Colors of Love

 When we were little

You took us to the library,

our nearby Dallas branch.

My sister and I chose books

in the children’s section,

then wandered through the library,

where we stood over the air vents

and let our skirts fly up as we twirled,

simply because we were young

and it was fun.

I sometimes sat on your bed

and read my books aloud to you,

while you put on your makeup

or brushed your hair—

it was coffee brown then.

You stood in the attached bathroom.

We called it “the pink bathroom.”

But I never realized until just now

how important color was in our lives–

that we labeled rooms by color.

 

You, an artist in your soul,

see color everywhere.

You would liked to have gone to art school,

but your parents thought that was impractical.

And so you chose colors where you could

for your walls,

for your furnishings,

for our clothing.

I remember the blue and gray suede shoes

you saw for me when you worked

at Lord and Taylor’s.

And how fun you thought orange woodwork would be

in the room my sister and I shared

in Havertown.

You collected Chinese ceramics,

the beautiful turquoise hue

adding more color

to your surroundings,

but you didn’t have the time to paint

flowers or landscapes

while we were young.

You were busy working

and driving us to lessons

and taking care of us when we were sick.

But you made certain we knew colors–

and had art—crayons, paper, and homemade clay,

a special treat for rainy days.

And your color-knowledge passed to my daughters.

Our first-born gray-eyed daughter

still a toddler telling her father

she wanted to go to the restaurant

with the green door.

(We had never noticed the door.)

But she always remembered colors,

and taught color names and knowledge to her sister,

before I even had a chance.

What is the opposite of color blindness?

Is it marked on our genes?

 

You and my father,

though you disagreed and parted,

did agree about many things.

You agreed on the importance of art, music,

and books.

I read nearly all of the books

in the built-in bookcase in our family room.

Rows of long shelves filled with books

their spines in shades of brown, blue, red,

green, and white,

bringing random color to the wall.

It didn’t matter what they were,

history, art, the classics—

I read them.

And I found the jumbo-sized

Hershey’s chocolate bar hidden there, too.

I broke off squares for my sister and me–

and then neatly shelved the bar

back into the bookcase,

where it appeared to be just another book.

 

Now your hair is white,

and my tangled brown curls

are gone.

The colors of my childhood have vanished,

but the memories remain.

I didn’t realize that not all households held such treasures—

books, art, and music, I mean.

I didn’t realize

that all families don’t visit museums

or play “the dictionary game” at the dinner table.

I didn’t realize–

how fortunate we were.

There was always love for us.

And books,

And color,

And, chocolate, of course.

 ©Merril D. Smith, May 2014

Image

At Valley Green, along the Wishahickon.

 

For My Mom: As Time Goes By

“You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.”

“As Time Goes By,” Herman Hupfeld

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The song “As Time Goes By” was written in 1931, but most people know it from the movie Casablanca (1942). The song is heard and played throughout the movie by the character, Sam (Dooley Wilson). It is a sort of theme song for the lovers, Ilsa and Rick (Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman) who are parted by war and circumstances, and by the decisions they make. As Rick says, “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

The song “As Time Goes By” is about lovers. It seemed particularly apt for wartime lovers. (The British television series by the same name with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer is about a couple who were separated during the Korean War and meet thirty-eight years later.) My mom was a young woman when the movie Casablanca came out; she and my father married during World War II. It was an era when many people lived as though each moment could be their last, and yet, for many people it was it filled with every day routines and rituals. People still married, had children; they went to school or work (even though it might have been war work). Time went on, and so did people’s lives.

I thought of the song when I was thinking about my mom this morning. We see our parents differently—our children, too—as time goes by. When I was a child, I thought my mom was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was wise and all knowing. She knew when I was sick or upset about something, even if I didn’t talk about it (which was generally the case). I remember when I was in seventh grade in a new school. We had moved to Havertown, PA from Dallas, TX in March. For some reason, after a few weeks, the teachers in the cafeteria where my class ate lunch decided that I could not add an extra chair to the table because it was too crowded. They told me I had to eat in the other cafeteria. When I got to the other cafeteria and asked where I should sit, a mean or thoughtless teacher told me to sit with a table of boys. I think the were “the bad kids.” It was done to humiliate me. I was a shy and quiet child, and I sat there. Even though I don’t remember telling my mom how upset I was, I must have mentioned something to her. After a couple of days, some girls told me I was sitting at their table now. The girls were not in my regular classes, but they were in my “specials,” gym and home ec. My mom had called the guidance counselor and told her what had happened. It was all arranged quietly and efficiently.

Recently my mom moved into an assisted living apartment house. My sisters, brother, and I helped with packing and arrangements. We were the ones sending emails and making calls–without her knowledge sometimes–to make certain that everything was done smoothly and efficiently—so she wouldn’t be left humiliated. Or homeless.

With the years, my tireless mother has become tired, but she still has a great sense of humor—and she can still put my siblings and me in our place. She has seen births and deaths, and amazing technological inventions. When she was child, her family did not have a telephone for several years. She could not have envisioned cell phones and computers, but she has used them. She has lived to see my daughters, her granddaughters grow up to become beautiful and accomplished young women.

Time goes by, and it brings changes, but my mom is still beautiful to me, and I love her.

Oh—and if you’ve never seen Casablanca, round up the usual suspects and watch it. Maybe with your mother.