A very accomplished gentleman was my father’s cousin, Casper. A professor of English, at Rutgers, he also wrote for the Washington Post. Our cousin was a tennis pro, who gave lessons to the students on weekends. Cousin Casper laughed easily and had a warm and generous heart. He was beloved by our family.
Once, or twice a year, Cousin Casper would travel north, up the New Jersey Turnpike to visit with us for a day or two. Upon arriving in our neighborhood, he would pull up to our house in a huge white car and honk the horn. This was the signal for Mark and me to join him in the car. Greeting our parents with just a smile and a quick wave, he put the car in gear and off we went. Our destination was Davis’ Toys, the most popular kid’s store, on Cedar Lane, in the center of our town.
Having no children of his own, Cousin Casper had little need to visit toy stores. Because of this, he seemed to enjoy the experience as much as a child. Every time we shopped, he would, laughingly, announce, “Pick out whatever you like. Look around, carefully…you don;t want to miss the best toy in the store.” With those words, my chest welled with anticipation.
Slowly, I made my way down the intriguing aisles of toys. I examined brightly colored boxes containing new and interesting board games. I held baby dolls and Ginny dolls, and tried bikes and scooters and roller skates. There were dazzling striped hula hoops, building sets and dress-up clothes, and any of them could have been mine.
It was great fun, checking out all of the newest items, and they were all very tempting, but as Mark, always, chose a model of a large ship to build and add to his collection, I did what I did, each and every time Cousin Casper came to town. I, excitedly, asked for the giant coloring book and the big box of sixty-four Crayola crayons – the one with the built-in sharpener.
This gift came with months of potential within the coloring book’s countless pages and the rows of color coordinated crayons. Choosing a picture, then selecting the crayons I would use, was thrilling. Would I color with pressure, or use the side of the point; applying a light blush of beauty? Would I outline the objects in a dark shade, then fill in the center with a paler version of the same color? I might even decide to embellish an entire image with nothing, but the, ever-coveted, metallics. I loved the challenge of making these decisions, then executing them, as planned. It felt like an important job to bring vibrancy to a dull outline; infuse life into blank space.
Cousin Casper didn’t have to spend a whole lot of money when he offered to buy us whatever we wanted, but every time he visited, his gift to me was an entire year of magical possibilities.