A Brown Year

August. September. October. November. December. Everything I remember about 1989 took place during these months. As for what happened before then I really don’t remember, so I couldn’t tell you. In any case, it is unimportant to our story, except to say that it wasn’t brown. I was, however, coming out of a dark age, which is a strange thing to say, considering I was nine years old at the time. But after years defined by light and dark, finally the world began to be defined by color. One color.


When I got here, I most remember brown. Strange that one color should have so much significance, but when you come from a place where concrete architecture is the rule, where every color is as important and abundant as every other, seeing one color so dominant, as if the world was somehow trying to make sure everything matched, was nothing short of surprising.

My family moved to the US in 1989. We moved to one of Tampa’s suburbs, to an apartment complex with a British name and with exterior design to match: white walls with brown, wooden exterior framing (in an X within a box pattern) and brown roofs. Had someone placed a medieval castle behind the complex, the only thing out of place would have been the cars parked in front of the various buildings.

Most of what we did then–at the beginning, during the days immediately after our arrival–involved getting ready for school. My first real memory of the US was the medical clinic my mom took us to in order to be able to go to school. It was a brown-ish brick building with a wooden roof, and inside the walls were beige with brown wooden accenting. I got measured, had a blood test (by that time I wasn’t too afraid of needles, though I still hated them), and was cleared to go to school. Joy.

Our school–the school I, along with my younger brother and sister went to–was right next to the apartment complex. Actually, that’s not entirely true: between the complex and the school, there was an empty field with tall grass and a small creek running through it. And since we weren’t exactly used to walking that distance alone, we for the most part were dropped off by my mom, who drove us in the family Oldsmobile, a grayish/blueish affair big enough to fit all six of us, father, mother, and four children comfortably, though all of us wondered at one time or another whether it would be better if one of us got to ride in the trunk. Sounded fun.

But the school was perhaps the brownest thing of all. It was made of redish/brownish brick, and had a large, open center area, like every Florida school I’ve ever attended. The rooms were all hexagonal, and the building consisted of a number of modules, all made up of a number of these hexagonal rooms. (The only exception to this rule was the music building, opened the year I went there. That building was white and gray, and never really felt as if it fit in the school.) In addition to the hexagonal modules were “portables”, or portable classrooms, the exteriors of which which were all decorated with dark, brown wood. I never saw the inside of these.

Inside my classroom, five of the walls were brick, and adorned with cabinets, blackboards, or posters. The back wall was a collapsible, accordion wall, which was seldom ever opened, but which opened to a central area, a common zone for all the classrooms in the module. (If I recall correctly, and I may well not, each module in the school–one for every grade, I believe–was made up of four classrooms and a common area.) The floors were carpeted, brownish red, and the rooms had a distinctly American feel, whatever that means: the rooms were so alien to me, so different from anything I had ever experienced, that the only way I could describe it was as American, because it was the kind of classroom I remember seeing in American television shows. It was beautiful, simple, and comforting.

Whenever I think of those brown months, my first memories are of Thanksgiving. Strangely, they’re not of the black table my father procured so we could have a table to sit at for dinner, nor of the rolling blackouts which made that year’s Thanksgiving a candlelit dinner, nor of the brown, wooden couches we got at Goodwill. Rather, the memories are of the classroom, of the various fall-colored pictures of cornucopias up on the walls, and posters of pilgrims and Indians smiling and having turkey. Brown, orange, yellow. Whenever I think of this, I do what I can to stay in the moment and enjoy it. I really wish I could tell you why this was so important to me, why it sticks in my mind as it does. I think it was the novelty of it all, the newness of that time. Everything was different from what it had always been before, and it was cooler than I’d ever consistently felt, which was an added bonus.

That year was a cold year, coldest I’d ever experienced, and while that played a large part during our first year in the US, it plays no part in this telling. It was worth mentioning, however, that the brown eventually gave way to other colors: first white, then eventually green. But during those first months, the world was mostly brown. And I loved it.

2 thoughts on “A Brown Year

  1. I’ve been kicking this one around since before the move. A lot about this year reminds me of 1989. Also, nostalgia is a necessary part of this time of year. Glad you enjoyed it.

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