Archive for December 9th, 2007

I know it’s my all-time favorite Crayola color, a blue infused with white, a touch of red. I don’t know what a cornflower is, but from the name I imagine it to grow in wide fields somewhere in the vicinity of Iowa. I picture it to be small with wispy petals, blue-purple, and yellow eyes. Like purple aster. A poor man’s flower. An everyman’s flower.

Cornflower was the color I picked to paint a New Mexico sky. As a child I didn’t think “New Mexico sky” or “Washington, DC sky.” Sky was sky. There was no sense of this place or that place. I only knew where it was I came from — New Mexico dirt, scrub oak, piñon, extreme wind, extreme heat and cold, a crisp blue sky almost always.

Midnight Blue was my night sky color. Midnight. Crayola gave me the cues to know which colors to pick. Flesh. Pine Green, which I saved for piñon trees, but then the darker Forest Green was confusing; didn’t piñons grow in forests? I used Melon for fruit, Turquoise Blue for the bracelet on Grandma’s wrist.

I never understood the raw colors, Raw Sienna and Raw Umber. Why raw? They were shades of brown, and the browns threw me off the most. Sepia and Mahogany, even Maroon was a sort of brown.

But Cornflower, Cornflower didn’t give me any signals. Nothing but the color of the waxy crayon tip to tell me where to put it on my page. I was a tidy artist, one to stay inside the lines. Dad’s accounting sensibility rubbed off on me. He once put a drawing of mine into his briefcase and took it to work.

I colored to please my father, colored because I could produce something tidy, clean, literal at the end of the exercise. Something to march home and show: this is me, me being you, this is you.

Everything I know about Cornflower I learned by fifth grade. I learned it was good to be an enigma, something defiant of a label.

In the box of Crayola crayons, the big boxes with the colorful sticks laid out in rows, one row on top of another on top of another, the world was divided into clusters. My red tones here, my brown tones next, yellows and greens residing side by side. Blues were calm, Cerulean, Midnight Blue, its cousin Navy, Turquoise Blue almost too bright for its peer group.

But Cornflower, that amazing plant growing in the wide Iowa plains, Cornflower was the calmest of colors. Not a still sea with who knows what churning under the surface. Not a night where things might appear, vague and menacing. But a clear, crisp sky. A home, a place, a moment.


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I had a hard time choosing one color, the way I have a hard time choosing anything. When I looked over the list of Crayola colors, I realized I must have had a 64 box of crayons because it would have been impossible in my age range to grow up with a box with 80 or 120 colors. I couldn’t choose between Mahogany or Goldenrod, two of the colors I used the most. My skies were a combination of Midnight and Periwinkle blue. The lines I drew between sky and earth – Black.

But Mahogany – Mahogany was the color of the table in Mom’s dining room in South Carolina. The table would be buffed and shined with a layer of S.C. Johnson’s Pledge wax. The chairs were ornate curls at the backrest, with what I remember to be red-striped, satin seat coverings. It’s another detail I have forgotten to ask Mom about, the history of that table.

I remember family gatherings there by the windows, Grandmama with her pearls and white chrysanthemum clip-on, costume earrings, light streaming in from the carport where my brother, J, once fell off his trike, reaching for a glass jar, and slit his wrist. Mom and my step-dad recalled the memory when I was visiting in June, how my step-dad grew faint from all the blood. And that’s what I remember, blood, all that blood. But it was Brick Red, the blood, more than Mahogany.

And Goldenrod reminds me of a mustard seed, the name of a restaurant in Missoula, and the wheat fields of North Dakota and eastern Montana. But mostly, I like the name Goldenrod. I used to choose colors based on the names as much as the hue and tone. And what happened to Indian Red? They changed the name in 1999 so as not to be offensive.

Like the Burnt Sienna comment about the color Peach and Lillie Belle Allen and how flesh can’t be defined by race. And now I’m thinking of the over 100 different colors for flesh that I saw at a Minnesota Science Museum exhibit about a study in Brazil on skin color. And later I looked it up and found an article that listed all the colors, names created by the people themselves.

But the mustard seed – Goldenrod reminds me of the parable, was it Matthew, Mark or Luke? And how giant things can grow from a single mustard seed. Or what about the Buddha’s story of the mother whose son died. She wanted a medicine to bring him back to life. And the Buddha said to gather a handful of mustard seeds from homes where no one had lost a child, husband, parent, or friend.

And when she found no home untouched, she realized that death comes to us all. We will all experience loss and grief. And she buried her son in the comfort of that knowledge. Community. Sangha.

And now I’m thinking about Brick Red and the scary movie I watched last night, Skeleton Key. It was set in New Orleans swamp country in an old plantation. About hoodoo and how drawing a line of red brick dust between you and your enemies keeps them away. In the movie, it worked, and there were layers of history and giant draping trees (what kind were they?) on a wide canopied, dirt road leading up to the antebellum home.

And then another movie called Practical Magic, with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. And I turned to Liz and said, “Someday I want the practical magic of a movie room with Bose speakers built into the ceiling and a huge, high def, flat screen TV on the wall. And a comfy monstrous couch that soaks up your body with fluff and throw pillows.” And she smiled back at me, then we turned to watch the rest of the movie in which Sandra Bullock gets her man, one eye green, one eye blue.

And now I’m wishing that life were more like the movies where everything works out. But then, everything does work out in one way or another. The things I can’t control, well, that’s the Serenity Prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

And now I’m back to Goldenrod and Mahogany and don’t the two colors look nice together? The mustard seed and the brick dust and the family dining room table in South Carolina all meld into one memory. Which is real, which imagined?

I didn’t write everything I know about Mahogany or Goldenrod. I wrote everything.

Dancing Crayons, photo of an illustration of a tablet given to me by a writing friend, December 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Dancing Crayons, photo of an illustration of a tablet given to me by a writing friend, December 2007,photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Dancing Crayons, photo of an illustration on a tablet given to me by a writing friend (tablet published by Carson-Dellosa Publishing), December 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, December 09, 2007


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