One Woman’s Story About Red

Since the publication of Red is Best I’ve been treated to all kinds of stories from people of all ages about their experiences with the colour red. This spring I was privileged to hear one of the most moving of such stories.

At a volunteer appreciation event at the CNIB, I had the pleasure of chatting with a fellow volunteer I hadn’t seen since I switched from Thursday shifts to Wednesdays. Mai Kirch has been a volunteer there for 15 years. I recalled acting as technician for part of her reading of a book about music history and so I mentioned to her The Man with the Violin on the off chance she might be interested. She recalled that the book was likely A History of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

After our meeting, she emailed me with lovely words about the book I’d mentioned, and she told me she had also “treated herself” to Red is Best. Then she told me her story, which she has kindly given me permission to share.

And since I’ve got your ear, Kathy, I’ll share a very personal bit about the colour red for me and my Mother.

Our little country of origin, with its proud blue, black and white flag colours, was  brutally occupied by our Estonian flagneighbours to the east. It seems they did not have enough land! Tens of thousands were arrested and deported in cattle cars to barren, northern outposts.  Many died there. Their colour was a fiery red and it was everywhere! The blue, black and white flag was banished.

Long after we had arrived in Canada, Mother always steered me away from any clothing items that were red. No, she said, that’s not an acceptable colour. We risked everything to flee from those people and now you want to wear that colour!

So, it was not until I was well into my working years in Ottawa, that I bought my first red jacket on a visit to friends in Florida. It was beautifully tailored, pure wool, and elegant looking. I hemmed and hawed in the shop and finally rationalized the purchase by saying that I would combine the red with a black or navy skirt so there would be no risk of my looking like the flag of our occupiers!

Since then, various red sweaters or jackets have appeared in my closet and I will wear one of them for that special touch of extra confidence, just like your darling girl in the book who felt she did things better wearing red!!

Thank you, Mai, for your story!

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Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.

Kathy Stinson

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