Sunday, November 29, 2009
Last night I attended my 35th high school reunion. I hadn’t been to any prior reunions but my new Facebook page connected me with so many old classmates, I began to feel nostalgic and curious. I didn't know quite what to expect from the rowdy bunch that I had not seen in so long.
Of 356 students, 105 attended. I found that most of the women were comfortable in their own skin. The men still jockeyed about a bit as they did in school. The women I knew readily but with the men I had to check their badges first as they seemed to have changed the most. After a moment or two, I would catch a familiar glint of the eye or smile.
My first boyfriend was there and he gives a great hug. A sweet woman that I never really knew, turned out to be the person I most wanted to talk to. Funny how that goes. We had a lot more in common than I would have imagined.
A sense of poignancy lingered in the air long after a soft spoken classmate with cancer had taken her early leave to get home to bed. Some talked about the recent sad losses of their parents. One man, who was the smartest boy in the class, has gone on to work for the EPA and brought his pretty charming wife. I was glad to see he found a happy love, having also been rather solitary in school. He shook my hand warmly and then pulled me close for a massive embrace. I wondered why I hadn't noticed in school how gallant he is.
I learned a beloved Government teacher had died and those of us in a smaller private circle toasted him with gratitude for the things he taught us that we still call upon in a world so far away from 1974. On a table beside a box of old photographs, there was a card to sign for our class president who was residing in a local nursing home and couldn’t attend. No one was left out – not even the unclaimed photo ID cards that remained lined up at the entrance.
As our songs were played, old friends stood fast and conversations began just where they had ended many years ago. Everyone was hugged and teased in turn. I cannot remember when I've had such a wonderful time.
Later, as I drove down the long, dark highway home, a pull on my heartstrings told me something. Wherever I had been, whomever I became, I had taken a piece of each of them with me.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
On my walks around the high school, I stare at the pond where the swans swim in pairs and imagine I see the first inhabitants of this town. Or more importantly, I like to see what they saw. There is a perfect moment on top of the Jamestown Bridge, when for just a few seconds, if one peers above the railing to the right, the scene is just as I imagine the Indians saw it, before industry, cars and crowds. The small islands sit in the bay water like the backs of huge sea animals waiting to rise. There are no electrical wires crisscrossing the landscape or brick and mortar factories. Just the sea, the land and the sky. And for a moment, I see what they saw.
I often wonder what it would be like to live like the Native Americans, so close to the tides and the seasons. I wonder what they thought when they looked at the changing moon. Winters must have been brutal for them. But they had the beauty of pristine nature all for themselves. Before chaos.
One of my favorite poems and the only one that has graced my refrigerator for 20 years is Wendell Berry's "The Peace of The Wild Things". When "the world is too much with me", I sometimes drive across the Jamestown Bridge, walk over to the high school pond, or I just lean on the counter, rest my head on my hand and read the refrigerator door.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water.And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Happy Thanksgiving to all...
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Foolishly, I clipped many issues to save on space and to ease back to back moves. Now, thanks to eBay, I am missing only three issues which includes the Holy Grail, the Premiere Issue, currently selling for $75.00! I may never own that one but thankfully a friend does I can "visit" it often.
I read that Premier issue when it first came out but I did not really see the appeal. I was a new mother and felt more kinship with Mothering, Child and Parenting. But life turned a corner for me in 1987 and Victoria became a talisman, a guide for living.
I suddenly became a single parent when my daughter was a baby. A time of bright happiness abruptly turned dark. I was bereft. My first holiday without a husband was Thanksgiving and I was dreading it. Knowing it would be difficult, my mother arranged for me to meet her at a hotel where I would leave my car and join her for a ride to my brother's family celebration.
I arrived at the hotel frantic. One of the challenges of being a single mother, I was learning, was the maneuvering and management of baby paraphernalia as well as baby. To make matters worse, I left my handbag on the roof of the car and drove over it as I was leaving home. Then the baby woke up and cried and fussed all the way to the hotel.
My mother was there waiting for us and immediately assessed the state of mind of her two "girls". She told me to wait in the passenger seat of her car. Mom then unhitched the baby from the car seat and the car seat from the car. She grabbed the diaper bag and the pie I was contributing to my brother's Thanksgiving table. As soon as all were ensconced in the car, the baby blessedly fell into an exhausted sleep. Mom took out a magazine out from a basket on the car floor and said, "I bought you something pretty and I want you to sit back, relax, and read this nice book. It's the sweetest thing I've ever seen". I wiped the long tears that kept escaping from my eyes as I opened Victoria.
As I turned the pages of that Winter issue, something began to happen. I felt a tickle of perhaps not happiness, but lightheartedness as I saw sweet pairs of pastel baby mittens. "I can knit those", I thought. I turned a few more pages and saw a scrumptious dish and thought, "This will comfort me when I make dinner alone", I saw a garnet bracelet that looked familiar and realized I had one just like it, inherited from my grandmother and lying patiently in my jewelry box. I began to make plans again.....
