Remembering Bess

undergarments 1950's
My Mom center, L daughter Lara  and R daughter Brett .

We’d always celebrated my Mother’s birthday on January 3, until she informed us one day that she learned upon  getting a copy of her birth certificate, that her birthday was really January 2!  We all shook our heads in disbelief, but there it was in black and white, Jan 2.  These days, since she is no longer living, I tend to think of either or both days as her birthday.  This time of year triggers memories of Bess.

I easily remember her coming into my bedroom before she went to sleep , to kiss me goodnight. I always pretended to be sleeping, but waited patiently most nights for her sweet kiss.  What a nice game. I never did ask her if she realized, I’d been awake, all those times.

I loved to watch her get dressed to go out with my Dad.  Her bedroom, next to the bathroom, a little misty from the shower she’d just taken.  The door to her closet which held the only full length mirror in the house, would be ajar as she checked her progress.  Those were the years when a woman’s undergarments set the foundation for a well dressed woman. For a young girl watching the armor  applied to tame the mature feminine body, it was nothing less than fascinating.undergarments 1950's

 

My mother never ever got dressed without pulling on her girdle first.  When I questioned her about the procedure, she told me in no uncertain terms that she felt undressed with out it. I took her word for it and stopped inquiring.

Following her lead, when I became an adolescent, I decided I needed a girdle as well before going out on a date.  As a dancer, at this time of my life, I was very slender.  My Mom tried to tell me I didn’t need it, but I would have none of her reassurances.  The purchase of a girdle was a right of passage and I was hell bent on wearing one.

I got a stomachache midway through the date evening, excused myself, went to the bathroom and quickly pulled off the now loathsome girdle placing it in the trashcan, before returning to my date. Liberated!

Mom’s summer cologne in those years was usually Mary Chess, white lilac.  My love of the scent of lilacs equaled or surpassed hers and I too wore Mary Chess until it stopped being produced in the early ’60’s.

The choice of shoes completed her outfit and preparation.  She had about a dozen options, neatly displayed on her closet floor.  Years later, her oldest toddling granddaughter was attracted to that closet as if by a magnet.  She’d chose her (Mom’s)shoes to wear by some mysterious process and proceed to wear them around the second floor of my Mom’s house for several hours.  Mom never objected.

Today, I wonder how my Mom’s life might have been different if she’d been born a decade or two later.  She was one of the few working women I knew.  All of my friend’s moms were stay at home.

Mom put a lot of energy into making her home attractive and vibrant.  She boldly painted her kitchen ceiling red. She did not hesitate to go all white in her living room, reupholstering and recarpeting as needed.  The only caveat was it was not a room for children, only for company.  If kids tried to skirt the rule she’d quickly ask them to leave.  She cleverly converted New England antiques into working partners in achieving the look she sought.

She always needed and wanted a broader life, but my Dad insisted that if she was to work, it could only be for him, as a cashier in his grocery store.  I know she had bigger dreams, but never went after them.  She adored my father and stayed by his side, seldom complaining except when he spent most of Sunday golfing.  All through my childhood, she repeated to me, “Get out of Holyoke!”

I got the message along with the Mary Chess.

 

The Circle Game

The Circle Game

I made it back from Japan with a day to spare, in time for my granddaughter’s high school graduation.

We were all smiling happily and saying halleluyah once she had her diploma in hand.  She’s wildly creative, perceptive, entrepreneurial and charming. She’s also more than a bit of a rebel, authority adverse, and has never seen the point of many things that most of us never bother to question. Bless her heart. I love her dearly, and I love her questioning. I know she has most essential ingredients to “make it” and lead a very interesting life.

I couldn’t help comparing the differences between our two generations.  Who’d ever heard of a gap year in 1958?

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gap_year

When I mentioned a similar idea to my Mom, suggesting that it might be a good idea for me to take a year off from college to try and figure out what I wanted to do with my life, she acted as if I told her I wanted to run away with the circus. End of discussion.

Continue reading “The Circle Game”

the Big Eight Oh!

January 26

Something gets lost in birthday celebrations between 8-80.  Anticipation can turn to dread.  Excitement can fade. Parties can seem self-indulgent and contrived.

My husband turns 80 tomorrow.  To say that he’s not happy about it is an understatement. If our family had permitted it, he would ignore the changing of the decade. But we all concluded easily that he must celebrate and that we must unite behind the celebration.

He put me off more easily than he could our daughters.  I soon gave up the challenge of getting him to yes.  Our daughters seemed not to have too hard of a time getting him to agree to something “small.” Thankfully, they took over the planning and he cooperated.  He likes to make them happy.

I’ve had a small journey of my own wrapping my head around the reality of my husband becoming 80.  Despite all the euphemisms and nonsense such as  The Golden years, You’re only as old as you think you are  and Just like fine wine, you grow better with the years.

