Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Colours of Remembrance

One of the Grafton Street flower ladies braving the cold.
On a cold and damp morning, I was standing with the flower sellers on Grafton Street, trying to decide what to choose, when a little girl came along with her father. They were talking about buying flowers for her mother. I admired the pluck of this little one, who knew exactly what she wanted. She confidently chose pink roses, because pink is her mom's favourite colour and roses are her mom's best-loved flowers.

In that very moment I realized that I knew neither what my mother's favourite colour had been, nor her flower of choice. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I left the flower stands, without a bouquet, and walked back through St. Stephen's Green with tears streaming down my face. The colour and the flower most favoured by my mother; this is something I should know, I thought. Surely I must have known, at some point in time, but now I can no longer recollect those favourites.

Walking past the fallow beds of the gardens in the green, I felt very troubled, and wondered about all of the other things I did not know about my mom. I sat down on one of the benches and watched  people go by. After a while two women — possibly mother and daughter — came down the footpath, linked arm in arm, laughing and talking together. Seeing them made me brighten up and, instead of wallowing in my gloom, I began to think about what I really do know about my mom. It occurred to me that colours seem to play a role in many of the memories I have about my mother. Often with each memory there is a specific colour that stands out for me. They are the colours of remembrance.

That very special enamel broach
My recollections brought me to a time when I was a young child, and I asked my mother what she had wanted to be when she was growing up. Mom told me that when she was a young girl, she used to dream about becoming an opera singer. 

The times my mother sang during my childhood were rare, but I recall holiday gatherings at which my father and their friends would talk her into singing the one song she always loved to sing, 'The Quest', popularly known as 'The Impossible Dream'. Occasionally she would ask that the lights in the room be lowered, and when the room was fully quiet, she would begin to sing. Her clear and agile soprano voice would deftly move through the lyrics of the tune to the crescendo. 

Sometimes as my mother drew the song to a close there were tears in her eyes, and I would wonder what had brought them there, but would never dare ask. I recall one Christmas celebration in particular, when Mom was asked to sing, and the look in her eyes seemed distant and sad. On that evening she was dressed in soft celadon green, or perhaps it was rose; I do not precisely recall. However, what does stand out in my recollections is the pin she wore at her neckline. It was this green enamel broach with a bluish-pink stone at the centre, a piece of her costume jewellery that I treasured when I was a child, and still do. For me green, blue and pink are the colours of this memory.


My mother had always wanted to travel to Vienna, Austria, but for some reason never did. There were two things in particular that she dreamed of doing in Vienna, going to the Opera House and, with my father, attending a ball at the Hofburg Palace. Mom would picture herself dressed as she was when she and my father attended dress dances when they were courting in Ireland. In Vienna, she envisioned them dancing her favourite, the Viennese waltz. My father would be in black tie, of course, and Mom would picture herself wearing a silk taffeta gown, with a very full skirt, and long white evening gloves. She imagined she could hear the swish of the fabric as she turned, and she could see the way in which her gown would sweep across the floor as my father led her, circling round and round in a quadrille.

Mom was beginning to think about the possibility of such a trip when my father first began to show the signs of what would eventually be diagnosed as terminal lung cancer. After Dad died, Mom never again wanted to even consider such a trip. Sometimes I imagine my mother and my father dancing that waltz together in a heavenly ballroom, especially when I look at old photographs from their evenings at dress dances. I picture her white-gloved hand on the shoulder of my father's black tuxedo. Black and white are the colours of this memory.

My father and mother with a group of friends and family at one of those dress dances.
Unfortunately I can only identify a few of the people in the image.
Back row: Unknown, my father Michael Geraghty, his uncle William Halpin, Richard Barnwell, Seamus Barnwell.
Middle row: My father's maternal aunt Mollie Magee Halpin, my mother Mary Ball, May Halpin Barnwell, unknown.
Front row: all unknown.

One of my favourite pictures is this candid shot of my mother and father that I took at my brother's wedding. Mom and Dad were on the dance floor — dancing beautifully together as they always did — and I hurried over to them to take the photo. Mom was dressed in rose with a corsage of small cream-coloured roses on her shoulder and Dad was wearing a traditional black tuxedo.

When Mom passed away, my sister-in-law helped me as I chose an outfit for my mother's burial. When I opened Mom's cupboard my eyes settled on that rose-coloured suit. Somehow I knew my mother would be happy with the choice of the outfit she had worn at the wedding of her only son. The colours of these memories are rose, cream and black.


Do you associate any particular colours with memories of loved ones in your life?



  1. Prescient indeed Jennifer! I felt for you with the Grafton St experience and could visualise you there. No wonder you were overcome, but just look at the wonderful memories of your Mum you have, and the colours that accompany them. I think perhaps some people are less "into" flowers, and that for many in earlier generations there wasn't money for flowers.

    1. Thanks very much for your lovely comments Pauleen, and for your commiseration with my Grafton St. experience. There are some wonderful memories to think about, and I am so thankful for those images and objects, and flowers, that spark those memories.



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