A Bucketful of Oranges

I wake up every morning surrounded by orange, a big orange comforter that can't easily be described. It's a bit of an odd shade, uncommon, plenty warm, a little fuzzy. It's a cheerful orange, the color of a happy memory or a moment with an old friend, unobtrusive at first but it leaves its mark on your mind if you stare long enough. If I had to describe it to someone who'd never seen it, though, I'd say it's orange like

Hunting. Blaze orange, safety orange, the color of Dad's heated cushion Mom bought him to keep warm while deer-hunting. I never understood exactly how it was supposed to work (such an odd, lumpy thing with no apparent means of emitting warmth), but I never did go hunting with him. In the fall he built a tree stand in the backyard; my brother got to go hunting but I only used it as a tree fort, a place to throw acorns at my sisters from above, until Dad told me to get down and caught me when I jumped from the edge. Then I'd watch as he packed everything into the van in the dark of night, with blaze orange the only color I could make out, distinctly orange like

A plastic juicer. We never had the expensive electric kind, just the manual one, made of tangerine-colored plastic with the ridged center cone where Dad pressed halves of oranges and grapefruits on Saturday mornings to make a special drink for breakfast. I watched him from across the table, kneeling on a chair for a better view, as he laboriously cut the citrus fruit to the right size, crushed it on the juicer and twisted, streams of golden liquid dripping down the sides to disappear into the pitcher. He stood me up on the chair and showed me how to press the slippery peel and wiggle it just right but my efforts were never quite as successful as his. After a moment's exertion, he'd take back his place at the head of the table, plastic juicer in hand, gleaming orange like

Glass beads. I watched them glitter on my cousin's Native American Princess costume as I took off my shoes in my aunt's entryway. Outside, a blizzard continued, punctuating my anger and jealousy, while inside it was Thanksgiving and she was stealing the spotlight in a spectacular outfit. It didn't seem fair that she got to play dress up while I was stuck in a stuffy floral dress. After dinner we went out to play in the snow but I refused to play with my cousin and wandered off on my own. Snowflakes swarmed around me, driven by a mad wind that froze my nose, my lips, my eyes, until I realized I had no idea where I was on the large wooded property. I ran blindly into the churning darkness until knocked flat by a barbed wire fence. I followed that fence until I saw the floodlight on my aunt's garage, an orange beacon in the night like

A Jack-o-lantern candy bin. One year, I'm an apple tree for Halloween. Mom makes the whole costume herself, sewing on the branches and tying the apples to them by hand. I help her add a bird's nest, with a rust-breasted robin and three little eggs to sit on my shoulder, and the project is complete. We compete in a costume contest in town, where I take third place overall and get ten whole dollars to spend how I want. I ask my mom if I can be an apple tree again next year and she says no; I can't win two years in a row with the same costume. I'm upset, but Mom knows the easiest way to fix that is to hand me my candy, contained in translucent orange plastic like

Stained glass. Papa had some in his study, connected to the playroom of his grand Victorian farmhouse. My family visited once a year and my siblings and I always ended up in the playroom, where we fought over the decades-old rocking horse until we were too old to ride it. When the fun of a visit dissipated after hours of listening to the adults talk about things I didn't understand, I'd wander the house alone. The diamond-lattice stained glass was my favorite thing downstairs, each rainbow-colored piece sparkling like a jewel in the dim lighting. I once worked up the courage to peek inside the room, pushing the old door, like something out of an old film noir, and entering into an old movie. Like the iconic films I watched on Sunday mornings, the room was hazy with old cigarette smoke and littered with papers, file folders, and clunky, dark metal radio equipment. I studied the odd objects with childish wonder, not really knowing what each thing was for or why Papa needed them, until footsteps told me someone was coming and I slipped out, never again to see the stained glass from the other side, the orange lit up like

Streetlights. On campus, I like to see the lights come on at twilight. In the deep blue semi-darkness, I'm suddenly surrounded by amber orbs, a cloud of fireflies without any fear of seasons. I love the way the two colors remain separate but manage to acknowledge each other with a grudging respect for the other's space. Sometimes the light is swallowed by night, flickering to darkness with an electric sizzle. But then civilization returns in a stuttering flash and the lamp again becomes an island in the wilderness, conspicuously orange like

