Thursday, May 8, 2008

Yellow & Green at 14 (and since)

Yellow and green are way down my list of color preferences - as an example, in my recently acquired trove of Converse Chuck Taylors, yellow and green have the least representation. One Chuck print has touches of yellow, and I have a pair of apple green Chucks, but they are kind of a chartreuse, which I consider almost a basic color, like black or navy - not really a green that has to be matched. That may be one of my difficulties with green - that it's hard to match, and looks ugly when you combine shades that aren't close. Blues, even reds, look better in shade combinations. (Olive, to me, is hardly a kind of green - I consider it more in the gray family, which means I like it.)

Here is an early green & yellow story that may have caused some of my problems with the colors... After my dad's remarriage, he repainted two of the bedrooms in our house for the expanded family. My brothers' old room was painted lavender, to be shared by 3, sometimes 4 stepsisters, depending on who was home from college, and also their older brother Steve, if he got tired of sleeping on the couch. (I think Steve only took naps or watched TV in that room - can't quite believe he squeezed onto the king-size bed with his sisters at night.) My sister Rachel moved into my parents' old room with me - my dad had converted the garage into a new master suite - and my dad let me choose what color scheme would obliterate the gray & rose floral wallpaper that had been in that room since he built the house in the 1950s.

I had been very impressed by a friend's bedroom that was redone from fairy-princess pinks into green & white when she got to junior high age, and I wanted those for my colors. Traci had green & white checked wallpaper and pot plants, which looked so lovely, although I had killed every plant I ever planted or watered in and around our house (maybe the fill dirt in our shallow flower beds was not fertile?, let's go with that theory - not much that my parents planted there grew either) so I wasn't so sure about the leafy ivy for my version of the room. I didn't have a lot of contact with this friend anymore since we were in different social circles, but I envied many things about her looks and taste (or her mother's taste - I suspect her trim, blond, elegant mother called the decorating shots in that house).

During the two years our family was motherless, I often spent weekends at my father's cousin Vera Mae's house, where I usually slept in her daughter Glenda's room. Glenda was then in high school, oh-so-grownup to my eyes (I used to beg for my own subscription to 17 Magazine, since I pored through every issue of Glenda's) and like Traci, had had her bedroom redone with a new theme - yellow walls and green bedspreads. Her two twin beds had been angled into a corner of the room, with a square table between them, an amazingly sophisticated look for Rose Hill, Texas in the early 1970s (as context, the family had a septic tank and their neighbors had cows). On one of my special nights spent in that room, I watched Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in "Splendor In the Grass" on Glenda's tiny black & white bedroom TV. (Glenda was out with friends, so I could pretend her room belonged to me.) With all the vaguely veiled conversations about sexual frustration, this was the most adult movie I had ever seen, and Glenda's sophisticated room enhanced my viewing pleasure. The bed arrangement couldn't be recreated in my house - and I wouldn't have wanted my head angled that close to my bratty little sister - but the overall look of the room guided my design choices.

My dad sent me to a wallpaper store on Main Street (all the Tomball businesses were on Main Street in those years) and my 14 year old self went through several pattern books, page by page. Nothing looked quite like the wallpaper in my friend Traci's room, and green & white designs when viewed up close on a small page looked too large, too bright, and overall unfriendly. After what must have been hours spent at the store, I went home empty handed.

My father was very aware of the major difficulty I had developed with making decisions, big or small (big: whether to be confirmed in our church or wait another year for confirmation... big: wallpaper colors... small: what shirt to wear with what shorts... small: what kind of sandwich or dessert I wanted in a restaurant). I remember being so relieved, in seeing the movie "Terms of Endearment" (about a young man's depression after the death of his brother, exacerbated by various family dysfunctions) when Tim Hutton's character was unable to choose food from a restaurant menu. Until the movie I had assumed I was the only person with that weird symptom.

I was doing other weird things around that time including obsessive hand washing and having extreme concerns about whether my clothes could be worn a second time without needing to be washed. I would pile up a week or more's clothes on a chair at the end of my bed, wishing I had a mother or similarly reliable authority figure to help me decide if they were dirty. (I never got dirty or sweaty - I spent most of my time in our air-conditioned house reading books - so the decision of whether anything truly needed to be washed was clearly in an OCD category.) Some of these mental tics began while my mother was still alive, but not surprisingly they got worse after her death. Probably the most disruptive behavior was ritual prayers - I wrote them myself, listing all kinds of things I thought I needed to apologize for, needed help with, or that God or his Son otherwise needed to know about, and thought I had to repeat them almost every hour of the day, even if I was supposed to be taking a timed test at school or eating dinner or practicing piano at home.

(It's hard to keep my blogging linear when there is so much Sarah backstory for every point I want to make. Anyway...) When I returned with no wallpaper after hours spent at the wallpaper store, my dad knew it was unlikely things would be any different the next day, or the next. He didn't say much more about it, but the following week I came home after school to a room with new wallpaper already in it - he had asked my stepmother to pick it out. (She was a very decisive lady back then, but ironically and sadly, in recent years she has had her own difficulties ordering from menus, due to mild memory loss.) The paper was several shades of green in a variegated stripe, with a yellowish-white background. Until the arrival of the stepfamily, our entire house had been tiled with gray & black linoleum squares, but along with the painting remodel came shag carpet - a purplish-blue for the stepsisters' room, and a dark-green blend for my sister's and my room. The green carpet was very dark, more so than any grass found in nature, and a stark contrast to the yellow (sunny yellow toned with a mix of white) my dad used to paint the built-in cabinetry. There were a lot of built-in drawers and doors, since this was originally the master bedroom, built for the arrival of the woman - my mother - who ended his bachelor years. Previously white (not chipped or scratched - well cared for, for 20 years) they all ended up yellow, as did two small blond-wood bookcases and the frame of my cork display board. (Our dark oak chest of drawers was left brown - an interesting contrast to everything else.)

My father and my stepmother made their best effort and their best artistic decisions. As I remember it, my thoughts at the time were rather simply that the final result was OK, and that I deserved no better, since I hadn't been able to make my own decision. I also had enough color sense to realize that it could have turned out much worse - 1970s yellow and green ranged to shades much worse than those chosen for my bedroom - lots of avocado and egg yolk was perpetuated during that time.

I'm not saying I have never lived with or worn green or yellow since then, but my few purchases of those colors stand out in my memory (because they were few): a 1980s Esprit shirt I bought on sale from Foley's, to go with the blue-yellow-rose print skirt in the same collection. (I wore it with a pearl & rose-bead necklace - not bad!) Earlier, in Tomball, I had a dress with bias-cut stripes on the bodice and skirt, dark green & off-white - I got compliments when I wore it to church but it wasn't one of my favorites - it was kind of scratchy (polyester) and had a cold-feeling zipper in the back. (I also wasn't thrilled with the way its colors looked with my only dress shoes, which were brown - the effect was kind of like the dark-brown chest of drawers in our green & yellow bedroom.)

If/when I wore any kind of green after that, it was usually blue-green, although there was one favorite pair of pants in the early 1990s...kind of a moss green, olive-green & black tapestry print - wide legs and a gathered waist - that I wore with a wide black belt and very chunky jewelry (a petite female version of MC Hammer, maybe?).

I feel I have come very far to now have three yellow shirts in my closet, several items of jewelry featuring yellow stones, and a pair of green (chartreuse, but we'll stretch the point for this story) Converse tennis shoes.

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