Friday, January 15, 2010

I woke to the soft, grey light of an early dawn. But all I can see today is red.

It hissed at me through the piping hot-coal-colored rods of the space heater that warmed my daughter’s room all night. She was warm and I was grateful, but I could hear those energy sucking cylinders laughing their sinister, evil cackles as they racked up an electric bill that will likely leave me in the red when the collector comes to call.

Moving on…red can be happy too. Here in China, it’s the color of choice and pride of the nation. All you have to do is don it as a scarf or sweater and you’ll likely have multiple compliments about your crimson colored beauty. Here in a nation where “red” can often have weighty political undertones, it also symbolizes such noble virtues as courage, loyalty, honor, success, fortune, fertility, happiness, and passion. It’s no wonder that the traditional Chinese wedding dress was not our lily white puff-ball of innocence, but a striking shade of fiery strength.

I have a red rug. It makes me happy. When I walk in the kitchen all hell may have broken loose; tupperware strewn about by a curious toddler, the oven not working (again) and my bread slumping miserably in a defeated state, dishes piling high and coffee burning from a busy morning.  Then, I’ll see that cheery rug with all its red, ruby goodness and a sigh of happiness goes straight to some aesthetic portion of my brain.

The red-rugged kitchen may be limited but my thoughts are soaring lately as I’ve mused my way through Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,  by Barbara Kingsolver; a book about eating locally grown food for one year. It’s a fun, insightful and very challenging read, but it inevitably leaves me a little hard-pressed to carry out any of my newfound moral principles. And all lofty principles aside, what I really want to do is just live in a farmhouse with a gigantic garden and heaps of chickens with fresh eggs while my children run around like ragamuffins with dirty knees and twigs in their hair. THAT is not going to happen anytime soon, possibly ever. The closest I can get is a small plastic pot of contaminated soil sitting on my tiled back patio. So, Barbara I love your work but all your talk of August kitchens overflowing with blood-red tomatoes and your pantry piled high with cans of homemade pasta sauces, salsas and sun-dried tomato delights is killing me. I do have a red tea kettle that reminds me of a tomato… it smiles warmly at me as I fill it’s plump, ripe, red potbelly and whistles cheerily, reminding me that there is more to life than gardens.

I think my son would enjoy a garden. But there is one green item he would gladly do without: his green coat. Ari is three and as three year olds do, has a keen sense of fashion that can rival any Gap advertisement on most days. But that is where his reasoning sensibilities end. This coat is warm, it is comfortable, it is laden with stylish capability. But the level of animosity my son feels towards this coat is the highest I have yet seen in any physical object he has come into contact with, and why? Because he is also the proud owner of a very sheek, hand-me-down, “I swear I’m not trying too hard but have somehow pulled off this incredibly outdoorsy, lumberjack look,” Red Vest. It can be fifty degrees below zero with 90 mile an hour winds whipping through your eye sockets or a sweltering, wring-your socks-out, humid summer day and this kid will still beg to wear the Red Vest. Most of the time as we start preparing to go outside, I find myself unwittingly curling into the fetal position in some sort of weird avoidance of the battle that lies ahead. Still, it is red, and it makes him happy (which I understand) even if he is limited in the amount of calendar days he actually gets to wear it.

Red is the color of my little girl’s nose when we play outside in the biting cold. She doesn’t seem to mind. Her entire body is bundled in a mass of puffiness and heat-saving layers that would rival any Chinese grandmother’s skill. But still, her nose gets chapped and ruddy with cold. It makes me think of all those little kids out there who don’t have the Olympic Winning Layers on that she does. And their fingers and toes and tiny little bums are far more numb with cold than hers will ever be. When I see my children wrapped in red coats, knowing the blessings of space heaters and rugs, tea kettles and warm clothes- I can’t help but feel a yawning ache for all those who have no resources to stay warm, and wonder what more I could do about it. I laugh at my son’s silly pickiness, but ultimately hope he grows to be thankful for what he’s been given and eager to give out of that to others. More on that next time. For now… seeing red and trying to be grateful for it.

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