In December of 1979, there was a problem because the 8-pack Crayola brand crayons did not have a “peach” color. And now Ms. Davison and her classroom assistant Miss Bess had to lead a class of Kindergarten students in coloring a nativity scene coloring book without the “peach” color.
Little Bobby Blevins wasn’t aware of this, of course. His eraser was in the shape of a flower, which was both intriguing and disappointing, and this was about the extent of his worry at that moment.
He also didn’t know that Ms. Davison had coordinated with the other Kindergarten teachers and, yes, even the whole lower elementary, in the Kindergarten’s contribution for the Christmas party, the culmination of their Christmas unit. Each classroom of Kindergarten students would be following the same instructions to create the same nativity scene book as a gift for their parents. Ms. Davison, her assistant Miss Bess, and the neighboring teachers and the neighboring assistants would all guide the students into coloring and binding their books appropriately “just so,” so as to ensure all the parents would be getting the best nativity scene that could be possibly be produced by a micro-managed five year-old.
Ms. Davison took care to explain this to her students in a slow and appropriately soothing high-pitched voice, with some editorial removed to make it more persuasive to this particular audience. She displayed the blue crayon so that all could behold it. Everyone would start on page one, with the color for Mary’s robes.
Little Bobby Blevins knew this of course. He had already started the moment Ms. Davison pinched the blue crayon between her crinkly old forefinger and thumb. His hand went quickly, in jerking back and forth movements, laying a swath of blue with each rhythmic spasm of some internal sing-song only in Bobby Blevins’ brain.
This only produced a heavy sigh from Ms. Davison. She explained with a strained “You know wha-at?”, her favorite opening line when talking to young children. As was often the case, however, what Little Bobby Blevins knew and what Ms. Davison knew were apparently not the same thing at all. Bobby Blevins’ production of the color blue was compared kindly to chicken scratching, and it wouldn’t do that Bobby Blevins’ blue was not contained within the lines of Mary’s clothes. Miss Bess was asked to get Bobby Blevins a new page one.
Little Bobby Blevins blinked at the paper in front of him. It suddenly occurred to him that his blue was, in fact, going outside the lines for some reason. It was taken and replaced with a blank one from Miss Bess.
The other students must have done okay, as Ms. Davison and Miss Bess circled over them. But Little Bobby Blevins didn’t notice that. Now, he was determined to do better, and he concerned himself with redoubling his efforts, which meant paying close attention to keep his hand moving more slowly and his crayon gripped more firmly.
Ms. Davison moved on to the other areas and other pages, soon adding instructions for Joseph’s robes (brown,) the hay (yellow), and the stable walls (red.) There were, after all, only eight colors to choose from, and you can’t make the wooden slats and walls of a stable green, now, could you?
Then came the most precarious moment of all. Ms. Davison held up the orange crayon and explained, carefully and patiently, that students needed to use the orange crayon to color the faces of the Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus. But it was very important to only press very lightly, as only a light orange color was needed. There were no peach-colored crayons in the student’s packs, remember.
But Little Bobby Blevins knew this of course. He had been coloring since pre-K, after all, and he had long since figured out this special trick. In fact, he had already started the moment Ms. Davison had raised the orange crayon in one hand and a pointed index finger with the other. Little Bobby Blevins was in the zone.
This produced another sigh from Ms. Davison, but in truth it was much more of a gasp. Little Bobby Blevins blinked at his paper and suddenly noticed that Baby Jesus was caked with bright orange skin, thanks to a layer of crayon that had been slathered upon him as if by a trowel.
Well, this was just perfect. Ms. Davison now had another thing to display to the class, and she held up Little Bobby Blevins’ paper so the class could behold an example of the improper light-orange skin coloring technique. “This is what happens.”
The other students laughed to see such a strangely orange baby, and Bobby Blevins fiddled with his flower eraser, staring at it intently while trying to appear very small. He thought he must have succeeded, because that was how he felt.
Maybe he was given a new paper by Miss Bess, maybe he succeeded at finally figuring out what Ms. Davison wanted, and maybe he completed the rest of the pages and bound the book with ribbons and brass brads, with paste and construction paper. That stuff, Robert Blevins doesn’t remember nowadays. He does remember the pages that were taken from him, he remembers that orange crayon, and he remembers the flower eraser.
In fact, Robert Blevins doesn’t remember the rest of that day at all. He doesn’t remember the recess that he spent playing, running, and trading Matchbox cars. The snack of carrots, celery, and Ranch dressing. After-school cartoons of Hanna-Barbara. The fact that he must have given the finished Christmas book to his parents and they must have hugged him and told him how much they loved it.
In fact, Robert Blevins, in-house software manager for Bank of the West’s Southwest Region, only remembers on that day staying in the lines, coloring items as directed, and keeping everything a light shade of orange.
Such a thing even made him a forerunner for manager of the year in 2010, if you can believe it.
It’s just that sometimes, Robert Blevins wonders. Some days when he’s straightening his tie or grabbing new Post-its from the supply cabinet in the breakroom, he wonders what would have happened if he colored Mary’s robes purple, the walls of stable green. The “What If” of a shiny, thickly bright-orange Baby Jesus.