Encounters in a Room

futureI sit across from you in the same room and wonder what it is you are doing. You seem to be intently staring at a slim metal box that lights up both your the area and your face when you set it on your lap and lift the lid. I hear the sound of your fingers tapping in a regular cadence on the surface of the object that is so strange to me. Sometimes I detect sounds coming from where you are sitting but nobody else it there so I don’t understand who is making them. I wish you would sit closer to me so that I might discover what it is that has so captured your attention.

I’m very old and you treat me well. I like the way you smile whenever you glance at me. I enjoy the feel of your hand gently caressing me. I’ve overheard you telling people to take care of me even after you are gone. I appreciate that and I hope that I will be as loved by the next person who takes me to their home as have been by you.

You remind me of a girl I knew long ago. She had the same features as you and she too appreciated me. Back then I was able to do more. I had not yet become as fragile as I am now. I was flawlessly beautiful. Now there are dark spots on my countenance and visible cracks and breaks in my once strong stature. I’ve heard it said that I have grown fine with age but I wish that you might have seen what I once was just as the girl was able to do.

I knew her mother Christina first. I helped Christina and made her smile for a time but she became busy with her family and her endless chores. She had little time to even notice me, but the girl never forget me. When she grew into a woman she took me with her to a new home where we got to know each other better.

I liked to watch her sewing quilts and creating intricate embroidery patterns on tablecloths. She sat humming contentedly as her fingers fashioned magic out of cloth. She was such a sweet and gentle soul and I enjoyed being with her. She and I understood each other, so I was both surprised and a bit worried when she asked you to care for me in her stead. I wasn’t sure how that would work because you were so young and hardly even looked at me.

For a long time I felt lonely and abandoned and then one day you were no longer a child, but a woman with a voice like hers and a face that was more kind than beautiful. You gave me one of the best rooms in the house and came to visit with me every single day unless you were off traveling somewhere. I never spoke to you but I wanted to tell you so much about Christina and the girl. I have a sense that you would like my stories about them if only I were able to tell them. Sadly I do not know exactly how to begin nor do I even have the voice to do so.

Christina’s house was in the woods. The lights that she had were not like yours. They were dim and smelled of candle wax and oil. She hardly ever sat quietly contemplating like you do. I’m fairly certain that she was unable to read. She was a hardy soul who did what she had to do without complaint. Her life was what it was and she was content.

The girl on the other hand worried a great deal. She seemed to dwell on the possibility of tragedy overtaking her life. Maybe that is because it so often did. She was quite young when her first husband died leaving her to raise her children alone in a time when there wasn’t much likelihood of a woman earning a decent living. Even after she met your grandfather she brooded incessantly but she always smiled when she saw me. I hope I reminded her of the times when she was still carefree and both of us were still young.

It broke my heart to see how damaged she was by her son’s death. He was her pride and joy. She never really mended after that. Maybe that’s why she sent me to you. Perhaps she felt that I would be living in a happier place and she not longer had it in her to pretend that all was well. Maybe she merely sensed that something was wrong long before anyone diagnosed her cancer. Anyway she somehow wisely knew that you would be good to me. It’s been quite nice sharing your home with you.

Some people might only see me as an object, and an old one at that. You have never treated me that way. You have always understood that I am an important part of your history and so you cherish me even though I am a shadow of what I once was.

I sit across from you on the wooden secretary that is almost as old as I am. I am silent when I so wish to speak. I once was at the center of family life as I held water or milk for lovely meals. The roses painted on my white porcelain finish were as bright and colorful as the life that I lived back then. Now I am antique whose value lies not in what I do, but in my age. I am confused by a world so different from the one in which I first lived. Times have changed and I do not always understand what is happening around me. It is only because you seem to appreciate me that I feel safe and loved. I am a pitcher, a container, a repository of the love and laughter, sorrow and hard times through which I have existed. Like Christina and the girl you too are now part of who I am. I only hope that one day someone like you will still want me. Perhaps it will be one of those boys or girls to whom you have introduced me. I hope so.

