Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A "Meg" Winter

Imagine my thrill after reading Little Women at age 10, to be told that the March sisters resided a mere 20 miles away in Concord, Massachusetts.  But then, Orchard House was not open in the winter and I had to wait until spring to visit their fascinating abode.  It was the first of nearly annual jaunts to my favorite 19th century historic site.

I love the 1994 movie version of the Louisa May Alcott book and watch it faithfully each Christmas season but two years ago, Mom gave me "her version" of the film, the one starring June Allyson. Now I view them back to back.  Most girls identify with outspoken, fun-loving, tomboy Jo, but I've always been a "Meg" and proud of it.  She was the March girl I most wanted to get to know, be like, emulate.  Pretty, older, wiser than Jo, she was traditional, wanting home and marriage over adventure.  Perhaps it is because I had such wonderful homecaring role models in my mother and grandmother, or perhaps it is because like Meg, I covet lovely things, which was such a hardship for her during the March's hungry years.

"Meg Goes to Vanity Fair" is my very favorite Little Women chapter because although Meg laments about not having the proper clothes, much is described about the delightfully modest wardrobe her sisters put together for her to take to Annie Moffat's party. It may not have been the most stylish but they were fine garments embellished with love from her sisters' sewing baskets.

This winter, my plan is to return my home to its organized "well-oiled machine" splendor.  I've been neglecting some things and I need to purge.  I will also take a gimlet eye to my closet and update and fix some items in a Meg-like way.  I'll find new ways to put things together - will my faux fur collar look nice with that oldish caramel cashmere sweater?  Can I polish my classic black leather platform pumps back to just-bought splendor?  I'll have a care, take time, embrace frugality, and settle in for the long winter spell.

And so now I must ask, which March sister are you?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Assembly

In the 1960's, every public elementary school in my town held a Christmas assembly each year on the last school day before the holiday vacation.  These programs took place in the dark old basement auditoriums for the benefit our mothers, some of whom came with toddlers in tow, and an odd grandparent or two.  Fathers were usually not torn away from their important jobs for the schools’ little daytime performances and yet, the audience was always filled to capacity.  Each class was required to learn and perform a Christmas carol accompanied by Mrs. Ambrose, the soft spoken grey-haired first grade teacher who played the old piano with enthusiastic flourishes.
In third grade, I had the good fortune to have a fresh from college, hip teacher named Miss Donnelly.  She became known for her innovative method of teaching mathematics, and the shiny new car she drove to our school from Boston each morning, a blazing blue Mustang convertible. Along with the spiffy car and pioneering math instruction, Miss Donnelly was kind and we very much wanted to please our pretty young teacher who in turn had high expectations for us.
Before Christmas, Miss Donnelly told us that we would not only be singing at assembly but we would perform a short dance as well.  She paired us up randomly and I was instantly dismayed by her choice for my dance partner. Earl was much taller than I and was most commonly known for the spit balls he regularly crisscrossed across the classroom from his hollowed out Bic pens.  I had been his beneficiary once or twice and because of his stealth, even eagle-eyed Miss Donnelly had yet to catch on. I groaned inwardly.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, each class was given an hour a day to practice with Miss Ambrose at the piano. The excitement was building as our choreographer, Miss Donnelly, included several pirouettes in unison to match the lilting Christmas carol we were learning to sing. Surprisingly, Earl attended to me rather well, with his alert watchfulness over errant dance partners whose pirouettes threatened to overlap ours. I stopped fretting  until Miss Donnelly gave us our final instructions on the morning of the assembly.
We gathered together in the hallway outside the auditorium, all looking festive in the required costuming: girls in red skirts and white blouses, boys in black pants, white shirts, and green and red ties. But Miss Donnelly warned us darkly that there were to be several lit Christmas trees dotting the stage that had been empty during our rehearsals and woe betide to any pair that caused a tree to topple over during the performance.  As I clasped my icy cold hand in Earl’s, I could not imagine how the trees fit onto the old wooden stage that also included two heavy velvet stage curtains of peacock blue, which already erased a good chunk of dance space.
Soon Mrs. Ambrose called us to the stage.  Our mothers’ faces were open with anticipation as Miss Donnelly stood on the cement floor below the stage, her arms raised in directorial fashion. We began. The further along our performance got, the more we relaxed helped along by the encouraging crowd of family watching from below.  But it was then that Earl caught the heel of my shoe which caused a tumble which edged me precariously close to one of the trees upon the stage, the branch of which scrapped my shoulder.  I felt my heart skip a beat, I heard the audience gasp, and I watched the tree teeter totter in slow motion on its stand.  But just then, I felt Earl’s flat hand on the small of my back and I steadied, quickly catching up after only one missed dance step. In a moment we were back in sync, the tree stopped its terrible quaking and remained upright, and the performance was over.  I looked down at Miss Donnelly.  She was beaming up at us, eyes brimming with tears, hands clapping wildly.  The audience was on their feet with collective relief and laughter.  Our bow to them was deep and well-earned. 
When we returned to school after our long Christmas vacation week, Miss Donnelly thanked us for our performance. But then we took out our times table workbooks.  We were to begin 1965 with the number eight.  I stole a glance over to Earl.  On the top of his desk, the new Bic pens he must have received in his Christmas stocking were lined up like soldiers.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Why don't you.....wear a tartan skirt?

 The inimitable Diana Vreeland included a column called "Why don't you....?" in Harpers Bazaar when she was at the magazine's helm.  Her little suggestions were at times audacious as in, "Why don't you rinse your child's hair in champagne to make it blonder"? (I would have used a lemon), or "Why don't you wear fruit hats"? (no thank you).  But some of Vreeland's suggestions were charming and stylish, i.e., "Why don't you travel with your own wool raspberry throw"?, or "Why don't you tie a dozen silver balloons to your child's bed post on New Years Eve"?  My own "Why don't you....?" for these weeks leading up to Christmas would be "Why don't you wear a tartan skirt?" And I wonder why more women aren't wearing plaid skirts as they are so traditional, so festive, so cute!
There are great ways to make them work in today's world.  For a younger woman, I suggest a shorter skirt, something flippy and reminicsent of a school girl but with edge.  Perhaps a pair of bootie type shoes and tights.  I wear my red plaid skirt with a black cashmere turtleneck and a faux fur scarf.  Long tartan skirts are so hostessy and elegant on Christmas Eve.  Add a large crimson silk flower to your shoulder and keep the rest simple:  simple black velvet slides, a crisp white blouse, soft leather belt.  Tartan pencil skirts are librarian chic.  Why don't you make yours look like an heirloom garment from a great aunt with a shetland cardigan and large marcasite brooch?

Don't rule out tartans that are not red.  Black watch plaid, blues, greens all look pretty with dark tights and with boots.  This is the perfect time of year to get out those plaids.  Why ever don't you???