Color Memory

I woke this morning to a fresh snowfall. As I looked upon our crystalline backyard, I observed how the white blanket seemed to hush the noise of the nearby interstate, silence the song of the finches, and dampen my own spirit. The snow stirred my color memory, taking me back to a long-past yet still-tender season of loss.

I’d never thought about color memory until I stumbled upon an article entitled “Color Psychology.” In it, the author explains, “Our color memory is brought to bear when we communicate about color. If we talk about color, we use images and associations that are stored in our color memory….The emotional value and the effect of a particular color can vary from person to person.”

For me, white calls to mind times of heartache—receiving news of my friend’s sudden death on a cold January afternoon and looking upon the still, snow-covered world in the days following the suicide of my son’s best friend. Green evokes memories of my childhood—my father riding on his John Deere; my mother and grandmother sitting on the patio breaking beans; and my best friend and I hiding beneath the sweeping branches of a weeping willow. Blue recalls playful moments with my husband and sons—summer days spent at the beach and hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains, with wide skies that stretch above trails bordered by crystal-clear streams. 

The color red surfaces surprising memories—more specifically, faces—of various women I have known. I wonder why.

In my curiosity, I read that “red symbolizes fire, blood, and life force…red has a high attention value, is associated with excitement, strength, power, action, energy, warmth, assertiveness, presence.” I hold these words as I consider the faces before me. 

The first face belongs to my elementary school librarian. While my mother taught piano lessons after school, I would visit her. She would look up from the cart of books she was shelving and smile. I can picture her—statuesque, exotic olive skin, wearing a silky red blouse. Sometimes she would ask me to help her shelve books; other times, she would hand me a book, and I would eagerly accept it and begin reading. In her presence, I felt welcomed and known, and she cultivated my love of good stories.

A middle-aged blond woman wearing a tailored crimson blazer comes to mind next. When I first entered her sophomore English class, I felt a mix of anxiety and anticipation. She was known for being tough, with a challenging curriculum and high expectations for her students. I longed to measure up, and I feared I would not. Her students were required to keep a journal, and when I discovered her thoughtful comments in the margins of my entries, I felt seen and understood. Her tough exterior became less scary, and in time, she became a valued mentor—one of the first people who named me a “writer.”

In my next memory, I encounter a raven-haired woman with fair skin and a warm smile painted with Chanel’s trademark Rouge Coco lipstick. As a recently declared English major, I was a student in her women’s literature class, where she introduced me to Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen, Kate Chopin and Alice Walker, Virginia Woolf and Flannery O’Connor—strong female voices that revealed both the interior and exterior life of women. This was the education I had been craving; I discovered a sisterhood and an essential language for my feminine journey with her help.

My journey eventually led me to my first job as a copywriter, where I met a stylish young woman with vibrant red hair. She became a coworker, and each time she entered the room I found myself mesmerized by her dynamism. In comparison, I felt colorless and dull; however, she was drawn to me. In turn, she drew me out of the shadows and shone a light on me. Over time, she taught me to value, honor, and trust my own light.

The final face before me belongs to a regal woman standing at the entrance of a great red tent. Five years ago, she held back the rich linen panel of the tent and invited me to come inside, where I found myself in the company of many other women—articulate and wise, courageous and strong. I felt deeply honored to be included in their company, and rightly so. Soon, the hostess beckoned me to stay, invited me to speak, and encouraged me to shine. Because of her, I experienced the healing balm of being named “welcome” and “worthy.”

With these faces before me, I revisit the earlier words about the color red: 

“Red symbolizes fire, blood, and life force…red has a high attention value, is associated with excitement, strength, power, action, energy, warmth, assertiveness, presence.” 

I slowly consider every single word as I hold each woman’s face tenderly and thankfully in my mind’s eye, and I make connections between the words and the women. Now I understand why my color memory recalled them in response to red; in doing so, it has granted me a deeply meaningful gift.


Weekly Editor

Susan Tucker is a lifelong lover of story, and with curiosity and openness, she often explores in her writing the tension that life holds. A former English teacher, Susan loves meaningful use of language, especially when used to stir the soul and whet one’s appetite for more truth, goodness, and beauty. Susan and Tim, her husband of 27 years, are adapting to an empty nest since both of their sons are now away attending college.nbsp