I’m hoping this experience will be good preparation for me when I round the corner myself in a few short years. I will want to celebrate. Maybe if I start dieting now, I’ll be able to wear a size 8 dress and everyone will remark, You don’t LOOK 80! Continue reading “the Big Eight Oh!”

The Quiet Lives of Old Photographs

The photographs of my life huddle together in the darkness, secure in a bedroom cabinet. They now lead quiet lives, disturbed only occasionally. They once brought only pleasure to me and upon inspection, wonder. Now going through them brings a quotient of sadness too. The scale began to tip about 10 or 15 years ago. Their nearby presence exerts an energy that often tempts me to pay them a visit, but one that I usually resist. It’s a bottomless journey, that once begun leads down a road that’s too nostalgic. It invariably leads to sad emotions that I’d prefer to not indulge. It does show a rich lifetime of family times, travel, holidays and joyful events. The photos allow me to visit people who were once an important part of my life, now no longer available for one reason or another or sometimes for no reason I can state.  They just faded away.

Were my eyebrows really once that full and dark? Gazing at a photo of myself holding my infant children in my arms, I can still feel my daughter’s softness and inhale her sweet baby scent. Those sacred pleasures vanished too quickly. Pangs of times passed too quickly and unconsciously.  Another photo yields a glance of smiling faces at a school graduation. That was long ago, when there were more beginnings and a door closed meant that another door would soon be opening.

home from college, visiting my Dad

Yesterday, I uncovered a long-lost photo of my mother in her 20’s with a man other than my father. She and her gentleman friend looked very happy. I remembered her telling me many years ago that this man was her boyfriend before she met my father. They were close to engagement. And then they weren’t. The road not taken, but still present in my stash of snapshots. Does the gentleman still have a photo of my mom that his children puzzle over?

There are so many photos! My short-term attempts at organization have always run out of steam. I can never throw out enough of them to even make a small dent in their number.  Now they lay, slightly deteriorating by the day, in boxes, albums, and stacks. They give testament to a life and youth gone by. They recall young children, departed relatives, exciting trips to Europe and Japan, important birthdays, a long-lost pet. I want to bring them to life, if only for a brief visit.

The gang in Brooklyn on Halloween Eve, many moons ago!
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A gorgeous early summer day near Stockholm.

I almost gasp when looking at photos of a long-ago party at my house, celebrating the visit of Doug Elkins Dance Company in 1998. Everyone was sooo young and so drunk.

Just Married, saying goodbye to parents as we head out for the honeymoon.  1963!

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ranch 2000
New Year’s Eve 1999

I found a photo of my mother with her arms around two of my daughters, probably taken 40 years ago. They all looked relaxed and happy. This photo brought me joy because my mother hated to have her picture taken, consequently, I have few photos of her where she seems happy and looks the way I want to remember her. She died of Alzheimer’s so my last memories of her are painful to recall. This photo helped me make her real and healthy again. The image is now on my desk and in my heart.

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My favorite look (for many years)

Thousands of digital photos sit right under my fingertips at my computer’s keyboard. They’re so easily accessible, and visited more frequently. They’re available for immediate recall and better organized.  I imagine that my grandchildren will have no boxes of photos to store.

Once again there came the time to put these memory capsules back in their cupboard.  After writing about them this time, I lovingly put them away, and even managed to feel happy.

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meeting the final grandchild!

Cleanliness Redefined

If there was a competition for the world’s cleanest country, I have no doubt that the Japanese would win it hands down, or clothes off.

We just visited the venerable Kinosaki Onsen about a two hour train ride from Kyoto on the West Coast. We traveled with two of our grandchildren, uncertain whether or not they would be up for naked bathing in a crowd. One bravely ventured in and the other declined for the obvious reasons.

The self consciousness that American women feel about their bodies is no where evident in a Japanese bath. It’s liberating.

It took me years to get to the point where I too am not self conscious. Maybe it was just a question of letting go of my foolish pride in my younger dancer’s body. Of course it all passes sooner or later, so to expect otherwise is just a delusion. At some point I realized that no one gives a damn what I look like without clothes other than myself. Bodies come in all shapes sizes and conditions and here there is no judgement by other bathers. If there is, I don’t detect it and cannot understand Japanese, so it’s not an issue!
I have come to accept and be grateful for my relatively functional aging body as is at this time in my life.

The canal running through town is bordered by willow trees just leafing out, and festooned with cherry trees, illuminated at night. The iconic scene is punctuated by the high Japanese bridges periodically crossing the river.

bridge

KInosaki is an old onsen town that has 7 public baths. I’m not sure how the Japanese go from bath to bath to bath because I’m happily cooked well done after one round of bathing. Nevertheless, visitors in small groups of families or friends. promenade in their yukata(cotton bathrobe) through town, clip clopping in their geta sandals on the stone sidewalks, visiting one onsen after another. The sounds lend a timeless sound track to the setting.

Visiting Kinosaki Onsen makes for an enjoyable getaway and a dip into another facet of Japanese culture not to be missed nor forgotten.