Of course, I was terribly sad when Victoria stopped publishing. But now I have made my life a Victoria. I know this every time I take time to write a real letter to my mother, arrange flowers in a vase, tie a silk scarf over my sweater, or don my grandmother's garnet bracelet.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
What has truly stayed with me though, is the woman Chanel was. A lost waif with soulful eyes as she traversed the orphanage, always pinning for the father who never came back. And in her young woman years, I wept inside for her! Without many options for women of the Belle Epoche, I could feel Chanel's despair at not knowing what to do with her life or how a woman who was not traditionally beautiful could make a liveable wage.
However, Chanel triumphs and makes her life a blessing. She was unique in her simplicity at a time when women were still wearing corsets, heavy fabrics, and enormous hats with plummage. Chanel brought a welcome freedom to dress. The film touched on how she began designing with jersey and the influence the garb of fishermen had on her creations!
I adored the men's style silk pajamas Chanel wore instead of the virginal bastiste nightgowns of her contemporaries. I loved her tweed overcoat and straw boater which was in striking contrast to the long dresses with attached trains that contained layers of heavy fabrics that the other women wore. This contrast showed how refreshing Chanel's designs must have felt for the women who flocked to her for new clothes.
And happily, Chanel was really loved by Capel (before he was tragically killed in an automobile accident). Capel encouraged Chanel and recognized her talent. Although, he married someone else, Capel pushed Chanel to have a successful career at a time when beautiful women simply married for money and homely women became governesses.
Chanel Avant Chanel was not a great film but was an interesting one which finally came alive in the last half hour. But most importantly, I admire Chanel because she was a woman who lived by her own lights despite having been abandoned, abused and used, having the inherent sad knowledge that she would never marry, and experiencing the death of her one great love. And yet, she continued to put one foot in front of the other to reach rare heights of fame and fortune. And I absolutely and wholeheartedly adore her style and this was reinforced by this visually stunning film.
Now where did I put my pearls......
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Blithewold is a 33 acre estate - a spectacular property with lawns and gardens that sweep down to Narragansett Bay. Even more charming is the story of the seemingly social and generous family who built the home and gardens, the Van Wickles/McKees.
One of the daughters, Augustine Van Wickle, I found to be most intriguing, nee adorable. She was a beautiful child who grew into a sought-after debutant and then a wife and mother. One of her daughters is still living and now in her 80's.
I was enchanted by Augustine's sweet bedroom on the second floor with its windows opening to the bay. The little girl touches, such as the hopping birds on the handpainted wallpaper, the meticulously dressed china dolls, and the colorful Delft tiles surrounding the fireplace, gave clues to the lass who once inhabited this happy place. Most dear of all was a framed poem about the glory of pansies, enthusiastically penned in a child's hand and signed by Augustine at age 8.
Other corners of the mansion were just as magical. I became giddy over the massive linen closet between the 2nd floor hallway and the bedroom of older sister Marjorie Van Wickle. I could only imagine the pretty linens, stiffly folded, stacked, and tucked away with lavender sprigs. For today, I had to content myself by oogling the large sterling Tiffany tea set covered with tiny embossed daisies, that sat shiny and majestic on the linen closet's shelf.
A servant's bedroom/sewing room contained an open handwritten letter to the lord and master, William McKee (Marjorie and Augustine's step-father), outlining certain acts of thievery and debauchery witnessed by the female servant upon the estate's butler-in-chief. What ensued is unknown but the letter made for endless ruminations and entertainment for my daughter and I on the ride home.
From all accounts, Mrs. McKee (Bessie Van Wickle McKee) was an extremely hospitable hostess who filled her home with friends and family that she encouraged to stay for weeks at a time. There was plenty to occupy her guests, including sailing and swimming in the sea.
To me, Blithewold appeared to be very livable. Compared to the nearby Newport Mansions, Blithewold is a tiny mansion more in keeping with an expansive English country home.
Alas, the heavy rain prevented my daughter and I from exploring the spectacular gardens which includes a greenhouse and a tremendously old sequoia. I intend to return for the Christmas event to witness the extravagant two story Christmas tree and partake in an afternoon tea with music.
Fortunately for all of us, the McKee/Van Wickle's were a family of pack rats. We have benefited from the many letters, diaries, kitchen and entertainment records, bills, and assorted ephemera that has allowed for the curators to reconstruct the life of Blithewold (and I could see that it was truly a living breathing thing) as well as the very loveable family that occupied it so many years ago.
Friday, June 19, 2009
"Pretty as a crimson sky..." I raised her all on my own. Now she is whole and ready to fly...daughter o' mine is in graduate school and studying hard. She is hardly ever here any more and I miss her terribly.
My favorite summer ensemble may feel a bit pajama-like but certainly doesn’t look so. By layering my favorite linen wide-legs, with a camisole top under a floaty cardigan, I can have the appearance of sophistication without looking as though I am wearing lounge wear. The secret to this is donning tasteful jewelry and accessories with clothes that allow the air to move under them. Warm weather dressing can be challenging as the last thing one wants is to look like a rumpled bed instead of a soignée sophisticate making her way to the office on a sultry morning.
