Two Little Girls in Green Dresses and…

This is about two little girls in green dresses, families, a school dance and how it changed lives, and its reverberations.

Amazingly, at least to me, this story starts 50 years ago.

I grew up in Levittown in the era of large families.  It was a time of stricter Catholicism and an innocent optimism. Birth control was restricted and popping a pill was not yet a common thing. There were these huge, iconic families with children in every grade. People said that Levittown looked alike.  It wasn’t the houses.  It was the children, families of  little rubber stamps.  About 10 years ago, I went to a party of Levittown people.  One of the men asked, “Do you know who I am?”  An interesting question that I have heard throughout the years. There were at least 3 – 4 of them, one older than me, one my age, one my brother’s “You are one of the P brothers.”  We all laughed and he told me which one he was.  He was my age.

Another family was the Gs.  I don’t know how many there were but there was my age and brackets. B had a crush on  me when he was in kindergarten and I must have been in third grade.  Upon seeing me at a reunion decades later, he asked, “Don’t you feel anything between us?” “Yes, I do.  Your wife.”  His brother T was/is my age.  The family was large, popular and unbridled.  I remember Mrs. G writing a letter to the local paper about her children being able to look into what passed for a strip club at the time, at 9:30 at night!  My thought was why were they out then when that was my bedtime.  T was popular and arrogant with that teenage boy swagger.

He was part of a crowd of those boys.  Every school has them, in every year.  They band together in their adorable cuteness.  Girls love them, for the most part unrequitedly.  Teachers pander to them in order for their classes to be unencumbered with chaos and testosterone. They rule the halls, the classrooms and the schoolyards for that brief, shining moment in their lives.  It’s been my experience, for the most part, that those charmed boys and girls, once school is behind us, morph into fatness, polyester and, for the guys, baldness. I had liked T in 2nd and 3rd grade but outgrew it.  By the time junior high school rolled around, I steered clear of him and those boys. They weren’t part of my world and I didn’t want them to be.

I met Sue(no initials here, we share the same name) in the fall of 9th grade. She had transferred from Catholic school.  We were introduced because we had the same name. 9th grade is a cusp between the child and the young adult.  We shared a name so we must have similarities. Well, we did both have brown hair, wore glasses and were “nice” girls.

There was a holiday dance that year.  These were simple affairs. It was in the cafeteria.  There may have been crepe paper.  The lighting was dimmed.  There were records with pop tunes.  I had attended the end of school dance the previous spring, worn white lipstick for the first time and had had fun with my friends.  We were nerds although the term was not in use then.  I believe we were known as  weirdos.  We were the advanced class and in many cases had known each other all our lives.  When you grow up as closely as that, you have a defined role and place.  However, there was still the remote possibility that things might change. A dance held magic, unnamed possibilities for a girl like me.  Glamour was an undercurrent. It was still the era where girls could not wear pants, let alone jeans to school.  Mini skirts had arrived but were not yet micro. 

The afternoon of the dance, E asked me if I wanted to go?  Sure. I didn’t take it as a date.  My first real date happened on the last day of 11th grade. I had known E since we were both  7.  He was funny and nice.  He liked comic books.  He was thin but was gaining a bit of weight  He was blond.  I don’t particularly care for blond guys.  Apparently, E saw it as a date, as I found out later.  We were driven separately.  In those days, once you arrived at the dance, you stayed.  Your coats were taken and left in the gym.  It was only E and I from our regular set that night.  As soon as the coats were locked and we entered the cafeteria, E had a severe asthma attack and had to go home. This apparently was brought on by the pressure of the “date”.  Instead of telling a teacher, we had come together which would have allowed me to call my parents and leave; I was adolescent, awkward. embarrassed and found myself to a folding metal chair at the edge of the dance floor.

I had been excited about going to this dance. It was an occasion.  Since, it was late notice, my mother let me wear her green sheath. Since it was hers,  I felt it was the height of sophistication.  She gave me a long chain necklace with green stones.  I had graduated from white lipstick to pearlized pink.  I have always had my own specific sense of style. In my mind’s eye, I was adult and glamorous. Teenagers at that time in Levittown went to Mays Department Stores for their clothes.  Everyone wore the same thing.  This was not me.  It accentuated my differences. The houses may not have been the same but at times, it appeared the people were uniform.  So, there I was in my version of sophistication, sitting on the edge of the dance floor, counting the hours and minutes until I could escape.  Counting the minutes is something that I later learned from Sue to do correctly.  A group of about three of those boys approached.  The only one I remember after all these years was the ringleader, T.  Those boys mocked me, asked me to dance, grabbed at me, made apelike motions.  It was awful.  I sat there, mortified. The chaperones didn’t materialize.  A was a stocky boy.  Boys are not fat.  A was middle of the road.  He was smart. A was also brave.  He stepped up to those boys.  “Leave her alone.  Just leave her alone.” They were stunned. And then, Sue swept in.  “You are in a green dress, so am I.  C’mon and dance with us.”  Sue was in a moss green chiffon dress that had been cut down, if I remember, from a wedding. An age of glamor, mystery and possibility. Two little girls in green dresses;  she led me by the hand to a circle of girls dancing .  The evening eventually ended.  I went home, cried hysterically and threw up.  My parents declared I was never to go to another dance again.  I never did until I reached college.

the green dress

It was the start of a decades long friendship for Sue and I.  She has taught me so much about how to live my life.  I carry those lessons with me. Counting the time lets me cope with infusions and MRIs.  Okay, I also sleep through MRIs. She taught me about connecting to life and to others.  Reaching out and being brave can change a life.

