer. “The food’s on the table, all you have to do is lift your fork,” I sang without a hint of bitterness. Still nothing. Had they been witless enough to run away before a meal? Of course not. You can guess where they were hiding.
Yes, there they were, huddled around the coffeeless coffee table in the lifeless living room. Pictures of pretty puppies of all hues were scattered around the room. About 45 of my 64 crayons were sprawled across the table, all with their beautiful, sharp points now rounded and ordinary. Silver, used for little Lassie’s nametag, was just another old crayon. Even our dog was in on the act, gnawing gleefully on Magenta. Et tu Sparky?
I was devastated. I sat on the sofa and cried.
The coloring stopped. The chewing stopped. They all ran to my side and offered consolation and contrition. It didn’t help. Finally, my husband offered to take the kids and the dog to the local art-supply store and buy me a brand, spanking new box of crayons. I perked up a little so they flew to their task. While they were gone I ate a Cornish game hen and moped about my pathetic existence. Then I ate some chocolate cake. And Redi-Whip, straight from the can. I felt a little better. Then in they came, shopping bag in hand. . I felt excited. I reached into the bag and there were my crayons. I felt blissful. I reached in again and pulled out a coloring book called “That 70’s Barbie.” I felt giddy. I reached in one more time and found (are you ready?) tracing paper. Tracing Paper! I had forgotten about the magic paper that let everyone be DaVinci, or at least Gene London. Now I could create my own artwork, sort of, to color. Pure joy. My existence wasn’t pathetic; it was as bright and shiny as my new gold crayon.