Tonight, as blue clouds rolled in over a sky of cantaloupe and watermelon, I went to the closet and dug out a shoebox full of old photos.
A Gremlin ride down memory lane
At first, I was feeling reminiscent of the antique cars I used to drive. Each one came from my stepdad’s extensive collection of American Motors Classics. That yellow Gremlin with orange and green stripes that I took my drivers license test in. The orange Spirit that blew a head gasket as I was driving on the interstate — was it orange? All I remember is the billowing smoke. The navy blue Rambler that I drove to high school — one of the guys in high school begged me to let him drive it, even though my stepfather would ‘kill me’ if he found out, and I caved.
Then, I was studying a younger version of myself. A less complicated version. Or at least, one would think. I pulled out photos of me wearing hot pink shorts in the summer. Photos of me decked out in lavender dresses or teal lace for summer weddings. Photos of me posing in front of hot rods at car shows — AMC had names for the paint. Big Bad Orange. Big Bad Blue. Big Bad Green. Think ‘neon.’
And of course, there’s another aspect to old photos. Loved ones. Friends. Family. They were all there, all the people I’ve loved and lost. All the people I’ve loved and am still lucky to have in my life. It didn’t matter what they were wearing. They were just as colorful as I was, each in their own way.
Color me pink
Over the last few months, I’ve come to realize that bright colors have always been a huge part of my life.
I was born in the 80s, so there’s that. And in the 90s, we still dressed like we lived in the 80s, albeit maybe with a little less fashion sense. You think black leggings are new? I wore them when I was a kid. Back then we just called them stirrup pants! Complete with a fabric hook for your foot.
That’s normal, you say. It could have been anyone.
Well, in my teenage years, my obsession with color got a little out of control. My mother insisted I learn how to sew while I was growing up, so every year I took a sewing project through the 4-H Club. I wasn’t very good at it, but they didn’t let teenagers take sewing for beginners. So I started sewing together my own clothes. It all began with the infamous “kitty cat pants.” They were baggy, like something out of an MC Hammer video, and they were brighter than a tie-dyed bandanna. Only with cats.
On the weekends, I spent time with the family cruising around AMC car shows. My parents were die-hard AMC enthusiasts. They arrived at the shows early, volunteering to help with registration, and stayed late, until every last award was given out. Their chosen show car was usually one of the last cars to pull out of the park.
For us kids, that meant we had to amuse ourselves. For more than eight hours. In one place.
My siblings and I found ways to pass the time, playing card games, walking the dog, entertaining my baby brothers — and I flirted shamelessly with the Elvis impersonator at every show. But when we really got bored, we got out the camera. We held our own competitions, selecting our favorite cars, and then posed in front of them, taking odd selfies with a backdrop of cars in every color. I even wore bell bottoms to the auto show, but these were not your mother’s bell bottoms. They had a large AMC logo — about 6 inches wide in red, white and blue — stamped across bright white pants. I painted my finger nails and toenails to match.
After an awkward country flannel phase, I started to get color conscious.
Late in high school, I actually began to care what people think. I attempted to wear less outrageous clothing. Color came down a notch, or better yet, it slid down a notch, sliding from my crazy pants to my fuzzy socks. My high school years began a decade-long obsession with striped, fuzzy socks in every color.
I was talking to a friend from high school the other day, and she said, “I bet you’re wearing fuzzy socks right now.” I replied “No, actually, I’m not.” And she said, “Who are you? I don’t even know you anymore!”
It’s true. I still do wear fuzzy socks from time to time. And I have a pretty impressive collection.
In 2011, after an unforeseeable turn of events, I became absolutely enamored with color. I started photographing every flower and tree, chasing sunsets down the road, and counting the seconds until the first sign of spring. I abandoned early ideas of what my wedding color might be, and let in a stunning array of blue thistle, orange lilies, pink roses and red berries. But that’s not all.
It seems the color leaked out of my feet, and came out on canvas.
That was the year I started painting. It was the year the bright colors I adore made their first appearance as art.
Now, I miss painting when I don’t have the time to do it. I miss color when I sit in my neutral cubicle at work. I miss sunset when it is overshadowed by the rain.
In the midst of all this, I’m attempting to write the first draft of a novel. And color has even seeped into my writing. The early draft is full of art, nature scenes and culinary indulgences. It seems that color and I have an enduring relationship.
I was talking with Matt the other day, and he coined the perfect term for this life-long obsession: