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If you had a magic crayon, what would you draw?

If you had a magic crayon, what would you draw?

Recently I stumbled upon one of my columns from 2017. I talked of an evening where I sat with my then 5-year-old little boy and read “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson.

My youngest son listened wide-eyed with an expression of intrigue. The beloved children’s book tells the story of a child named Harold who uses a purple crayon to draw a world of his choosing. 

Would you want a giant crayon to create a world that’s easier or happier or more predictable than the one you live in? 

When I wrote the original column, I said that it would be nice to have a magic drawing instrument, but now I’m not so sure. At that time, I was barely a year out from experiencing the death of my mom. I was also in the early days of my divorce, so yes, six years ago it would have been nice to draw a different, easier life for myself. 

But since then, I’ve changed. It seems I’m both softer and harder than I used to be. I forgive more easily and turn to compassion before judgment. But, I’m also less apt to say yes and less trusting of people. I’ve grown to appreciate the imperfections. It’s the mystery and messiness that enlivens any journey, including life.

In the older column, I talked of mom guilt. After we’d finished reading the book, I jumped up and moved on to the next evening task. I should have continued sitting with my son, relishing in that beautiful, fleeting span of time after reading a book to a child where their mind is open, curious and primed for conversation. 

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I wish I could go back and experience his tiny body snuggled in my lap, both of us immersed in a vibrantly illustrated picture book. That tiny 5-year-old is now a rising sixth-grader who is growing rapidly into a young man. Instead of reading books to him, I’m taking him to baseball practice or watching him read thick chapter books like “Harry Potter.”

He’s also a talented artist, so whatever his young mind was thinking that night many moons ago when we read “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” I bet it was imaginative and fascinating. I will never know because I let my agenda get in the way of asking him the seemingly simple question, “If you had a big purple crayon, what kind of world would you create?” 

Books have a way of unlocking something within us. When I was very young, I adored the Berenstain Bears. I probably owned every book in the series. My favorite was “The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room.” My room was always a mess, so I felt I had a connection with Brother Bear and Sister Bear and their frustration at having to clean their room. I loved how the story unfolded and by the end, everyone worked together to label and organize boxes, build shelving and use a peg board to hang hats and toys. I really wanted a peg board like that in my childhood bedroom.

From third through fifth grade, I read “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett at least six times. I may even call it an obsession. The library had one copy and I remember hiding it on the shelf so no one else could check it out. It was a hardback copy with a plastic, protective book cover that started to peel off from the oils of my fingertips. After reading it each time, I would watch the original film version with Shirley Temple.

My mom was the media coordinator at a school only a couple miles from our house in downtown Weaverville. Sometimes I would stay home by myself if I was sick and she couldn’t find a substitute. She would run to check on me periodically during her planning and lunch periods. On those days, I recall stacking all my “Little House on the Prairie” books beside my bed and hunkering down, excited to fall into a word with Laura, Mary and the rest of the Ingalls family.

With my lifelong affinity for books, imaginative settings and storytelling, it’s no wonder I eventually became a writer. The books I read now are much different than the ones from my girlhood, but they still have the same effect. They make me see the world in a different way. They push me to become curious and open to new possibilities and endings. 

“Harold and the Purple Crayon” is now an animated series on Amazon Prime. I’ve decided to tell my younger son about that experience many years ago when we read the book together. I’ll also tell him that I regret not asking him what kind of world he would create. This time, I won’t miss the opportunity. His answer will certainly be different than it would have been six years ago, but that’s OK. In life we get second chances. 

Further, if I did have a magic purple crayon, I would not draw a white picket fence or a four-person family or a manicured yard or a dog lounging on a stoop. 

I would draw smiles and bright eyes and children laughing. I would draw oceans and airplanes and faraway lands.

I would draw blooming gardens and dancers and musicians.

Purple is the color of adventure. At least, that’s how author Crockett Johnson described his choice of the color in “Harold and the Purple Crayon.” If you had the magic crayon in your hand, what kind of life would you draw?

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist with The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and
Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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