Saturday, March 29, 2008

Orange, Purple, and my Mother - Tennis Shoes and my Brothers

For the first entry in my new journal (that has a fuchsia suede cover), 2/15/08, I wrote that I thought I was making progress at reclaiming the color orange from R., a former friend I'm no longer in contact with (and no longer buy orange gifts for). Actually though she brought orange back to me – at one point I had covered every available surface in my childhood bedroom with mod contact paper featuring orange (and purple) flowers - but as a preteen I decided that orange was tacky, dated (too 1960s for the 1970s), and orange apparel clashed too much with my red birthmark. (It has always been a huge frustration that colors that go well with my skin and hair don’t always work with my birthmark.) A couple of years ago I started feeling a new attraction to orange, but I had spent so many years with gray and navy that it felt too bright to wear or look at often. I found myself using it in needlepoint, first on a project meant for R., and then on more pillows that I kept for myself. The pumpkin-orange yarn is a beautiful color, almost appetizing (a food color), and you learn in needlepoint that certain color dyes shrink the wool less than others - black and navy make twisty-thin wool yarn, but pumpkin shades are thick and non-twisty. I now have more orange in my home decor but I'm still leery of wearing it - I do have a couple of Target t-shirts I wear under sweaters, but that's the wimpy extent of my orange wardrobe.

I gravitated toward orange in the 1990s but was slower to come back to purple, at least the bolder shades of it - I never stopped wearing the milder ones like periwinkle and lavender. I like the vivid purples but felt too introverted to wear them, or maybe I was still recovering from my childhood purple outfits, like the 2-piece flannelish polyester pantsuit ordered from Sears, with a scoop neck and little fake buttons (no buttonholes), ordered in chubby size (this was a year or two before my life's first diet...God, how long ago was that?!). My mother later got me, also from Sears, a pair of purple bellbottom jeans (well, more like flares, although I wanted bellbottoms), which sadly I hardly wore because even after my weight loss I was obsessed with the size of my butt and wanted to hide it with a dress. The popular girls at school each had a couple of coordinating outfits, colored jeans with striped knit shirts - my version was the purple Sears jeans I hardly wore and a scratchy Sears sweater that I never wore...I had a complete intolerance for scratchy clothes, which I now realize might be part of what today is considered the "Highly Sensitive Child" temperament, an actual category of personal traits and not just bratty behavior.

It's interesting that in some ways I was more body-confident when I was heavier...as a chubby child I always wanted lower v-necks on my jumpers. My mother kept altering the 1960s patterns to be more modest, even though I wore a blouse or turtleneck underneath (a mock turtleneck, since the Tomball climate was so warm). I couldn't do much about those V-necks but I did try to cinch my velveteen smock dresses (I feel Mother-love in writing that word, velveteen) with my chain-link belt - which couldn't have been an attractive look, but back in my days of higher self-love I thought I was stylin'.

On one of my last shopping trips with my mother before she got really sick, she told me I had to decide between an orange pantsuit and a purple plaid dress, we couldn't buy both that day. I chose the purple dress (which I always wore with purple knee socks...horrid memory!) but couldn't stop thinking about the orange dress. It was a muted, kind of tweedy orange and the top was long enough to wear as a dress without the pants (talk about dated!). I think maybe we did go back once to look for the outfit but it wasn't there, or wasn't in my size, or maybe we didn't shop together after that...shopping with Mother faded away, but the memory of the dress is still strong.

Mother and clothes, brothers and shoes...last month while in a doctor's waiting room I was looking in People at photos of celebs in Converse shoes…and strongly mixed with my self-focused shopping thought, "so cute, but those shoes would not look right on you" (too flat for flattery, no extension of line), I felt a pang for my brother Tim. Converse was Tim's tennis shoe brand, in high school and maybe before or after - I'm not sure how many years in total, but it's hard to think of Tim as a teenage older brother without picturing him in gold Converses. Well, correction, until a few years ago I had forgotten he wore them, but my hometown friend Marq, who also knew Tim, has described memory scenes of Tim in those shoes, and now he's permanently wearing them in my memory as well. Tim wasn't into clothes - he wore a few favorite outfits until they faded and frayed - but he did shop for gold Converses. Finding his color in the desired size was a challenge back then, since there were many fewer stores in a driving radius of Tomball and it was eons before the advent of web shopping, not to mention the recent explosion of Converse colors and prints - gold (kind of an orange-yellow, not shiny gold) was about as fancy as Converse got. I vaguely remember being with Tim on a shoe-shopping trip and wondering why he was so obsessed about those particular shoes - one of his few visible quirks.

Several pairs of tennis shoes ago, I bought New Balance canvas shoes, having admired the ones my brother Dave was wearing and figuring if they fit his feet, they might fit my (genetically similar?) feet too. I liked how the shoes looked, but being white canvas they didn't stay pretty and weren't super comfortable. After that I bought other New Balance shoes, but after seeing that People magazine in the doctor's office I made a huge style U-turn. It started rather innocently - I looked online for gold Converse shoes to find an image to attach to a Tim-related blog posting, but then I realized how many cute Converse varieties were out there and started ordering them for myself. As online reviews warned me, Converse All Star lo-tops have no arch support and aren't comfortable for long standing or far walking. I have found myself unconsciously kicking and stretching my calves while wearing them, which makes me feel closer to Tim...he had a habit of rocking back and forth on his feet while he was standing, something I figured was just another quirk (he really did have only a few) and something he did to relieve stress but heck, maybe it just had to do with wearing Converse shoes for hours.


Now that I have ordered my ___th (too embarrassed to say the number) pair of Converse shoes, I can no longer say they have much to do with memories of Tim, but they still make me feel good. I keep ordering 7's because I know that 6 1/2's would be too small, although the 7's are a bit too long...I think the extra length makes my ankles look slimmer (addressing my earlier concern about lengthening my line). Here are a few samples, with the dotted ones being my first purchase and the Art Deco ones being my most recent (I won't say, my last). It's hard to see in this photo, but the gray pair have an ORANGE logo on the tongue - thus they are a great bridge as I progress from gray shoes toward orange.

I actually had a nightmare about the PURPLE print pair - in my bad dream, I was examining the inside of the shoes and the canvas liner had turned to white!, was no longer purple.

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