I’ve been longing to introduce you to my grandfather, Harold Monroe Macdonald. On President’s Day next month, he would have turned 109. The title of this post is from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson –“Home is the sailor, home from the sea. And the hunter, home from the hill”. “Puppy” was not an outdoorsman, except for his weekly golf game but I always think of that poem whenever I see this wonderful photograph of him.
I asked my grandmother once if Puppy’s Sunday golf habit bothered her and she slyly replied, “Filene’s Basement is a lot more fun!” even though the Blue Laws kept stores closed on Sundays. They fit so well together, my grandparents. My grandmother’s sisters used to say that as a young man, Puppy looked like Clark Gable and I see that. Which makes it all the more surprising that he chose my quiet and sensible grandmother over her more vivacious red-haired sisters. But theirs was a match made in heaven – they loved and respected each other all the days of their lives.
I cannot really say I knew Puppy very well - back then there was a strong line of demarcation between adults and children. But he was kindly and genial with a ready smile. He handed out dollar bills for every "A" that showed up on our report cards, gave us life insurance policies, AAA memberships when we began to drive, and when he hugged us goodbye, he always said, “Be honest and true”. I came to see that being honest and true was how Puppy lived his own life. He was a gentleman. And he enjoyed us. He took us to his beloved Canada, taught us to drink Moxie, happily gave up his bed for us when we stayed overnight, and brought us on long picnics on top of The Blue Hill outside Boston.
I see him now in shirtsleeves, sitting in his leather chair in the den, working his electric razor while waiting for his coffee, which was inky black and delivered to him on a tray each morning by Nana. He managed a beautiful Boston furniture store and dressed nattily in a coat and tie every day. His clothes were carefully tended by my grandmother and more than once I saw her ironing printed boxer shorts.
Puppy grew up in Pictou, Nova Scotia and I sure wish I thought to ask him about his childhood. I do know that his family owned a small candy factory and that his town was seafaring. When I google it now, it still looks barren and sea-swept, and I wish I knew what life was like growing up there in the 1900's. His parents came from Scotland and my grandmother was so proud of her husband’s heritage and name.
After Nana died, I drove to Boston from western Massachusetts once a week to bring him dinner and visit with him. These nights were quiet and his kindly eyes were tinged with a sadness I had not seen there before. But he enjoyed my Italian dishes - the ones he loved so much, and declared them “almost like Nana’s”. I nearly wept the day I spotted an empty carton for frozen apple pie in the trash can. I couldn’t make Nana’s apple pie – nobody could. Puppy didn’t last very long after Nana died. It was his lost and broken heart. Though with her by his side, gladly did he live.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Kay Thomas, the author, has a friendly girlfriend to girlfriend way of writing. Her prose is lyrical, funny, and inspiring. What I really love is the message that although beauty is not given to all girls, loveliness can be achieved by anyone. Miss Thomas talks about both the inner and outer self and how achieving balance between the two, can bring about grace and charm.
The book gives practical advice, with an unmistakable girly slant. We learn that it is ok to want to be attractive and lovely and what is more, it's really fun too. Every aspect of grooming is touched upon: from how to keep a neat "billfold" to how to select the proper slip for a party dress. Yes, it's a bit dated, perhaps not entirely PC, but it's very sweet.
The line drawings are delightfully done by illustrator John Mecray, who also contributed to the Eileen Ford Book of Beauty and a teen novel or two. After an internet search, I discovered Mecray is a famous marine illustrator who lives just over the bridge from me in our small coastal state! He left fashion illustrating far behind and now only devotes his talent to ships and schooners. In Secrets of Loveliness he has a deft touch with a pulse on mid-century femininity and therefore, I find his soft drawings both engaging and reassuring.
For fun, I've chosen a contemporary cover picture for a modern edition. Should another version come to pass, I would keep Kay Thomas and John Mecray on board.
"This book has been written to help you become the girl you want to be - with grace of form and feature, with radiance of soul and mind". ~ Kay Thomas
(Credits: pic from Nordstrom.com, illustration John Mecray.)
Sunday, January 12, 2014
I wonder about the title of Rabbi Harold Kushner's book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People". I read the book a long time ago and from what I remember God does not really have a hand in causing human suffering. I also remember that I found Kushner's writing full of solace.
And since life seems to intrude on inner peace with uncanny regularity, a friend gave me a small book of the 23rd Psalm, illustrated by Tasha Tudor that I now keep it in my handbag. It is a little talisman of hope for an uncertain place called earth. As well, my bedroom is an oasis of calm and tranquility. I always feel better when I am surrounded by my favorite things. Perfume comforts me, especially if I associate the scent with a happy memory. Writing puts things into perspective and soothes me with my own voice. I light candles against the darkness both literally and metaphorically. To illuminate the night, even with a penny candle or a gracious courtesy is to open a space for faith and better times.
Frivolous though it may seem, style makes me feel safe. If I can get up and clean my hair and face, put on lipstick, I feel I can help someone else too. Many famous women have used personal style to overcome tragedy and heartbreak. I don't see anything wrong with that. A sense of self makes us stronger and more able to bring about change. I also recommend soup, teddy bears, blankets, cat's silky ears, or church if you are so inclined. What other things can comfort us in a scary world? Here are three more simple suggestions:
~Children's picture books - if you had a favorite as a child, keep it close to your bed. Especially helpful if you wake up in the middle of the night with unspoken fears.
~Music - when I youtube old favorites from past days, my heart lightens. It makes me grab hold of my younger self for strength. I remember who I use to be and somehow I am able to carry on with "her" as inspiration.
