Little Pink Fences

Sammy Oakey

President, Oakey’s Funeral Service

There are certain occupations that one cannot excel in if they happen to be colorblind. These include aviation, electrician, and meteorologist. Since I’ve not had any desire to pursue these fields, I never gave a thought to the hindrances my colorblindness could cause when I entered the funeral profession.

Through a series of challenges during my school years, it should have become more apparent that my proclivity to see and identify colors was less than average. I can still remember being in Mrs. Geib’s first grade class at Mount Vernon Elementary School and getting my very first “F”. The teacher requested us to fold a piece of paper two times in order that the page be blocked off into four squares. Mrs. Geib then told us to get certain color crayons out and color the appropriate box as she instructed. Sounds easy, right? Well, not for yours truly. I made a mockery of the entire assignment, getting ZERO colors correct. Why I wasn’t diagnosed with colorblindness right then and there, I will never know.colored-pencils-168392__340

I really don’t remember too many other occurrences until I attended junior high school. There, in the seventh grade, I had to take a “mini unit”, which was a course lasting six weeks. The course: art. The teacher: Marie Hoal, a demanding artist who wanted things done RIGHT. She had assigned the class to work on pastels, and we had to create some kind of pastoral scene. While I knew I wasn’t much of an artist, I thought I was creating a pretty bucolic country piece. So you can imagine the jolt to my artistic side when Mrs. Hoal walked over and took one look at my masterpiece and let out a gasp as if she had been punched in the gut. “Sammy, why on EARTH would you decide to make that fence PINK?” she shrieked, not just to me but to the entire planet earth. When I told her I thought that I created a grey fence, she shook her head and informed me it was indeed pink. Adding another dimension of embarrassment, she held up a box of crayons and instructed me to take them home and learn my colors over the weekend. Oh man, I could’ve crawled up underneath my desk with shame! Realizing then that I had some challenges when it came to figuring out colors, I at least was aware of my shortcoming.

A few years later, when I began working at Oakey’s at the age of 16, I quickly learned that knowing ones colors was also pretty important when employed by a funeral home. My first taste of this came from working on the parking lot. This duty dictates the attendant separate cars entering the lot, placing the family in one area, the pallbearers in another, cars going to the cemetery in another, and so on.  On a large funeral, I told an entering automobile to simply park in the line behind the red car. I honestly thought it was red, too. That is, until the driver circled back a few minutes later, clearly exasperated. “There is no red car in that line”, he said rather impatiently. I pointed to the one I truly believed was red, and the driver very clearly told me that the car was brown, not red. My time parking cars at Oakey’s was marked several times by such mishaps, with me thinking each time that I would probably “grow out” of this problem.

Another occupational area that required proper color identification was applying cosmetics to decedents in our Care Center. I even wrote down which colors were which, but still proceeded to do makeup jobs where the corpses resembled clowns from Ringling Brothers instead of the way they should have looked. Thankfully, I had great mentors to correct my unintentionally botched jobs, but I felt as if I was letting down my colleagues by not working with restorative colors.

Yet another area I quickly realized I would not do well in was the placement of flowers in our chapel. While you might not realize it, lots of time and thought goes into putting the flowers up in our chapels. The idea is to balance out one yellow flower on the right side of the chapel with a yellow on the left. This would then be done with each color, so it created a perfect arc of colors and flower sizes. Ideally, that is. My colorblindness made it impossible to differentiate between blues/purples, reds/browns, reds/oranges, greens/browns, and yellows/oranges. You can imagine some of the jumbled up messes I created in our various chapels, which required my coworkers to go behind me and rectify the damage I had done.

At home, I’ve got it pretty well figured out: safety pins thru pairs of socks that match, asking my wife what clothes go together, and placing ties around the suits they match up with. Driving can be a bit of a problem, since the yellow and the red lights look alike and the green light looks white. I’ve always figured this shortcoming may help me get out of a ticket one day, assuming I don’t get killed in the ensuing wreck.

I’ve learned to laugh about this minor hindrance in my professional life, even when mischievous associates come up to me on a daily basis and try to convince me I have on the wrong color socks or tie to go with a suit. Or even when I look at a weather map and cannot match it up with the legend at the bottom of the screen. No wonder I’ve always hated the song by Chicago, “Color My World”!