Our memory is a convoluted concept. We still know so little about the brain in general. However, we all know the power nostalgia and memories hold over our emotional state. Our brains have the wonderful capacity for associative learning and memory. The American Psychological Association tells us this is what allows us to learn and remember the relationship between unrelated items.
Items, senses and situations all play associative games in our brains that help us recall past moments. It’s why when I smell coffee in the morning, I’m brought back to my mother sitting on our old green couch. I start to feel emotional as nostalgia waves over me as I remember my mother’s old coffee machine and morning rituals. Memories are so powerful, and a driving force of our decisions, our emotions and our outlooks.
There is no stronger storytelling narrative than the stories we tell about ourselves. I also believe that colors are all influential parts of our associative memory. All of us can look at a color, but experience something different. I wanted to gather a collection of memories from different people all around Chicago. In an exploration of colors and memory, I want to sift through the stories I gathered throughout the city in order of the rainbow – sans indigo. In a sense of personal bias, I disagree with scientists that indigo is its own color, and I will be refuting it in our exploration of the people of Chicago’s colorful memories.
With this, let’s begin with red.
The Urdialez’s Red Rose Petals
Kim and Jackie Urdialez – 46 and 48
My conversation with Kim and Jackie started off with a quarrel over how long they had actually been married. Jacki started to explain to me that it was going on two years before Kim quickly corrected her.
“No! We just had our second anniversary!” Kim told Jackie. Jackie just laughed and admitted,
“Oh well there you go, so going on 3!” Jackie made sure to emphasize the three to me.
Jackie and Kim have been together for 12 years. Texas residents, the Urdialezs were in Chicago for the week on a work trip when I stopped them at The Bean.
“I packed up my job to be with her for the week,” Jackie told me. I tried to keep an air of journalistic professionalism but caught myself “awwing” at many points in their story. Kim started the story off for me.
“It was our 6th anniversary. You made me a cake with black and white damask icing with red roses on top.” Kim told Jackie. They were in Austin for their anniversary. Jackie described she had stressed over getting the cake from San Antonio, their home, to Austin.
The two bounced off each other in perfect sync. Kim would disclose one detail to me, and Jackie would finish her sentence. They managed to rebound off each other without ever really interrupting each other. I could tell that these two have been working as a team for a while. A collected unit, working towards each other’s goals.
I asked if the roses on the cake were icing or fake flowers, but to my surprise, they were actual roses.
“Real rose! The petals were the deepest red,” Kim told me. She told me that as soon as she heard red, she thought of this memory. The relationship between the two and this cake didn’t end on that anniversary weekend though.
“That’s the first time we ordered that cake with the red roses from an exclusive cake shop. [The shop] ended up being the maker of our wedding cake,” Jackie told me.
Kim’s Instagram is filled with throwbacks to her wedding. She describes it as “Their Biggest Date Ever”. This feels like a fitting description. As they giggled with each other, they reminded me of the couples still in their honeymoon phase, despite being with each other for over a decade.
Red for Jackie and Kim means more than just passionate love. This feels like a bond deeply formed out of respect, admiration and icing. The two are more than the spark of red flaring passion. They are the red of blood, one that bonds the two as a family and a team.
The Flores Sisters’ Orange Magic Sand
Angelica Flores – 17
Humboldt Park resident Angelica Flores was with her friends laughing and taking some selfies when I approached her group for an interview. Angelica and her friends attend Pritzker College Prep. It’s Angelica’s senior year, so she was in the park taking senior pictures with her friends. When I asked if anyone would be willing to talk with me, they all looked at each other and laughed nervously. It was Angelica who stepped up and told me she would love to.
Angelica can’t remember what beach they were on when she saw the sunset with her sister.
While the details of that family vacation she took when she was 5 are still fuzzy, she can recall watching the sunset with her sister.
“When the sun is setting, everything looks orange,” Angelica said.
It was at that beach where Angelica and her sister Guadalupe found and took the sand and seashells, then placed it in a bag and took what they called “magic sand” back home with them. While they may have left the orange-soaked beach behind, their magic sand remained.