A Treasure Trove

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There is no telling what might lie inside the folds of a woman’s purse, particularly when it is a rather large one. In my own case a handbag becomes a repository for all sorts of “just in case” provisions. Of course I carry the usual suspects regularly like wallet, phone, keys, reading glasses. For quick trips I don’t need much more than that, but if I’m going to be away from home for a time I need to include some ibuprofen just in case my knees begin to ache or I feel the threat of a migraine. I almost always need a comb to rearrange my fine hair that blows into a kind of bird’s nest at the slightest provocation from wind. I generally include a pair of sunglasses to shade my eyes from the bright rays of the sun and then there’s a tube of lipstick to brighten my countenance after a long day.

In truth I prefer the “less is more” version of packing a purse these days. It’s uncomfortable to lug a heavy load around as I do my errands. I find myself cleaning out extraneous items more and more often but when I was younger my purse was akin to a hardware store. I never left home without a repair kit for my classes and a sewing kit to men loose buttons or an unexpected tear in my clothing. I carried a little notebook for writing down things that I wanted to remember or lists of things that I needed. I toted tiny cans of hairspray and a little pouch filled with first aid items. I’d bring along my checkbook and a supply of pencils and pens. In winter I included gloves and chapstick. If the purse was large enough I might even bring a book or my laptop. Like a girl scout I was ready for virtually anything.

When I was still a fledgling mom I’d have toys and bags of snacks inside my purse, maybe even little bottles of water or milk. I’d bring extra changes of clothing for the little ones just in case of an accident. My bag was like a magician’s prop, holding anything that would feed or entertain my girls. There was no telling what may lie inside.

I used to go to the movies with my mom. She was from the old school when twenty five cents got her a ticket and a little snack. The ever rising prices of things astounded her and so she found ways to save on the cost of entertainment by getting me to hide candy and such in my purse. In between her own handbag and mine we were able to bring in some rather amazing things. On one occasion she asked me to stow away some fried chicken and two cans of Coke in the folds of my handbag while she smuggled in homemade popcorn. I have to admit that there was something rather exciting about the adventure of it all and we no doubt had the best food of anyone in the theater.

After 9/11 it became less and less acceptable or advisable to carry half of a household inside a purse. I’ve lost cans of hairspray, pocket knives, nail clippers and all sorts of things during searches. I’ve learned to carefully check the contents of my purse before leaving home lest I lose something that I value. Some places insist on clear bags or pocketbooks so small that only the most essential items will fit. I don’t grumble too much because it’s all in the name of safety but I sometimes worry that I’ll get caught short in an emergency situation.

I honestly don’t know how men get by with only pockets to hold their essentials. I suppose it works because their clothing is made quite differently. I have few outfits with sewn in pouches large enough to carry even the most basic things that I need whenever I leave home. My keys would take up most of the room and my phone would undoubtedly fall out of my jeans and trousers. My dresses have no compartments at all. To eliminate purses the fashion designers would have to rethink the way they make women’s clothing. It would be revolutionary and perhaps not so popular among the ladies.

I’m a fan of nice purses but I draw the line after a certain price. I’ve been in stores where the handbags cost more than my refrigerator, and while they are lovely I can’t imagine making such an investment in an item that I will probably want to replace within a year. Besides, I don’t want to be lugging something around that makes me a target for thieves.

My favorite purse of all time was one that my husband bought for me in Estes Park, Colorado. We found it in a little shop called Craftsmen in leather. The owner designed and made each handbag with magnificent skill. It was a thing of beauty that I treasured and it lasted far longer than any such item that I have ever owned. Sadly a leaky ink pen did a number on it one day, damaging the color and suppleness of the leather. When I returned to the little shop in hopes of replacing it with a new one, I learned that the man who had so lovingly crafted fine objects had retired and sold the place to new owners. The newer proprietors had kept the name of the store but filled it with horrid manufactured pieces that did not come close to the quality that I longed to find. I still dream of one day finding another purse like that one on ebay.

