Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Color of Sound

When you think of your favorite color what sounds come to mind?

When I was really little, I shared a bedroom with my grandmother who lived with us until her death. The room was painted what I think they called rose, but was really more of a vivid salmon pink. She loved that color, that of the roses her Norwegian logger husband gave to her before an accident in the woods, the weight of the world falling down. Doctors could do nothing for such internal injuries so they brought him home to quietly bleed out, there beneath her tears. She was just 36 years old and had three children. She never remarried.

As a kid I hated that color.  It certainly didn't match my G.I. Joe action fort I'd built in the corner of the room. I swore if I ever had my own place it would NEVER have a pink room. But I loved my grandmother and when I see that color I can hear her musical voice as she dusted the precious things she brought to her room, stopping to give me a hug as she did so.
A few years after Grandma passed away Dad stated  that my room needed repainting, (Yay!)  I asked if I could paint it and maybe paint a rainbow on it (hey, I was in 6th grade). He said yes, but he was only going to buy the base color. Anything else I did to it, I'd have to use what was in the garage of the leftover paint.

I chose yellow. Let's just say there wasn't much to pick from for the rainbow which is why there remains to this day (though the yellow has been painted over), two rainbows, a half one behind the bed, and a full one on the other side made out of 70's yellow, gold and aqua and yes, the remainder of the horrid salmon pink. Dad refuses to paint over them and surprisingly, when he had his kitchen fire, my room was the only one closed off to the point it had no smoke damage.
There is no accounting for taste in color. When my daughter and her husband bought their first home, the price was a steal given the area, which was quite upscale, but for a good reason. Some of the walls were painted black (the rest seemed to be covered in those press on mirrors). Bits of the back yard looked like it had been torched, and the carpet inside was damp enough with spilled beer that you could probably grow wild rice in the living room. It had been some young hipster's bachelor pad (or Darth Vader's, we're still not sure). Now it is painted white and varying shades of blue, with three stories of glass that look out onto the Rockies, the walls seemingly joining the sky.

I'd say that if I had a favorite color, it would still be yellow, the color of butter, of daisies, and the sun that makes you weep as you look into it. It's the color of the deep throated roar that is a Stearman R680-13 300 hp engine firing up, it's the gentle tap of a waltz that is the J3 Cub.  Yet, there are other colors that bring back memories. The Range living room is this antique looking sage green.  It could stand with a redo, but the color will remain the same, I think, as I go to the paint store to look at samples.
It's the color of my parents living room, and the sound of laughter that so often came from it.  It's not the green of the apples in the tree in the backyard, that hung low over the limbs we'd hang from like monkeys.  It's not the deep grey green  swirl of a river full of steelhead.  It was more of the aromatic sage of something wonderful coming from the oven; the laughter of Mom and Grandma in the kitchen; the recipe born of white paper and cursive script.  It's memory of those sounds that make you weep for the lost colors of childhood.

In looking through all the little squares of paint at the store, I think to myself that we always seem to associate scent with certain periods of our lives, but how about color?

There, in one display, are the rich vivid hues of sunrise. That takes me back to my last  time camping out in the woods, watching the sunrise from my spot underneath a tree.  At first there is only darkness, the colors of the starless night, of a deep ocean crossing, the sky then gathering a bit of light in the depths, like the eyes of Jesus that look down on us from a cross on the wall, eyes that show no age as they show no forgetting. From the woods comes the hoot of an owl, the soft crunch as the fairy feet of some small animal looks for a safe place to sleep.
The first hint of day is red, the royal blue-red, that in centuries past would have been forbidden to be worn by the masses, on threat of death, then oranges and yellows, dripping like forgotten fruit into the horizon, their taste and texture, fragrant and lush against the plate of the earth. Pink and white, the color of salt water snails found in the submerged sands of paradise, washed clean of their prison with a spray of water that can be heard hundred of yards away. Then finally blue, just a hint of blue, paler even than the bluest sky I remember from my last time aloft, just a hint of blue, fading, for into the sky comes the weather, thick clouds pulled up by the still slumbering earth to cover it and keep it warm as in the far distance there is a rumble of thunder.

I love being out at such times - before the the sun could even warm the earth, warm me, blue grey gave way to grey, like the whole of Lee's army taking on the battle between dusk and dawn.  The blood red of the sunrise leaches into the earth until the world goes suddenly and softly grey again.  The clouds mourn and the birds sound an echo of taps up in the trees, as I sit and remember a battle of my own, tracing invisible scars of it upon soft skin.

Then, there in another section of the paint store are the blues and greys.
In the Spring of my childhood, after the winter cold and snow retreated, Mom and I would head outdoors, just the two of us, along the shores of local bodies of water looking for stones, stones that may have not been unearthed for years, abundant embedded in earth and sand. They're quiet treasures on the shores of the the West, wind swept lands riddled with unclaimed treasures that people simply pass and forget, not knowing what they have underneath their feet. Beneath this great land lies jeweled richness of stone, and prehistoric bones, telling tales as they surface, dotting the future with pieces of the past.

Some stones are so tiny as to be little bearings of smoothness, the size of a small birds egg. Others take both hands to hold. My Mom as well, was fascinated by stones, and we'd search through the grey and dark and cold surfaces looking for the one that will break open into glorious color of gemstone. Rich colors forged in heat and fire and fate. We'd hunt down an agate, and knowing what we will find inside of it, we'd smile.

In native Indian culture agates were believed to cure the stings of scorpions and the bites of snakes, soothe the mind, prevent contagion, still thunder and lightning, promote eloquence, secure the favor of the powerful, and bring victory over enemies. In this agate, Mom might not find a cure for the stinging bite of what she has within her that was too soon to take her life, but in it she found strength and beauty, swirling colors of joy in that moment, something to sooth the thunder that rolled through her in dark frightened moments.

She hand picked them, and cataloged them by color and origin. I happily worked with her,listening to the sound of her voice that stays with me still as she captured the deep energy of the earth, that grounded her to us.

Then, there are the reds, the color that is the crowning head of birth, the liquid grace in a gold chalice. It is color, that like blood, has as many variances as does the way it can be spilled, there in a flash of light, a burning, a blow, one instant of sublimation, then darkness again. It is the color of the senses, the depth of rose, a lover's whisper, a splash of red wine, of desire and loss.

For red is also the color of warning, the beep beep beep of a cockpit warning message, the flash of a light at the approach end of the runway that tells you if you are too high or too low. Such lights glare with luminous boding of the nearness of earth, the red and white lights that slide across the night itself, speaking aloud with silent sound to eyes that sometimes see what the soul cannot.
You took in those sounds and their colors and process them with a quick movement of hands, as your aircraft bears down upon the earth, holding in check, the vast mass of weight and gravity as long as you can, until the engines pant as if breathless, the power brought back in the last second as the wheels kiss the pavement with a soft "chirp chirp".  Sometimes at that point you are breathless yourself, as the white centerline lights lead you gently in.

I think of that bright white as I look through the second of white paint. The section of samples of white is bigger than one expects, ranging from Casper the Friendly Ghost pale to rich cream, from the crystal purity of light that sparks off of a diamond ring to the wood scented smoke that is Fall. White brings to mind snow; not the snow of the ground, but the snow aloft, where thick water droplets the size of guppies give way to a thick white spray that parts as we fly through it in waves of frigid courtesy, the sound of the engines outside the only constant in this day.
On such a flight we fly in silence, but for the occasional chirp of a radio, our movements in sync. Today, they'd call that Cockpit Resource Management.  Back then we sort of worked in some sort of unspoken telepathy that was both trust and history aloft,  like two birds that leave a guy wire at exactly the same time. Our hands move in a silent prayer of ritual without words, a communion of motion and metal.

Flying on a clear night, one gets the sense that movement stops as if your ship is hung suspended from the stars with no forward progress. But when the snow hits, if the moon is bright enough, you have a sense of speed that is the wild leap of a toboggan off a hill.  As the miles trail behind us like wake, we look out into the snow much as we did as children, mentally sticking our tongues out to catch a flake and let it melt, looking through the windshield with a sort of hushed searching for something so far beyond us, we can't as yet grasp it. It's a look that's both the wonder of the unknown and knowledge that is profoundly intent, time slowing down even at .82 Mach.

We had command of millions of dollars worth of steel, and a mission. But in that moment, we were simply children, our craft not burdened with time's dragging weight which the old garb themselves with each day, but with the unfettered fast movement that are those lost moments of play out in a snow covered field.
Color is memory, and with memory comes sound, there in its own vivid color.  One may bring back the other yet neither will ever be exactly what they were. It's like an ancient recipe scribbled on frail paper, the letters faded, even if the intent is clear, familiar in form and sense, the name and presence of elusive and sentient forces of grain and yeast, water and love, a taste and smell that you can recreate, yet it will never be exactly the same. Yet, even if it is not the same, the shape, the faint taste, brings you back.

