My Love Is A Red, Red Umbrella

by Maria Theresa Maggi on November 15, 2015

chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

Last Sunday my next door neighbor came over to go down into the basement with me to get some extra newspapers to help protect the floor when her new kittens arrive. She also offered to help me put the insulated cover of my patio spigot. It was raining pretty steadily and Romeo and I had already gotten pretty wet trying to put some flyers up, and so I whipped out one of my new umbrellas from IKEA, thinking she would want to get under it too. First I got it stuck on the top of the patio gate because I was busy talking, then in the big tree overhanging the narrow passageway to the basement stairs. I laughed and when she saw I was laughing at myself, she laughed, too. She has lived in Portland all her life and she told me native Portlanders don’t bother with umbrellas. I told her I was glad I could make her laugh. But despite getting it caught–and then, skillfully, I might add–uncaught– from the branches of the nearly empty tree, I was still happy to use it.

There’s something irresistibly romantic and fanciful about umbrellas. They remind me of the love theme from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”And of course classic Gene Kelly and Singin’ in the Rain.  Or more recently, a lovely video I saw of President Obama, sharing his umbrella with his female staff members coming off the plane in a downpour. So gentlemanly and presidential. And when I was a little girl I loved it when my mother would read me this Carl Sandburg poem:

The rain is raining all around,

it falls on field and tree;

It rains on the umbrellas here,

and on the ships at sea.

As a child with mild spasticity, I was always a little startled by the sudden opening of a real umbrella, but very proud of myself when I figured out how to open and close one myself.

I used to love walking down the street on a rainy day with an umbrella. But once I had to use a walking stick, holding both the umbrella and the stick proved to be too much a challenge for my eye-hand-brain connection, and so I went for big hoods and rain pants instead and hoped, as my mother used to say, to “go between the raindrops.” When I got Romeo we outfitted ourselves with rain gear for both of us, in case we got caught in a storm. But maneuvering with the dog leash still pushed the efficient use of an umbrella out of reach. If I couldn’t hold it upright consistently, it became a potential weapon, the kind parents used to say things about like, “Be careful, you’ll put your eye out with that!!”

When I moved to Portland, one of my wonderful readers was going to be in town and we met at a place near my new condo for a Brazilian treat called an acai bowl. She had with her a very pretty umbrella someone had given her, or that she had purchased while on a walking tour in a downpour, and she wanted to give it to me. I told her, gee, thank you very much, but I can’t handle an umbrella and a dog leash very well at the same time, and since Romeo helps me walk, he’s first choice. I said I would be sure to wear my big hoods.

But then fall came and it really started to rain. And rain. Hard. On Halloween Portland got more rain in one day than it has seen in the last four years. I saw that my hoods might not do the job. I had an appointment with a new primary care physician and though Mike was dropping me off, he would be gone to Seattle for the rest of the day, so Romeo and I would be walking back home or waiting for a bus and walking back home. Mike fished out an umbrella from his office and said I should keep it with me, just in case.

I was dubious I would be able to handle it, literally, but I took it, just in case. As it turned out, the sun broke through that afternoon and Romeo and I walked home with hood off and jacket unzipped. I kept the umbrella, a sober, practical black one, near the back door in my kitchen, “just in case.” But I still was really doubtful it would be much use to me.

The weather changes in a flash here.  As the days get shorter, Romeo and I move our evening walk to later afternoon, and once we were all zipped into our various coverings to head out through the patio, it became apparent we were going to get rained on pretty hard. I made a quick decision to grab the umbrella and see if I could even open it without getting it tangled in the dog leash, and wondering if I even remembered how.

When I was successful, I felt the same delight I once felt in grade school. And off we went, through the gate (which I was also able to unlatch and latch while holding the umbrella AND the dog leash) and out into the rainy late afternoon we went.

I could hardly believe it. I was strolling along under an umbrella, holding it without pain or involuntary jerks of my hand that sent it reeling toward the ground or my face. I felt like I was in a movie myself. And then a curious thing happened.

The umbrella turned red. Or at least in my imagination it did. The deepest most true shade of fire engine red, with a lovely sheen of water droplets all over it. The world in November may be a palette of gray, black and white, but this umbrella was like a rose blooming out of season in the midst of it.

I had to laugh. My heart and mind’s eye were full of this beautiful red umbrella. And I knew when I got home, that evening I’d be drawing one.

