The Pink Panther

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

For years, a four-foot stuffed, pose-able Pink Panther lay wedged behind a couch in our attic sitting room. He's mine. I won him in a newspaper coloring contest when I was, oh, nine or so. I'm not sure why we still have him--and I say "we" for some reason. Maybe I still have him because how do you get rid of a four-foot-tall stuffed Pink Panther? Can you imagine dropping him off at a Salvation Army drop box and just...driving away? All the ways seem vaguely sinister.

I also still have the winning picture* (shocking, I know). It's of a carousal, with an Easter theme. Eggs, I think, as the finials.

I used two colors, my favorites at the time: pink and teal, that blue-green mix that caught my imagination for so long in childhood. I used these two colors in a minimalistic, symmetrical pattern, pink then teal, pink then teal.

One of my younger brothers, the one who won blue ribbons for everything he entered in the fair, had the year before won a coloring contest by filling the entire page with color, and someone suggested I do the same. The judges, these store managers and lumber yard owners, they liked color, apparently, and if you know the system, why not game it.

I wanted to win, of course, but I'd worked hard on the pink/teal/pink/teal pattern and I didn't want to change anything, even if it meant losing. The picture was finished, it was done, so I sent it in as-was. And I won.

The Pink Panther reemerged recently and started kicking around the attic at the hands of two- and three-year-olds, and every time I see it I think about that coloring contest. In the broadness of life it was a small moment. In the scope of my childhood it was significant. My siblings and I grew up in a universe parallel to things like grades, tests, and assessments. (Literally parallel--we lived across the street from a public elementary school.) Entering things like newspaper coloring contests was one of the few ways our work was ever stacked against anything other than the answers in the back of a textbook. By checking the back of the book we learned when we got the right answer, but the best of homeschooling, the best of education is about so much more than the right answers.

That coloring contest reinforced in my nine-year-old mind the goodness of my own ideas. It stood my work up against a handful of other colored pieces of newspaper and someone in a hardware store or a lumber yard said, "That one." Even more than that, the faded pink fur and gangly limbs of a giant stuffed Pink Panther remind me to work hard at what I do because of the satisfaction of the work. For the chance to look at a finished project, a finished project that might look completely different from the competition, and see that it represents me, in whatever is the current equivalent of my nine-year-old obsession with symmetry, minimalism, and pink and teal.

*Actually, I won two coloring contests, and this picture might be the one that won me an indestructible rip-stop nylon kite. I still fly it now and then on brisk, windy days.

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© The Attic at Anderwood Maira Gall.