“Can I use the purple?” Steven asked.

I gave my sky some purple highlights to set off the pale blue. It was a trick I’d learned from watching Bob Ross.

“You’re good at coloring,” Steven said. I handed him the purple crayon and he made a few quick slashes on his picture.

“Can I make my dragon red?” he asked.

“Sure!” I said. “You can make it any color you want.”

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He dug through the tin box until he found a red Crayola. With some finesse, it could become anything from pink to scarlet. The smell of crayons had replaced the scent of the fruitcake the tin had held originally; both made my shortlist of “best smells.”

Favoring speed over finesse, 4-year old Steven’s dragon quickly turned red.

Long before grown-up coloring books became trendy, a friend told me that coloring was the best way she found to clear her mind from the rigors of law school. I discovered the therapeutic benefits of coloring after an especially stressful day at work; I didn’t have the enthusiasm to clean the bathroom or the energy to mow the lawn, and when Steven asked if I’d color some pictures with him, I agreed by default.

It was oddly relaxing, and soon I became the one to suggest coloring as a “quiet time” activity -- no finely-detailed grown-up coloring books, just cartoonish dinosaurs and Disney characters.

Steven probably thought I was doing it for him.

“Do we have any green?” he asked.

“Lots of greens,” I said, pawing through the tin. “Blue-green, forest green, yellow-green, lime green …”

“Just regular green.”

I handed him a regular green still wearing the name of a restaurant that knows that a couple of crayons can be priceless when the kids are hungry and the kitchen just got slammed with orders.

“I’m done!” Steven announced, holding up his picture: a red dragon with green wings -- regular green, not something garish like lime green -- flying over an orange and purple castle.

“That’s awesome, Steven! Can I put it on the refrigerator?”

He looked please that his picture was fridge-worthy. The Frigidaire was barely visible under a growing collection of coloring sheets. I stuck the dragon to the freezer door with a magnet that included our dentist’s phone number and a reminder to floss daily.

“Can we do another one?” Steven asked.

“No, it’s already past your bedtime.”

“Awwww …”

“We’ll color some more tomorrow,” I said. He reluctantly agreed after a father-son pinky swear.

Ten minutes later, he was asleep.

I tiptoed out of his room, went back to the kitchen table and searched through the crayon tin until I found an unbroken Cerulean blue.

See, there’s this tropical beach scene I’ve been just waiting to color …

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.