Later on I wondered where this fanciful vision might have come from and why red. And then I remembered. I’m reading the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Night-time. The narrator is an autistic boy trying to solve the murder of a neighbor’s dog and his favorite color is red. When he sees red cars on the way to school, it means it is a very good day. So I must have taken that cue from the book and created myself a red umbrella. The fact that I could hold the black one made it a very good day indeed, good enough for my imagination to turn it a beautiful shade of satin red.

My hands did get a little tired, so I would switch from time to time, but I did fine negotiating both the leash and the umbrella handle. I thought it might be harder with a backpack of groceries, or a different handle (this one was thick and straight) but I told myself at least I know if we need to get a walk in before dark and the rain is not going to let up, we can go under our umbrella. Since then, I have used it successfully with a backpack of groceries, and when it gave up the ghost and wouldn’t stay open all the way, I found I could use the new ones I got to replace it, too.

Back when I was an MFA student teaching beginning poetry writing workshops, the example of a cliche often given to students who were trying their hand at using metaphor was “my love is a red red rose.” It’s so commonplace that we don’t see it as vividly as we might see something else. Nevertheless I like that the umbrella is a kind of rose opening backwards and that my delight in being able to hold it up can make a simple walk in the rain feel as spectacular as the moment in the Wizard of Oz when the screen goes from black and white to color. Well, maybe not that dramatic, but it sure is fun to walk in the rain with my dog and my umbrella. Even if I give myself away as a transplant, or though Gene Kelly closes his and even takes his hat off during his famous drenching,  I’m just so happy I can be out there–rain pants, hood, umbrella, groceries, service dog and all–next time I might just break into song. Or at least the giggles.

Maria (moonwatcher)


Leave a Comment

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lynn November 16, 2015 at 7:31 am

Maria, you are such a gifted storyteller. I love reading your posts; they are such a calming influence. I’ve never been to Portland but any piece of your writing seems to magically transport me there. I can even hear the rain spatter on that beautiful red umbrella. Like you, I try and use my hood whenever possible so I don’t have to juggle both an umbrella and a leash while I stoop to pickup what the dog left behind! But you’re right, there’s something lovely and cozy about the shelter of an umbrella. Mine must be in the closet somewhere…perhaps I’ll go dig it out! 🙂


2 Maria Theresa Maggi November 16, 2015 at 8:02 am

Oh, thank you so much, Lynne, for these kind words about my storytelling! I really enjoy it myself, and love hearing that others do too. So glad I evoked your senses to feel the rain. And oh yes, to the challenge of juggling all these “props” when picking up what we refer to as Romeo’s “treasure,” which then gets deposited in garbage bins I now call “treasure chests,” just because so MUCH goes into making sure all this happens and gets cleaned up, that I need to make myself laugh about it!! 🙂


3 Debra Maslov November 16, 2015 at 8:23 am

Maria, thank you for another gorgeously worded slice of your (anything but ordinary) life. I truly look forward to each & every one of your beautiful essays. My son lives in Portland now & tells me often that ”no one uses umbrellas” there. Well, except for me when I visit that is, much to his chagrin. How wonderful that you are able to juggle your umbrella deftly along with Romeo’s leash, plus groceries and such on particularly stormy wet days. I love the delightful memories that this simple act has evoked for you as well.
What a wonderful & special drawing of your red umbrella – one of my favorite pieces of your artwork so far!


4 Maria Theresa Maggi November 16, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Thank you Debra–I so appreciate this lovely comment. it’s wonderful to know you look forward to reading my posts! I had to smile at your son and you about the umbrellas, too. We will be “oddballs” together! Next time you are here visiting, you must let me know. Maybe we can meet up. And I’m so thrilled this red umbrella pastel is one of your favorite pieces so far!


5 Debra Maslov November 16, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Oh I will definitely try to let you know when I will be in Portland next Maria! I would so love to meet up with you some day!! Funny about us being “oddballs” together!


6 Louise November 16, 2015 at 10:56 am

Oh Maria, I understand completely about the joy of winning those small battles. Thank you for (yet another) delightful story. There IS something sort of magical about standing in the rain under a large umbrella, untouched by the drops cascading about you – listening to the drumming sound as it waxes and wanes.


7 Maria Theresa Maggi November 16, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Thank you, Jill! I loved what you write here about standing under an umbrella–I could hear and feel that through your words. Here’s to the magic!


8 Maria November 17, 2015 at 5:00 am

Good Morning from rainy/snowy Nova Scotia Maria. Thank you for your recent story. It was helpful for me to remind myself that the day to day accomplishments we achieve are often some of the most meaningful to us – if we take the time to contemplate and appreciate them. I needed to be reminded of this important lesson this monring. Thank you 🙂


9 Maria Theresa Maggi November 17, 2015 at 8:23 am

And good morning, back, Beth, from rainy (but not snowy) Portland! Thank you for your lovely comment–you are most welcome! And yes, let’s savor those day to day accomplishments and their profound individual meaning for each of us.


