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When I see fashion magazines or websites describe how animal prints and a splash of color “make” an outfit, I chuckle.

January W. Payne's mother, Valerie J. Payne who died in 2010 at age 59. (Photo by January W. Payne/Photo by January W. Payne)

Her love of animal prints and the color red was a testament to her sassy, outspoken and unique personality. It was her thing.

She was the matriarch of our family and a trend setter. She didn’t shy away from controversy or back down from a challenge.

So when she died suddenly a little over a year ago, in August 2010, at age 59, collecting animal print items became a mission for me. It helps me honor her memory.

When my mom wasn’t wearing animal prints, she often wore red--something her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters would make light of since she rarely wore their trademark pink and green.

Once, when I was visiting my hometown of Harrisburg, Pa., mom emerged from her bedroom wearing leather pants. She looked at me and said, “Yes, they’re red leather pants.” Her glare told me to sit down and shut up. Quite simply, you couldn’t tell her nothing.

When she and my dad renovated their home several years ago, my mom bought zebra print chairs to be the focal point of the new space.

When it was time to decorate my first apartment, it’s no surprise that I ended up with a leopard print throw blanket, a tiger print throw blanket and leopard-print candles.

My mom’s last Christmas with us, in 2009, I bought Snuggies in various colors for my father and siblings. For Mom, I searched high and low until I found hers in leopard print. She loved it. To this day, Daddy keeps it in his bedroom as a reminder of his bold, tenacious, loving wife.

As for me, I now own leopard print ballet flats, custom tiger print floor mats for my car, leopard print coasters and even a leopard print lunch bag. I inherited Mom’s leopard print Liz Claiborne suitcase and proudly carry it when I travel.

The items help me remember her personality without feeling sad. She was a wonderful mother, wife, daughter, friend, aunt and grandmother. In my mind, nothing quite says “Val” like a cute animal print accessory.

January Payne is a Washington area freelance writer.

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