Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Linda rented the upstairs apartment - the one with the palladian window, French doors, clawfoot bathtub, and hardwood floors. The day she moved in, I just knew she belonged there. I glimpsed her belongings as they were whisked to the third floor walk up by the movers. She was obviously a knitter which thrilled me. I was delighted to see her needles and pattern leaflets. Next came her books including a complete set of very vintage Jane Austen in blue leather and gold trim. An oversized framed needlepoint of a colorful garden, a mahogany dining set - the kind that is inherited and not bought. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet and an embossed silver teapot were wrapped in a beautiful lace curtain panel. Her belongings were romantic and feminine and it appeared her personal pursuits were as well. She had her grandmother with her that day for decorating support and as a devotee of my own grandmothers, I found that charming.
The fact that I was her younger "landlady" meant we probably wouldn't be pals but I thought she might become a private muse and as it turned out, Linda knew how to live well.
Like the poetess Emily Dickinsen, she dressed in white alot. Two piece white cotton dresses with cutwork hems, gossamer pintucked white blouses for summer. In winter, these clothes were replaced with textural white wool sweaters, arans, and creamy cashmere often worn with tweed wool pants, or long skirts and boots. She had a lovely way of dressing.
One night she tapped quietly on our door to pay the monthly rent wearing a luxurious fur coat. I complimented her and she responded by telling me that she had treated herself as it was something she always longed for. She smelled divine too. What was she wearing? Balmain's Ivoire perfume of course. She told us that night that she had also bought a piano and it would delivered through that palladian window by a crane the next day. The newspaper came and took pictures. After that, there was always free dinner music which softly floated down the stairs like a warm rolling fog every night.
Before long, she let us know that she would be married to the attractive young doctor we noticed visiting alot. She did ask if there was something of hers in the apartment that I might want to keep. Too well bred to tease about the fur coat or piano, I chose the beautiful white lace curtain panel that still dresses my window.
Monday, February 6, 2012
I must tell you about a book that has been entrancing me for several months. "The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins her Life Work at Age 72" by Molly Peacock has been on my nightstand since summer. I have not found the words to describe it until now and even so, I am still not sure I can do it justice.
The title tells us that Mrs. Delany did not get going until age 72 and we learn what a remarkable feat it was for a widow who should have been in the dotage of her life, to create art in the form of paper flower "mosaicks" that are still intriguing us more than 200 years later. As Molly Peacock draws parallels with her own life and Mrs. Delany's, I draw them with mine, Mrs. Delany's AND Ms. Peacock's.
So many women give up at a certain age, often well before the age Mrs. Delany began cutting her flower mosaicks. They stop going to movies, reading books, connecting with friends, creating loveliness. In all fairness, physical ailments may be the cause of some of this but certainly Mrs. Delany must have had arthritic fingers as she snipped at her colorful papers. Certainly her eyesight had deteriorated a bit by age 72. Yet this heartbroken widow, at the home of her best friend one morning, saw a red geranium petal fall to the floor and upon studying it began to replicate it with scissors and paper. The work consumed her until over 1000 mosaicks were created.
My interest in Mrs. Delany was piqued enough that I read three other books about her, including a book of excerpts from her letters where she pontificated on all manner of things from fashion and dining to how to properly discipline children. Her fascinating life still fascinates as I pluck her message of second chances and never giving up. That there is life after deep sorrow, that the human spirit can continue despite physical limitations, that one can pick up scissors, needle, pen, and begin anew. That craft heals and that we as women, can be vital, happy and productive well into our golden years. The best is yet to be....
(More about Mrs. Delany in subsequent posts)