Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On the First Day of a Feminine Christmas

This year my Christmas is being brought to me by Seventeen Magazine, or more specifically, the now-vintage Seventeens of my youth.  There is a certain breathless charm about the December issues that are delightfully filled with optimism and expectation.  For the girl who read Seventeen, anything was possible.  She could go to college, she could get a good job, she could make Manwich #53 and snag a cute boyfriend!

The Christmas issues are brimming with cheer and good times.  It is simply expected that a Seventeen girl would enjoy her holidays immensely with family and friends.  She could perhaps even handle a little spirituality.  Editor Enid Haupt's editorial often included non-secular wishes for her readers and heartfelt reminders to honor the true meaning of the holiday - something that I could never imagine in a magazine for today's young women.  Miss Haupt just naturally assumed that the Seventeen reader attended some sort of church and thus, cared deeply about her faith.

The Christmas layouts look like so much fun too, with groups of boys and girls dancing and laughing together.  There is a group camaraderie and a feeling of dating within a circle - trying out members of the opposite sex in an easy-going no-pressure, platonic way.  The ads are more romantic with couples paired off, and enjoying wholesome things such as getting caught in a rainstorm, picnicking together in a meadow, ice skating, or building a snowman.  There was an expectation that youth was prime-time for sorting through feelings, setting goals, playfully learning to be oneself in new and different ways.

There is also a sense that real beauty comes from within but can be helped along by homegrown self-care and pampering.  Seventeen advertised all the tools a Christmas beauty would need to get gorgeous on her own turf - hairdryers and facial steamers to be used right at the kitchen table, manicure kits and electric razors. There's plenty of perfume advertised for readers to give and to ask Santa for: Chanel 5, Ma Griffe, Ambush, Chantilly... The certainty that all girls liked these things is palpable. And whether it was really true or not, it makes me want to play Christmas Beauty Parlor right in the comfort of my own home this season.  Why spend $150 for the latest craze in facials when I can give myself one by following the example set out by Seventeen's engaging and adorable illustrations and artistry?

And the clothes...bright, colorful, feminine and full of cheer.  No little black dresses for our girls - they wear China red, blue velvet, gold, and bright Christmasy tartans.  Long skirts or minis with tights, their clothes still leave something to the imagination too.  But make no mistake:  Seventeen is not all buttoned-up Edwardian frocks - these are dresses with movement and a certain finesse - just minus the grasping-at-you cleavage and poured-in tightness.  The covers don't have celebrities in shivery bare-to-there evening dresses - clothes are refreshingly and gloriously season-appropriate.  You just know it's December inside.  The luminosity from a Seventeen Christmas doesn't come from scary over-blown makeup either (although skin and lips glow from Yardley Pot-O-Gloss and Revlon highlighting blush sticks) - but from the lifestyle the magazine promotes - respect for self, optimism for the future, and permission to revel all of the traditional ideals of the season.

Vintage Seventeen also presents Christmas as a time to give more than receive and there are many pieces about volunteerism and how to shop for special gifts for loved ones while preserving one's energy for the actual holiday.  And when a Seventeen girl is stuck at home during a snowstorm, she plays cards, bakes goodies, reads by the fire, or wraps presents - and she uses her time to help Mother whenever she can.  No idle hours texting or internet-surfing - Seventeen girls are fully-engaged members of the family.

While it's true that there is an orchestrated simplicity to the vintage Seventeen Christmas and the world today is far different and so depraved in many ways.  But I think the Seventeen girl knew that the world would continue to go on being the world and she believed with all her joyous trembling Christmas heart, that despite war and upheaval, there was still a place in it for her.  I believe too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tender Gifts

I try to give gifts that have intimate meaning to the receiver whenever I can.  I fall short sometimes and other times, I think I score.  Some of the "best" gifts are not in a shop at all - precious presents can sometimes be objects in the house that have lost their luster but may turn out to give joyful  pleasure to someone else.  This Christmas, I plan on gifting a friend an object I no longer "see" but is something I think will delight her.  I'll let you know how that goes.  

My sister has had a lifelong fascination with the moon.  I remembered her lunar love when I saw a leaded crystal vase at an antique shop recently.  On the front, an ethereal lass in a flowing white gown, is etched finely on the glass but I couldn't help noticing that she sits slightly off-center.  I didn't reject the vase because of this quirk because the upper left back of the vase has a charming sliver of a moon and a smattering of white stars. Only after I stared at it atop an old dresser, did I realize that the lady is not centered because she was carved to appear as though she were gazing up at the back of the vase, where the moon and constellation hangs.  Suddenly I knew this work of art belonged in my sister's home and so it became a birthday present to her with along with a bouquet of coral roses.  I think she likes it and I hope my gift conveyed that I see her tender heart.