“Wherever we went that had a little piece of magic, we went back and put the sand there,” Angelica told me.
Angelica and Guadalupe have placed the sand in pockets around the city, notably their favorite places. A Starbucks in Wicker Park, and behind their favorite tree on Montrose Beach. The sisters went back to see if their magic sand remained.
“It wasn’t there anymore, but we still know that’s where we left it,” Angelica laughed. It seems like the sisters are able to find lots of magic throughout the windy city.
“We only have a tiny little bit left!” Angelica said, squinting her eyes and closing her fingers to show me.
This connection with her sister is really important. Angelica and Guadalupe lost their mother when they were young. Angelica told me how important her family memories are to her.
“We have memories, and they are something that we can share,” Angelica told me. The pair may have lost their mom, but they share her together through collective memories. The two were able to find connections through things like small memories or silly traditions. These traditions and memories can keep relationships and bonds strong.
“Orange to me is sisterhood,” Angelica told me.
Orange to Angelica was in her laughter. It is the silliness of sisterhood and the admiration behind it. It is the shared understanding of each other. Angelica helped me understand how memories don’t only belong to us, but can be shared moments that can live within each other.
Johnny’s Yellow Alabama Easters
Johnny Henderson – 63
Johnny was sitting on the cement at Oak Street Beach when I approached him. It seemed like the entire city was buzzing as the weather finally decided to give the citizens of Chicago a break. Johnny looked like the picture of contentment bathing in the sun rays. I sat down next to him on the hot concrete as he began to speak.
He told me he had been visiting this exact beach for 48 years. I told him that I only knew about this beach for 8 months. He laughed at my youth as he began to tell me about his.
Johnny is from Mobile, Alabama, a port city on the Gulf Coast. He moved here to Chicago in 1968 when he was 11. He told me that yellow brings him back to Alabama Easters with his family. He explained to me the traditional Easter outfits he would wear.
“I got a chance to wear my nice yellow outfit. It was all yellow, it was just pure country,” laughed Johnny. He described that every Easter from his head to his toes he was decked out in a light yellow for church.
“It was wonderful, going to church, reciting everything, and then afterwards, the baked goods,” Johnny said. I was curious about what kind of southern cuisine was included at the Easter table. However when I asked, Johnny just told me about his favorite baked goods.
“Chocolate cake, or strawberry coconut sheet cake” Johnny said, with his eyes closed. I could tell throughout the entire story he was visualizing these sunny days with his family. I asked him to describe his family, but I was still left a little confused.
“Immediate? Two older brothers, and outside the family I have about 7,” Johnny remarked. He continued to go through cousins and a sister he has. However I started to get lost in his big family tree.
“We were so close, all of us are still close. We are old now, we gotta be close. We don’t have many days left,” Johnny said this part much quicker than how he described the rest of his story, like it was something he wanted to mention but not hang on to it during the conversation.
Johnny’s age is a unique perspective that I cannot relate to. Age can impact memories and their value, especially when time is one of the most finite things we possess.
There was something really special about the conversation me and Johnny had. It was one of my shortest conversations out of the 6.
Johnny, unlike the others, kept his details short and sweet. There was no sugarcoat to his words and I think it is because Johnny encapsulated contentment. He seemed to take life as it is, rather than dwell on what it is not. I don’t think this means he lived without mistakes or regrets. Johnny showed me that memories can shift meaning over time. His Easter days in yellow suits may have just been a family tradition to him once, but now they represent a time when he was young with his family and didn’t have to watch the clock counting down the time left.
I can only hope when I start to count down the number of my days, I can look back at my own memories and realize how much they meant then and now.
Meredith’s Green Meadows at Evamere Hill
Meredith Bach -19
DePaul film student Meredith Bach sat down and ensured I knew her last name was spelled like the composer. While she grew up in Cleveland, she was born in California. There is an undeniable West Coast air to Meredith that is shown through her blond hair when she longboards down a sunny street. She shares her blonde hair with her twin sister Lydia.
“She is a carbon copy of me, we are the same exact person,” she told me. “When college started to become a thought at the forefront of our minds, we thought we should separate because individual development is super integral for both of us.”
