The Lady in the Purple House

The year is 1975. My mother, Jane, admires the deep lilac front door on my Victorian house and decides that, more always being more, she will have their stately four-square home—then sporting tones of olive and pale lemon—repainted in ‘a nice shade of purple.’ As the family color guru, I am assigned to pick a proper choice at the Pittsburgh Paint store and the muted grayed-lavender I choose for the body is a pleasing complement to the dark green shingled roof.

“I think if you walk past the color purple and don’t notice it, it makes God mad.”

Shug Avery from The Color Purple

Above: Jane in 1976 at Genesis Center Opening

(Early Black & White Period)

My red-headed mother always gravitated to bright cheery colors—mainly turquoise and greens—and when it came time to touch up that paint job, took matters into her own hands and decided that it should really be a brighter purple. And then she decided the trim such be an even bolder shade of purple. Every few years, apparently, it started looking a bit drab to her and she would up the saturation a bit more. By the 1980’s, it was known only as ‘The Purple House’, and was considered a local eccentricity worth seeing. She later added a purple fence along the side yard, but the lavender roses she planted next to it refused to bloom.

Flanking the front drive, seventy-year-old junipers were damaged severely by bagworms one season, and my mother insisted my father cut off the dead greenery to the bare branches, then went out for several cans of purple spray paint to apply to the stubby trunks. That was the year I began to be rather embarrassed to take new friends, especially gay friends with discriminating taste, by the house.

By 1998, mother was proudly driving a new Dodge Intrepid in ‘Wild Lilac’ and she had also wrapped her favorite palette around the exterior brick of her Main Street travel office. Deep royal purple banded the bottom third of the building with a bright turquoise band topping it. The old aluminum awnings over the front entry and upper windows of the building were carefully coordinatingly striped.

The entire effect was such that she was given a full-page feature article in the lifestyle section of the Knoxville Journal that same year. It was not until I actually reread that clipping, found in storage last week, that I realized why she had adopted the ‘royal hue’ as her own. “When I was a child, red-heads were not supposed to wear purple or red and I was always dressed in yellows and blues—colors I detest to this day!” she told that reporter

Sale Day of Purple House with new owner, Jim Crabtree, director of Cumberland Co. Playhouse

The Purple House was sadly sold in 2002, but is now inhabited by a cousin, and both he and my mother are of a mind that someday it will be converted to a local museum. We know for sure it will be where her memorial service will be held. Meanwhile, Mother, today at 86, is continuing her legacy at a nursing home, where her side of the room is a riot of purple. Resting comfortably in her purple velour pantsuit, propped on her purple pillows and covered with a fat stack of purple spreads—some hand-crocheted gifts, and a bouquet of silk purple iris across the way, she admits she’s getting tired of people sticking their head in the door and asking “does someone in here like purple?” Mother was gifted with a pair of purple Crocs and matching socks by two teenage girls last summer and fur-lined suede lavender boots with magenta embroidered flowers by a young cousin this past Christmas. I know better than to visit wearing any color other than purple. I have just one sweater set which fits the bill; over the years I have come to avoid purple and magenta in décor and clothing at all cost.

Jane Anne and Chauncey Jane, grandaughter

This past weekend, my daughter, Chauncey and I spent an early Mother’s Day with Jane, as she is called by her grandkids. After a serious stroke this past January, she has recovered somewhat, although the right side of her body still is not all in working order. We found her napping with her boots on, as she says all her purple socks (all six pairs) have gone missing. We did observe that she had at least felt like being wheeled to the hairshop for a touchup on her locks. After the stroke, she was too weak for such vanities and her hair had grown out to a pinkish white that I really thought was becoming. I encouraged her to keep it natural, but the Lady Clairol habit dies (no pun intended) hard!


4 comments on “The Lady in the Purple House”

  1. having had the pleasure to a bit player in this tale of purple evolution, you should know that this blog made me weep. that slow, uncontrolled welling of tears that roll one at a time down the face as if regulated by some unseen mechanism.

    there are several reasons why i think this happened, but mostly, for me, when i read this, i was transported back to those days when i was just discovering who i wanted to be. and thanks to you and your little yellow subaru, and that wonderfuly exotic purple house, my life began to take on a colour of it’s own….everything before running through my memories in shades of black and white. sometimes, memories can bolster and sustain, or on days like today, they fill me with regret and a sense of loss. i suppose that the beauty of hope is that there is still time enough to get some of the purple back.

  2. your words bring a tear to my eye, too, dear friend. am loving catching up with you via your blog and website!

  3. since I have been so completely unable to communicate via any regular method such as actual visiting, phone calls, and now even e-mails, i have found that i can still manage to get some of me out on the web. Though 98% of what i post is never seen or read. I wish that photos would be viewed and critiqued – but instead, my experience in the cyber-realm is mostly a hollow, lonely experiment. I also have a site at MySpace

  4. I love this. Couldn’t you have picked a better picture of me and Jane though?

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