Last spring, it seemed like every item of clothing that caught my eye was peach. I used to love wearing peach, back in the 80s, but it’s been mostly absent from my wardrobe for about twenty-five years. Suddenly, it was all I saw in the stores. (And if The Devil Wears Prada is to be believed, that’s the result of color choices made by elite fashion arbiters far, far away from my little town, and probably a few years ago.)
Anyway, I bought three blouses that feature peach, coral, apricot—warm, feminine colors. Two are floral patterns, and the third is a mosaic print. They’re lovely and almost dizzying for a girl whose wardrobe tends to be a bit somber.
So I found myself shopping for a cardigan to go with these warm, riotous blouses. What color did I need? Brown? Tan? Olive green? Something warm-toned, surely. And so I trudged through store after store, driving all over town to find something that worked.
There were a lot of drab, tan sweaters on the racks.
Finally I found myself in a dressing room with a few new options, including flowing cardigans in rust and peach. When I put on the rust-colored sweater and looked in the mirror, it took my breath away.
It was one of my mother’s colors.
Now, I’m not sure why I think that. I have no specific memory of her ever wearing that exact color.
My parents divorced when I was quite small, and I grew up with my father. Aside from one stretch of about five years, I spent very little time with my mother. I never knew her well. She passed away several years ago, and I was startled to find her gone. Somehow, despite knowing better, I always thought there was time to spare to test the waters, to tentatively get to know each other again, to build a relationship anew. My wariness was formed in the whirlwind of my parents' postdivorce hostility—and I lived by it far too long.
When I was a little girl, there was a rust-colored umbrella at my grandmother’s house—my dad’s mother’s house—that someone told me had belonged to my mother. I remember taking it outside and twirling around with it in the rain. Today I have a scarf of hers that swirls in a burst of looping flower petals of brown, rust, and champagne. Maybe those things are why the sweater made me think of her. I associate her with warm, rich tones as well as with sumptuous fabrics—velvet and satin—that I remember her wearing or having in her home.
So in the dressing room, I stood staring at that rust-colored sweater in the mirror for a long while.
It felt like a hug from my mother.
Eventually I blinked and looked at myself, at my own pale face. Next to that lustrous color, my light brown hair looked flat and colorless. The ruffles on the sweater added bulk in all the wrong places. My mother was a tall, graceful, long-limbed beauty, with dark eyes and hair. I’m fair and blue-eyed, and I’m carrying about 100 extra pounds right now. To the degree that God gave me any beauty, it’s of a very different sort from what He gave my mother. Reluctantly, I put the rust sweater back on the hanger.
I reached for the peach sweater. It skimmed my heavy figure without adding bulk. My complexion bloomed, my eyes were brighter, and even my hair looked more vivid next to the lighter, brighter color. Plus, it would go well with those blouses.
If I had an unlimited clothing budget, I’d have bought both sweaters and worn the rust one around the house, feeling snug and hugged. But I couldn’t afford both. I soaked up the reminder of my mother, and I bought the peach sweater.
It’s tricky sometimes to tease out from the tangle of family which strands of their legacy we want to embrace, and which ones we’re better off letting slip away—or even snipping out deliberately.
There are ways to embrace my mother’s memory without wearing a sweater that doesn’t suit me. A few velvet and microsuede blouses have found their way into my closet. I sometimes wear perfume that reminds me of Hawaii, where she lived for many years. And from time to time, we’ve both been known to wear a vibrant, spring green. It's a color that suits us both.