Teri Orr: A blooming contradiction
Damn yellow flowers.
They keep blooming. The pinks… all the lavenders… the red… all to seed now. But the damn yellow ones, the ones I never meant to buy, those are happy and multiplying like dandelions in the spring.
Back in the summer, I purchased a flat of flowers and only two were blooming, vibrant pink. Stock, I think. The rest of the flowers were tight green buds. I planted them all in the front yard in the tiny rock garden under the crab apple tree, next to the lavender plants and pink Echinacea flowers. And the pink flowers flourished. For a very long time the other flowers just didn’t open. Then finally, one by one, they bloomed… yellow.
For non-regular readers of this column I have a thing about yellow. It might be slightly irrational but it is real. Very, very real. I hate that color. (I also don’t like apple pie. Make of this what you will.) In an AP English class in high school, a very, very long time ago, my teacher had us read Robert Penn Warren’s book "All the King’s Men," about dirty politics in the South. One exercise was to go through the book and write down all the references to the color yellow. None of them were sunny or happy. They were body fluids and sallow skin tones, and, well, nothing at all good.
Later, in college, my journalism professor, who had just left as editor of "Reader’s Digest," talked to us about yellow journalism and the use of the color of yellow ink in newspapers, from which the term originated. It cemented my dislike of the color. When I was pregnant and we had no idea pre-birth of the sex of the baby in those days, I received all kinds of gifts for the unknown child in… yep, yellow. (Except for my mother, who knew the baby’s due date was St. Patrick’s Day and sent me gifts for months in icky mint green for "Baby Shamrock.") I had my child induced on March 15. Mostly for medical reasons. No, really.
Years later, when I was single and 40-ish, I had a date with guy from Texas, and I felt that even though he was very, very, very wealthy and well-educated, and handsome, I was feeling like this wasn’t going to be a match. The very next day he sent me two dozen long-stem roses. Yellow roses. I understood this had a song that connected the color of the roses with the state of Texas. There was no second date.
I tell myself honey is gold, and lemons, well, I somehow become color blind. I do not own a single piece of yellow clothing. Orange can tip me over most of the time, too. Hunting vests and parking/construction cones. It is too loud a color.
So I feel slightly schizophrenic about fall. I love the changing dance of colors that start with the red maple and move in waves of yellows and oranges against the greens. I love the way the golden light hits the trees in the mornings and backlights (or is it frontlights?) all those transparent leaves. I think sometimes that fall is my favorite season and it messes with my head because it is filled with yellow.
The flowers in the front yard mock me every morning when I leave my driveway and every early evening when I return. "We are YELLOW," they scream, "happy transitional YELLOW. You thought you planted pink and ha-ha, we’re YELLOW!" And they are so straight and tall with solid, green stems and leaves and multiple flowers on each stalk. And yes, they smell nice, too. I have an increasing difficult time discounting them.
Damn yellow flowers testing my assumptions. Challenging my deeply held beliefs — certainties in my life. If I might be just ever-so-slightly wrong about the evils of yellow, do I have to re-examine all the sure-isms I created and debated and have served me so well?
I suspect this happens as we age. We forget why we fought with a friend or family member… it just seems easier to hold onto a grudge than examine why we have it. I come from Irish and Scottish stock. Grudges are part of our DNA. The stuff of holiday dinners where stories are re-told with increased flourishes about slights we have kept and inflated for decades.
But now all those relatives are gone and I am the one left to decide which stories to tell my children and grandchildren. And more and more my stories belie my upbringing. I go for the funny stuff. The sad stuff sometimes. But the fierce lines that marked what defined loyalty seem silly now. When it is fall in life, you see those changing colors and values with a certain tenderness.
I don’t plan to consciously add yellow to my life — no sweaters or couches or cars. But when the leaves make a pile, under the trees with their increasingly bare branches, and they dance and swirl in circles in the breezes of fall, I forget, and just for a moment, I love those colors.
Damn yellow flowers and their late season endurance. What else will they have me re-consider this Sunday in the Park?
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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