Thick with passion. Confident. Bold. Unaffected yet warm. If our infant eyes can see, it is the first color of life. We are born of and through and with Red.
It was my mother’s color of choice.
“Red is Best!” she would say with a wink, laying her hard earned money down on the counter for a pair of ruby earrings. The clerk would smile, comment on how lovely they were, and hand her the little hinged box in a little red bag. If you didn’t know her you would think it a little strange.
“Red is Best” was as common a phrase as “Who loves you?” in my mother’s house. It began with a little book, carrying the phrase as its title. A little girl insists on wearing her red mittens, even though her mother tells her the brown ones are warmer. The red mittens make better snowballs. And the red boots aren’t just for rain; they take bigger steps in any weather. And, yes, a red cup does make a difference... juice just doesn’t taste as good in a green one. No doubt about it, red is best.
My mom read the picture book to my children, their little warm bodies snuggled into her lap under a soft red blanket. If I pause, and allow myself to be still, I can hear her voice reading the words, the lilt of her phrasing lulling me to peace.
When mom was a teen, new born into orphan-hood after her mother died and her father remarried a woman half his age, she learned to fend for herself. Her sister Ruby had taught her to sew. Her keen eye for fashion led her to create some mighty fine dresses. The famous Red Gingham Dress of my childhood make-believe was designed and crafted by her. I imagine her purchasing the fabric. No pattern, except the one in her mind. I imagine her slender hands guiding the fabric through the machine, her feet working the pedals underneath. I see those hands cut the tiny red and white checkered fabric in little circles, pulled tight over a dozen tiny buttons that ended up marching in a line down the spine of her lovely back. She told me once that she never wore that dress that she didn’t have a good time. It ended up in the dress-up box seven babies later. Where it had come to her waist, it came to my knee…and I loved playing in the old red gingham dress.
Though she did love red, she wasn’t necessarily obsessed with it, to the point that everyone who saw her thought…Well THERE’S a mighty reddish kind of lady! She understood the need for balance, and red was more often an accent. Her love of fine antiques fit well with her passion for the color. A deep red block in a nice old quilt, laid comfortably over the old bench table. A bold red linen tablecloth under her fresh white milk-glass plates, setting a crisply inviting table for her treasured guests. It enlivened her space. Indeed, her outlook on life was sanguine; filled with confident optimism.
In her waning years my mother’s space filled more and more with the color. I think we needed the confidence it represented. Her snowy white hair looked so lovely against it, and her rosy cheeks and bright eyes radiated well in that palette. My saintly sister Libby stretched clean soft deep red sheets over Mom’s bed, fluffing her down pillows, making it so inviting as she laid her down at night, smoothing her flowing white hair and kissing her forehead. My other saintly sisters joined in in their own ways: Ann Marie bought two red leather recliners for mom’s sitting space. Sherry adorned her with beautiful garnet and ruby and gold jewels. Sue stitched her lovely quilts in Civil War red and gunmetal blue, the stitches so tidy you’d swear a machine must have made them, but so authentic you knew it was her steady hands that had done the work.
In that terrible, beautiful, wonderful, awful space in time, when we hovered like little hummingbirds around our mother’s bed, we wrapped ourselves in her red blankets, laid our heads against her red pillows, inhaled the aroma of flowers of yellow and fuchsia and deep emerald green. Music rang, and then steady rhythmic stillness. It was enough, I suppose, to just hear her breathe.
This river runs deep through the heart of the valley
It was fed by the waters of sun-ripened snow
And she runs with a passion from high in the mountains
And no one can tell her the way she will go
And weaving herself through the pine trees and canyons
She slows as she flows through the wide open land
And here on her banks, where the willows are bending
I sit with an instrument held in my hands
Singing, Oh flow gently sweet Afton
Peace where you may roam
Oh, flow gently sweet Afton
Till the deep mother waters welcome you home.
Against the music, and the passion, and the love, our mother drew a breath, mustered her courage, and jumped into heaven.
The stillness was stunning.
Our tears dropped against her pillowcase, deepening the red, as we covered her with kisses; our lips pressing against her dissipating warmth.
Mom often said she did not fear death, though she was mindful of separation. She was bold and passionate, fiercely devoted, brave in the face of the unknown. And yet she was tender and gentle and whisper-warm with affection. She was red.
My sisters and daughters drove to Bountiful on a hot August evening; pulled into the empty parking lot at the mortuary. Libby carried our mother’s temple bag. We dressed our mother’s body, our hands touching her skin, using our strength to move her. She cooperated beautifully, her joyful spirit hovering over us, begging us to laugh. We dressed her in pink, in that soft place between red and white. We brushed her pretty white hair, and put just a touch of lipstick on her lips. But there was no need for makeup. Her bloom was blessedly real.
We laid her there, placing her in her living room for her beautiful collection of friends and family to pay their last respects. It felt natural and right.
On the day we buried her we robed her in white. Holy white. Sacred white. With a blood red copy of her beloved poetry book One Hundred and One Famous Poems tucked in her hands. A lovely accent. Red.
Her posterity wore red in her honor. The color of passion. The color of power. The color our Master will wear when he returns to claim us. The color of Love.
Red is Best!