Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lessons from Anne


Did you read Anne of Green Gables as a girl?  Or did you make her acquaintance viewing the wonderful Sullivan Productions film on PBS in 1985?  I've read all the "Anne" books which were given to me by my grandfather, a native of Anne's beloved Nova Scotia. 

Anne's greatest message is that she never gave up hope for a better life, for herself and for others that she cared about.  She learned at a very young age that life is not always easy and sometimes through no fault of our own, tragic unforeseen things can turn lives upside down and inside out.  After Anne's parents died and she became an orphan, her future looked as though it would be a bleak existence of servitude.  But regardless of how it appeared, she found imaginative ways to keep her spirits up.  She befriended the girl in the glass, she made up stories to occupy her fine mind, and developed a deep love for nature that comforted and gave steadiness to her changing life.  Even the bitter disappointment of having to leave Green Gables could not keep her from placing Marilla and Matthew's home in her memory vault to call upon later.  (Fortunately, Anne's winsome attitude convinced Marilla to let her stay!)

Anne's lessons can be drawn upon even in today's unsettled world. And while Anne never played Pollyanna's Glad Game, she always imagined a better way.  If it's true that intention becomes reality, then perhaps we all have the goods inside to forge ahead through troubled waters.

My only child will be leaving home in the not too distant future, and I will have the emptiest of nests.  So I plan on looking to Anne for inspiration.  I will keep my eyes on the prize of what I want my future to be, lose myself in the wonderful vista that nature provides by taking walks, cultivating my garden, and I will find new kindred spirits who have the same internal optimism.  That's what Anne would do.  I just know it.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Clothes of Our Lives

I visited with my old Jr. High School teachers, Mrs. Butler and Mrs. Bleiweiss the other day.  Metaphorically speaking.  A friend and I drove to Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut for a charming exhibit of John Meyer of Norwich clothing.  Meyer is credited with advancing prep to American women, using tailored lines, natty fabrics, and other customary features of men's clothing.

I remember my mother’s 1960’s wool plaid Bermuda shorts, Peter Pan collars and Shetland cardigans which gave the decade just after the extremes of Dior’s New Look, a welcome change and a chic casual appeal.  But upon entering the exhibit, it was deja 1970 all over again as I beheld the clothes of my 7th and 8th grade teachers; the plaid skirts and matching sweaters, sprigged cotton dresses with tan leather belts, and trim navy dresses with white plackets and piping.  Apparently, some other women saw their Jr. High teachers too, or so they said on the video loop that was playing.  Even my dear friend was heard to murmur something about a beloved "Miss Brylawski".

I love that the clothes on our teachers’ backs were for grown-ups and that there was no mistaking the adults in our school.  If you were a male teacher, a daily coat and tie was required and if you were a female teacher, an outfit from John Meyer of Norwich fit the bill nicely and gave necessary authority in our unruly school. Like us, our teachers loved Tattersall, checks, tartans, pleats, wools, and crisp cottons.

We wanted John Meyer of Norwich because their clothes were in Seventeen and Ingenue.  The shorter skirts with vests and chiffon blouses, Fair Isle sweaters, tartan coats - it all fit our 1970’s aesthetic -   we wanted to look like Love Story's Jenny Cavalleri (Ali McGraw) to Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal).  Mom liked the clothes because they made us look neat and uncorrupted.  Before long, bell bottoms, fringe, and hippie chic had their way with us. 

John Meyer of Norwich conveyed an Ivy League sensibility that still looks terrific if a bit chaste.  Afterall, there was no in-your-face cleavage; only alluring nipped waists and leggy looks.  The company evolved and tried to embrace a more bohemian expression but my fascination remains with the roots of Preppy.  It's where clothes took root for me too.

When my friend and I returned home, we pulled out my old Seventeens and scoured them looking for John Meyer of Norwich ads.  It didn't take us long to find several colorful ones.  These were the clothes of our lives.
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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Country Cousin

If you were a girl who grew up in the late 60's and your school had a good library, chances are you read a Betty Cavanna.  Ms. Cavanna wrote charming little stories for pre-teens and teens, usually about one girl and her commonplace tribulations and her mini-adventures.  They are gentle well-written reads that are sweet and cheerful. 

A friend gave me Country Cousin as a present and I re-read it each July.  It's a summer story that makes me feel good and although it reminds me of how dignified and uncomplicated life was in 1967, there are lessons in the book and an unexpected muse to guide me even today.

Mindy is a slightly overweight girl who grew up on a farm but gets the chance to live with her older cousin Alix and help manage her well-run, efficient clothing store, called The Country Cousin.  Mindy is adorable and has a bit of a transformation similar to "Sabrina" including a trip to Paris, but it is Alix who has my focus throughout the book. 

Always an adult to her cousin Mindy, I find Alix to be someone to aspire to.  She is serious but can have fun; fashionable but understands the limits of a pretty wardrobe, and as a young widow, does not wallow in her tragedy but uses it as a springboard right into The Country Cousin and the life she wants to have. She is someone I trust when I need to be strong (Alix is turned down numerous times by the French Consulate when she tries to sell her clothing in Paris).  She fulfills her passion by never giving up on her dream.  I love the home she creates for herself after her husband is killed in Vietnam.  It's filled with tasteful d├ęcor and fresh touches such as lovely yellow walls and Priscilla curtains.  I admire the way Alix manages her weight and keeps herself slim (tomatoes and hard boiled eggs constitute her tried and true working woman lunch).  She explores the things that make her happy such as concerts and films.  She works hard everyday managing The Country Cousin and is a wonderful role model for Mindy and the sales girls she employs.  She expects all to work hard but lets them enjoy themselves too and offers them discounts and first selections on the clothing she purchases for the shop. And the love of clothes permeates throughout the story.

Of course, you may find Mindy's story more compelling, her coming of age, betwixt and between different loves.  But I turn to Alix for help in keeping myself in check, being a grown up, and not saying Amen! to what the world tells me I should have.  It's a soothing, comfy book that I dip into whenever I need someone to look up to during the lazy hazy days.

P.S.  Did you notice the Pucci inspired dress Mindy wears on the cover?  Italian designer Emilio Pucci was having his heyday in the 1960's, after he outfitted the Braniff Airline stewardesses.  Today, he's having another renaissance as Pucci-like dresses and tunics are everywhere this summer!  Have you bought a Pucci recently?  They are so happy and colorful!