In the past, when I was working with parent groups, all the members took a short test to determine their leadership styles. Each person received four cards: blue, green, brown, and red. On the front of each card was a set of adjectives, such as lively, calm, good listener, or organized. Descriptors were different for each color. Group members then identified the cards with the characteristics that best fit them. In my groups we always had one or two “greens” (organized, detail-oriented), multiple “blues” (sensitive communicators, mediators), at least one “brown,” me (task-oriented), and then there was the “red.” It seemed like there was room for only one red in any group. The red was the gregarious one, the story-teller, the sometimes-drama queen, the one whose laugh could be heard over all others, who was entertaining, energetic, spontaneous, original, who always seemed happy and loved being the center of attention. My mother was the red in my life.
On Halloween, she liked wearing goofy costumes of her own creation and going trick-or-treating as much as any kid. I can still remember the haunted house she helped create in a neighbor’s basement, where she took charge of the tunnel of slime, in which we crawled on our hands and knees through wet spaghetti. When not dressed for entertainment, she was the neighborhood fashionista. She had such good taste that I borrowed her clothes — even as a teenager — though I still have photos of me wearing glasses she picked out that truly belonged on the faces of Star Trek aliens.
When younger, her favorite pastimes were going dancing with my dad, gardening, drinking coffee and gossiping with her friends, going shopping and walking to the beach near Lincoln Park. Later, she liked to travel. She loved her neighborhood and her neighbors, wherever she lived. She loved her Fauntleroy Church and her minister. She loved flowers and gardens, whether they contained the lush, green plants of the soggy Northwest or the spindly, parched ones of the Arizona desert. She loved her life.
Even as she declined mentally, she remained cheerful and happy. We took regular Saturday outings — to gardens, nurseries, coffee shops and restaurants, to Target, Rite-Aid and Bartell — and everywhere we went was just the right place to be as far as she was concerned. Even in her dementia, I enjoyed being with her. When she moved into an adult family home, she still managed to be the life of the party. She teased her caregivers, laughed and chattered with anyone who would listen, and tried to grab an extra dessert off the plate of whoever was sitting next to her. Her eyes gleamed until the end.
In 1994, when my mom and I were planning my dad’s graveside service in the month of December, she told me we needed to buy poinsettias, lots of them, because red was his favorite color. At the time I remembered being surprised. I never knew my dad had color preferences for flowers or anything else. Now I suspect I know for whom we bought all those red flowers.