I suppose that like most women I enjoy a cute and comfortable pair of shoes and a nicely made purse but these days I find that I am more and more able to fit whatever I think I may need into a smaller and smaller parcel. I’ve lightened the weight on my shoulder and opted more and more for practicality. Still, there is nothing like a truly fine purse. It creates a kind of signature for an outfit and helps to define a woman’s personality. Even better is that looking inside of it can a be a real treasure hunt.

Walking Canvases

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Fashion is an art form, a way of expressing oneself with hair and clothing. There are really no rules when it comes to the way we present ourselves, but we are generally guided by the mores of the times. Fashion often becomes the subject of controversy, particularly in traditional institutions like offices, churches and schools. We tend to be judgmental when it comes to fashion, often preferring more traditional ways of adorning ourselves. As with language there are certain unwritten but widely known and mostly accepted ways of dressing in particular circumstances. Sometimes we demand more formality and other times we allow great variance from the norm. Even in the most casual situations we sometimes cringe at the sight of extremes that are unlike what we are accustomed to seeing. We forget that fashion is ultimately a very personal thing as we attempt to foist our own preferences on others in a critical and sometimes even persecutory way.

There was a time when both men and women regularly wore flowing robes. Even today there are cultures in which even males don what may appear to be a kind of dress. In the seventeenth century kings and potentates wore long curly wigs, makeup, stockings and high heeled pumps. Mankind has always experimented with fashion so why do we find ourselves freaking out whenever someone does not conform to our own thoughts on how to dress?

We’ve heard about the young man from the Barber’s Hill school district who was told that his dreadlocks were too long. He was informed that unless he cut them he would not be allowed to walk with his classmates for graduation. Those who know him admit that he actually looks quite nice and that he is a good and respectful person. Nonetheless the authorities took the stance that rules are rules and he must abide by them or suffer the consequences. My question is why there should even be such a rule? It is highly doubtful that the length of someone’s hair whether male or female would detract from the ceremony in any way. If there is any sort of distraction it has been invented by the powers that be, not this young man.

We get a bit crazy from time to time and create more furor or silly things like appearance than need be. I recall attending an assembly during school hours when I was in high school whose only purpose was to harangue the girls about the volume of their bouffant hair, the length of their skirts, and the need to wear white socks with their shoes. What our teachers did not seem to realize was that the meeting was a total waste of time that we actually appreciated because it allowed us to have a break from our classes. Beyond that we were all joking and laughing about the ridiculousness of it all.

The truth is that the ways in which we choose to adorn ourselves are always superficial. They do not define us nor do they really matter. We may roll our eyes at what we see as the ridiculous of a young man struggling to walk as his oversized pants hang around his knees, but other than demonstrating what we may see as bad taste he actually hurts nobody. We certainly have the right to tell him that such clothing is inappropriate in particular situations but we would do well to consider whether or not our attention to such matters is worth the time and effort that we will have to expend to gain his compliance. In other words, what difference will it make?

I once had a student who insisted on wearing a belt with a skull on the buckle in defiance of a school rule. He never personally gave me a problem. He came to my class ready to work. He was polite, paid attention, and participated in the activities I had planned. He was always a top student, rarely making a grade below a B. Somehow that skull on his belt was no bother at all when it came to his academics and yet it became such a sticking point with one of the administrators of the school that it resulted in his being expelled. While I agreed that the student’s noncompliance was indeed over the top I could not help but wonder if the furor created by the assistant principal was much ado about nothing. Rules should somehow make sense, be meaningful and this one confounded me.

We each have personal preferences for adorning ourselves. Tattoos are all the rage among those younger than I am. While I have no desire whatsoever to ink my skin the younger set sees tattoos as a way of celebrating individuality, relationships, accomplishments. To them adorning their skin with art is as natural as purchasing a piece of jewelry or a new pair of shoes. It’s not my cup of tea, but it does not bother me in the least if someone else decides to adorn his/her body with imagery. I would only tell anyone thinking of getting a tattoo to consider what it may look like when the skin ages and wrinkles. I would suggest that placing permanent art anywhere on the body might lead to regret later on, so a bit of circumspection might be in order. Beyond that there are far more important things to dwell upon.

