The Orange of August

The well-documented issues with our county’s public school transportation dictate numerous test runs of routes before the school year begins, but I was caught off-guard this week when the dry runs began. The unmistakable sound of the brakes almost made me call out to my daughter that she had better run out the door or she would miss the bus. This is a silly notion, since she’s a rising junior in college, home for the summer, and doesn’t appreciate roll call before noon. Funny how those shared sounds, smells, colors and sensory experiences can have such an effect, isn’t it? That same feeling in the pit of your stomach, that same bit of anxiety.

We’re at the end of summer. Not summer as defined by the September equinox, but by the traditional school calendar. There’s an emotional charge in the atmosphere as many firsts begin: first day of kindergarten, first day of middle school, and so on. This emotion, which seems to be a combination of excitement, hope, and even caution, could easily be represented by the color orange. A rite of passage in a variety of sun-kissed hues. Ironically, in some cultures, orange is the color of mourning.

Think about things associated with school: the “yellow” bus (which most designers would argue is more of a Pantone 124), pencils, crayons, safety scissors, that chalky paint — the ingredients of which remain a Cold War mystery — that only seem to be found in elementary school. These items are all orange or in close proximity on the color spectrum.

Orange was the color of the bag I proudly carried to Edna Lindsey’s kindergarten class. I was very proud of that bag, with my name written on it in my mother’s clean, pretty handwriting, just in case it would get lost among all the other orange bags, I’m sure. Mrs. Lindsey’s hair was a similar color, a vibrant carrot top. She was strict, but we loved her all the same.

The role orange plays in the lives of grown-ups is not nearly as much fun. Orange is the color of “construction zone” signs that let you know your already packed day will have added delays. It’s the color of sunsets you wish you could see on vacation, but you can’t because you’re grown up and have to pay the bills.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that orange is the color of both excitement and caution. After all, education fosters knowledge and knowledge is power. Beware the big yellow school bus!

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