Wednesday, October 25, 2017

She Shred

It all started with a seemingly innocuous idea...
Tired of the lack of closet space in my small home, I asked a friend if I could borrow his paper shredder. I had known for a while that I wanted to dispose of some old employment papers associated with my long and varied career. Why would I need to keep the performance review that was done just before I left for maternity leave - the one where my boss recorded that I went to the doctor too much?Thirty years ago, even I knew that comment didn’t belong there. So why had I been holding onto it for so long?
The shredder was bigger than anticipated (not to mention louder), and shredding at first was a task I couldn’t wait to finish just so I could get the electric behemoth out of my house as quickly as possible. But after shredding the trail of papers that represented my stop-and-start career, I found myself taking a gimlet eye to something else — my files of divorce papers.

I knew that the evidence of my long-ago marriage, which ended abruptly and with deep pain, had been serving as a silent monument of look-what-he-did-to-me.  Somehow, I had always thought that my daughter would surely want to read these papers.  Of course, this was based on the cherished fantasy that she would understand what I had been through for her.  But after lugging around the files from move to move, I slowly came to the realization that the documents didn't really represent the best of my life, and I wondered if, in the end, I really wanted to leave a mass of harshly-corded paperwork behind.
Opening the massive divorce file gingerly, I began at the beginning: The Separation Agreement. Here is where every detail of single-parenting is laid out. Who would take our daughter on holidays, who would pay for her braces and college, who would drive her to school. I held it over the shredder for a few seconds. Then, it was gone.
Shredding the agreement gave me a sudden surge of confidence, and I found that the more I shredded, the lighter I felt inside. It was as though I was at last unhooking the past and letting it trail off behind me. Out went my budget book from the early divorce years that outlined what I spent on diapers and daycare. Out went the letters from HIS attorney fighting to pay less child support than his salary dictated. Out went my attorney’s final bill. Before long, I was shredding the marital household bills and tax returns. Even the receipt for our bed — the last document with both our names written together.
It was almost as though I were obliterating an entire decade of my life. But instead of feeling sad, I felt liberated from the past and hopeful for the future. And I realized something else, too — that a silly form of magical thinking had been engulfing me all these years and forcing me to keep all these old documents. I had been wondering if something happened in the past and there were no papers to document it, did it really happen?
The shredder answered that question with its constant whirring. Yes, the events occurred - even the dotty boss I worked for all those years ago existed (although he's long gone now). But I also realized that one does not always need to have tangible evidence to prove a life existed. I also just couldn’t imagine my daughter sitting on the floor outside my closet going through each file, page by page. And is that really how I want her to remember me — through a collection of cold, legal documents? Certainly, my life has been more multi-dimensional than a mass of paper, no matter how painstakingly chronological they are.
The entire shredding process took no more than three days, and getting rid of my old papers left a wonderful space in my closet which I have already filled with a small trunk. But new papers and documents won’t be going into that trunk. Instead, I will be filling it with a soft baby blanket of my daughter’s that is now freshly laundered and folded. Also, a stash of favorite books left behind from what turned out to be a very happy childhood.
I’m sure I’ll be picking up a few other newer baby trinkets along the way, as well. I’m going to be a grandmother, and that’s a role I won’t need any papers for.
This piece originally published on a website I contribute to occasionally.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Story of Tea Cups

As my grandmother climbed into her 80’s, I think she recognized that time was winding down.  And though it hurts to remember, I wasn’t too surprised the day she announced, “Your grandfather and I are going back to Canada next spring for one last time”.  She and “Puppy” took a trip to Nova Scotia every couple of years to visit Pictou and Prince Edward Island.  Although it was the place where my grandfather spent his childhood, it was a world much more fully embraced by “Nana Mac” who found inspiration in the craggy landscape and especially in my grandfather’s rich Scottish heritage.

I tried to visit my grandparents weekly, making trips from rural Western Massachusetts to their Boston apartment.  One afternoon, soon after my grandmother’s proclamation, I found that she had laid a cloth over the leather card table she kept folded in the living room.  But instead of our customary lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and iced tea, she had strewn twelve tea cups with matching saucers across the snowy cloth.  Oh was I ever familiar with those beautiful cups – each one a different eye-catching pattern.  They were all dainty and delicate as bone china is, but the varying motifs and colors had been deeply alluring to my young self.  Of course, my sister and I were never allowed to play with the cups but they were regularly brought down from the hutch in the dining room and put into service for Nana Mac’s bewitching afternoon tea parties for us.  We learned the value of fine things at her knee and loved the uniquely individual cups and saucers.

“Pick six!” Nana Mac directed me as she gleefully clapped her hands together.  I didn’t have to think too long – I already knew which of the beautiful cups were my favorites.  I shyly pointed to the two rose-sprigged cups first – one in coral pink and one in baby blue, then the very unusual harlequin cup, and at last, the three etched in gold.  Nana Mac carefully wrapped my selections in newspaper and then placed them in a brown paper bag.  When she finished, she leaned into me with a conspiratorial wink and whisper, “You selected all my favorites”.  I was delighted when after that chicken salad and iced tea lunch, the plain paper bag with its fragile treasures was thrust into my arms with a kiss.