Each of us is unique. We like different things. We express ourselves in the way we dress. In some ways we are living art. Some of us emulate the old masters and others trend toward the avant garde. Our appearance all too often becomes the manner in which we are perceived, but in truth it’s what is inside our minds that should matter. It’s how we treat people that should be the metric that determines our fates. Beyond that let each one celebrate individuality however he or she may choose. Our world is made more beautiful by celebrating the canvases known as self.

Color Me A Rainbow

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January has been a strange month from its start, punctuated by glorious blue skies on some days and dreary gray horizons on others. Instead of leaping into a state of promise it has struggled to decide exactly how to introduce the new year, the coming decade. It has been much like a rollercoaster ride both so frightening and exhilarating that it prompts me to close my eyes so that all imagery and colors turn black. Hints of better times to come are already popping out in the pinks and reds and yellows of the roses in my backyard that are still a bit wary of celebrating too soon lest the weather change for the worst. It’s a quiet and pensive time after all of the excitement of the holiday season with it’s bold colors festooning the world. We prefer calm at this time of year and yet the world does not always cooperate in its relentless drive forward into events that demand our attention even when we simply want to look away.

I feel like January, a mixture of so many colors and emotions that I cannot quickly define how I am feeling on any given day. I’m like a Jackson Pollock canvas filled with a strange combination of dribbles of this and that and the other. One day I’m celebrating my life and my blessings and the next I’m filled with a sense of anxiety and doom. I don’t quite know how to respond to the world around me, what to embrace and what to ignore. I am both energized and exhausted at the same time. I seek calm but so often find a general anxiety around me, causing me to wonder if I should be worried too. I prefer to wear red but find myself more often choosing blue to keep myself and those around me feeling more serene. I think of how wonderful it might be to just hibernate until the spring inside the soothing rooms of my home with its colors that always seem to soothe the savage beasts that stalk from outside my front door.

I am weary of all things political and the relentless grip that they have on the world and yet they seem to be everywhere, almost impossible to ignore. The news fails to bring us uplifting stories, focusing mostly instead on all things horrific, choosing sides instead of remaining steadfastly fair in shades of gray. I can no longer safely turn on my radio or television without being barraged by opinions and propaganda. Red and blue have become code for how one believes rather than simple choices of what makes one happy. At any given moment someone is ranting about something in an endless campaign for our support. I try to ignore and just go about my life but it becomes increasingly more difficult to do so and I worry that my sense of control over my own destiny is being stolen by others who only seek power for themselves. I don’t want to be manipulated anymore by folks donned in the colors of my country’s flag who don’t appear to understand me in any way.

I’m ready for the hopeful greening of springtime. I long to see the yellow butterflies in my backyard and the brilliant red blooms of the amaryllis bulbs. I want to open my windows to blue skies and walk through my neighborhood with the warmth of the sun kissing my skin. I dream of working in my yard with my hands buried in the rich brown and black of my soil. I look forward to escaping from the constant drone of ugliness and divisiveness that has overtaken the airwaves of communication.

For now I bury myself in my books that teach me new ideas and assure me that my mind is still clever. I keep things as quiet as possible and surround myself with people that I love and trust. The colors of my soul run peacefully together with happy thoughts of the past, present and future. I gaze at the brilliant colors of a painting from my mother and smile at the thought of her love that seems to protect me even though she is gone. I do my best to ignore the inconsequential while staying abreast of what truly matters. I calm myself with the lovely brown liquid of tea in my cup and memories of purple mountains that sing the glory of God.

February is just around the corner and with it comes a riot of red and pink signifying warmth, caring, love. I’ll scatter those colors throughout my home to remind myself of what really matters even as winter makes its last efforts to stunt the growth of nature for a bit longer. I’ll endure whatever bleakness comes in the sky for I know that brighter days of orange and yellow are sure to come on the horizon very soon. Nature has a way of reminding us to keep our hope and optimism alive, bringing colors that brighten our spirits and help us to continue on this journey known as life.

Today my colors may be dreary but tomorrow I can put a rosy hue on my cheeks and wear my purple blouse with a brightness that takes on the world. We go up and we go down. It is the way things work. Just as the seasons change so do we and sometimes we even find a rainbow after a storm. 

