Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alphabet: A History (B is for Burnt Sienna)

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.

My dear Aunt Teresa passed away last week after an exceptionally long battle with multiple sclerosis. She will be greatly missed.

Read Alphabet: A History (A is for Art) here.


beachcomber said...

Condolences on your loss, Kristabel. I would love to be that kind of aunt....and to have one like Teresa for my girls.

Heraldo said...

Sorry for your loss, and thank you for sharing these important moments.

Jennifer Savage said...

Beautiful post, Kristabel. What a wonderful aunt. Lots of love to you.

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to you...
How fortunate you were to have such an amazing woman in your life.

Anonymous said...

I love your writing. It is always done with so much thought and feeling. Beautiful. Feel fortunate that you have such wonderful memories of your aunt and that you have the ability to so lovingly share them with others.

Jennifer Leeland said...

OH God, Kristabel.
I'm so sorry. What an absolutely beautiful post.
Your words have made me grieve with you.

Rowan McBride said...

My heartfelt condolences, and thank you so much for sharing this beautiful post.

AJ said...

Kristabel, this is a beautiful blog. I am so glad I had a chance to read it. My mother died when I was very young and my godmother, to whom I am still close reminds me of your aunt. Thanks for sharing and I hope you keep painting. I think she would like that.

Anonymous said...

Kristabel, I have no idea why you're not writing professionally. Seriously!

McKinleyville Kris said...

The only thing sadder to me than the death of your wonderful aunt is the fact that so few of us have someone like that in our lives. So sorry for your loss. What a beautiful memorial you have made for her here.

Indie said...

How wonderful to have had an aunt like Theresa. I am sorry for your loss.

Thank you for sharing your experiences and your gift of writing.

Anonymous said...

May the force of the big O be with her.

Anonymous said...


Your Aunt Teresa sounds like a wonderful person with a lot of give and love for the people in her life. My dad has multiple sclerosis too so I have some idea of what your aunt was living with. Hugs, Kym

Kristabel said...

Thank you everyone for sharing your condolences, and your own experiences and losses.

Lodgepole...she would've loved that comment!


Anonymous said...

How wonderful to have her in your life and now in mine. Thank you for sharing your lovely aunt with us!! May her love and wisdom be passed on for all to learn from!


Tricia said...

I'm sorry for your loss - what a great tribute to her.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Wow, you painted a picture of your aunt that was nothing short of wonderful! I can only imagine that she must have considered you to be one of her greatest treasures!

You made knowing her seem like such sweet expierience, that no one could feel sorry for you or her, but just envy the both of you.

May she rest in peace.

Ernie(Sweet Anonymous)

Kristabel said...

Now that you've outed yourself, can I just call you Sweet Ernie? xo

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jo-Mama said...

I loved what you had to say about your Aunt Teresa. She loved you, and must have felt she could be totally honest with you ... which means that she was your friend as well as your aunt.

Cristina said...

WOW. Just made ME cry!