At sixteen, they were sure they were meant to be together. It took them five years to realize their goal, but they married at twenty-one. She wore a blue dress with lace collar and cuffs that she made for herself on the family treadle sewing machine: He wore the best he had. They went into town and stood before the minister of the local church and vowed their vows. They went back to her Mom and Dad’s farm and her Mom had prepared a home-cooked meal and baked a cake—coconut. It was always her favorite. He helped his new father-in-law with the evening chores and, sometime, managed to pick a bouquet of wild flowers for the table. Later that evening, they walked back to their place--a house that was too old to repair properly with the means they had. The spaces between the boards of the siding and the holes in the roof occasionally afforded a view of the stars. He was not dashingly handsome nor was she ravishingly beautiful, but they knew love.
They shared a life together that encompassed most of life’s experiences: want and abundance; good times and bad; sickness and health. Fifty-one years later, he left her. She didn’t complain. She didn’t cry. She didn’t question why God had let this happen to her. Maybe I was the only one who noticed that the index finger and thumb of her right hand gripped the band of gold on her left hand as she sat quietly, in a blue dress, at the edge of his grave.
She had learned to sew as a young girl and made all of her clothes until her later years when her eyesight and manual coordination didn’t permit her to do so, and she always had a blue dress to wear to important functions or just to please him. His favorite color was red and she seemed to approve his choices. Almost every item in a house can be found in red, and he found them. Red wallpaper in the dining room, ok. Red furniture in the den, ok. Red, red, red. The only car they ever bought brand-new sported a white exterior and, yeah, a red interior. Maybe she did get tired of the color, just not of him. She had another twelve years without him and she filled them with all the things she couldn’t do with him or for him. She didn’t want to be a burden.
Eight years after he was gone, she turned eighty. I asked her if she would like a party and she got this little grin on her face and said she’d never had a party. I searched my memory and finally concluded that she was right. Through the years, we celebrated their anniversary and, also, her birthday in almost the same way each time—with a home-cooked meal and a coconut cake. Since we all enjoyed it so much (she did all the preparing), we didn’t think to change. After we three offspring married and had families of our own, we would have them and then, just her, to our homes for the same format. But a party, no. And so we started planning. At some point I asked her what her favorite color was and she said, “I don’t think I have one.” “Oh, c’mon, Mom, everyone has a favorite color.” “Well, your Dad’s was red and I always liked it too.” “So you want the color of your party to be red?” “Well, now that I think about it, I guess I do like purple.” “Well, ok, then, purple it shall be.”
It was fantastically fun to plan a party for someone who has never had one-- but who was more childlike than many children ever are. We invited the family and her very closest friends and I hoped I was up to the task of a party of this size on such short notice. We ordered a beautiful cake (that she didn’t have to bake) and had it sprayed with a lavender tint. We bought things for the house like towels and toss pillows and throw rugs and picture frames in all the shades of purple. We shopped for a new outfit for her that turned out to be a purple dress and a lilac sweater. She was pleased. And even more pleased that she had thought of a color that so delighted her.
Then, my husband and I had to take a long weekend trip all the way across the country to attend a family celebration for one of his family. It was a very emotional trip because he had not seen many of his family members for years. Memories and almost forgotten feelings abounded. On the plane trip home, I remember thinking, well, I am very tired, but at least most of the things are taken care of for Mom’s party next week.
The answer machine light was flashing when we got home and I thought it was broken from the number of calls it was registering. As I started listening, it became apparent that people were coming to the party that I didn’t know. Mom had used my absence to invite every group at her church in which she participated or ever had participated, and all the senior citizen groups at the community center and everyone in her neighborhood and at the grocery store and that did her hair and that delivered her mail and that read her utility meters and that mowed her lawn and anyone else that she happened to notice. They were all coming. I went over to her house. “Mom, do you know that you are going to have 2 plus people for every year of your life?” “Well, honey, won’t that be something?”
And something it was. In my memory’s eye and in the pictures of that day, everything is in a haze of purple. What color is love? In all my growing up years, it was blue and red. Is it just a coincidence that together…they make purple?
Posted by The Editor for Gigi.