We ran into A at a reunion some years back and thanked him for that evening.  He remembered! He also remembered that he was slightly scared because he, too had to go against those boys.  It was the right thing to do. He is still a lovely man.

T is in my life.  We saw each other at our 10th reunion.  We spoke.  I met his wife.  He was adult as was I. Years later and I don’t remember how, he asked me to read a play he was writing and subsequently had produced.  He knew that I read tons and attended lots of theater.  We became distant friends on Facebook.

All three of us have faced  significant health issues and situations.  It has been a true and deep comfort to share with people who knew you when and before. We weren’t always broken.  When we talk, I picture us as we used to be. We are young and healthy.

T is now my health insurance broker yet we speak of many things.  “Of shoes — and ships — and sealingwax —. Of cabbages — and kings —. And why the sea is boiling hot —. And whether pigs have wings.”  We have a common past.  It’s not only a shared geographic past but of a certain time and place, a shared youth.  We have never spoken of that dance.  I don’t even believe he remembers it.  We talk of people.  And if you are reading this T, this is what I want to say, not what I should say. We have had conversations around that topic. I love that my life moved on and can still include that boy.

I recently came across that green dress.  Yes, I still have it although I had forgotten.  It looks so tiny.  It’s hard to imagine my mother wearing it; let alone me.  I kept it for all it represented to me – sophistication, pain, strength, deep and abiding friendship.  Two little girls in green dresses at a dance  and a lifetime.

In Which a Gypsy Contemplates Another Move

I lived with a man once who derogatorily declared that I was a gypsy and could move my life in a cargo van.  True.  But was that a bad thing?

I have moved very few times over my life and each time, the move has evolved and reflected where I am in life, not just physically. As I prepare to move again, I look back.  My days of gypsy moves are gone.  My youth has passed.  My mobility has become impaired.

I really didn’t move initially  in a real sense but lived away in college.  My second through fourth years were lived in Rogers House, a brick 4 story house across from the university.  It was a walkup. My first year there was on the 2nd floor.  It was emergency housing for me and I believe my friends helped me move in possessions and clothes. It was already furnished.  Every year, I had to leave and come back.  This involved travelling back and forth with my father only.  There was never enough room for my mother.  The third and fourth years, I lived on the fourth floor.  My father must have helped me.  I ran up and down those stairs several times a day.  It was a very modern apartment for the times. It had a trash compactor.  Well, as fit as we all were,  45 pounds of compacted trash were slightly beyond us.  We became known as “the girls with the garbage” because any time someone walked us home and walked up those four flights with expectations, they literally left with garbage.  I had to sit with hats on my lap in my father’s car when I left because there was no space. I can’t believe how easily I ran up and down those stairs and with stuff.  Who knew 40 years later that I would not be able to manage unaided the two steps up to my home.

I came home to my parents  and stayed put for years.  My postal worker and I started to look for a place to live together.  We couldn’t come to an agreement so I found my own place.  It was the 2nd floor of a house.  I absconded with my bed, my parents’ black and white TV, my bedroom set which had been theirs originally and my childhood desk.  My brother must have done that move.  My boyfriend certainly did not.  I bought a room divider at Ikea and lifted it in pieces up the stairs.  I acquired a color TV and VCR one Black Friday  which I also lifted up myself.

I became engaged, not to the postal worker.  We rented a cottage in another town.  My fiance rented a cargo van.  His brother and my best friend came along to help.  We should have known there was trouble ahead when a piece of furniture couldn’t get out the door. D’uh, take the door off the hinges.  Girls knew about that?  Yes, “girls” in their thirties knew that.  Girls had their own tools provided by their fathers and girls knew how to remove hinges.  A van and two packed Escort hatchbacks did the job.

Of course, the marriage was doomed. My brother knew this the night of the wedding when he came back to the cottage and I announced, “This is John’s room and over here is my room.”  I became almost clinically depressed.  My father said he would not help me with the move.  I had to hire a mover even though I was broke.  I packed 17 boxes and piled then in the living room before my then husband realized I was serious.  The mover expressed condolences to me on dealing with my parents and said “I give you three months.”  It was more like three years.  My father had cleared the garage for me and then decided he needed it back.  Rent storage space; load up the Escort and stack boxes.