10 Laura November 17, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Dear Maria, I had been following your blog very sporadically for awhile. Recently, I come to follow it much more closely. Due to some health issues, I have gone on an elimination diet to repair my gut, and eventually, through re-introducing foods, to track which foods aggravate the arthritis-like pain I experience in my hands and feet. I haven’t been diagnosed with RA as of yet, but the symptoms are pointing in that direction. I have, in the last few months, come to terms with the fact that I do, at 43 years old, have an autoimmune condition.
Your blog has been such a huge help to me! I have come on here to read your experiences and to reassure myself that yes, it is possible to live a very full and vibrant life with an autoimmune disease. And it is very possible to enjoy life and enjoy food, all while getting better all the time. Your “small victories” are so wonderful to read! They are all significant. I love how you celebrate them here on your blog. That public celebration is beneficial to all who come to read!
Thank you so much, from me personally, for your posts! And thank you, also, for sharing your sunny spirit with the rest of the world! I am very grateful!


11 Maria Theresa Maggi November 17, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Dear Laura, Thank you so much for this beautiful comment, and for sharing some of your own experience with us here. You brought tears to my eyes. I write these posts to affirm for myself a record of meaningful moments in my healing journey, and when I hear that they are also beneficial to others like yourself it is truly a gift to me, and helps me keep on writing them down for others to read. I am so lucky to have such thoughtful and articulate readers! And it is wonderful you have the will and courage to work with the food you eat to heal you. Many blessings.


12 Pam November 18, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Maria, I loved reading about your accomplishment as well as how the umbrella turned red for you! 🙂 I remember when we first moved to western Washington from CA, I noticed that not as many people used umbrellas. Darren and I were in downtown Seattle the other day, walking along with our heads uncovered, and it was misting lightly. Three people in front of us each had their own umbrella, each of them opened up against the mist, and I heard the one woman say, “Look at all of these people without umbrellas!” And I was thinking to myself, “Look at these folks in front of me. They each have their own umbrella!” 🙂 Funny how our perspectives are different, and change sometimes.


13 Maria Theresa Maggi November 18, 2015 at 9:32 pm

Thank you Pam! I’m so glad you enjoyed the part about how the umbrella turned red for me. 🙂 And I enjoyed hearing this story about you walking along with your heads uncovered behind 3 people who each had their own umbrella. Different strokes for different folks indeed! 🙂 Yesterday we had very high winds and rain at the same time and had to go out so Romeo could do some business and the umbrella kept turning inside out! Even so, it was a good shield from some of the elemental action and helped me us not to get totally soaked, which in turn helps me not to catch cold. But it sure was funny–I thought we might actually blow away like Pooh and Piglet on a blustery day! 🙂 xo


14 Gena November 29, 2015 at 11:39 am

As always, Maria, I love the way you tell stories and reflect on your experiences. I was interested to hear about the associations that turned your umbrella red! It also occurred to me that red is a color often associated with vitality, energy, sanguinity — and as a reader, I connect the reddening of your umbrella to the fact that you found strength that you imagined you might not have. As always, you have such a wonderful way of talking about the unexpected, the surprising.

Happy belated Thanksgiving to you! <3


15 Maria Theresa Maggi November 29, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Thank you, Gena, for this wonderful comment. I like how you put this because I truly do love what the unexpected and surprising bring me. I once said to a dear friend that being “right” was okay, but that I’d really rather be surprised and enlightened if I had the choice. He had to think about that for a while. 🙂 And thanks for the Happy Thanksgiving wishes. We had a great low key vegan and relaxed time. Hope you did too. 🙂


16 Lee at Veggie Quest December 8, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Maria, I love this post! First, I love that you can use an umbrella with little trouble–what a wonderful victory. Like you, though, I also just love umbrellas. I tend to steer clear of somber black ones, though, favoring instead bright colors and splashy prints.

Even as a child, I loved listening to the gentle pattering of raindrops against the taut fabric while I stepped lightly around puddles–and I still do. There’s a reason that people sing and dance in the rain, right? 😉


17 Maria Theresa Maggi December 8, 2015 at 6:16 pm

HI Lee–thank you for your comment. Really enjoyed reading about how you love umbrellas too, and your childhood memory of the gentle pattering on the taut fabric. There certainly IS a reason people sing and dance in the rain. 🙂


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