Thursday, March 14, 2013

Irish Girl


My father moved us to my beloved homecity when I was in kindergarten. It didn’t take many St. Patrick’s Days to realize our school had lots of Irish kids. These pals were descendants of Irish farmers who settled in New England to flee the famous potato famine in Ireland and most had families with deep roots in our city and were proud of their heritage. It was on St. Patrick’s Day that I concluded that I was a newbie and in a way, always would be. That doesn’t mean I didn’t embrace my city or that it didn’t embrace me, but I always felt a little apart from the pack when March 17th rolled around each year.

My mother embraced her heritage too which was Italian and therefore, we were not encouraged to wear green on St. Paddy’s Day. Neither were we encouraged to wear colors in support of the great Italia or in support of Scotland, home to our other ancestors. We went to school un-green and learned that St. Patrick’s Day in Marlborough was sacrosanct.

In second grade I was home sick one St. Patrick’s Day. Aside from the small agony of a cold which was quickly forgotten, sick days meant Mom’s sweet attention, and that was not forgotten. Lunch was delivered on trays and the portable TV was wheeled in to enjoy between naps. The periodic touch of cool hands on our feverish cheeks was balm to the very soul. But on this particular sick day, Mom thought it would be ok to take me out to Shopper’s World for a little fresh air. It was a warm almost spring day, a rare March gift, and as I slid into our station wagon I was thrilled to have a day out with Mom all to myself, another rare gift. We both wore our lightweight spring jackets and even today I recall the warm breeze and the smug glee I felt that day.

I skipped ahead of Mom in the outdoor corridors of the shopping center, my sneakers sliding across the windswept sand and salt left after the melting winter snows. We shopped for thread and buttons and paused so I could dip both my hands in the large button bin and feel the cool disks fall over my fingers like a small waterfall. We ate at W. H. Grant’s luncheon counter and I was tickled when Mom ordered the same thing as me, grilled cheese and chocolate milk. My skinny legs dangled from the round stool and I could barely stop twirling to take a bite of my sandwich. Later I trailed behind Mom as she searched for greeting cards in the card department. It was then that I noticed a display of St. Patrick’s Day accessories, especially a large dazzling green leprechaun hat with a buckle of gold glitter. It was way too big for me and as I dared to try it on, Mom raised an eyebrow and asked, “Now why would you want that thing”? Still, the look of longing on my face implored her enough to buy the cardboard hat as a keepsake for our special outing.

On the way home, I sat in the back seat of the station wagon, proudly sporting my new hat, its brim repeatedly edging down my forehead. I caught Mom glancing at me a few times in the rearview mirror with a half smile on her lips. Then...suddenly, she called out, “My you are a pretty Irish girl today”! And alone in the roomy backseat, and underneath a ridiculous oversized green hat, my dark Italian eyes were smiling.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Key

 
Remember the job I told you about in September, the one I said was too small for my soul? Well, I never left it but I will be exiting the cage as I was pink-slipped yesterday, along with almost 3000 others. It will be a long goodbye too, just to make it really special - we were told it will take a few months. I've been there nearly twenty years and it's going to hurt. Today a younger co-worker suddenly blurted out "I'm going to miss you", with bright glassy eyes. Our stages in life will prevent us from continuing our friendship beyond our workplace. That's just the way it is and we both know it. I was touched when she softly and endearingly thanked me for inspiring her. I know she meant that I, as the elder of our party, showed her the way in some approximation. I like to imagine that someday in the future, when she is the age I am today, she might remember me well.

I have been thinking about the women who have led the way before me, in whose footsteps I try to tentatively place my own. There is Mom, of course, my grandmothers, some of the muses I have written about here and some yet to be written. But I also turn to literature and books for my life guides. I found one last year in Mrs. Delany, as presented to me by Molly Peacock in her delightful book, "The Paper Garden, An Artist (Begins her Life's Work) at 72", and now I am finding one in Mrs. Diana Vreeland, the great visionary stylist and editor. Both women reinvented themselves, most remarkably in their 70's, an age when women are usually considered to be too old for new beginnings. Mrs. Delany entered one of her most creative periods by scissoring her famous "mosaiks" at 72, and Mrs. Vreeland began working as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's historical costume curator at 70. Their art is still considered timeless, beautiful, and important.

I've called this post The Key because yesterday, the day the ax fell, I was entering a friend's office building to collect her for dinner. Just beyond the glass door, I noticed something glint on the floor of the lobby. As I leaned over, I saw that it was a silver key. Not an ordinary key, but a gorgeous oversized decorative one with black onyx stones and diamante. It's special looking as though it would fit the keyhole of a child's playhouse or a secret garden door. And since I found it in a large empty office lobby, I pocketed it, rightly or wrongly and it will stay with me now.  If one believes in signs of the universe, perhaps it is meant as a message to me, it so obviously shouts KEY.  As to what it will open, I'm not yet sure.