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  • Betty Girardeau

Back To School


A few days ago walking home after an afternoon of cat sitting and using my friend's much-appreciated internet access, I came upon a section of road where leaves had fallen from one of the trees. The sound of my steps crushing the crispy leaves reminded me of when I was growing up and returning to school after summer vacation. It's interesting how just one thing, in this case the sound of footsteps in fallen leaves, can open a flood of memories. I always loved school and, while my summer vacations were usually fun-filled, I was always anxious to get back to my friends and the school routine. I always had a special new outfit for the first day, and in elementary school especially, it was usually a plaid dress, along with new shoes as well. And, of course school supplies like pencils, notebooks, pencil cases, and especially the new box of crayons. I don't know why, but I love crayons. Opening a new box of sharp and color coordinated crayons is magical. I remember being so excited when the number of crayons in a typical box for school went from 24 to 48 and then, before I was out of school, 64. These days the biggest box contains 200 assorted colors, some with glitter and neon! I loved reading the names of the colors that were different combinations of the basic red, yellow, blue, and green. And I remember being particularly thrilled the year that they came out with a flesh colored crayon. No longer would I have to use pink when I drew people. There was something almost momentous, it seemed, to select and pull out the first virgin crayon from the box. I almost hated to see that nice tip begin to get rounded by use. It was nice when the manufacturer added a crayon sharpener to the box. It was a sad day when a crayon got short and you had to start peeling the paper down so you could still use the color. But it was worse when a crayon broke. I remember when that happened and I tried to put it back together with a bit of Scotch tape. Needless to say, that wasn't too effective. Edwin Binney, working with his wife Alice, developed and marketed the first wax crayons in 1903. Alice had been a school teacher, and it is she who came up with the name Crayola from craie (French for "chalk") and ola for "oleaginous" or "oily. Crayola introduced its crayons in two different sized boxes, which by 1905 had increased to eighteen different sized boxes. Some of these were specifically targeted for artists in order to compete with the French-made "Raphael" brand of crayons. In 1904 the Binney and Smith Company won a gold medal at the St. Louis World's Fair for their An-du septic dustless chalk. This award gave the company an opportunity to develop a new packaging strategy emphasizing their gold metal on their boxes. This proved to be so successful and recognizable, that the gold medal format remained on their packaging for the next fifty years. Since 1998 when new colors have been added, they have replaced existing colors. In all, 50 colors have been replaced, bringing the total number of standard colors produced to 170. "Dandelion" was retired in 2017 and replaced by "Bluetiful," a hue that was realized by scientists experimenting with electronics! Apparently I am not alone in my love of Crayola Crayons. In 2000 the company held the "Crayola Color Census 2000" promotion in which Americans were asked to vote for their favorite Crayola crayon color. Celebrity entrants George W. Bush chose "Blue Bell"and Tiger Woods chose "Wild Strawberry". Overall, "Blue" came in first, with "Cerulean" second and "Purple Heart" third. My three grandchildren have "returned" to school this year, but a school year greatly altered by Corona-19. I doubt that they have had the joy of experiencing many new school supplies, especially a new box of crayons.

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