I have always been bothered by purple asters. Every year about this time they come into bloom with their fine mauve petals and tiny yellow centres. I see them everywhere growing on roadsides, in ditches and along the wooded trails by my house. I see them in people’s gardens, too, where I suppose it can be argued that they add ‘fall colour’. But wherever I see them, they irritate me.
Mauve, you see, is not a fall colour. It does not blend in with the deep red of maple leaves or the yellowing leaves of the coneflowers and daylilies. I think it looks terrible with the tall grasses that have turned harvest-gold and with the rich, warm colours of the sumac. To me, mauve belongs in pastel-coloured springtime. The purple crocus and yellow daffodils would offer a far more suitable backdrop for those asters than anything here in October.
This tirade was going on in my mind while I was out for a walk recently. Then from the far reaches of my memory I recalled, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me…”
Those are the opening lines from “The Warning” by Jenny Joseph. In the 1960’s she wrote a poem about the outrageous behaviour she was planning for her golden years. “I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired,” she wrote. “And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells/And run my stick along the public railings…I shall go out in my slippers in the rain/And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens…” She would probably love these mauve asters that clash with the fall colours, I thought to myself. That would be just like her.
My mother loved that poem. Although she was a quiet and conventional woman who never rocked the boat, she always told me that when she got old she would live with that kind of wild abandon. “Someday,” she would say. “Someday I will leave behind this life on the straight and narrow, and I will wear purple with a red hat that doesn’t go”. And I believed her.
Sadly, dementia set in when my mother was only in her 50’s. By the time she was in her early sixties, life had become a struggle. She could no longer zip zippers, set the table or count to three, nevermind choose her outfits. Her hopes for an outrageous retirement had come to nothing. There would be no wearing purple with a red hat that didn’t go.
As I passed by another clump of mauve asters blooming wildly in the autumn sun, I thought to myself that those flowers, unlike my mother, had the chance to bloom exactly as they pleased. “To heck with convention,” they huffed. “I will do whatever want, thank you very much”. They didn’t care that mauve flowers and red leaves don’t go together. And I began to appreciate their spirit of outrageousness and rebellion.
I can’t say that I love those mauve flowers. I still think they clash with the fall colours around them. Still, I have come to admire their character. There is something to be said for defying convention and thumbing your nose at polite expectation. Perhaps someday, like those asters, I will have the opportunity to wear purple, too. With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me, of course.