I once thought that the only women who looked pulled together in the summer were those who live with a central air conditioning system, but now I know it is possible to be chic in hot weather. Of course, this involves a well thought-out plan.
- Always have your clothes ironed and pressed before the heat wave sets in. Is there anything as uncomfortable as standing over the ironing board the morning after a 70 degree night with hot rollers in your hair, desperately trying to remove the creases in your linen blouse before work???
- Wear light colored clothing or cooling pastels so as not to retain heat when you are walking at lunch time in the sun. Save your chic black items for the fall and winter.
- For pants, select wide legged ones or tailored ones of stretch cotton. Polyester need not apply.
- Wear tops that are slightly loose and never clingy. If one is uncomfortable with the appearance of arms, ¾ length sleeves offer cover without being restricting and still look summery and elegant.
- Powder the inside of sandals and ballet flats and avoid socks and stockings as much as possible. Remember to only wear sandals that fit well and do not rub. Blisters on one’s feet can be seen in facial expressions! Pas de chic.
- Classic, conservative dresses look attractive in lightweight fabrics. Go for a simple line such as sheath in a cotton sateen or linen.
- Instead of a confining jacket, keep a tissue weight pashmina folded neatly in your handbag, tucked away for that blast of air conditioning in a movie theater or shop. A soft, light weight cardigan dropped across the shoulders and held together with a silvery brooch will look nice too.
- Keep makeup simple. A light tinted moisturizer with SPF for daytime, a bright and cheery lipstick, and a swoop of mascara is all that is necessary in the summer. Anything more can melt like frosting on the face in bright sunshine.
- Find a light elegant scent and keep it stored in the ice box. Spray liberally before leaving the house for a nice jolt of cooling.
- Wear hats. Every summer beauty needs a stunning straw hat with a brim wide enough to shade the face. Ditto a fun canvas beach hat that can be crushed into a beach bag.
- Wear head scarves to hold back the hair when taking a ride in a convertible. Take a page from Grace Kelly’s book and wrap it securely around the head and double wrapped tied around the neck. So “To Catch A Thief”.
- Go for simple jewelry with impact. A strand of faux pearls, opera length, diamond stud earrings, coral or turquoise all look wonderful in the warm weather months and mimic the elements of the sea.
- If possible, lighten your handbag. A structured rattan bag is so charming in the summertime and it will hold all the extras that are required for the season: sunscreen, water bottle, pashmina, scarf, sunglasses, summer novel.
- It is tres important to have a handcream on hand that contains an SPF.
- Never underestimate a tepid evening bath to lower the body temperature and induce a good night’s rest.
- Don’t fuss with elaborate hairstyles. Fluff whenever possible and make use of headbands and silk scarves to keep a fallen hairstyle in line.
And don't forget to take siestas. Lots of them.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Summer beauty can be a challenge. The hot weather along with summer's monkeywrench, humidity, can make one's hair limp and unmanageable. However, the worse thing that Uncle Humidity does to us, is related to how it makes us feel: listless and unmotivated. But summer is not the time to renege on our beauty promise to ourselves. In fact, summer may be the perfect time to step up our beauty routines.
A tepid bath in the evening with a handful of Epsom salts is just the thing before drawing that batiste nightgown over our heads. This bath will not only soothe but lower the body temperature and help induce a peaceful sleep. Some of us prefer cotton pajamas with camisoles but the ubiquitous nightie is the coolest garment for nighttime restoration. A friend recently told me that the perfect attire for summer nights is the three piece pajama set: pants, camisole, and matching bed jacket, especially for the nights when our air conditioner is running full throttle. Whatever garments are chosen, one must be careful that everything possible has been done to create a restful environment and bodily condition for sleeping. Cranky picnic goers and their ilk are no fun.
So, despite Uncle Humidity, take care in the evening to maintain your beauty routine. Take the aforementioned water cure, wear lightweight bedclothes (and do make sure your bed is crisp and fresh before tucking in), and continue with your eye cream and unguents. A light spritz of your favorite toilet water would also be a welcome addition to your nighttime regime, especially if it is kept in the ice box during the day.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Such a sweet day of rememberance! Our town always hosts a dear solemn parade that ends at the town's war memorial. I love seeing the veterans in their uniforms and serious faces as they quietly lay their wreaths and offer up their prayers. It touches me when the townspeople lay out and hang flags on their porches before they start their grills or crack open their first beers. If there is any doubt that patriotism no longer exists, one must simply visit our little town to see that we have not forgotten!
And such a high day we had! The cobalt blue sky held the warm sun which acted as though it had nothing better to do then make crystals and diamonds for us all. The beautiful weather gave this holy and honorable holiday a poignancy that stirred my soul and I am glad I took the time to attend the parade and service once again. Where would we be without this old tradition that ushers in our American summer and causes us to pause in rememberance and gratitude for all the courageous soldiers who saved the things that matter most?