B is for Burnt Sienna
One summer when I was eight years old, my Aunt Teresa gave me my first set of real paint. Not plastic tubs or dried tablets in a hinged box, but metal tubes full of thick acrylic goodness.
I held each tube one by one reading the names that were written underneath a small square showing the color inside. I knew right away that these were no ordinary colors, for instead of the plain red and blue and yellow I was used to, long foreign names took their place. Napthol Crimson. Indigo. Vermilion. Ultramarine. Burnt Sienna.
Teresa squeezed the brownish Burnt Sienna from one of the tubes onto a plastic palette. I watched in fascination as she mixed in a little bit of Ochre and then a dab of Titanium White. “There,” she said. “Remember….the color of the grass on the sand dunes at the beach starts with Burnt Sienna.”
Aunt Teresa brought more than just color into my life.
When I was in high school and had begun to have sex with my boyfriend for the first time, she wanted to talk to me about it. “I’m not going to tell you about love or diseases or birth control,” she said. “I know you know all that stuff already. What I want to know is if he’s giving you orgasms. Because if he’s not, you need to teach him how. It’s important.”
Very early in my first marriage, I found that to continue to carry the baby growing inside me would result in my death. It was Teresa who sat beside me with silent streaming tears as I learned to maneuver the needles I would have to stick in my stomach for two weeks preceding the abortion.
When this same marriage failed, and no one around me knew what to say, Teresa didn’t say anything. She sent me a book titled, “100 Things You Don’t Need a Man For.” With a $5 bill as a bookmark so that I could drink a mocha while reading it.
That same summer of 1978 when Teresa gave me the acrylic paints, she also took me to Clam Beach for a sunset picnic. She spread out a blanket behind a sand dune to shield us from the wind. Out of a brown paper bag she lifted a loaf of bread and a large thermos.
“Is that hot chocolate?” I asked, licking my hopeful lips.
“Even better,” Teresa answered. She unscrewed the lid, and the richly-scented steam filled the air around us. “This is called fondue. It’s made out of hot cheese. You tear off a piece of bread, dip it into the cheese and eat them together. It’s sooooo good.”
It sounded good to me, and it smelled even better, so I quickly ripped a hunk of bread off the loaf.
“Before you eat it, you have to promise me you won’t tell your mom about the fondue,” Teresa said, her voice dropping to a whisper, “because I put wine in it.”
Elated that the aunt I so much admired thought I was grown up enough to eat wine, I promised her I’d never say a word. I then dipped the bread into the thermos of gooey cheese and took a small bite. It was delicious. I grabbed an even bigger hunk, drenched it with an even bigger gob of cheese and stuffed it into my mouth.
Teresa and I ate the whole loaf before falling on our backs to lick the last of the sticky fondue off our fingers, surrounded by the grass on the sand dunes, whose color started with Burnt Sienna.