Next move.  I met a man my parents detested; he of the gypsy comment.  He rented the cargo van and I loaded the Escort up yet again. It was 1 floor.  It did not work out.  I quietly found an apartment on the top floor of a house and just as quietly began to move things out.  I did have a problem.  I needed someone to drive the van.  My friend had a business with workers who liked me.  They would help.  However, her husband said he liked the man and could not take sides.  I took the man out to dinner and he knew immediately I was leaving him.  He drove the van cementing forever his version of the gypsy life with the cargo van.  My friend’s workers met us and it was the easiest move I ever had.  

Next move was from that apartment into a home of my own with my new husband. His 18 year old son and friend helped.  Just worked part time for “Joe the Mover.” He borrowed a box van.  We couldn’t rent something to let him drive.  He was too young.  The box van didn’t do it.  I had every Bon Appetit from 1984 -2006.  I had to resort to “rent a wreck” and a cargo van.  And I drove it and it was easy.  There was a basement with “mad crazy stairs” and an upstairs.  I didn’t even take a day off from work.  It appeared my gypsy days at ended.  I had a husband, furniture and a mortgage.

As my condition progressed and the neighborhood deteriorated, it became apparent it was time to move on.  There were no more cargo vans in my future.  The projected move was out of state and to the South no less. Let’s be real, a move to another country, just one without a passport.  A real mover.  As much as I advocate change, I still consider move and pack ugly four letter words. Moving requires an evaluation of where you have been, where you are and where you think you are going.  The destination is never clear or defined until you actually alight.  It’s painful, at least to me. Think about the optimism when one starts.  There is a reason the move is taking place.  It is a leap into an unknown.  There are simple things such as “Will the sun still make my walls glow?”  What is the library really like?  What sounds do you hear in the still, quiet of an evening? Then the most important questions – “What do I take and what do I leave behind?

A good friend and I have had this discussion in terms of the migrant experience.  What do you take in your grip? And what’s left behind?  As I contemplated this move, I had to reflect yet again on my grandmother and what she brought with her; how she brought  it and what she left behind.  Grandma brought crystal, champagne glasses with stems so thin, they break if you breathe.  Only one is left.  Other crystal that was her mother’s.  Silver service for at least 36 people.  It was for a way of life that no longer existed.  Tea cups. undefined Vases.  Trinkets.  A crystal heart with a silver cover holding a lock of her dead sister’s hair. The silver sandwich tray that the servants would put sandwiches out for Sunday supper.  The paper cross that held the rose rosary beads given to her by my grandfather. undefined Pictures of relatives; some lost to the mists of memories.  What was left behind?  Fiestaware dishes.  A way of life.  Friends.  Family.  Home.undefined

So, I was faced to evaluate what was worth sixty cents a pound to me. Definitely most of my books.  My great-grandfather said that books are your best friends. They represent the times in my life. There are the childhood books: Heidi, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Little Women, the Bobbsey Twins. College: Victorian poets, Fanon, Marx, TS Eliot. Life: Cookbooks, Dickens, Rhys. I would be leaving my life behind. My umpteen sets of dishes for every occasion.  This is  a fetish inherited from my grandmother and filtered through me.  A dining room set that I had to acquire when I bought a home.  All of a sudden, I am no longer a cargo van gypsy but a woman of substance; of nearly 12,000 pounds of “stuff” and a tractor trailer.

And I could no longer lift things or pack  due to my condition.  No more footloose and fancy-free days for me. It’s sobering.  Is this “weight” I wanted?  What do I leave behind?  It’s a new era so my friends and family are only a telephone call or video chat away.  I definitely lose a sense of place and time.  I knew the rhythms and scent of my life; the hot tar city smell, the salted beach sand, the magnolias, the mums, the roads.  And am I ever going to be that life packed into a cargo van gypsy again?  She has been left behind and I miss her terribly.

Only Connect – Howling and Mortality

A long read but somethings I needed to get out.  I read “Howard’s End” my senior year of high school.  “Only connect” was embedded.  Truth be told, it makes more and more sense, the older I get.

Lately, there seems to be a lot of death.  A friend has suggested that it’s our age.  I don’t think that I am that old.  In fact, an “ex-sister-in-law” said at the funeral of one of my exes, that anyone nowadays who dies under the age of 80 is young.

Having this condition makes one focus more on mortality. It becomes even closer.  One of the first things I was told was, ‘you don’t die from it.” Ha, but the complications can kill you. Oh, well.  You become aware of the fleeting nature of time and its quality. And is it the principle of reflection and all around you people start to die?

I guess I could be considered rather stoic.  I barely cried when my parents died.  I gave both their eulogies with dry eyes and an unwavering voice.  I wept when my friends Chris and Scott died.  They were much too young.  They were supposed to outlive me.

