THE boy has chosen his colours. They are different to those he chose three years ago, when, at the age of five, he was first fully aware of the game. They are different to many of his friends, but he appears to have made a final decision. The colours have set.
On weekends he looks forward to watching the men in his colours. He mainly sees them on the television but on a few occasions his father has taken him to the oval in the city to see the men running about in the vast green field.
The boy’s colours are not those of his father but this has not caused any tension. The father’s belief in his own chosen colours was weakening anyway and he saw no sense in trying to impose something that was losing its meaning.
The father knows the boy will face fads and temptations but he hopes that his son will remain true to his colours, and they true to him, for some time yet.
At about the same age the father was chosen by the Sisters of Our Lady to lead out his fellow first holy communicants. The grade two boys wore dark shorts, a white shirt and a green tie. The girls wore a green tunic with a white blouse.
The father remembers moments from the day. He had to count the number of times the altar boy rang the little bell and then, when Father Tressider nodded, he knew it was time to step up to receive communion. The first amongst peers.
Afterwards there was a little party in the church hall with cakes and brightly coloured soft drinks. But mostly he remembers walking home alone. In soft rain. And sensing the importance of the occasion already dissipating.
The family, all eight of them, went to church every Sunday. There was colour in the morning Mass: the gold of the chalice, the red of the wine, the purple or green which often lined the priest’s vestments. But by his teenage years he felt everything was reduced to black and white, to heaven and hell, to right and wrong. Or to the purple of the bruises from the Christian Brother’s leather straps. Eventually it all faded to grey, to a nothingness.
The father, like the son, has been choosing colours too: contemplating the many hues of a paint chart. For one room of the home he thought not so much of a colour but of a sense of a beach. For another room he started with the word ‘ochre’.
In looking for the right colours he comes across all manner of names on the paint charts: ‘serenity’, ‘peaceful’, ‘pearly gates’, ‘Arcadia’, ‘divinity’. He wonders if there are colours called ‘belief’ or ‘God’. He finds his wife’s name amongst the little rectangular boxes and considers painting the whole home, and his whole life, a light sky blue.
There’s a doubt as he begins to paint the loungeroom. A doubt that what’s on the chart may not be quite what’s in the tin, which may not be quite what appears on the walls. He continues though, with a faith that the colour and the very act of painting will make a difference, if only in a small way, to his life.
Out the front window he can see his son, wearing his chosen jumper, kicking his football in the street. Sometimes alone, in the soft rain. But happy, as he runs and bounces and kicks and marks.
So the father puts down his brushes and his rollers and goes to the local oval with his son, where the only colours that really matter are the light blue of the sky, the rich green of the grass, and the fading red of the ball. True colours, as true as any colours on a jumper, or in a church, or on a wall.
First published in The Age (2001) and then in Jacaranda Avenue, vignettes of family life (2003).
(One of my favourite photos from the Almanac library of Mathilde’s ‘Cygnet’ against a uniquely Australian backdrop: Editor)