Crayons make me think of coloring contests in my walk-in closet, hot and stuffy, feeling cozy and safe, yet stifled and confined. The effort to make a preprinted grainy coloring book picture look it’s most beautiful and the immense pride and satisfaction when I accomplished that feat. My brother Robert, six years younger was my nemesis, with whom I am engaged in this battle of coloring wits. As we prepared for these contests, we would move a tiny red child-size table and two cracked wooden chairs into the crowded space, which was usually stuffed with a rainbow of pants, shirts and dresses, hanging in rows on hangers, on nails in the mint green-woodwork, and stuffed in every corner in haphazard piles. Deciding the winner of this epic contest was always the most difficult decision either of us had made in our young lives, with our age difference I should have always been considered the winner, yet with a level of fairness intact I had decided to occasionally color slightly less than my best so that my wee brother could experience the thrill of triumph. As I grew it became evident that those times would evolve as I aged.
My grandparents’ old farmhouse is the next memory of the waxy feeling of these coloring utensils. Grandma’s dimly lit dining room, with the wooden pull out writing desk where the coloring books and crayons were always kept. The times that were the most fun to color were those isolated moments when I was allowed to spend the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s all by myself, leaving all of my seven clamoring siblings behind and basking in a paradise of serenity and decadence. There was always the chance to curl up on the boxy brown davenport, with a Styrofoam tray, left over from the meat counter at the grocery store, piled high with that evenings salty popcorn snack and watch some T.V. The next morning, when Mom would come to pick me up, all of us kids would run around outside, playing in the backyard with all of the old trees and flower gardens filled with pansies and hollyhocks and surrounding us with familiarity.
Childhood is fully encapsulated in that simple comfort of the smell of a green crayon. Even now in adult hood if I close my eyes and deeply inhale that fragrance, I am carried away to a green grassy yard with tree branches swaying and bobbing in the breeze overhead as I lay sprawled on the cool ground and watch the puffy summer clouds drifting carelessly above. Next I would run over to the swing set and with my young and pain free legs, I would pump and pull with all of my might as if to reach the sky and float among the clouds and swing until I am dizzy with glee. Then as I swing up to the high point I would breathlessly let go and fly off, tumbling and rolling back to my feet. When I am momentarily steady again, I would run with abandon just for the joy of it, swooping in circles, imagining that I am like a kite scudding across the sky, with my arms extended outward soaring faster than the wind.
I miss that freedom and excellence of running, swinging, and coloring. Now running means exercise, and pulsating throbbing ankles, coloring means, although I am spending time with my own brown-eyed boy, that I am most likely neglecting chores or the fact that dinner is in the kitchen begging to be cooked. So as I sit reading a book all bundled in a cuddly blanket, I watch him build a fort out of old quilts and kitchen chairs, and resign my myself to clean it up later as he plots to capture the pirates. Because now my purpose and desire is to be sure that Joshua, my little one, experiences all those feelings of freedom and the carefree release of childhood all wrapped up in the smell and smooth waxiness of a crayon.