When I was about 8, I noticed one of the summer houses near my grandparents' had a chimney unlike any of the others. I asked my mom about it. "Oh, they sided with England during the Revolution." she said, as if the war between the American Colonies and England had taken place within her lifetime. In Colonial New England, if a family was sympathetic to England they painted their chimneys white and with the black "Tory" stripe around it. These chimneys were a signal to the British troops that they were welcome and could seek out refreshments and, if the house was comodious enough, sleeping quarters. This family was so proud of this particular history that they maintain the Tory stripe on all of their chimneys to this day, some 222 years after the England lost the war. This makes those folks with the Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers still on their cars look like mere pikers they are in the political arena.
America has a long history of using colors to denote the political divide. Six and a half years ago I volunteered to help out at our Annual Episcopal Diocesean Convention. In Michigan, the Episcopal Diocesean Convention is not priests and laypeople sipping tea from fine English china with raised pinkies and nibbling on tea sandwiches. It is a raucous, knockdown, drag'em-out political fight that always ends with screams of insults and tears. When I took a break from manning my booth to witness a debate on a resolution the progressives were trying to pass, my breath was taken away as I gazed across the assembled crowd of clery and laity. It was just a sea of purple ribbons, rainbow ribbons with the purple stripe and the occassional pink ribbon. I turned around and went back to my booth because I knew my side had already lost.
It was after that experience, I realized that for the past 15 years I had been avoiding the color purple like the plague. The reason I had been doing this was because one Saturday morning in 1985, I was on my way to do some work at my office in the Hancock Tower dressed in blue jeans and a kelly green alligator shirt. Unknown to me that day, the Hancock Plaza was the staging area for Boston's Gay Pride Parade. I came out of the subway entrance and was immediately swallowed up in a crowd of both purple and green. People who hardly had clothes on still managed to be wearing green or purple. To this day, I have absolutely no idea what politcal statement the color green meant, I just knew that I was wearing the exact same shade of green that many of the parade-goers were wearing. I ducked my head and ran through the crowds and into my office building. I stayed up there until the parade-goers were long, long gone. When I left, I even used an exit on the other side of the building and slunk home. My green alligator shirt went into a box where it remains to this day.
Sometimes, in a heavily political charged debate, the simple act of donning a shirt that you've worn without problems since high school can drag you into an argument. The Gay Wars were something I did not want to be involved in so from that day forward I adopted the simple practice of not purchasing anything purple or kelly green. Plastic flamingos were definitely out too. This was easy to do this until we bought a home. Flowers come in the most wonderful shades of purple and they mix so nicely with pinks, whites and silvery-greens. But I was forced to avoid them so that none of my fellow parishoners thought I was making a political statement like the New England loyalists had with their chimneys.
The first spring we were Catholic, I filled our hay baskets with various shades of purple flowers. It was glorious and so were the haybaskets. It was so liberating to diffuse purple of its politcal power. Every year since then those baskets have had some form of purple in them. I was reminded of this liberation the other day when I was looking through my stores for a large amount of washable paint. Roger Kimball's future-daughter-in-law is in the process of learning how to read and write. Since our breakfast room needs to be repainted anyway, I decided to paint one side of it with the alphabet so that we could all play word games when we eat. The only paint that I had enough of was purple. We now are the proud owners of a giant 4' X 8' purple alphabet. The kids love it. So does Mr. P. He holds class at 7:15 am over bowls of Rice Krispies and bananas. The kids think its so much fun they forget to eat their cereal. Purple is such a nice color.
I need to dig out that green alligator shirt.