Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘history’

I went to an estate sale on Saturday and acquired some
items that mean the world to me. No one knows why. Here’s why.

A few years ago, the woman who gave birth to me had a stroke that
changed her personality so drastically that I found myself an
orphan in mid-life. She had always been a difficult person, and I
had labored for my whole life to have a place in hers. I had
acquired all the academic bells and whistles, had become a
respected professional, and had done a sometimes heroic job of
raising three children as a single mother. But nothing I ever did
impressed her or was enough for her; and in the end she showed me
the door because I was, in her terms, a poor specimen of a human
being.

She survived the stroke; but our relationship did not. And
that is enough said about that. I found great freedom in accepting
my situation and moving on with my life. She wanted me gone; I gave
her what she wanted. For the first time, there was no voice whining
in my ear that I wasn’t good enough.

A few months later, a story on Good Morning American snagged my attention.
A lovely young woman in her mid-thirties, also cast out by her birth family without
justification, had actually put herself up for adoption. And she
had found a lovely second family. I considered the ad I would have
written. “Lovely little family of four, all outstanding over
achievers, seeks parents and grandparents. Looking only for love
and companionship, holiday celebrations, loving phone calls.”

It was only a fantasy, of course. But fantasy has often gotten me
through some of the harder places in life.

Perhaps the central difference in my birth mother and myself is the ability
to nurture. I’m not quite sure how an Earth Mother like me sprang from an Ice
accept her as she is.

Queen, but I did. I don’t fault her for what she didn’t have. I
But as a born nurturer, I have to have someone or some thing to take care of.
Of course there were my children when they were little. And even now they
are adults, I can still give them some nurturing, although not as much.
But now they are on their own, my days are bracketed by the need
to care for my two Golden Retrievers, Melody and Rhythm. Every morning
and every afternoon, I feed them and walk them to the enchanting
little pond that some of the condos in our development back
up to. And this routine was especially comforting in the days
when I was still hurting from my mother’s ultimatum and
wishing I could advertise us for adoption.

The path to the pond winds through a grove of lacy
eucalyptus trees, past a condo in our development with a greenhouse
window facing the path. Now all these units are rather old. They
were built in 1978 when greenhouse windows were quite the “in”
thing. As Melody and Rhythm and I passed by day after day, month
after month, I noticed that this particular window’s display
changed with each month and often featured ducks, a tribute to the
mallards that inhabit the pond. At Christmas, the window had
caroling ducks in tiny Dickens outfits holding tiny song books. At
Easter, there were ducks and bunnies and pastel eggs. For July,
teddies dressed in red white and blue and lots of those .99 cent
flags. At Thanksgiving the window held a blend of pilgrims, ducks,
and autumn leaves. Then Christmas and the web-footed carolers would
come round again. In between, the window defaulted to a display of
tiny lighthouses, rustic bears, bald eagles with spread wings, and
a pair of tin lanterns. And now and than a new trinket appeared.

The person responsible for this fascinating whimsy was a tall,
thin, grey haired woman, well over eighty. Just about the age of my
former mother. She lived alone, dressed elegantly in expensive
subdued slacks and blouses, and always wore pearls. There were skis
in the garage and a set of golf clubs. In those days, she still
drove. Her regular routine was a trip to the grocery store around
four o’clock each day to decide what to cook herself for dinner.
She first noticed me because she loved my beautiful Goldens, and we
often passed by just as she was beginning or ending this daily food
shop. She’d wave when she saw us and would smile and say something
sweet to Melody and Rhythm.

I learned that her name was Lenore. I caught glimpses of her mahogany Windsor
chairs in her dining room as I passed each day. I saw the tiny beautiful
antique table in the perfect spot in the hall, the tiny spoon
rack above her miniature sideboard, and the glass-fronted
curio cabinets in the living room. I guessed she was a collector,
and that she was not from California. Her condo was an exquisite
blend of Williamsburg-style furniture that few people in
California are drawn to. But I, of course, loved it.
She was just the sort of mother I would have chosen.

Her monthly displays inspired me to decorate my own front
entrance each month. I didn’t have a greenhouse window, so I made a
front door wreath for each month and hung appropriate wooden signs
and ornaments on the tree by the door. Even the grumpy Homeowners
Association wrote me a letter complimenting my charming entrance.
Little did they know it was all because of Lenore and her
greenhouse window.

Lenore seemed to draw people to her. Most afternoons when the weather
was nice she would put off the store trip, and she would sit at the table
on her patio with several of the ladies who lived in the condos. They
would sip white wine from thin-stemmed crystal glasses and chat.
Their ritual included feeding the ducks who would come up to
her patio, flapping their wings if Lenore was late throwing
out their food. Often, Melody and Rhythm and I would be
walking by about this time, and Leonore and her friends
would wave as they threw food to the ducks.

Then, a couple of years ago, Lenore had a stroke. A widow from Connecticut,
she had moved to San Diego when her husband died to be close to her
children living here. So she had plenty of support from children
and grandchildren. She recovered enough to go on living in her
lovely condo with a live-in care giver; and even though she no
longer drove, she steadfastly maintained her old routine. Store in
the afternoon. Friends and duck feeding on the patio. Waving at me
and the retrievers. Church on Sunday. Always beautifully dressed
with pearls, but now she used her ski poles for support instead of
a cane. And the window changed each month just as before.

I came to count on that window. Her creative additions were mini surprises in
my day. Sometimes a new duck. Sometimes a single flower in a vase.
She was obviously a woman of great charm and creativity. Then, this
October, a month after she turned ninety, she died. I didn’t know
for a long time because nothing changed at the condo. There was
even a Christmas tree at Christmas. And the window displays went on
as before.But in early January, I began to see lots of picture
frames in the trash and a woman in the garage going through albums.
Eventually, I learned that these were her children deciding what to
keep and what to let go of.