I have had three “significant others” die.  My parents didn’t believe in euphemisms.  Dead was dead.  The first was just before we were thirty.  It was AIDS.  I was stunned and furious.  The second was a year or so later, cancer.  Again, stunned.  The last was three years ago, heart attack.  Again, stunned.  I mourned each one of them in my way.  Since they were “ex”, regrets, “Bell Bottom Blues”.

The last few weeks have been filled with death.  The elder brothers of two women I grew up with died.  They were older than me so I didn’t know them but felt the pain of lives ended early. Then a few Sundays ago, I read on the ever important Facebook  that Matt F had died. He is frozen in my mind like this picture. Susan Sontup and Matt Ferber 70's Reunion 2001 Pictures are deceptive.  We were never friends.  He was younger than me.  This was taken at a Classes of the 70’s reunion at the end of the evening.  He was not my date but we had gotten to talking in that buzzy , blurry alcohol way.  He insisted on the picture.  We all ended up at an after party at some bar.  He grew on me.  I decided he was my story.  He wasn’t.  However, he was so vital and so much fun.  I was just stunned to find out he was gone, way, way too young. I reeled  I understand the turnout for the wake was huge. The time between the picture and death was negligible.  At a dinner the night before the reunion, Joey K looked around and said, “We are in the last third of our life now.  We need to make it worthwhile.”  Huh?  Speak for yourself.  I was so not there.  Now I get it.  I am staring down the barrel of my mortality.

Next death.  This one occurred earlier and reaches farther back.  I didn’t find out till months after, just in the last month.  I knew Judy as a child.  We were in day camp together.  She was a very pretty, sweet child with pale blond hair and huge, dark blue eyes. As we aged, I was in the advanced class and she wasn’t.  Somehow, we stayed friends.  I can remember cutting high school with her and taking the bus to the mall.  It was there she told me about the truant officer.  I had always cut school.  It bored me and I was bullied but I had always just gone home.  Those days set the pattern for the rest of my life.  If I didn’t like something, someone I walked it out and away.  It frustrates me that I can no longer do that.  Judy had a job after school in a grocery store.  She tried to get me in.  No one ever wanted to hire me.  I was a hard sell, even then.  I am very much my own person in terms of style and opinion.  Senior prom approached.  In the way that teenagers just know things, I realized my first week of high school that senior prom was not going to happen for me.  Judy met Joe at the grocery store.  He was older than us and already out of school. They suggested I go to prom with them.  It’s not like today where you can go stag or with a group of friends.  My parents and uncle volunteered to fly my cousin up to accompany me.  I voted no.  Shortly thereafter, scandal swept the school as Judy married Joe before graduation. Again, in those days you could not be married and be in school.  It was only two weeks prior to graduation so the assumption was that she was pregnant.  In later years, when it came up, I would always remark, “That’s why the baby was born more than two years later.”  Judy and Joe came by my parents in early summer.  My mother remarked, “How nice of Judy to bring her handicapped brother.”  They were simple souls.  Joe died this January after 46 years of marriage.  I cannot even begin to imagine that void.

Only connect.  Judy and Joe could not have another child.  They tried to adopt but were told they could not.  The story goes that they were denied because of their limited capacity.  My best friend’s mother knew Judy as she grew up behind my friend’s home.  She was angry as she said that Judy and Joe had so much love to give and why deny a child love?  S and I were firm friends from 9th grade.  It started as one of those intense teenage girl friendships. The Thursday after Matt died, I received a text from S that her sister, J was dying and not expected to live. I sat at the dining room table and sobbed and  howled.  S had older sisters.  J was 9 years older than us  and was in the Airforce. She was stationed in Orlando where Disney World had just opened up.  J took a part time job there which entitled  her to reduced admission.  She invited S and then me to join her for spring break!  In Florida! With Disney World! In retrospect, this was insanity.  It became one of the seminal trips of my life.  There were many life  lessons learned. We were very excited and as our mothers had to remind us, Florida was still part of the United States so we did not have to pack every single thing we owned.   Somehow, our flight changed from direct to a changeover in Atlanta.  The travel agent thought it was a good idea.  Really?  Neophyte  girl travelers switching planes.  We did fly first class. I had not flown since I was a baby.  S had never flown.  We were told to make sure our luggage transferred.  Indeed, we saw the blue (hers) and the red(mine) being wheeled across the airport.  We were two shy, sheltered girls.  We found the airline for the connection at the far end of the terminal.  It was a trailer which set off a fit of giggles. More giggles when a boy our age asked, “Dad, should we call the flight now?”  It was a puddle jumper.  S had an ear infection but had been  cleared to fly jets, not puddle jumpers.  First life lesson learned – if something can be timed, it can be endured.  I have used this one so many times.  Surprisingly enough, not for MRIs which I tend to sleep through but I do advise it.  On the flip side, this disease/condition cannot be measured so…

Despite seeing our two bags toddle off, they did not arrive with us.  This created a problem as J and I were larger than S.  Remember teenage girls?  This appeared to be catastrophic.  Second lesson learned – always have one change of clothes and a nighty in your carry on luggage,  Again, a lesson that has served me well over time.  Eventually, I was able to do business trips that way.  I did an overnight to Chicago once with  just a briefcase.

