The Colors of a Childhood: A Story

Reading Time: 3 minutes

pastel color rainbow

You never know when inspiration will strike. In this story, it comes from a cheap paperweight that catches the light just so — and sparks a beautiful future.


She was only two months old the first time her eyes locked on that paperweight.

It was a cheap thing, something picked up at a yard sale for a few cents, or was it something that was given to me back in college by a friend who was moving out of a dorm? I couldn’t really remember. It had gone to every new home in the years since, because it did it’s job very well — it was heavy. It held down paper, especially in my home office, where I had a fan going constantly for the white noise.

It was shiny and bright, a simple white circle of cut glass. It had an etching of a bird on the front. But what was really mesmerizing was the way it caught the light, often sending rainbows of color all through the room during the afternoon hours, when the sun saw fit to slant that particular way through the tall windows.

A tiny rainbow

My baby girl was two months old when she first caught the sparkle. She stopped squirming in my lap and went so still that I could barely feel her breathe. She stared at it, her eyes locked on it for so long that I began to worry — about what, who knows? Then her eyes slowly scanned the desk beside it, where she found the tiny rainbow there. She stared some more.

Out of the blue, she squealed in something that had to be delight.

rainbow kids crayon drawing

Looking back now, I wonder: Is it possible that she found her calling at two months old? Because it sure seems she did.

The whole box of crayons

By the time she was ready to start school, the whole world was filled with rainbows for her. She insisted on them in her room, on the clothes in her closet, on the ceiling so she could watch the colors through the haze of her nightlight as she fell asleep. A new box of crayons would send her into raptures of joy. My refrigerator was covered with scratch paper on which she had drawn everything under the sun, as long as it was in vibrant color.

Soon she was taking those crayons much more seriously. She asked for the jumbo box, the one that had hundreds of colors in it, and I was happy to oblige. Then she began putting them together in combinations that didn’t seem like they would work, but they did. Her artwork became more sophisticated, which is quite a big word for a girl who was now seven, going on eight. All she cared about was the colors that she could surround herself with.

young woman artist

Fast forward to the teenage years, and that little girl with the crayons was now a bigger girl with colored pencils, pastel chalks, easels and fabric samples. She mixed and matched and created patterns, then asked for a sewing kit.

Seeing the way the wind under that rainbow was blowing, I went all-out and bought her a sewing machine for her sixteenth birthday. She took one look at it, screamed with joy, and actually fell to her knees and hugged it.

Every color of the rainbow

Soon the college applications began to roll out, and she chose her path quite carefully. I watched as she went through one school catalog after another, talked on the phone to admissions officers, and then planned out road trips to see the schools that most struck her fancy. If it didn’t have top-notch opportunities for a budding interior designer, she wasn’t interested.

Soon she found her fit, a place where she could be herself, a place where all her colors could shine as brightly as possible. On the day before she left for college, I went into her room — almost empty now, all the things boxed away for the trip across the country — and looked at the crazy colors on the walls. They all worked together, even though I would have sworn they never could.

“This is yours now,” I said to her, and handed over what had become a prized possession: That cut-glass paperweight, the one that had so mesmerized her when she was a baby.

She took it and held it up to the light. She took her time, turning it this way and that, until it caught the right angle and the rainbows flooded the room. Her smile of satisfaction was all the thanks I needed.

Mysterious inspiration

Fast forward again, this time to yesterday. It’s been about thirty years since she stared with wide eyes at those rainbows, and now there I sat, staring at her. She was on the cover of one of the top design magazines in the country, photographed while sitting in a home she had carefully designed for one of her wealthy clients.

Even in that strange house, in the background, there it was — a stripe here, a splash there, a rainbow of color that looked so familiar, because it was what I had seen her create since she was a tiny child almost too small to hold a crayon.

All that from a paperweight. You never know when inspiration will strike.

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.