ROBIN'S EGG BLUE
All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
I don't know WHY I'm writing this. I guess, because, It's Fun! I wrote a few thoughts down a couple of weeks ago, in preparation for a discussion on collecting, and enjoyed doing it immensely. But, I had a good reason to do that, at the time, and today, I have none.
Our friend, Colin keeps a journal. He writes in it, diligently, every day, in letters as tiny, as if written by a pixie or a mouse. I have not seen the journal, itself, other than with covers closed. Like him, it is quite small. But I have seen his penmanship, on postcards he has sent, and thus, I can assume the writing in his journal, must also be minute. I've often wondered why he does it, and what he finds to write about for hours at a time. Surely little of interest happened, while he stayed with us. That observation was one he made himself, and did not hesitate to share.
It's curious that, although I'm hardly able to remember things that happened yesterday, which ought to be easy, as so little did, I can remember clearly, things that happened sixty years ago. Well, perhaps not altogether "clearly", but rather, enveloped in a kind of gentle haze. Unlike the disconcerting fog that clouds my recent memories, it is a mystic halo that makes these memories of long ago seem all the more precious to me, now. Is this then, the first page of my journal? If so, it will be a journal, not of the present, but of the past.
Or then again, perhaps I'm doing this, just because I don't have anything to do. Am I hearing the voice of a child, echoing from the past, that whining singsong pitiful plea so often heard, in the days before the time of television: "Mommy, I don't have anything to do!"? Sometimes, it was uttered in perfect unison with a "playmate", who had come over to share the boredom: "What can we play with? We've got nothing to do!” Mommy, who had even less imagination than the kids, could always be counted on to suggest "Coloring".
There was a going style of coloring that was much acclaimed in my childhood neighborhood. And I had mastered it by four. Some older girls had invented it. It consisted of outlining each colored area in a carefully traced solid line, and filling in the confined space ever so lightly and neatly with a pale tint of the outline color. Great effort was expended to never let a crayon stroke show. Scribblers were ridiculed and shamed. Neatness "counted"! Coloring was hard work, and exquisitely boring. I can't recall ever seeing a coloring book that was actually colored, beyond the first few pages, or perhaps, one single favorite page, buried somewhere deep inside.
But "coloring" has succeeded in diverting me more effectively for the last few minutes than it ever did, back then. But it was Not the memory of coloring that unexpectedly colored my thoughts, and induced me to sit here writing, now. It was, instead, the memory of a single color, Blue. And, Not just any blue, but a very special and archaic shade of blue that is rarely seen or spoken of, today.
Art school has turned me into a Color Snob. I know all the "real" names of real colors. Names that allude to their chemical make-up, impressive names that label tubes of oil paint, names like Burnt Sienna, Raw umber, and Cobalt blue. Thus, I am quick to ridicule the silly decorator BS names, like "Sunshine Yellow", "Autumn Gold" and Lullaby Lavender that adorn the labels of gallon cans in paint stores, and vary confusingly from brand to brand. But, then again, there are some color names, like Lemon Yellow that, even though, they sound like an interior decorator might have thought them up, are so well stated and dead-on descriptive that they have become "Official Color Names".
Just such a color, with such a name, held a special fascination for me in my earliest years. The color and its name, as well, seemed beautiful to me. Yet, over the years, I had forgotten both. And for some mysterious reason, the World too, it seems to me, has forgotten them, as well. No less a mystery is why, as I peered into the impenetrable depths of the refrigerator, around lunch time today, the memory of that color, and its name came back to me. And, suddenly, I saw it in my mind's eye, and thought I heard its long forgotten name: "Robin's Egg Blue"
My father’s car was "Robin's Egg Blue". We were all proud of it, and often spoke the name of its unique shade. Of all the fancy color names I ever learned, that was the first. I was only two or three or four, at the time. But the memory of that car, looming in the driveway of our, then, modest home, and its magical translucent color, shining elusively through many layers of Simonize, shines before me now, through the gentle haze of time.