The last few months Meredith has bloomed into an individual. She is surrounded by friends in a big city, and she told me that her love for city life has only grown. However, this big move and separation from her sister has also allowed Meredith time for reflection about her new life.
“The city is so beautiful, it’s a concrete jungle. But there’s literally no jungle. There’s very limited green space. I am not used to it,” Meredith admitted.
She described to me the importance of nature to her. She said the way she feels most connected and reflective is when she is surrounded by green.
Her memory starts with this connection to nature. Evamere Hill is located in Hudson Ohio. Meredith describes it as a sprawling valley of hills. It is a short longboard ride from her house. She would sit below the biggest tree in the valley. This oak tree is where she would go if she needed any sort of connection to make her way back to herself.
“This is my favorite place in the entire world, it’s my favorite tree in the entire world,” she laughed. Meredith is beautiful with her words. She laid the perfect picture out as she described laying back under the tree and looking up towards the sky –– the leaves were the only things she could see, with every shade of green possible as the light reflected off and into the leaves.
“It’s wonderful, it looks like an oil painting.” Meredith awed. “Like angels had taken pieces of nature and delicately cut them out with scissors and folded them into little leaves to put on the tree”
Meredith explained that over quarantine in March and April of 2020, she spent a lot of time in this spot reflecting. She had started to come to some hard truths about herself and her worldview after what she said was a horrible heartbreak. It was here, she told me that she could properly process these new realities.
Facing west, watching the sun is when Meredith was able to “Take those truths in with gentle hands and digest them slowly, rather than be overwhelmed by them”
Green to Meredith means reflection. It is a type of reflection that holds no malice behind its truth. It is the type of green that rolls over the hills of a valley. The valleys are expansive and wide, but not overwhelming. Simply there.
Blue Beaches for Two Brothers
Emani and Elijah Ford – 6 and 11
I met the Ford family as they were playing on the beach. After getting Mom and Dad’ss approval, I caught up to the running boys. The first 3 questions I asked the boys, they answered as siblings often do: in sync and over each other. This is how the rest of my conversation with the boys would go. But my training as an eldest sister and cousin had prepared me for this day. The ice cream cart behind us jingled as I started asking questions.
I asked if they were from Chicago.
“No,” they both replied at the same time.
I asked where they were from
“Cincinnati,” they both said as they looked up at me. I decided I should sit down so I could speak at their level. I asked if they were on a vacation, and “yes,” they said, and Emani nudged Elijah slightly.
I figured I needed to get a little more specific to get more specific answers. I asked if they liked Chicago so far.
“Yes” they repeated. My shoulders dropped in worry. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to drag some answers out of these boys. I started to consider giving up on interviewing a kid altogether, or at least trying to interview only one at a time. But right then is when Emani spoke up.
“But some people are mean!” Emani shouted. The two boys started talking about mean people on the street. I decided to start on my memory questions before I lost the boys’ attention.
I asked them slowly and simply, What is a memory that reminds you of the color blue?
The boys looked at me, then at the beach.
“This is our first time at the beach,” said Emani. This was unrelated to my question, but hey, we were getting somewhere.
Elijah looked up. “The sky was blue when we first came to Chicago and saw all the tall buildings,” Elijah said. I hadn’t known the boys for long, but the oldest sibling in me recognized it in Elijah. He was taller than Emani, but what Emani lacked in height to his brother, he made up in personality for the both of them.
As Emani became distracted with the sand, Elijah told me they had been to a beach. ”The last time we went to the beach it was in Florida and I had on some blue shorts. The water was blue, it was a lot of fun and our papa was there and our uncle,” Elijah said smiling. I started to ask Elijah how he felt about his family. He talked about how much he loved his uncle and papa.
“My family is a good family, they are nice to people and not RUDE like Chicago people,” Emani emphasized, saying matter-of-factly, “We are not like Chicago people.”
I spoke to Elijah and Emani’s mom about the rude people. She told me that some of them were just the typical people you meet on the street in the city, but he really meant that the rude people were the ones that impounded the family car.
