Unlike some folks, I have very few keepsakes from my childhood. I can count them on one hand with a finger or two left over. Not sure why that is, exactly. But I have one item, a box, from back when I was in the second grade. I have My Box of Crayons still. It’s true. And only one is broken. None are missing. Now what are the odds of that?
Right now people who know me best are laughing (at me) and saying that they’re not one bit surprised that my box of crayons remains intact. (Wish I could say that for the rest of my body!) And today, it being my birthday, I begin with gratitude for the opportunity to start my 66th year on the planet. One of my greatest gifts thus far is that I’ve lived too long to die young and have notched four decades-plus of married bliss and I have had the chance to not only watch our children grow, but to see a tribe of six pulsing grandkids arrive and begin growing into their own dreams, too.
But I was talking about my old box of crayons. Who in their right mind would want to hang on to a skinny box of 24 crayons from almost 60 years ago, you ask? Well, to be honest they hold lessons for me and I “use them” still, but not in ways that you may think.
Not only are my crayons still intact, they’ve hardly been used even though they were school issued and lived in my old school desk, back when chairs and desks, complete with messy inkwell holes were bolted firmly to the wooden floor. And speaking of schools, several years ago while driving through my old neighborhood in South Boston, I noticed that my old elementary school has been converted into elderly housing units. How exciting to know that I can return if I wanted!
But back to using my crayons. In 1958 things were simpler. We didn’t know that the day would come when our crayons would one day be available in boxes of 48, 64 and 96 colors. We didn’t know that we needed FM radio either, or eventually would need and then be willing to pay for 186 channels on TV. In 1958 only Dick Tracy had a mobile phone and the one phone we did have was black, weighed four pounds and came in handy for holding things down from blowing away. If someone had told me to “check online” for what I was looking for I would have stuck my head out our apartment window to check our closeline. Back then, a year before my crayons arrived, we were all too worried about the Soviet Union’s launch of a silly sub-orbiting chunk of metal called Sputnik. We also could not have known that a promising young president would die in Dallas or that by the time we went to high school many of our classmates would be sent to a place called Viet Nam and that 60,000 of them would not return alive.
Over the years my sparsely used crayons taught me something else too. Whatever talent and expression I would have would not find its way using my hands with pigment and paper. I drew and colored birds that looked like…well, they just looked awful. My paint by number Mallard Duck on felt would also be my first and last. My Kodak Instamatic camera in 1964, complete with “Flash Cubes,” and my joy of poetry and prose did, apparently, take root and grew to shape the way I color my world today.
Today, crayons come in a mind-boggling array of colors, hues and fluorescent shades that dazzle the eyes when you open the box for the very first time. Yet, the moment you take that first crayon out, that’s it, you can never get that crayon back in right order, that is, if you can get it back in the box at all! I know this. I worked with children for decades. I remember the last time that I bought a jumbo box of Crayola Crayons (and yes, they had to be Crayola) for the kids I worked with. Five minutes after the children left my program I surrendered after trying to get the little buggers back into their original box, so I unceremoniously dumped them into a tub of existing worn, peeled and cracked old colors. Done, damn it.
Eventually my box of Crayola Crayons also marked a tiny measure of progress that we have made as a nation. In 1962, the Crayola company, bowing to public pressure brought about by the civil rights movement, changed the color of “Flesh” to “Peach.” Peach sounds and feels so much healthier and inclusive, don’t you think?
At last count Crayola was up to 120 colors that make me dizzy to even think about, including 23 reds, 20 greens, 19 blues, 16 purples, 14 oranges, 11 browns, 8 yellows, 2 grays, 2 coppers, 2 blacks and 1 white. And one white? I understand the color spectrum but somehow this still feels like we haven’t quite gotten there yet.
In the meantime, I concede that I will never need to peel away any of the paper on my crayons so that I can keep using them. I’ve found other ways to mark time and keep my world colorful. And I hope that my friends and readers here at Rise This Day will agree, and that we, together, will continue to make our mark in ways that matter into the future. Thank you all for being in my life. Now let’s get going and live this year!