I was profoundly sad, but her daughter staying at the condo kept
up the old ways. Window decorated. Afternoons with the ladies and
white wine on the patio. Ducks fed. I half hoped Leonore wasn’t really
gone but was on a long visit and coming back. Silly fantasy.
But the day I saw the blue glass vases were no longer in the window
in her bedroom, the truth became very real to me. She and I had loved blue glass vases.

This Saturday, I was one of the first to arrive at the estate sale. I knew exactly
what I wanted. And there they were, still in the greenhouse window,
with tiny price stickers on each one. I don’t know where the
caroling ducks went, or the bunnies or the patriotic teddies, but I
bought the default bears and lighthouses and lanterns. And a tiny
little Limoges heart box to remember her by.

Lenore didn’t really adopt me. But it was a fantasy that got me
through a sad time in my life. I don’t have a greenhouse window,
but I rushed happily home from the sale and arranged my treasures on
shelves in the guest room. And I go in often to stand
in front of them and smile. They mean the world to me.

And something else came from the estate sale, too.
I met Lenore’s son and his wife, and I got to tell them how
much Leonore inspired me. Yesterday I was out walking the
retrievers at the usual time, and they were leaving after closing
up her house for the last time. They made a point of waving to me
just as she would have done.

So prayers are answered. A part of my own family reconnected with me
after my wish went out to the Universe to belong. And now I will always
be able to look at Leonore’s little treasures and remember how
much she inspired and cheered me during a sad time in my life.
The ducks, too, are being looked after. One of her friends comes
by each afternoon about four to feed them as Melody and Rhythm and I go by on our walk.

Lenore's patio just as she left it

Lenore’s patio just as she left it

The ducks and the pond

The ducks and the
pond

The window empty for the first time.

The window empty for
the first time.

Lenore's eagles and lanterns


Lenore’s eagles and lanterns

The light houses

The light houses

Her bears

Her bears

Her January cardinals

Her January
cardinals

Read Full Post »

The “it girls” all arrived as princesses this Halloween. They made the trick or treat scene at our front door in ankle-length pastel blue and pink satin skirts, frothed with sheer tulle ruffles at the waist and hem. Bodices sported sequins and glitter. I doubt there was a Versace, Chanel, or Marc Jacobs in the lot, but each one was thrilled with her red carpet look for the evening. (It was Halloween. I should say orange carpet.)

Observing them as I handed out Halloween candy reminded me that I had had a secret desire to be a princess when I was their age. Just as small boys announced their intent to be firemen or policemen, small girls are prone to favor the princess line of work. The only trouble was, I couldn’t quite figure out what princesses did. Sitting on a throne all day waiting for a prince to show up sounded like the height of boredom. So did swirling around a ballroom at all hours in an evening dress and diamonds. And I wasn’t particularly thrilled about eating a poisoned apple or pricking my finger and sleeping for a hundred years. Just regular sleeping overnight was pretty boring, in my view. So even though I was taken with the princess uniform – evening dress, glass slipper, and tiara – the job that went with it didn’t sound as attractive as I’d first thought.

Then I went to school and began to read history. The princess gig began to look less and less attractive. For example, Henry VIII had no trouble dispatching unwanted princesses to nunneries and scaffolds. A little later, in France, the guillotine did the job of eliminating the surplus princess population. Moving into modern times, a Russian firing squad did away with a whole family of princesses in Ekaterinburg in July 1918, along with an Emperor, an Empress, and a Tsarevich. And then, to prove it still isn’t safe to be a princess, Diana, Princess of Wales was smashed up in a car “accident” in 1997.

Conclusion: “pretend princessing” has its upside: a swirly satin skirt for the evening and all the chocolate you can stuff into a plastic pumpkin on Halloween. But the real thing isn’t safe. You don’t want to wind up as another princess statistic. Just say NO to Prince Charming when he hacks through the hedge after a hundred years.

Regulation Princess Gear

Read Full Post »

I have not visited Colonial Williamsburg in many years.  It has always been One of My Favorite Places, and it continues to be.  But today I experienced Too Much Information, Colonial Style.

The visit to the Brush-Everard House began like most of the others on our two-day tour, with a fifteen minute wait outside for admission in a group with a guide who would take us through the house.  But once inside, we were TRAPPED by DETAILS.  For example, we had to hear the excruciating story of the recovery of unused 250 year old china from the bottom of the sea.  Piece by Piece.   For my money, just saying, hey look over there in the china cabinet would have been fine.  And then, we learned it was not a china cabinet at all.  It was a “bowfat” or, as we all know now, a “buffet.”  Could have survived without that piece of trivia, too.  Then there was the history of EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF FURNITURE in the room.  Sorry, it was enough for me to know they were all period originals.

We learned the history of every print on the walls, the hue of the paint, the way wallpaper was hung, and how carpet was woven and  sewn together.  Upstairs, we heard every detail of the daughthers’ marriages and deaths.  I mean every detail.

Back downstairs, all of us were waiting for a chance to dash through the back door.  As the tour guide followed us out, wailing, “Don’t you want to hear about the outbuildings?” our group was making a break for it through the side gate, one by one.  I do love history and Williamsburg, but word to the wise:  there are only so many details that are (a) interesting and (b) pertinent and (c) that the human brain can absorb in a sitting.  Anyway, we made up for being BORED with a good lunch and a walking photo shoot this afternoon.  No more being TRAPPED inside on guided tours.ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: