Column: Talent for color coordination is one not all girls share

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 22, 2002

The day I started to school I insisted on wearing my favorite dress, a totally unsuitable deep-orange ruffled organdy over lace and taffeta. It had a wide self-sash that tied with a huge bow in back. Over it I wore my bright red cape, totally unnecessary in a warm, sunshiny Nebraska September.

My mother managed to take the cape home, after having enrolled me, while first-graders were being introduced to the playground and other points of interest around the school. She had wisely not made an issue of what I would wear, believing that I chose as I did because I was inwardly a bit nervous about my first step toward adulthood. She assumed that the colors chosen were bright banners to sustain my courage.

For once she was incorrect. I had looked forward to school from the time I heard of it. It was inevitable that anything that greatly anticipated would be a disappointment, and it was. Had I had my druthers I would have been a first-grade drop-out.

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This, though, is not about school. It’s about colors. The women in my mother’s family, all of them at least semi-artistic, prided themselves on their gift in color skill. My choice of costume that September would remain a mark against me for as long as they lived.

Fully 25 years later the cousin, who was 14 years older than I, was reminding me that her daughter, Bonnie Lou, 14 years younger than I, wouldn’t have been caught dead in such a color combination from the time she was a baby.

Alas my lack of skill in choosing costume and color was not something I outgrew.

It was a lovely family that moved into our neighborhood when I was nine or 10. They came to us from somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Two children there were &045; a charming little girl, not yet school age, and a boy about my age.

He and I became friends immediately. As I remember we had only one argument during the time his family lived in Nebraska City. That was over the question of whether Jeff Davis or Abe Lincoln were the greater man.

Every summer as soon as it was warm enough my father loaded all the adults and children in the neighborhood into his big open touring Dodge, Eloise, when he came home from work and took us across the river to swim in a sand pit.

Naturally James Henry was invited to go along. Unfortunately on the morning I invited him his mother discovered that he had outgrown his swim suit. It was still early in the day, however, she sent us to his father’s office for money so James Henry could buy a new one, then retired to her bed with a migraine.

James’s father was perfectly willing to give his son money for a new suit, but he was doubtful of leaving it up to James’s taste.

&uot;I don’t have time to go with you,&uot; he said. &uot;But I tell you what, you take Love along to help pick out a suit and it will be all right, girls always know more about that sort of thing than boys do.&uot;

In those days, males did not swim in half suits, nor did women swim in one-piece suits, without skirts on the suits. Sometimes the women’s suits had little sleeves and were worn with long hose. In men’s suits the sleeves had mostly given way to shoulder straps.

When James Henry and I reached the store whole trays of suits were set before us. After some consideration he picked out one that to me seemed appallingly drab. Mindful of my responsibility in guiding his choice, I pointed out to him a perfect beauty. Striped from stem to stern it was, horizontal orange and black stripes, wide stripes.

We purchased it and carried it back in triumph to show to his father.

&uot;Love picked it out, just like you said,&uot; James Henry told him, &uot;Isn’t it great!&uot;

Mr. Watts had been staring wordlessly at the suit. I could tell that he was stunned by its beauty.

When he finally spoke he said, &uot;We were very wise to let Love do the picking. In this suit you’ll never drown.&uot;

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.