The color of the sky after the sun sets is Midnight Blue although it appears hours before midnight. I wasn’t that fond of Magenta but I could recognize it along with Red-Violet and Violet-Red. Every September as I was given my list of school supplies, I would hope that more than anything, that it would be the year that I would receive my own box of 64 crayons and get the box with the sharpener in the back. I knew all the colors. I knew the organization of the four smaller boxes of 16 that made up the “64” as I would call them. The colors became the colors of my imagination as I thought of Burnt Sienna as a color I wouljd see in Colorado or Arizona. Cornflower was the color of the wild flowers that grew near my aunt and uncle’s house in the field nearby, along with Goldenrod, the color and the weed. They gave definition to my view of nature and the colors that made up the surface of tree bark was more than Brown, it was Raw Umber. It made the sounds of the names of the colors exotic. It interpreted distinctions and shades and created a vocabulary for me. I coveted my own box and I knew I would take very good care of them.
I saw a box for sale on Etsy that might have been the box I might have had, if life was different. The box had a price tag of 78 cents. Money was not in great abundance in our household and my mother was frugal and suggested that having a box of 8 or perhaps 16 was all that was in the school supply budget. I still would ask, because when you are eight or nine or ten years old, that box of 64 Crayolas meant the world. The rules were different then and asking once usually got a lecture about not asking again. I did understand in my head, but my heart said Periwinkle and Salmon, which were neither in the box of 8 or 16.
I wasn’t a coloring book type of kid. I always made my own drawings that I filled in. I was totally an out of the lines girl. Doodling is still a big part of my day and distracts me. My blotter on my desk is filled with pen and ink robots and flowers and checkboard patterns. Every month is another art show that I create while on the phone. My mother was artistic and creative. She had hopes of working as a fashion designer but instead created a doodle of a woman who had a face and curls, that became her signature on cards and notes that we all still have and treasure. It always reminded me of the cartoonist Al Hirshfeld who drew Broadway for the New York Times and always included his daughter Nina’s name in his drawings. I used to hunt for them on Sundays and see how many I could find.
I knew early on that it was not a black and white world both in scope and in art. I never felt that there should be a choice between a box of crayons and the NY Times and all the information that I learned from the printed page and between the lines. My father would buy the Times in the morning and would be one of those men who rode the subway and learned to fold the paper just right so he could hang on to the straps of the subway car and read and turn the paper, so as not to bother the other riders. We were not a Daily News family and in the afternoon he would bring me back (it might have been for my mother, but I consumed it first) the NYTimes and the afternoon New York Post for me to peruse. Often he would tell me that he didn’t buy the Post and it was years later that I found out that the cover page might have had something he deemed gory or disturbing and the paper never made it into the apartment. He told me that he felt it was his role as a parent to censor what I read. Looking back, I can appreciate a parent whose role was to protect me from the media and the darkness, until I was old enough to understand. I am not sure I am yet old enough or will ever be old enough to be able to understand any of what the world is about.
Not having money didn’t mean we didn’t have access to music and art. Both my sister and I were given many opportunities to visit the museums of New York and beyond and to develop a knowledge and appreciation for paintings and sculpture. Even now I recognize that it is not necessary to own a Van Gogh (not that I would throw it out if it appeared at my door) to recognize its beauty and depth, and the artist’s pain and emotional journey. Wealth is often having the opportunity to be around great things without the responsibility of ownership. Time passed by and one birthday (I believe it was my 30th and I was already a mother) I received a gift which I didn’t expect. My mother wrapped my box of “64” Crayolas with the sharpener in the back, and presented it to me. I was flabbergasted (another underutilized word) and touched. It taught me that it wasn’t at all about not being heard many years earlier, but learning to know when the time is right, especially with children. I imagine our circumstances were not as dire as I might have thought. I learned to make colors in my imagination that went way beyond the box. My mother might have known that I might not have found that out if I limited myself to only “64”.