Skip to content


Color Me Blue

But save me from mellow marzipan

By Ruth Moose

I just saw a purple car. Truly. Welch’s Grape Juice purple. A muscadine grape purple. And that made me think of the old poem about a purple cow. How I’d rather see one than be one. Well, I’d rather see a purple car than own one.

Or the French’s mustard-colored yellow car. Or the kiwi green baby SUV. Where do these colors come from? The chocolate (not brown) but Hershey’s chocolate-colored car. I once asked my friend, who had just bought a cute little sort of bronze-ish, mandarin-colored car what the dealer called it.

“Oh,” she said with a laugh, “it’s called green tangerine.”

Imagine at some black tie and evening gown function, handing your keys to a parking attendant and telling him, “It’s the green tangerine one.”

When my family and I lived in Charlotte, our next door neighbors were the Beans. Both their cars were, of course, green. The green bean cars. I don’t know if they bought green cars on purpose or just liked the color green. Does it matter?

My own first car was an Opel. A perky, polished, gleaming emerald green. I loved that car. It had spirit, and I mourned when we traded it in for a Ford Country Squire station wagon. A station wagon that hauled a camping trailer to parks and campgrounds from Maine to Georgia. (We never made it to Florida before our sons turned teenagers and outgrew the overhead bunk, making the whole outfit too tight a fit for four adult-sized humans.)

An automotive generation or so ago, when my car turned over 200,000 miles and I went to the dealer’s lot to look for a new one, I didn’t even have to wander among the parked beauties set out for my admiration, screaming “Buy me! Buy me!” I had already spotted mine when I drove in. Right there on the front row. My car: a Carolina blue sedan. It was meant for me. It called my name, and as long as I owned it, never gave me a moment’s concern, not one worry.

I didn’t even have to test drive it. Just pointed the car out to the salesman. He got the keys and opened the door suggesting that I, at the very least, should sit in the driver’s seat. Try it out. I didn’t have to. The color had already sold me. Of course she was named Caroline. In my family, whether we admit it or not, we do name our cars. My Aunt Pearl called her last Pontiac Esmeralda. A friend just introduced me to her sleek, new gray Subaru, “Joan Didion.” Another friend called her car Betsy Cupcake because once, after we had a couple of inches of really pretty fluffy snow, she looked out in her driveway where the little car stood with snow on its roof like icing. She said it looked like a big, fat cupcake.

My grandfather, one of those baptizing-in-the-river Baptist preachers, had traveled to his churches and revivals in Davidson, Montgomery and Stanly Counties on horseback and later in a buggy. When he got his first car, a model something or other Ford, he was a terrible driver. Fortunately, there were few cars on the road and fewer still on the backroads he traveled. The story goes that one time he came home tired and probably distracted, drove straight into the garage (which was known as the car shed), then proceeded to drive straight out the back wall of the garage, all the while yelling “Whoa, Nellie! Whoa!”

Nellie did not stop. Nellie had been the name for all the horses he owned — horses with enough sense to know when they were home.

Maybe we name our cars for the horses held captive under the hood. As for the colors, Lord only knows what’s coming next. We could always ask Nellie.  PS

Ruth Moose taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for 15 years and tacked on 10 more at Central Carolina Community College.