I can also recall the joy that came from not being "well off", a feeling I actively aspired to, in later years. In fact, I remember that, when my father came home with two bicycles, one for himself and one for my mother, they were "used", so used, in fact, that they were in need of a new coat of paint. I can see the dining room table, now, covered in newspapers and the two bikes standing tall upon it, about to get a thick and sloppy coat of fresh enamel, Robin's Egg Blue. My parents were lousy painters. They made a mess. But I thought it all quite wonderful. And I can still see that newly emptied paint can, standing on the table, now, with a stirring stick still in it, and the splatters of paint that formed a Robin's Egg Blue halo on the newspaper, around it. I was small, then, even frail. It would be several years, before I blew up, to become Baby Huey. For now, I was hardly bigger than a Robin as I rode joyfully in the basket of a Robin's Egg Blue bike, peddled by my Father.
I remember, too, descending the stairs in my pajamas one night, to perform my party piece for a room full of doting relatives. [And this is truly strange] I was VERY young and small enough to still be, and feel, cute, and I sang MY song, the only one I knew. The name of the song was "In my Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown". God knows why I had managed to memorize that song. I guess, I heard it on the radio. I couldn't sing, as anyone, who has ever heard me try, can testify, and I didn't have the slightest idea what the words were all about, nor did I realize, that this was a song intended to be sung, only by a girl. But, I remember standing on the bottom step, belting it out in a tiny high-pitched voice that, no doubt, sounded like a girl. I can hear it now. I didn't know what a Sweet little Alice Blue Gown was, but whatever it was, I was sure its color must have been Robin's Egg Blue.
Our radio was always on, and the songs, back than, belonged to everyone. Children, teens and adults too, listened to and liked the very same songs. One of my favorites was a song that to me sounded like: "Just Mommy and Me and Baby Makes Three, Together in My Blue Heaven". Blue was Beautiful; it was the color of Heaven, the color of Happiness.
Or so I thought, until one day, I heard a certain song. And, suddenly, Blue became, for me, the color of Sheer Abject Terror. The song wove a tale of hideous creatures, called, "The Blues". "The Blues" would creep forth "in the Night" to haunt the darkest corners of my bedroom and my dreams. The song went on to graphically describe them, as something like the Bogeyman, only worse. '"A Man is a Two Face"! That was "worse"! And although, I could never decide if that meant that they had two heads or just two faces on the same head, I knew instinctively that two faces were not better than one. And, as if, that wasn't bad enough, they made a horrible noise, that sounded like: "A Wooo-eee A Wooo-eeee". The Blues were a worrisome thing that led me to have Bad Dreams in the night.
These bad dreams, rather, call them, reoccurring Nightmares, were always the same, simple but effective. I would be in my bedroom alone, listening to the radio, late at night, and staring, as usual, at the tiny radio dial glowing in the darkness. Suddenly, that song would come on the radio! That was all! But, that was enough, to make me wake up terrified! For I knew the Blues were about to appear. Thank God, the dream always ended, seconds before I would have to, actually, meet those "Blues in the Night", face to faces, and discover, for myself, how those two faces were arranged.
Mercifully, this scenario, that was so close to what could happen in reality, never did happen. Nonetheless, I could, never again, listen to the radio in the dark, alone, without thinking about that song, and fearing that it would suddenly appear. Unfortunately, one night, when I Was listening to the radio, alone in my darkened bedroom, something terrifying really did happen and ironically it was color related too. All at once, a nightmarishly cheerful voice announced: "It's the Red Skeleton Show!", and I was outta-there!
How curious it is, the things, that we remember, and those that we forget. Time edits the photo album of our mind. But who, or what, decides which images shall go, and which remain? Why are so many important pictures lost, while among those still there, are some that seem so trivial? Shots that almost look like the camera was unintentionally aimed, and the shutter clicked by accident.
One such image that remains in place, among the earliest pictures in my album, is that of a small brown nest. I can't remember, if the nest fell, or was taken from a tree, or how I came to have the opportunity to peer into it. But the image stands out from the page, bright and un-faded by the passing years: A tiny perfect robin's egg, the very color that our car had tried to be, and failed. This was it! The real Robin's Egg Blue! No paint could match it, the delicate shading, the tiny flecks of other colors that almost imperceptibly dotted the shell, and seemed to vibrate in contrast to that magic shade of blue.
I realized, then and there, that nothing in my World, no car, no bike, and no Crayola Crayon, could match its beauty. It was not the blue of sky or morning glories, though, those blues have a magic of their own. This was a color unique unto itself, and I had never seen the likes of it, before. Or, for that matter, since, for that was the first, and last, real robin's egg I ever saw.