I have been the recipient of some wonderful gifts that touchingly hit my bulls eye.  I especially remember a pair of shoes a boyfriend gave me on my seventeenth birthday.  He often played "Houdini", as my grandmother called it, when he would disappear and not call for days.  It was agonizing at the time but blessedly, our tumultuous sweep-me-off-my-feet relationship was short-lived.  He knew he wasn't good for me and looking back, I think he just couldn't help it.  But my ardent heart would always take him back even under my grandmother's disapproving eyes.

The object of my affection and I were window shopping one night when I spotted a striking pair of peacock blue velvet shoes.  They had just the right amount of Seventeen magazine bohemian romance that I adored and spoke to the hidden place inside where the girl I wanted to be resided. They were dainty and pretty and instead of a strap they were tied with small silk ribbons, each with a dangling charm - a silver dove on one and a gold heart on the other.  They were charming.  And expensive.  

A few days before my birthday, my boyfriend staged his disappearing act again and I was bereft. When he finally resurfaced, just in time for cake and ice cream, he had an unwrapped box with him. Inside were the velvety shoes clearly bought on the fly. My mother and grandmother thought shoes were an absurd gift for a teenage girl but I knew what they meant.  He saw the dreamy bohemian girl I was inside too and although he didn't stick around to see the shoes on my feet, they became a souvenir of our time together.  They were a risky but tender gift.  Our last parting was tender too...a tender mercy.

It has been said that the scent of the rose remains on the hands of the giver and I believe that.  If someone has been thoughtful enough to choose something they believed would touch my soul, I am grateful for their love.  I enjoy giving my family and friends small luxuries I know they won't buy for themselves and if my presents offer them comfort and a little bit of joy, I am happy.  It doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate...just something that says I tried a little tenderness.

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Kindred Visit

I recently drove six hours to visit my dearest friend for four days.  It was way too short.  We began anew at the spot we left off - where the heartsong plays.  Comforting, kindly, funny - that is what this friendship is.

A magazine brought us together - Victoria.  Our love of home and family found us both on a Victoria-related site, where we "met".  Soon I realized by reading her posts, that we had very much in common.  I reached out to her on the day I received a mean-spirited letter from my former mother-in-law who chose to contact me suddenly after nearly twenty years.  I sent a personal email and lucky for me, my friend, who just happened to be at her office on a Saturday morning to retrieve eyeglasses, logged onto her work computer and read it right away.  She called and together we determined that the unwelcome letter needed to be destroyed.  But it was the balm of her solace and comfort that broke the spell that threatened to ruin my weekend.  And thus began our daily emails and soon-to-be regular visits.

Our first meeting took place at Penn Station in New York City on the day we had lunch with Victoria's founding editor.  I recognized my friend immediately and while we trawled the subway that day, sitting shoulder to shoulder, I felt I had come home to something.  We could not stop talking, sharing, nodding in understanding, and as she sat with me later, waiting for my train home, my mind raced ahead to other potential visits.  I asked her to sign my new journal before we hugged goodbye.

So two weeks ago, I trekked to her neck of the woods again on a beautiful fall day filled with light and color.  I was anxious to see the improvements she made on her home, hear her sing in her church's choir, and meet another friend of hers.  We also did a little bit of shopping which was great fun.  And although it was only to the local mall, I imagined we two with baskets on our arms strolling a charming outdoor Christmas market, just like I saw in Victoria magazine years ago.

Time together always include fashion talks and so topics like new winter coats, ways to make leggings chic, and finding good cashmere were all discussed at length.  I also received a recommendation for an amazing shampoo that I would never have found on my own.  We cooked together and banged around her house reading vintage Seventeen magazines and watching old movies like sisters.  Tea figured prominently.  And hopes for our children...our joys...our fears.  A few fears.

This kindred visit gave me a present - a soul reboot.  As I made my way home alone, driving through the paved hollows of endless red and gold burnished hills, I couldn't even listen to the radio - my mind, so filled with new things and plans, craved room to expand.  I felt grateful to have someone in my life who cares equally about my past, my present, and my future. And in the long quiet miles, I came to see that a kindred friendship is a sheltering tree.