Our vacation was Easter week and the next day was Good Friday.  J had one more day of work. Because S had nothing to wear we did not walk outside.  The air was warm and scented with oranges.  We wanted to tan and walk. Teenage girls have to have “the” outfit.  We stayed in awaiting the luggage.  We did have a look round to see if there was any way we could cannibalize J’s clothing.  No luck.  But what we did find was her boyfriend’s underwear.  It is important to note that this was 1972 and living with was not a norm, especially for an intensely Catholic family. Lesson learned :  Everyone has private lives that no matter how close you think are, are theirs.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of our lessons for the day.  I was already beginning to believe this one though being a teenage girl clouded it a bit.  Lesson learned:  Everything happens for a reason.  In later years, my mother said that this was one of two phrases that would be engraved on my tombstone.  On that Good Friday, an horrific plane crash occurred, yards from J’s house.  (Good Friday B52 Crash ).  We would have been outside had our clothing arrived.  J saw the plane appear to crash on her house, with her baby sister and friend inside.  Many, many tears.  Until well into my twenties, I shook any time a plane flew low.  Because of that, I cannot even begin to imagine the trauma suffered by the 9/11 downtown survivors. However, as I write this today, the Blue Angels are in town for an airshow and every time they fly over the house I tense, nearly 50 years later.  Cars kept us awake all night long, driving and gawking by the crash site.  Lesson :  People feed on others sorrow.In retrospect, J was incredible.  Despite the death of her friends, she gave us the best time.  Last lesson for that trip:  A good haircut changes everything.  J took us for our first adult haircuts – ducklings to swans.  I used to reflect on how brave she was but as she was passing from this earth, I had to acknowledge the profound effect she has had and will continue to have on my life.

As I have been reflecting and writing this, someone else from my childhood has died.  It appears I am living in an epidemic of death.  A was younger than I. We belonged to the same arty, hippie circles.  There is a picture in the yearbook of Students for Peace.  We are both in it.  People look at the picture and frequently mistake her for me.  It’s a bit eerie, especially now. Once again, I howled and sobbed.

Only connect.  Again, the ever present Facebook.  Synchronicity.  Someone posted about the ’50’s classes in my high school.  A fellow replied that his father taught English then and later.  Right, the teacher who taught “Howard’s End”.  Only connect.

Uncommon Women and Others and Being Amazing

The first time I saw Uncommon Women and Others, I was completely electrified.  I saw it on PBS, shortly after I graduated college and just a few years after it had been written.  I watched it upstairs at my parents in what we called the office on their black and white TV.  We were always behind the times that way. It shocks me now to see old programs in color when  I have vivid recollections of them in black and white.  Uncommon Women resonated with me for several reasons.  Even though it was set at a Seven Sisters school and I went to a sub Ivy, I recognized that type of young woman.  There were lots at Goucher and some even at Hopkins where I attended.  In the play, the women are looking back at their lives from the vantage point of 30.  They had promised when they were 30, they were going to be amazing.  I was still in my 20’s and living with my parents.  I needed to believe that thirty could and would be amazing.

Watch this play and you will see early performances by Meryl Streep, Jill Eikenberry and Swoosie Kurtz.  Amazing.  It also confirmed my longing for strong, female friendships.  I had gone to what was essentially an all boys school.  I had rebelled against my mother who saw me at Vassar or Radcliffe.  I did want Bennington but she vetoed that because – shock- a women’s college with a woman president!  In many ways, she was a product of her era.

I did develop those strong female friendships along the way.  I am still in contact with my college roommate over 40 years later.  I have reconnected with some of the girls of my youth.  I have other women I have picked up along the way that have given me an incredible safety net, strength, support and love.  But sitting watching that black and white TV, I knew none of that.

I remember thinking as I watched that I wish there was a way to keep this, like a book, so I could take it out and look at it whenever I wanted.  A few years passed.  It came back on PBS.  By then, I was over 30 with a color television of my own and a VCR to record it.  The world was moving.  I wasn’t amazing but I was doing alright.  I was making crap money; had a glamorous job; and was not working up to my potential.  I was, however, known as a person with friends.  I had a therapist at that time who told me I defined myself as a friend.  I did not think it was a bad thing.

 

I, like the women in the play, began to believe at 40, I would be amazing.  Forty came and went and I was so not amazing.  I no longer had the glamorous job and was back with my parents.  Volunteering saved me.  I was lucky to have a volunteer position that involved raising money to support and advance women’s rights.  New York, my state, was never ever going to be able to compete against California.  There is just too much money there.  However, Uncommon Women and Others continued to resonate with me.  I used it in my stump speech all the time.  I believed that as a state, we could raise our fundraising and be amazing.  We, as women, could and would be amazing. Was this uncommon?