A bathing suit. Mine was neon orange, a batik bikini with ties on the bottom and cloudy glass beads on the string. I didn't get many chances to wear it that summer; Girl Scout Camp came during a chilly, drizzly week where everyone was miserable. Midweek, the clouds stopped their crying for a few wonderful hours and we got to go swimming. At that point the lake was colder than anyone expected nine year old girls to swim in, but our leaders dared us anyway. My best friend and I were the only ones to accept the challenge. We charged into the water, plowed into a wall of ice, and promptly fell under from shock, only to surge to the surface with astonished gasps. Much to our leaders' surprise, we stayed in the water for almost fifteen minutes, and earned an extra participation bead for being such good sports. I shivered the rest of the day, wet swimsuit showing under my white t-shirt, sticky orange, like

Old-fashioned candy sticks. The best stick candy I've ever had came from a craft barn in Pennsylvania, not far from Dutch Country. In the summer, while Dad was at work, Mom often took me to garage sales and auctions. Our favorite place was an Amish store in a barn in the middle of nowhere, selling cabinets, tables, and shelves. I'd glance at those on the way into the store but I was usually more interested in the enormous display of colorful candy sticks on the counter. Mom would buy me one at the beginning of the outing and I'd obediently follow her for hours, happily sucking on the candy until it was just an orange blob on my face and hands, the color of

Nightlights. My younger sister and I shared a room and our nightlight was on the wall right next to my bottom bunk. Some nights we'd stay up late talking or playing make-believe. I'd make shadow puppets for her to watch on the opposite wall, simple things like animals or silhouettes of toys continuing whatever story we'd been working on when bedtime came. Other nights she'd climb down from the top bunk and crawl into bed with me so Mom and Dad wouldn't overhear us and make us go to bed. It was a night like that when I said my first swearword: "crap". Giggling, and feeling quite adult, we whispered it to each other by the light of that single tiny bulb, glowing orange like

Autumn leaves. The first time I ever went on a camping trip with just Dad, we biked almost forty miles in one day. Twenty miles up and twenty miles back, we rode through three railroad tunnels, the first one so dark I was sure I could feel it touching me. As the sun rose the next morning, we climbed to the top of the observation loop and looked out over the bluffs, the trees resplendent in red, copper, and gold leaves. We left by midmorning, stopping only for a passing train and to photograph a carrot-orange tree, raining down leaves with the sun filtering through them and turning them the color of

A soccer uniform. Dad coached my third grade soccer team, with our burnt-orange-and-black uniforms. We played late into the fall, early in the morning, when frost wouldn't leave the grass until almost noon and I'd wear a long-sleeved shirt under my jersey that did nothing to help me forget I was only wearing shorts. While the players were at the other end of the field, I'd pace in a circle and watch my breath form in front of me. Out of nowhere, it always seemed, the other team would charge into my area and I'd weave between them, trying to defend the goal at all costs. Sometimes there was blood involved, a skinned knee or scratched elbow, and he'd pull out the Band-Aids, gently apply one or two with his big, careful hands, then wrap me in a hug. It was a big, orange-jacket hug, like

Late-summer campfires. In August, we took a week off so the whole family could go camping. Dad took my sister fishing and walked the campground with Mom. The two of us had our bike rides together, of course, and shared the silence of dawn before everyone else woke up. As the smoke rose over the burning embers, bits of red flame occasionally leaping up from the ashy logs, we'd watch the sun come up in the stillness, with no need for words between us. Then someone, somewhere, would unzip a tent, ripping through the barrier, and he'd turn to me with a smile, say "Good morning, honey," and get the stove started for breakfast. All of this passed for my eyes only, bathed in orange light like

Waking up in my bed. The sun lights up my comforter in a long, thin patch where it sneaks through my closed curtains. I push away the fabric and the memories and get ready to start a new day. But when my mind wanders and something that precise, memory-laced shade catches my eye, it all comes back because it was never truly gone. Somehow I always have my comforter.