It comes back to you at odd times, sometimes when going full tilt into your day; sometimes as you sit in quiet reflection, a resonant distant hum of the dog sleeping beside you.  The colors around you have a spent quality, like the rise of dissipating smoke, of the steam of an ancient engine, even as they softly gleam with light, pushing from their solitude into yours, nudging that memory of the past.  It's a past that can be cold and vacant or warm with color.  It's all how your soul sees what your eyes sometimes cannot.
I think of my Dad now, the hollow sound of his feet moving across his bedroom floor in the cold, the room nearly empty, but thunderous with the presence of my Mom.  I remember the day he first opened her closet after she was gone, to see the remnants of her existence in colorful pieces of cloth, in those favorite colors of agates, blues, and black obsidian and ivory, blues and golds, discovered like gemstone when that door was broken open. How vivid the look on his face as he found them. Not a look of grief, or incomprehension, but a look of fierce affirmation that she had been here, that she had loved him. A look of recognition, of the subtle, complex beauty that she left us - her spouse, her children.

As the sun comes up early this morning, I sit with my bread and coffee. Down the hall is a salmon pink bathroom that was the favorite color of a young Swedish woman who was the love of someone's life before she was my Grandma.  It could be redone right now, but it won't be.

It sits as proudly in morning light as my Grandmother did, in the bright glare of grief where shadows not only defined and became personal, but formed and shaped her unexpected destiny. I'd like to paint it yellow, and someday I will.  But for now it remains.  She loved that color and so, for that moment in the past,  for that memory as I recall her singing with newfound happiness,  I will let it lay upon the walls in peace.

- Brigid

10 comments:

  1. Colors, sounds and smells can evoke powerful memories; you've given them voice, as well. (In my case, something a bit more mundance: fire engine red not only reminds me of my days as a firefighter, but of my '68 Super Bee. With the Smokey & the Bandit soundtrack in the cassette player as I burned up the back roads of rural Missouri.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much - you always understand.

      Delete
  2. Since my hearing and sense of smell have faded, color remains the primary trigger for my memory excursions these days.

    I like many colors, but the MOPAR "plum crazy" from the sixties remains my favorite.

    Of course "bacon" still wakes up my nose - and my appetite!

    A flock of geese in the darkness still gets thru to my soul - a reminder of wild places in the past.

    Damn, now I'm going to be reminiscing all day long!

    Thank you !!!

    Merle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! These posts get few comments. Up until I was about 28, I had a 67 Barracuda 383 S (and yes, I have a picture of me perched on the hood if we ever meet under the "cone of silence". I stuffed a 440 big block in it which meant redoing the headers as after that conversion it was barbecuing the brake boosters, and the door panels were redone from pick a part, but I still loved it.

      Delete
    2. They may get few comments, but that may be because we're all in shocked awe at how well you've conveyed your thoughts, and doing a bit of our own reminiscing because of it.

      Delete
    3. I'm not sure of the year of the car, but I got my driver's license in a borrowed hot 'Cuda with a six-pack carburetor and a radical cam. You had to give it enough gas when putting it in gear to not kill the engine but not so much that you'd chirp the tires. There aren't too many of them around anymore, probably because most of them got wrecked from too much speed.

      Delete
  3. that professional reviewer is stuttering again, trying to pigeonhole your fabulous writing into something that can be explained. It sucks to be them.
    My Mom's favorite color was White (her birthstone opal). When I see an opal I, once again, hear my Mom laughing.

    Thank You Ms B

    Rich in NC

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I felt a little better about the one star review for "Saving Grace" from the lady that couldn't understand it when I saw her facebook page and her favorite thing is watching Sponge-bob and her photo was her sticking a plastic bat up her nose. Yes, probably a bit much for her, but I didn't comment as no one, even bad reviewers deserves humiliation.

      Delete
  4. Yep, blue of the ocean, the greens of the shallows... And the smell of JP-4. Beautifully evocative of a lot of family memories!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I no longer have a medical (cardiac reaction to a prescription and not worth paying for all the tests to get it back), but with 18,000 hours under my belt I'm good with that. I did brief my husband on joining the "sea level club".

      Delete

I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..