 

Time advanced.  I was ecstatic to discover Uncommon Women and Others on DVD.  I bought a handful and gave them to my important women friends one Christmas.  Technology was amazing.

 

Wendy Wasserstein wrote other, wonderful powerful plays about women.  I have been blessed to be able to see them.  These plays grew along with me. Women of a certain age will relate to The Heidi Chronicles. She became an iconic voice for women. Wendy Wasserstein was truly amazing and she died.

I passed 50 and was still waiting to be amazing, then 60.  I still aspire to be amazing.  As the years have passed, my concept of amazing has changed.  In my 20’s, I wanted the job, the car, the man, the friends.  It didn’t change much for my 30’s.  I did have all of that but somehow it wasn’t amazing enough.  My 40’s found me rebuilding – a broken marriage,  broken relationships, a different career, better friends and moments to be amazing.  I am very proud of the work I did for that organization and hoped I have helped other women find their “amazing”. 50’s – almost there.  I had created a sort of life that became blown up by disease.  I fought and continue to fight.  60? Still standing and literally that is remarkable and amazing.  I was filled with more fortitude than I thought possible.

 

Amazing changes through time and space.  Can I say now when I reach 70, I am going to be amazing?  Seventy sounds like a foreign country, unexplored and unimagined but closer.  I thought when I graduated college that I would go for my PhD in my 60’s.  Well, that ship sailed.  I still have the curiosity and the interest.  However, time and money have become finite.  I consider myself amazing sometimes because I have been able to find and hold uncommon women and “others” in my life.  I never could have imagined that or its importance when I first experienced the play. Sometimes, when I consider what life has thrown at me, I may be amazing.  I still keep on trying.  I try to walk.  I miss the feeling of speed and air when I am walking.  Sometimes, I miss working yet still I tick on. What makes us uncommon women and what makes us amazing?  I consider my uncommon women friends amazing.  Each in her own way is unique yet the same.  They are intelligent, curious, courageous, inspiring.  They lead.  They share.  They never stop changing.  They are principled.  They have style and substance whether they acknowledge it or not. I have fulfilled one of my wishes from when I first saw “Uncommon Women and Others”, I have those close female friends for decades, uncommon women each and everyone of them, and that is AMAZING!

Fashion of the Times

Karl Lagerfeld has died and T, the fashion magazine of the New York Times  has been published.  What can that possibly have to do with my life, challenges, struggles?  Everything.  I joke that, “Clothing is my life.”  Well, it’s really not a joke. My mother told me when I was a young teenager that I was going to be a clothes horse My clothes are my expression.  Give me a moment in my life and I will tell you what I wore and why.  For example, my final interview for the job that finally took me to pret a porter – a lavender tweed suit with a bomber style jacket, cream silk blouse and lavender snakeskin pumps.  I was advised that if I wore those shoes, I’d never get that job.  It was in mens accessories and I had two points to make:  I was not a man and I was my own person.  A picture exists – a young me in a Jonathan Logan floral in Georgetown during the Cherry Blossom Festival.  People thought I was a model.  Sometimes, clothing is a weapon.  “A face to meet the faces you meet.”

I grew up with a grandmother who supported her children by sewing.  She didn’t need a pattern. My mother needed a dress for a charity ball and had liked a dress in a movie with Ingrid Bergman.  She took Grandma to the film, pointed out the dress and it was done.

REIMA 1940'S GRANDMA MADE DRESS FOR A BENEFIT

I never knew my actual size until I was in 8th grade as Grandma made most of my clothes.  The truth came out in what later became a pivotal moment for me.  The sewing pattern companies used to come into the schools and do fashion shows.  I was chosen by the company coordinator to model in the evening wear portion of the event.  This is the equivalent of the bride in a designer show.  She was stunned I didn’t know my size.  I was stunned I was picked. And being considered ugly by my peers, she picked me for evening wear.   It was a short lace dress with a turquoise empire top and an eyelet lace flounce. A style minus the flounce that has served me well over the years.

Fashion and clothes were just an important part of our lives.  We lived with color, fabric, sewing.  My grandmother’s idea of bliss was a good fabric store.  I still seek one out periodically to get my fix. It’s the feel, the colors, the possibilities.

Fashion was such an integral part of life that I had no idea that it could be a career.  I knew about designers, of course.  But that was drawing, something best left to my mother.  And besides, I was considered too smart for something so frivolous and seemingly transitory.  I was asked by my university placement office what I wanted to do.  My reply, “Wear Vogue clothes.”   Well, I was told with a degree from Hopkins I could do anything and buy anything.  I did eventually get to wear my Vogue clothes but not for years.