Repurposing the Old

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When I first left my childhood home and began to live on my own I furnished my apartment with a hodgepodge of items donated by friends and family. The only brand new never before used item in the place was an inexpensive sofa that I found at a store called Fed Mart. I was all in for repurposing long before it was woke to take care of the environment by reusing things that once belonged to someone else rather than throwing them away. In that regard I was pretty typical of most young adults just starting a life of their own.

I pretty much kept most of the items that filled my first apartment and just repainted or reupholstered them over time to make them appear to be more stylish. The Fed Mart couch fell apart rather quickly and I replaced it with an old sofa that belonged to my mother-in-law which looked a bit like a bench on a bus until I found a more modern fabric for it and then covered its sins with throw pillows. That thing was so indestructible that I used it until my eldest daughter was in high school when I finally broke down and purchased a nice leather sofa in what seemed like an extravagant moment.

As I began a family I used other hand me downs to furnish the rooms of bigger apartments and then a bigger house, shifting things from one purpose to another. Everything had a story for either me or my husband. They had once been in our childhood bedrooms or from the furnishings of our grandparents or mothers. I became attached to them and always reluctant to just let them go. I found ways to use them in different ways. A table became a desk, a dresser served as a console in the hallway. I boasted that my decorating style was eclectic but in truth it was dependent on whatever someone was giving away.

After more than thirty five years of married life we finally replaced the double bed that had once belonged to my in-laws when our increasing girth made it more and more uncomfortable to share the tiny space. We invested in a queen size bedroom suite with matching dressers and chests and side tables and sent our decades old items to the rooms of grandchildren where they found new life once again.

Not long after that purchase my father-in-law remarried and began to give away his own furnishings to make way for those belonging to his new wife. At that point we “inherited” a lovely secretary that once belonged to my husband’s grandmother along with some end tables that had graced her living room. We also brought home an oak dining table and an antique glass cabinet that had been his aunt’s. Once again we moved things around to accommodate the new items that were replacing older used things and surrendered what would no longer fit to our daughters.

Our home was beginning to look more polished. It seemed to have a coherent decorating scheme that spoke of our time together and our heritage from the past. Best of all we were not filling a junkyard with unwanted items. We were finding ways to use what was already part of the earth as were our girls who were now married with families of their own and homes making use of so many pieces that we had handed down to them just as others had done for us.

Not long after we moved to our present house one of my dearest friends died. She had purchased a beautiful Amish crafted dining set in celebration of her remission from cancer. Sadly her illness returned and doctors were unable to halt its progression. The table and its lovely chairs became rather useless for her widowed husband who mostly dined out each day, so he decided to sell it and I found myself feeling compelled to rescue it in memory of my friend.

I had been with her when she so carefully chose the style and the wood for it. I thought of that table as being a kind of link with her that I could not allow to go to some random person. I convinced my husband that we needed to purchase the lovely set, and so with a bit of rearranging of our old things we proudly placed it in our breakfast room where it has been the center of family dinners and celebrations just as my friend had intended it to be. I think of her each time I prepare it for a meal. I know she would be happy that it is bringing the kind of joy that she insisted on bringing into her famous “rainbow days.”

I hear that young people don’t seem to want old things anymore. They would rather purchase new modern furnishings that are lighter and brighter than the kind of old used pieces that I have in my home. I find it somewhat ironic that they are also the ones who worry about consumerism and our overuse of the earth’s resources while also insisting that they don’t want to have to repurpose what already exists like I have tried to do.

I feel as though I have not only done a bit to save our planet but I have also rescued parts of the past, stories from my heritage that I pass down to my daughters and grandchildren. We all grew up believing that we should never waste and that honoring the past can be a good thing. We are not averse to making do with things that have already been used. They have character and meaning that are wonderful. Combining them with modern, trendy colors and fabrics brings them to life and keeps our landfills less cluttered. Besides it’s rather fun to challenge ourselves to find ways of reusing them that are lovely and fill a home with warmth. Something old is a kind of treasure not to be tossed away lightly. Perhaps we all need to make more effort to use what we already have.