Nana Mac never did make that final journey to her beloved Nova Scotia with my grandfather. She died unexpectedly on a clear cold morning in early winter.  And it wasn’t until spring that year when my sister finally opened her own bundle of cups and saucers.  As we poured hot tea into two of the precious bestowals, I noticed my sister’s voice becoming thick and soft with emotion. “Nana said she saved her favorites for me”.  Or so I thought I heard her whisper…

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On the Eve of A Birthday

Tomorrow is my birthday.  Again.  They sure do come fast and furious now - like contractions.  And yet, I still get a little secret thrill from them although I would not admit that out loud to anybody.  Nevertheless, like a child, I will probably have a delighted feeling inside all day.  I'm too adult (or too old) to expect presents and cake but what I've discovered through the years is that I need neither to feel loved on my day.

I recall nearly all my birthdays.  Shout out an age and I could probably tell you how I celebrated. 9!  Oh that was the birthday my older brother ripped up his leg on an old standing pipe in the backyard and my party had to disband for a bloody trip to the ER - we never even lit the candles on the cake.  17!  How could I forget the first birthday I received a present from a boy - a way-too-sophisticated-for-me gold watch with black Roman numerals I could barely read.  23!  That birthday occurred in the middle of my bridal year and the evening sparkled more than the diamond on my finger.  30!  A sad little birthday alone with my baby in a big house - but her kisses and pats saw me through.  40!, 47!, 53!...and so it goes.  And goes...

What I love most about my birthdays now are the cards I receive.  For two days I let them stand like soldiers on my bookshelf.  I'm tempted to take a picture of them and unabashedly show them off but it's what's written inside that slays me the most.  Winsome phrases and words that make me feel cherished.  A friend from far away who tells me that she misses me or even better - that she thinks of me.  Imagine that.  Thank you, Carol, I think of you, too.

I am always charmed as well, when a well-wisher's card depicts something meaningful to me.  Such was the card I received yesterday from my sister - knowing how much I adore blue and white china and orchids, she somehow found a card with both!  Cards like my sister's say more than Happy Birthday...they say "I know you".  It's always nice to read, "I saw this and thought of you", as Judy's card did today when she sent one with a lovely woman on her bed with a laptop.  Yep, that's me, even now as I write for you here.  Judy knows.  Karen knows too with all the marvelous fairy dust cards she finds just for me.  "The more glitter, the better", we both agree.  Dear Karen, I feel the sparkling love.

I expect birthday greetings from my beautiful niece who always nails it with particularly thoughtful cards, my daughter who finds just the right words to tug at her mother's heart.  And my mother, whose cards I deem especially sacred now - her prim handwriting is still the same as the notes she wrote to my school teachers long ago, but the pretty script  belies the passage of time...

And so, on my birthday's eve, I ask you - why should I not feel a secret little thrill?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

An Heiress' Perfume

I hadn't tried L'Air du Temps in a long time.  Even though it is considered a classic fragrance, it's always been a loyal drugstore brand although I haven't seen it at my local CVS in a while.

For many years, there was a small independent pharmacy in the village where I live.  At the back counter, past all the remedies, were several bottles of L'air du Temps in creamy white boxes.  One dark night - a very rainy one, I happened to see a slender hooded figure walk to the back of the pharmacy and in a whisper, ask for a bottle of L'Air du Temps.  As if he had done it a hundred times before, the kindly old pharmacist reached for a box from the shelf behind him, opened it carefully, and then displayed in his palm, the crystalline Lalique bottle to what turned out to be our town's beautiful young heiress.  Rumor has it...

The romance of that moment - which could have taken place in the very heart of Paris - the lore, the stormy night is what I recalled when I saw this lovely ad from Seventeen '73.  And here, L'Air du Temps is called "The Romantic Perfume" and I think they've illustrated it very nicely with the young woman with long blond tresses in a simple hat who surprisingly resembles our curious young villager.

My imagination surmises that our heiress could probably purchase the most costly perfumes in the world (the family business is a very well-known hosiery empire) and yet, she shops at the local pharmacy in a small fishing village for her bottle of The Most Romantic Perfume.  But that doesn't surprise me really because although she is a rather ethereal personage, I do see her locally from time to time.

After researching the scent, I decided I wanted to sample it again.  I went to a perfume outlet that sells overstock fragrances and found a small tester.  Still being a rather inexpensive perfume, I was surprised to smell how full-bodied it is.  There is a hint of Bergamot but the peppery carnation made me sneeze.  The bottle is breathtakingly beautiful and indeed romantic, with two doves nuzzling each other in translucent glass - it must look impressive on a dresser or vanity.  The history of L'Air du Temps was interesting to read, especially that the fragrance was created after WWII and that its iconic bottle was designed with world peace in mind.

However much I reject the perfume for myself, it will always be associated with our lithe and somewhat otherworldly village heiress.  She certainly trails a storied and romantic wake...

Do you wear L'Air du Temps?  I would love to hear about it...

PS:  Thank you for all your thoughtful comments of late.  I hope to write more frequently in October.