The Fashion of the Times used to come out twice a year.  Starting in high school, it was my bible.  I devoured it.  I hoarded it.  I practically took the ink off the page.  I would look at it for EVERYTHING – clothes, colors, shoes, hair, makeup, accessories.  Each category received a separate reading and evaluation.  Then which looks were my favorites, which I thought would sell (not necessarily the same) and which were bombs.  This took days.  Then I saved them for reference materials; my own private fashion library.  And I can say, I was very, very good at it. I had a manager years later who laughed because I would come up with designs similar to Ralph Lauren without his resources or library.  Fashion infuses your pores.

I went back to school.  I earned a fashion degree. My first job was at Bobbie Brooks.  And so much for a fashion degree.  I was hired because I was Libra and therefore perceived as balanced; I was the only candidate with her own personal stationery; and they thought my Hopkins degree in social sciences gave me a psychology background.  And yes, “The Devil Wears Prada” is real.   My Fashion of the Times  obsession served me well.  I have my own very specific sense of style.  And it has been recognized.  I have been blessed to attend pret a porter as a licensee.  You cannot begin to imagine my absolute, utter rapture. I remember standing outside the designer tent the first time.  It was a warm, blue morning.  I was near tears as I thought of my grandmother and how proud she would have been of me, and how envious.    And even in my lowly capacity, people noticed what I wore and commented weeks later when back in New York.

I have always been definite about what I liked and did not like.  Chanel always resonated.  I saw an ad recently  with pale blue lace pants and had palpitations.  I calmed down a bit when I realized I had nowhere to wear anything like that plus it might be a bit jeune fille for me.  Isn’t it difficult when you see yourself in your mind’s eye one way but the mirror holds a different reality? And me being my tweaky little self bought a pale blue lace top at a thrift store last year.  Important note:  normally blue is not my color.  Fashion is in the pores. Yellows, blues, greens belonged to my mother.  I was pinks, lavenders, reds, black, grey.  I liked Versace when Gianni was alive, all those wild exciting prints. St. Laurent, sometimes for a viewpoint;  Ungaro for prints and color; Vollbracht for the art; Zoran for his elegant spareness, a little Valentino, tiny bit of Calvin Klein, Max Mara.

What I did not like:  Vuitton, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, Ralph Lauren.  I detested Lauren and thought it wannabe and derivative.  ( I did say I have/had definite views.) I interviewed once at Lauren and the manager told me I was a classic American beauty.  NOT!! And #Metoo.  I knew what was up with that gig.  I worked for Izod-Lacoste which to me was like nails grating on a blackboard.  In my last fashion gig, decades ago, I was told to copy The Gap!  Seriously? Seriously. It contributed to the demise of my fashion career.

And a favorite memory from that fashion time, before I had the job that let me go to pret a porter.  I was out of work as happens often in the garment industry.  I had a temporary job through a connection, as basically a messenger and dogsbody for a prominent jewelry designer.  I had to deliver some jewelry to Adolfo.  Going up in the lift (and of course, at Adolfo, it was a lift and not an elevator) a gentleman said to me. “My dear, you are much too young to be dressed by Adolfo.”

I have noticed in the last year or so that I actually like the full page Ralph Lauren ads in the Sunday Styles. I have wondered whether this is due to age, new designer or both?

Sunday Styles (aka the women’s pages) are the first thing I read in the Sunday Times.  One of the things that has really bothered me about my condition is my inability to wear what I want to wear.  It’s how I express myself.  I no longer go to work so for the most part those lovely dresses and suits just hang.  They are like pearls that aren’t worn, houses that are not lived in.  They have an air of desolation and creeping deterioration. I can no longer wear the right shoes either.  My shoes destroy the line and with it some of the joy.  We can’t even begin to understand the impact of the spectral leg, cane/rollator. What’s ironic is that I am finally thin enough to wear some of the looks I’ve wanted.

Life changes.  It’s no longer Fashion of the Times but T.  I receive my Sunday supplement on Saturday.  In the past, that would have been my Saturday and Sunday.  I just opened it during the week .  I am still at the beginning.  Surprise – I loved the Vuitton; I loved the Gucci; I detested the Max Mara?  What’s going on?  Is it age?  Some of it.  A new designer? Definitely.  So, here’s the other issue – I love the Vuitton but it’s for the young Versace- Ungaro me. The things I like are too young for me.  Well, maybe not the Gucci which appears Chanelesque.  More troubling is why I still haven’t finishing devouring it.  And if I remember correctly, I only tore one page out of the previous issue.  What’s going on?  If I have left fashion behind, does that mean as a senior citizen I am finally leaving my youth behind?  I don’t think this is correct.  Women  much older than me, revel in fashion.  Age ain’t what it used to be.  Is it depression?  I guess so.  Isn’t it said, what happens when a tree falls in a forest when there’s no one there?  Is the joy gone because no one will see me? Or, that I can no longer afford it?  Disclaimer – I have only worn knock offs with the exception of two Emanuelle Khanhs and a Vollbracht.  Hair and shoes no longer apply.  Something to ponder as I go back to my magazine.

