By: Mary Pat Baldauf
I bought a box of crayons yesterday. Not just any box of crayons, but Crayolas in that familiar green and orange box. A 64-pack. With the sharpener. When the clerk rang up the crayons, she shook her head, “5.99 for a box of crayons.”
Not being a regular crayon shopper, I don’t know whether that’s high or low or whether I could’ve gotten them cheaper someplace else. The way I look at it though, $5.99 isn’t bad for a box of Crayola crayons. 64 pack. With the sharpener. And that’s because in addition to housing 64 magical dream sticks, there’s a lot more in that box. A box of memories. A box of tradition. And a box of possibilities.
A box of memories? Yep. When I crack open a box of crayons, I get a neuron-splattering head rush. I am transported back in time to…
…the first grade, when we used those fat crayons that were flat on the bottom so they wouldn’t roll of our desks.
…to 208 Holly Avenue, where my sister and I made masterpieces with crayons and Fall leaves. You did these, right? We’d pick the most colorful leaves from the woods across the street and bring them home. When Mom was busy, we’d pull out her wax paper, fold it in half and place the leaves on one side. Then we’d take old crayons and use a knife to cut shavings onto the wax paper. We’d fold the wax paper over, and when Mom wasn’t looking, we’d iron the paper until it turned into a beautiful stained glass creation. We usually got in trouble for getting Burnt Sienna and Maize on Mom’s iron, but it was worth it.
…to summer YMCA camp when we made what I know as scratch art. We’d color a piece of paper with bright crayons, then cover it with black paint. When the paint dried, we’d use a toothpick to create a design. Those were the days.
A box of tradition? Uh huh. Binney and Smith created Crayolas in 1903, and since then, generations of children have played with them. Crayons are universal; they are the great equalizer of humanity! Babe Ruth? Probably used crayons. President Obama? Bet he used crayons. Prince? Purple crayons, for sure. And then there’s little old me. I most certainly used crayons!
A neat thing about crayons: even though they’ve been around for more than 100 years, they’ve changed just enough to stay relevant. I’m a purist – I like the colorful wax sticks wrapped in paper, but today there are specialty Crayolas: twistable, washable, dry erase, even multicultural. And those big flat ones I used in first grade? They’re now triangular. (Easier for kids to hold.)
Lastly, there are crayons that mark changes in our culture. The crayon once known as “Flesh” was voluntarily changed to “peach” in 1962, partially as a result of the U. S. Civil Rights Movement. The crayon I colored with as “Indian Red?” It was renamed Chestnut in 1999 in response to educators who felt some children wrongly perceived the crayon color was intended to represent the skin color of Native Americans.
A box of possibilities? You bet! A new box of crayons is fresh and perfect. They’re all pointy, lined up in order, bright and, well, perfect. A box of crayons contains the colors of an eye popping sunset, the thousand colors of the sea, the brilliant colors of a rainforest.
Speaking of colors, do you remember the name of your favorite crayon? Mine was Carnation Pink, a color that was introduced in 1949 and is still in that orange and green box. I asked my sister this morning. Hers was Maize, which was retired in 1990.
A funny story about crayon colors. Through my work with the APWA, I travel to their headquarters in Kansas City once a year. Kansas City is also home to the country’s only Crayola Store, which is connected to the hotel.
On my first visit – I visit every year – I asked the clerks about their favorite crayon colors. The first one hemmed and hawed, then finally said that blue was her favorite.
“Blue?” I asked. “Cadet Blue, Cornflower, Denim?”
“Just blue,” she said.
The second clerk’s answer was no better. “Green,” she said quickly.
“Green?” I asked. “Asparagus, Fern, Blue Green?”
“Green,” she answered.
Not very good Crayola ambassadors, if you ask me. If Crayolas are boxes of possibilities, they were a dead end.
I bought a box of crayons yesterday. Not just any box of crayons, but Crayolas in that familiar green and orange box. A 64-pack. With the sharpener. $5.99 for a box of crayons. And memories, tradition and possibilities. Not a bad deal.