~Baths - I often wonder if they are so cathartic because at one time, we were all enveloped in a warm comforting wet world for nine months. A soothing hot bath with bubbles and scent and some time to quietly think can help you envision solutions to problems or bring you back to your set-point.
At times the world seems full of sadness and chaos and we are overwhelmed with our personal problems and tragedies. We grieve and rejoice in turns. I went to Ann Curry's website and made a small donation to her African charity fund. I don't know if it will directly help the little eight year old who lost her mother. I know that I will keep myself comforted as best I can while I join my prayer with hers for safety and healing...
(Credit: Florence Harrison/A Falling Star)
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Nine years ago while having a necklace repaired, I spied a lovely vintage lady's watch at our village jewelry shop. I was instantly smitten and asked to try the timepiece on. Oddly, it fit my wrist perfectly. No, pluperfectly. The diamond encrusted face spanned the entire front of my wrist and the black fabric band could barely be seen at all and yet, its clasp connected with ease in the back. It was made for me.
Over the years, I visited my watch regularly. Sometimes I simply gazed at it longingly and sometimes it was simply too irresistible not to try on. Soon I became known as The Watch Lady. When the little bell above the shop's door rang, the owner would look up and smile, knowing exactly what I wanted. Of course, he tried every tactic to get me to buy the watch but I couldn't imagine spending such an amount while putting my daughter through college. He did let me take it to the big palladium window sometimes so that I could turn my wrist in the sunlight for maximum sparkle and spark. Unfortunately, I watched the price of the watch climb in increments until it was completely out of my completely outer range.
Last summer, I had not been to the jewelers in a while when I advised my daughter and her fiancé to visit the shop to search for their engagement ring. I told my daughter to tell the owner that she was The Watch Lady's daughter and perhaps he would offer her a good deal on her ring. She did. And he did. And my daughter was sent home with a special message along with her engagement ring: "Tell your mother she can have the watch for the 2005 price".
Did I buy it? No. Did I think about it? You bet. But then the rush of the holidays came and I was busy shopping for others, wrapping, and baking. On Christmas morning, however, I noticed an odd box under the tree. At first, I thought it was a book but when I picked it up, I realized it was too light for a book. The wrapping paper was unfamiliar but something told me the present was mine. I tore through the Christmas foil to an elegant gold trimmed navy box. Inside was the very object of my desire: the lovely vintage diamond encrusted lady's watch that fits my wrist pluperfectly. There was no note, no message attached to my beautiful gift and the watch isn't talking. Neither is the young miss who may have aided and abetted. My newly engaged roommate only smiles when I ask.
P.S. I have discovered that my watch is a 1933 Bulova art deco style called "The Ardsley". It was made in Zurich and imported to be sold exclusively at Gimbels in New York City. And believe it or not, I wear it every day. Life's short and afterall, I was without it for nine years.
(Credit: Strickland Vintage Watch)
Saturday, January 4, 2014
I think there are distinct differences between the January and February House. I hope to tell you about my February home next month when one can at last see spring by standing on one's tip toes. For now the days are short and the nights are long and dark, and spring seems far beyond the frosty moon.
Let there be light
Find a friendly spot to make a candle tray. If you have a piece of glass, a mirror, or lucky you - a silver tray, set it out with a collection of silver or crystal candlesticks and cream tapers. Add a silver cup, perhaps a baby's cup filled with white candied almonds or white chocolate chips. If you have some mercury glass holders, add those to your tray too with small tea candles inside. Be sure to light your tray each night to ward off the brumal darkness. Watch the flames flicker and glow and create bewitching shadows upon your walls.
Throw down your throws
Toss fuzzy warm afghans and blankets on footstools, chairs, beds, and the ends of the couch to encourage wanton book reading and napping. Fold several and layer them on top of a lady's chair in the hallway or in a basket on the floor in the living room.
Decorate your dining table with nothing but thick white candles on a white plate or a fill a crystalline bowl with plump oranges. Or buy one perfect white orchid plant and let it hold court on a crisp snowy tablecloth.
Even though Christmas is behind us, greens still look lovely about the house. Clip some pine branches and place them in tall vases in the foyer or some other homey nook or cranny. Keep a basket of pine cones by the fireplace or line them up on top of the mantle. A bowl of crisp green Granny Smith apples on the coffee table looks inviting in the January home. The simplicity of nature will becalm you when the wind is howling at the latch.
Now is the time to indulge in those big coffee table books. Keep them stacked beside your chair or bed and dip into them at night when heavier reading makes you drowsy. A large book on fashion is nice to leaf through in this quiet season as you contemplate your spring wardrobe.
Tea and toast
Indulge in tea and toast for the ultimate comfort food on long cold afternoons. Keep some special teas in the cupboard for variety. Ditto gourmet jams and honey.
Keep the bedroom soothing with clean sheets that smell fresh. Use a charming pillow spray of lavender which promotes sleep. Spritz just before your evening toilette and then rest your weary head on fragranced pillows to stir your wintry dreams.
Do you have a favorite shawl? Choose a soft generous pashmina in cream or a pretty pastel and keep it on a hook where you can reach for it as soon as the sun begins to set. Let it envelope and comfort you even over pajamas. It never hurts to have another warm layer.
Together we can bear the brunt of this shivery month with style and grace, and even appreciate its wonder and majesty. If you have any ideas about your January House, please share. Below are the winter books that will be lulling me to sleep this month:
"Memos, The Vogue Years" - Diana Vreeland's work memos. "Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Design" - Smithsonian edition. "Women's Work, Embroidery in Colonial Boston" - beautiful history of gorgeous needlework created by the hands of our 18th century sisters.
(Credit: Henry Alexander (American painter). Lillian Westcott Hale, "Spring Morning")
(google "pillow sprays" for online sources)