Friday, May 30, 2014

The Lovely Long Ago

As pretty as it is, this illustration instantly brought stinging tears to my eyes.  My daughter used to meet me at the door every night, our cat Buddy in her arms.  And surely you know by now that my daughter, my girl, my now grown-up compatriot, is to be married and will be leaving home.  It also seems quite possible that she will be moving to another time zone.  We are both trying to get use to that idea.

When she was six, I heard a country song on the radio one day.  I only recall one line of lyrics and that's plenty because the song is about a daughter leaving home.  "She'll take the picture in the hall", I think.  When my daughter was six, removing pictures from walls seemed far, far away.  Now, it is nigh upon us.

This week, a thousand echoes filled this house - memories in bits and pieces.  I even thought I smelled baby powder one morning and it nearly took my breath away.  A dear friend suggested I lean into my pain and so I did.  I cried.  And cried some more.

People are always telling me how wonderful my daughter is, how lovely and sweet she is, what a gifted teacher she is.  I don't feel I can take too much credit - I had excellent raw material.  She was born good.  And except for a brief period when she was four and I thought she might be possessed, she never gave me any trouble.

I'm done contemplating the lovely long ago, at least for now.  But I know I will be compelled to visit there again.  When I'm ready, I need only follow the whispering come-hither of baby powder.

My Girl

Saturday, May 24, 2014

In Praise of Pink

A friend once asked me why any woman would want to wear the same color as her bassinette.  As a life long true pink lover, I was not offended by her question.  I know I just can't help it.  I am passionate about pink.

Last weekend I saw the Think Pink exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  When I opened the glass doors of the hushed gallery, I felt I had entered another realm - a girly feminine world of delicious confections.  Beautiful rose and pink clothing artfully arranged made my heart leap with joy.  Hats, jewelry, children's clothing, slippers and even a man's suit.  Pink was once a man's color and not often worn by women until the 20th century. 

For me, pink is one of the most evocative colors in the spectrum.  In all its many variations, I am drawn to it like a moth to light.  I love hot pink, ballet pink, rose, coral, even Pepto-Bismol pink.  It makes me happy, delirious even.  Fear not...I am not a throw-back of absurdity in my love of pink:  I wear it discriminately, in a skirt now and then, ballet flats with my jeans, or a cashmere sweater.  I do have one photograph of myself in high school though, where I am wearing a pink dress, pink tights, pink lipgloss and pink nail polish. I would never do that today - I like too many other hues, including black.  I love that picture however, because I am conspicuously being who I am in my heart.

Pink is tender and soft or vibrant and animated.  Its delightful panorama calls out "It's a girl!".  Just like the bassinette.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Ball Gowns and Wedding Dresses

A few weeks ago, my daughter tried on her very first wedding dress.  She was a little shocked at the restricted way the dress felt and the weight of it.  I reminded her that a wedding dress is really a ball gown - designed using principles of math, sculpted with stays, darts, sewn-in layers of petticoats, and netting to hold the body in.  It is not like the easy on and off shifts she wears with little cardigans and flip flops.  A wedding dress is a commitment. 

Last week we traveled to New York to see "Charles James:  Beyond Fashion" exhibit at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  We saw ball gowns designed with the highest standards of haute couture.  Looking at the beautifully intricate gowns, I realized that wearing one would quickly teach a woman how to stand, move and perhaps even how to hold a glass of champagne, so sculpted were they.  The gallery that housed the bulk of the collection was quite dim - only a roving beam from a camera shone on each garment.  The little light searched and roamed the silks and taffetas to highlight breathtaking details such as dramatic drapes, layered tucks and swooping hems.  Because of the darkness, the dresses seemed uncannily suspended like magical apparitions from a grand and gracious by-gone era.  Charles James' time was ephemeral but he created astonishing ball gowns, remarkable for their majestic opulence and artistry.

Since the the exhibit was small, we had time to easily make our appointment at a midtown bridal salon.  I assumed this was to be just a fact finding mission to narrow down the kind of wedding dress my tomboy daughter would most prefer.  First up was a meringue confection that was all wrong for her body and her personality.  The saleswoman cast a critical eye at the shop's offerings, realizing my daughter only wanted something simple with elegance as well as ease.  Within minutes she found what she was looking for and the bride-to-be appeared in a dress with a gently ruched bodice and complete plainness straight to the floor.  I was still skeptical until a dreamy net veil with imbedded lace appliques was pinned to the top of her pretty blond head.  She turned to me just as a shop-worn bouquet of silk flowers was thrust into her hands.  Our misty eyes met and we knew - this was the one.  And although it's not sculptural with lavish folds and swathes of fabric, or a firm inner structure, it will be the dress she wears to the ball.  It is as lovely and hushed as a mother's sentimental sigh.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Refined Living

This Tasha Tudor illustration is from Amy's Goose, a sweet book by Tasha's daughter, Efner Tudor Holmes.  It is only a slight exaggeration to say that it changed my life.  When my child was a mere toddler with a newly minted single mother,  I bought the book because I was captivated by this portrait of a small family having dinner together by candlelight.  I fantasized that the husband and wife, and the little girl Amy, took all their evening meals as a threesome at this elegant yet cozy table. But it is not an exaggeration to say the illustration made me sad too.  And like a wound that hurts only when touched, I rubbed it often.
Soon I became obsessed with dinner scenes in children's books and found many of them.  I looked for mealtimes in films too and studied the china, the cutlery, the flowers and food.  I didn't know at the time, but a shift was taking place - I was crafting a new way of life for myself and my little child.  When we moved from our big country house to a tiny city apartment, I went furniture shopping.  The moment I spied a beautiful smaller dining table, my fingers ran across the fine oak and I heard myself murmur, "This feels like home", even though I wasn't yet sure what home really looked like.
When the table was delivered to the apartment I scurried off for my daughter's antique high chair and discovered it tucked neatly up to the table.  A few days later, I bought some lovely quilted placemats and cloth napkins.  I polished the silver candlesticks that were a wedding present for a marriage that abruptly ended but once on the table with simple beeswax candles, I knew my daughter and I would be a family, just a different version.  Encouraged by Tasha, my vision helped me find the time, despite a working mother's exhaustion, to create healthy meals too.  It wasn't always easy...single parenting is grindingly hard sometimes, but soon I began to feel whole again.  Capable.  Strong. 
Wonderful tablescapes and meals can be spotted wherever you look for them:  literature, picture books, magazines, etc.  It's really about refined living - table manners, good food, conversation, candlelight, sharing.  The other evening, my daughter came home after being away for ten days.  And since I am acutely aware that she will no longer live here after her wedding, I laid out the linens, placed the candles and a flowering plant and made a small meal.  We ate together at our family table in the fading light of a crisp early spring night.  We could have ordered pizza and ate in front of the TV or grabbed a snack and ate in front our personal computers.  But I wouldn't have seen her face as she excitedly described her art museum visit or her delight as she relayed all the airport observations she collects just for me.  Refined living, inspired by a child's book, from long ago.
Great refined dinner on film:  Mrs. Miniver, House of Elliot, Enchanted April, Out of Africa -  where people are civilized, eat continental style and one can hear clinking glasses and the gentle sound of cutlery against  china.  And of course, conversation...and laughter.