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When the World Was Black & White


When the World Was Black & White

By Kalen Marquis

Way, way back, when I was just a baby, the world was black and white. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe. But it’s true. I’ve seen pictures. Mom showed them to me. She’s got albums full of them.

There’s page after page of me, Mom, Dad, Gran, Gramps, and most everyone in my family. We’re all there, in fuzzy shades of grey, black and white. Mom says they didn’t have colour back then. They only had black and white.

“Really?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said. “That’s all there was.”

“Really?” I asked again.

“Yes,” she said. “Colour came later, just a few years after you were born.”

“Really and truly?”

“Really and truly,” she said with an irritated edge to her voice.

I couldn’t believe it. If I hadn’t heard it with my own ears and if she hadn’t used that voice, I would never have believed it. It was hard to imagine everything in black and white. Really hard. The whole world, every little thing, so dark and drab, so plain and colourless.

Seeing baby pictures of myself and the rest of my family in black and white was strange enough but imagining the whole world this way was something, really something. It was “just a little much,” as Aunty Elta would always say.

I was truly amazed as my mind wandered slowly back to the time in those photos, a time before I could remember. It must have been a time when . . .

the skies were black and white . . .

the oceans were black and white . . .

the trees were black and white . . .

the lakes were black and white . . .

the mountains were black and white . . .

the houses, cars and boats were black and white . . .

the cats, dogs and horses were black and white . . .

and you guessed it, even my family and I were black and white. It was so funny, so very strange and peculiar. I could hardly believe it.

“So, where did colour come from?” I asked Mom.

“Oh, they invented it,” she said.

“Oh,” I said, feeling stumped. “They invented colour?”

“Sure,” she said. “You’ve seen the pictures. People invent things all the time.”

“Oh,” I said again. “It must have been an amazing invention.”

“Yes,” she said. “It was. We bought a special camera and some special film. Everyone did. They were very excited. Everything—every little thing—was suddenly so bright and colourful, so very bold and beautiful.”

“How mom?” I said, growing even more amazed. “How did they do it?”

“I’m not really sure, son. They explained it at the time. They wrote about it in the newspaper. But you know me, I never pay attention to those kinds of things. I was just so happy to finally see everything in colour. Look here in this album. These are our first shots.”

I didn’t know what to say. She was so matter-of-fact, so serious. We flipped through the pages in silence for a bit and then, “You’re right,” she said. “It does seem pretty amazing—even looking back after all these years. It really is quite incredible, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Mom. It is. It is very incredible if you ask me,” I said, trying to imagine what it must have been like and wishing like mad that I could have been there.

I mean really. Imagine the excitement and wonder of waking up that very first morning to find that the whole world was no longer black and white. Someone had gone ahead and invented colour and the world had changed. It was no longer those fuzzy shades of grey, black and white.

I could imagine the joy and the laughter. I could see the ticker-tape parades in the street. I could feel how very odd it would have seemed. I bet it was like going on a holiday in another country—a colourful country where things were the same yet different—very, very different.

My eyes were open wide in rolling wonder and the little hairs on my arm stood tall on their excited ends. I just couldn’t help it.

I mean really. Think about it. It would have been as if hundreds, maybe thousands, of little elves had painted the world overnight. I could imagine all those pudgy wee elves with paintbrushes dipped in their own special colour, working their magic through the night, splashing soft, glowing colours here, there and everywhere. I could see them all, each gleeful little elf, dancing about. . .

painting the skies feathery blues and whites and pinks and purples . . .

painting the oceans a swirling greeny-blue . . .

painting the trees lush greens and deep, nutty browns . . .

painting the lakes a dazzling royal blue . . .

painting the mountains in steely greys and greens . . .

and painting the houses, cars and boats . . .

the cats, dogs and horses . . .

and even my family and I . . . in every colour of the rainbow.

Oh yes, I could imagine all those elves painting us and all the people of the world every in every colour under the sun.

“Wow!” I exclaimed as I shook my head in amazement.

Sitting there close to mom, I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know what to say. “I guess I’m still having trouble believing it,” I finally said.

“I know,” she said. “That’s okay. I understand. Colour is an incredible gift. The truly amazing thing is you never know what they’ll think of next.”

“That’s for sure,” I said, feeling a tad overwhelmed but excited. There was more silence but my mind began to race as I imagined all kinds of wonder-filled things.

“Hey, Mom,” I eventually said. “I was just thinking. Could we ever go back to the time before colour? Do you think they will ever invent something to take us back to the time when the world was black and white?”

“I doubt it,” she replied. And then later, after more thought, she added, “I guess there will always be the people who like to see the world in black and white, but no, I don’t think we can ever go back. I’m not sure I’d want to. How about you?

“No,” I said. “I don’t think I’d want to go back either. Not for long anyway.”

But what about YOU? Would YOU like to go back to the time when the world was black and white? 

© 1991 Kalen Marquis