August 23, 2012

Raw umber and other childhood delights

... Crayola Crayons were invented in 1903
by cousinsEdwin Binney and C. Harold Smith.
The name "Crayola” was coined by Alice Binney.
It comes from "craie," French for "chalk,"
and "oleaginous" or "oily." 
Today, in honor of back to school season, The Smithsonian Institute posted a photo of a 1903 box of Crayola Crayons.

Delighted to see the photo, I also reminisced about the joy of a new box of crayons and dug out a piece of Americana that I have saved for over 20 years. 

In 1990, Crayola retired eight colors that were staples of my childhood drawings. I bought a tiny limited edition box of the retired colors. 

I have an irrational fondness for the color Raw Umber. Most folks will describe it as a dismal black/brown mud color. But to me it was much more. I grew up on a farm and we had acres of fields and gardens. Raw umber is the color of the soil after a good rain. Raw umber is the color of the ground the plow turns up as it is prepping a field for crops. I can remember chasing my father behind the plow with my brothers looking for night crawlers to sell in our front yard to fishermen who traveled to the many lakes and campgrounds near our house. 

We had a big hand painted plywood sign that declared:
  "NIGHT CRAWLERS 75¢ a dozen" 
 propped in our front yard and my brothers made their spending money selling worms.

I didn't really love hunting for worms or handling them, so if whenever I could, I would holler at the top of my lungs "BOYS... WORM CUSTOMERS!!!". My brothers would tease me unmercifully about how I pronounced werms, warms. They'd say we better go WARM them up.  

Apparently, though, my affection for raw umber became ingrained in my psyche. When I was 7, the age of reason, I was allowed to decorate my own bedroom. Sort of. I dreamed of a girly-girly room with a canopy bed and pinks and purples galore. As I poured over JCPenney and Sears catalogs, my bedroom vision grew. Mom told me I could design my dream bedroom and off we went to the wallpaper store. We started paging through the massive books and I "oohed and ahhed" over the pinks and purples and Mom pooh poohed them. Every time I pointed out something that I liked she steered me to another page. She never liked the color pink, so I'm sure the thought of turning her daughter's room into peptol bismol nightmare was not what she envisioned at all. In a defiant act that can only be described today, I told her I wanted a brown room. Yes, Brown. 

And that is exactly what I got. 

Or more accurately, raw umber. My room was carpeted in raw umber shag carpeting, the walls were covered with a delicate white floral and vine print on a raw umber background. I did get the canopy bed, and it had a yellow and white gingham bedspread and white canopy. 

While as a child it wasn't what I wished for, I grew to appreciate the sophistication. I didn't tell my mother that I never wanted a brown room until years later. I was an adult and we were talking about decorating my own child's room. She said something about how she wondered if my daughter would pick brown. I said, "I hope not, and if she wants pink or purple, that will be the color she gets." At that point, I confessed the tantrum my 7 year old self had when I wasn't allowed to look at pink or purple wallpaper. 

That earthy color probably defined not only my childhood, but who I am today. My adult home is decorated in earth tones of browns and greens, mostly greens. A vast portion of my wardrobe is chocolate browns, or maybe raw umber. My life is plenty colorful. I'm grateful for the grounding effect of raw umber. It wasn't really discontinued. It lives on in my memories. 

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