St. Pat’s, the Ides, Anniversaries, Joes

According to my mother, her grandfather emigrated from Ireland to Jamaica.  This is not unusual.  My father was Eastern European Jewish.  St. Patrick’s Day was always huge in my house.  We always had corned beef, cabbage and beer, even for us littles.  Amongst the most played records in our house was an Irish sing-a-long record.  I am constantly amazed that my husband, whose father is the first of his siblings born in the States, does not know the words to any of the old songs.  A few times, when I was older, I treated the parents to the Chieftains on St. Pat’s.  All that being said, I can’t stand the holiday, never could.

St. Pat’s was insane when I first started working in Manhattan.  Firstly, and the one thing I am in agreement with my brother-in-law, was that the trains were crammed with non-professional commuters.  This had nothing to do with work classification but rather with knowing how to commute.  Secondly, it was the era where smoking was allowed on the train and the revelers would smoke even if it was a non-smoking car.  The streets were clogged with drunken teenagers and others.  By the end of the day, the celebrants were vomiting on the streets and in the train.  If I could, I’d call in sick.  As to driving at night, it wasn’t happening for me.  Even in that relaxed era, I was not voluntarily putting myself in the path of drunk drivers.

On the other hand, I am writing this on the Ides of March, which as a teen, I did celebrate.  I was part of a group of nerdy, good kids in high school.  Today, the weather is similar to those long ago remembered Ides, warm with wind.  Our group would cut school and walk several miles to what was then called Salisbury Park.  We would run around and walk home late.  We had read Julius Caesar and it had captured us.  Bear with me and this will come together.

I have written before of my postal worker.  He is extremely Irish so my husband reminded me this morning to make sure I ring him this weekend.  Another thing about me – I remember lots and lots but lack a certain feminine snetimentality.  I rarely remember the dates I met some of the important men in my life.  For example, I know I met my college boyfriend at the PhiGam TG but not a clue as to date.  He used to send me anniversary cards.  I never remember my anniversaries for either of my weddings.  Well, I realized after my husband said to call, that I actually met  K St. Patrick’s Day 1984.  35 years!  I only went out that night because a girlfriend was depressed and begged me.  It was at a club across from Salisbury Park, so very close.  We were fairly inseparable until 1988 when I left him briefly for RC, direct from Ireland.  We stumbled back together until 1991.  I married in 1992.  We have never, ever not been in contact with  each other.  As I have said before, in many ways, we have had a marriage.  We have stuck by each other in sickness and health; through our relations with others; richer or poorer. PostalOld Girlfriends, Postal and Rituxan

Years go by and I am working with a fellow named Joe S.  He is 12 years younger than me.  My first marriage is over and I am licking my wounds.  Joe S begins taking me to Karaoke nights at the local bowling alley.  He is an aspiring actor and writer.  I see him in plays.  He allegedly has a girlfriend.  He kisses me.  I spend evenings at his mother’s house whilst he plays the piano.  She looks at me meaningfully and tells me she will build an apartment upstairs for any girl Joe marries and babysit the children.  One night I have to tell her that I am only 12 years younger than her.  He rings me one St. Patrick’s Day as his girlfriend has stood him up and he needs a “date” for a party.  I used to be good “arm candy”.  OK.

The  phone rings again.  This time it’s Joe T, also much younger than me.  Where were these people before I married?  He, too wants to go out on St. Pat’s.  He has taken me to parties before that remind me of my youth – arty and weed filled.  We compromise on a drink for the following week.  I enlist my best friend to go with me.  It’s a club up the street from me.  It used to be a roller-skating rink and an ice cream parlor.  We walk.  Joe T falls hard for her.  In the meantime, I meet JoeBe.  He is much older than me for a change.  My father can’t stand him.  Every time he calls and says, “It’s Joe.”  My father replies, “Which one?”  Daddy delights; JoeBe steams. He lives across from Salisbury Park  I go onto live with him  someplace else for several years.

So, I remember my “anniversaries” with K and Joebe.  Joebe and Joe S are both dead.  I was at work one day and saw a 1 year memoriam on Joe  S’s passing on the Ides of March, March 15.  Joebe died a few years back. Mortality, Perspective and Balance,Men, Gypsies and a Funeral

This is a weekend for remembrance – the giddy, happy celebrations of my childhood, the anniversaries of important adult relationships and passings. Our journey is an unknown road with bumps and detours.

The Story of a Dress

An old friend , recently, sent  a picture of me at a luncheon in the early 90’s.  I have a big hat, a light tan and a huge grin.  I am wearing a brocade dress of my mother’s made by my grandmother.  This is a mythic dress in my family.

My grandmother sewed to support her children.  Grandma could make anything.  Well, let me amend that statement.  She could and would make anything if she liked the fabric and

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