They had no way of getting home and had to figure out how to use the city’s transportation to get back to the hotel. The Ford family didn’t have enough money to get their car back from the impoundment lot. They would also have to figure out how to get tickets for a Greyhound bus home.
I showed them the apps that could help them with transportation and how the Red Line worked. After about 20 minutes of talking about Amtrak fares, the CTA and Greyhound buses, the Ford family and I had come up with a solid plan for their journey back to Cincinnati. They thanked me, and started packing up the beach.
Everyone misses being a child. These boys, despite being unaware of the car situation, played happily on the beach. They were happy to have any attention on them, especially the camera, which they immediately flexed for. Their memories were mixed up with others and they ran out of breath at times trying to tell me all of them. I hope these boys keep their spirit, and continue to see life through clearer eyes.
While the Ford family were packing up the boys came back one last time, to tell me how blue makes them feel.
“It makes me sad, and when we are in the water it makes me happy,” he said looking down at his feet. “I guess it is sad and happy” Emani said looking back up to me.
I looked at both the brothers and told them their feelings sounded a little complicated. “Yeah it is really complicated,” Eljah said.
We started to go our separate ways and I started to think about how even at 19, most of my emotions still feel complicated. I wondered how old I would have to get to understand my emotions. Would I have to make it to 63 like Johnny? Or will the world make sense when I find love like the Urdialez couple? I turned around as I heard one last scream.
“Oh! Blue is also my favorite color!” screamed Elijah.
Kelly’s Purple Lipstick at Beat Kitchen
Kelly Coch – 37
I met Chicago native Kelly and her daughter Lola sitting at the Crown Fountains. Lola, dressed in a flower sweater, babbled with an empty plastic cup as her mom Kelly smiled.
Lola is 18 months old, and continued to play quietly with her cup as me and her mom spoke about the color purple.
“I used to have this shade of lipstick I really liked,” Kelly told me. “I was wearing it the day I met her daddy; my husband.”
Alex Coch met Kelly at a music concert at Beat Kitchen in Roscoe Village. Kelly was wearing a purple lipstick in the shade of Coven by KatVonD Cosmetics. They both went to the concert alone and met each other there.
I’m still on the fence regarding fate. I’m not sure if there is a predestined plan for all of us. It could also be totally up to every decision we have ever made.
But Kelly’s story makes me believe that there are little forces, persuading us to pursue certain paths. Alex and Kelly both met each other alone that night. I’d like to think that it was Kelly’s purple lipstick that convinced Alex to talk to her on that night in Roscoe Village.
“He just had an energy about him, I could tell he was a very kind, genuine person even before I got to know him. Everyone at shows put on their outfits and try to look cool, but he was just there just experiencing it. I know this because it’s kinda rare.”
Alex and Kelly married in January of 2018. Their Scorpio baby would come almost three years after that.
“I married him without ever seeing him with a shaved face. I made a joke that I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Kelly laughed. “It shows I really loved him!”
Purple is often associated with royalty and mystery. However, Kelly feels that the color purple means other things.
“I think it’s very romantic. I associate it with confidence. It’s inviting,” Kelly said.
I can’t help but imagine young Kelly, dancing in the Beat Kitchen to live music, her lips a blaring shade of purple. It reminds me that love can be found anywhere, whether that be in a group of friends, on tinder, or a night out alone listening to music.
In talking to the people around the city, I found that everyone’s memories were about love in one way or another. The love for a spouse, family or themselves were the memories that stood out to each of them. And this doesn’t surprise me one bit. The emotions that are associated with an important memory are always going to be strong ones, and what stronger emotion is love?
I think we can find love in every part of our life. The fruit your mom cuts up for you, the funny TikTok your sister sends, or the shoulder punch your brother gives. It could be the door your classmate held open or the seat you give up on a train. It doesn’t have to be the same type of love for everyone. However, an appreciation of each individual’s humanity, to me, is enough to show each other a little bit of love.
Every person I pass on the street has a collection of memories and people that matter to them. We carry our love for each other through these memories, and it helps us create new ones. Make the plan today to look for love in your life, and I bet you’ll find the important memories will become subtle loved filled ones too.
Header image by Aylene Lopez