CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)


HED:John Armistead: Opposites not only attract but can complement

The following is a report to me by Nemo of a conversation between Nemo and his grandmother, Elvira Steinwither, two nights ago.

Nemo arrived at her house in Trebloc in the late afternoon. Mrs. Steinwither was in the backyard at her easel.

She'd set up a still life of bananas, apples and grapes on the edge of the back porch.

Nemo looked at the canvas for several minutes without saying anything.

His grandmother was adding highlights to the grapes.

"I was going to come see you directly," she said.

"You don't need to be driving," he said.

"Alan would have driven me. He's ready to do the least little thing for me anytime I ask him."

"Coming to see me would be a 'least little thing'?"

"You know what I mean."

"I don't think I've ever seen purple bananas," Nemo said. "And the grapes are yellow and the apples green."

"I love green apples best," she said.

"But the ones on the porch there are red. And the grapes are purple and the bananas yellow. How come you painted them all like that?"

She smiled and wiped a paint brush with a rag.

"Those are their complements," she explained. "Every color has an opposite, its 'complement,' on the color wheel. It's important to know a color's complement if you need to tone it down, for example. Only its complement will do the job."

Nemo made a face. "But, purple bananas?"

"Actually it's violet," she said. She picked up a palette knife and began mixing two colors. "Did you take Latin in school? I thought so. Then you'll recognize the word complement' comes from complementum. It means 'that which fills up or completes.' The basic verb, compleo, was used in the Roman military to mean bringing up a unit of legionnaires to its full strength. 'Complete' comes from the same word. Isn't that interesting?"

"I can understand green apples and even yellow grapes, but I don't think I could eat purple bananas."

"Violet," she corrected. "You weren't listening to me, were you?"

"Why were you coming to see me?" he asked.

"I think in time you'll get used to Alan."

"He's not my grandfather."

"No one can ever take your grandfather's place, and, believe me, Alan doesn't intend to try."

"What's wrong with just painting stuff the way it is?" he asked. "How come you have to change things? Why don't you ever see things the way they really are?"

There was an edge to his voice.

She set her palette and knife on the small table beside the easel and took both his hands in hers and said, "Let's sit down on the steps."

She kept holding his hands but didn't say anything for a long time. Nemo's face was turned away from her.

Finally she spoke. "Look at me, Nemo."

Slowly he brought his eyes to meet her eyes.

"Don't you know I love you more than anything in all the world?" she asked. "Don't you know you're all I've got left? And nothing can ever change that."

There were tears in Nemo's eyes. "But Mr. Watts said y'all were going off, moving away."

She snorted and laughed. "I ain't moving no place. That old fool is just talking about a honeymoon. That's all. We'll be back."

"I guess I'm still not used to the idea," he said.

"There'll be someone for you someday," she said. "Someone who won't betray you. Someone who really will be your complement."

He smiled a little and gave her a sly look. "Is Mr. Watts gonna tone you down?" he asked.

"What! Tone me down?" She drew her hands out of his. "What you taking about."

"Complementary colors. You said-"

"We are going to complete each other. That's what I was trying to say."

Nemo grinned. "Whatever," he said.

John Armistead is Daily Journal religion editor.

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