Roy G. Biv was the name I learned in grammar school to remember the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. It was a mnemonic device for the colors of the rainbow in the order they appear. Nature's colors. So why were there one hundred and fourteen colors of Kona cotton on the color card I held in my hand as my Darling Wife made yet another list of fabric she needed for her next project. She had run out of marine blue, a dark blue that to my mind looked a lot like dark blue.

I knew that a few color names made sense, names such as sky blue and peppermint red and lemon yellow. Those colors looked like something. But once upon a time, someone somewhere felt that sky blue, which was daytime sky blue, wasn't exactly right for sky blue at seven in the evening of a summer night. No, that sky blue was different from the sky blue at noon, and so it had to be given a different name. I don't know what name that was, perhaps something like, "Late-summer-evening-when-the-air-was-dry-and-the-sun-was-low-in-the-sky blue."

In any case, all my thought about the names of colors which I thought I had repressed when I once saw a piece of fabric in a fabric shop called "pretty pig pink" came back to me. At the time, I thought the color looked more like "carnation pink," which is a color I understood as I remembered the one-time hit song, "A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation) by Marty Robbins.

"They are arguing over the names of the colors," I said to my Darling Wife yesterday morning as we walked down the aisles of the quilt show presented by the Tehachapi (California) Mountain Quilters. Hiding my hand in front of me, I pointed to the four women and two men who were standing by a gorgeous Lone Star quilt.

"I can understand that," DW said.

"They're arguing over what kind of yellow is in the point of the star."

"Which yellow?" DW asked. "There are several yellows in that star." She tried to take my hand to pull me away from the quilt and the argument, but I resisted. I moved closer to the group of people. I looked more carefully at the yellow. I only saw one yellow. "It looks like canary yellow," I said. I stopped myself right then and there and took a step back. Why had I called it canary yellow? What kind of color is that?

Unfortunately, though I said it quietly to my DW, everyone in the group of six color experts heard what I said.

"You're right, that third tone does look like canary yellow," the woman closest to the quilt said.

"I don't think the theme of the quilt required that base a yellow," the man to her right said. "It's more like the color of margarine."

"What brand?" I asked in a whisper to my wife. They all heard me, but that didn't end it.

"Notice that slight hint of maize at the points," said the second woman who spoke. She was wearing a lemon-lime blouse.

"I believe it's buttercup, said the second man." He wore a white shirt, white shorts, and white tennis shoes.

"And a subtle blend of corn yellow," the third woman added. She wore a corn-yellow dress.

"Lemon meringue," said the first man.

"I prefer cherry cobbler," I said. I never did like lemon meringue.

"There's a nice quilt down there," my wife interrupted as she tried again to grab my hand and pull me along.

I don't know what was said among the color crowd after that, as I dutifully followed after my hand and arm so I wouldn't lose them as DW dragged me quickly away.

"There are just too many names for too many colors and it's impossible to know them all, and even if I did, they change them every season anyway," I said, trying to explain myself. I based my comments on my observance of the names they gave to clothing fabrics in the department stores.

I remember in high school when any young man with sartorial sense wore a charcoal gray suit to the school dance. (I could say we also wore pink shirts, but that would date me.) Up to that time, my guess was that any fabric that wasn't black and had no other color in it was some shade of gray. Oh, yes, we had light gray and dark gray, but that was it. Simple.

I suppose today there are hundreds of colors of gray. I have no need to find out. I'm sure there is ash gray, light gray, medium gray, heavy gray, indigo gray, coal gray, cinder gray, cloudy gray, pale gray, slate gray, gray gray, and dozens of others. And that's just gray.

"There now, Dear, it will be all right," my Darling Wife said then, patting my hand with hers to quiet me. I knew that pat. It comes just before the straitjacket.

"Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet," I said, trying to assert myself.

"Yes, of course, Dear," she said. She took out a Kleenex tissue and wiped at the sweat on my brow.

"I'm all right," I said, and to prove it I turned to the nearest quilt. I, too, could be a color expert. I could walk around the quilt show and discern the tones, the shades, the slightest variations in color. "That's blueberry blue, and that's apple red, and the background is creamy white," I said proudly. That quilt was reminding me I was getting hungry.

"Close," she said.

"How close?" I asked.

"Delft , cardinal, and ivory," she corrected.

"You're sure?" I asked.

"Sure," she said, and I suppose she was. After all, she's a quilter, and quilters know all kinds of stuff like that.

Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

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