I’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

people at concert
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Back in the sixties when Saturday night rolled around the place to be for teenagers was at the Saturday night dances at Mr. Carmel High School in southeast Houston. Back then the two most popular radio stations for teens were KILT and KNUZ.  It was KNUZ that more or less adopted the Catholic high school by advertising the dances, sending DJs to play music, and helping to find bands to provide live music. In its heyday some of the best groups found their way to Mt. Carmel Drive to entertain teens like me in a wholesome atmosphere that was chaperoned by adults. Even my very watchful mom was quite content that I would enjoy a safe time at those gatherings, so she actually encouraged me to attend each week.

The school cafeteria was lined with folding chairs for the occasion and all of the lunch tables were moved to create a nice area for the revelry. The bands and DJs worked from the stage. The lights were dimmed and the fun began. It was a glorious place to meet up with friends, make new acquaintances, and hear some great music. For those of us who did more observing than dancing it was also a people watching bonanza.

I was shy, awkward, and as thin as a rail back then. I had little confidence in myself because my ultra fine hair would never hold the bouffant styles that were so popular back then and I still appeared to be about twelve years old. It would take me quite awhile to bloom and find my courage so I tended to either find a group of girlfriends with whom to essentially hide myself or I simply sat in one of the chairs along the perimeter hoping that by some miracle I might actually be asked to dance while also worrying that someone might.

The world was still a long way from allowing young women to dance by themselves or with a big group if they were so inclined. I had also been taught that being aggressive enough to actually take the lead and ask one of boys to dance with me was very bad form. So I spent most of my Saturdays dreaming that one day my Prince Charming might bravely rescue me from wallflower status. I felt like Rip van Winkle hibernating for years without notice. I may as well have been a fixture on the wall. That is how invisible I felt. Of course it never occurred to me that the guys might be feeling exactly the same way. It was an uncomfortable time of life.

There were a few guys who showed a bit of interest when I was still a freshman in spite of my youthful appearance. One was a very short young man who had noticed that I was not yet five feet tall. We had some good times dancing without much conversation and on most Saturdays he came looking for me. Of course since I was a late bloomer it was inevitable that the day would come when I finally added some inches to my stature. Over the space of one summer I endured a growth spurt that left me standing five feet six inches tall. When my dance partner returned at the beginning of the new school year he found me in my usual spot. As soon as I stood to accompany him to the dance floor it was apparent that I was now towering over him. Without a word he literally ran away and never again came back to choose me as his partner. I never really blamed him but I sure missed the opportunity to enjoy my own love of dancing.

For the next many years it might be said that I went to the Saturday night event but did not hit the dance floor, not even when I tried my hand at leaving my chair and flirting and hinting with some of the guys that I wanted to dance with no strings attached. It was not until I had become a senior that some young men from schools other than my own began to take a leap of faith and ask me to dance with them. There was one particular guy who was a fabulous hoofer with a funny style. We would start out in front of one another, but invariably he would move all around the floor leaving me to dance seemingly alone until he once again found his way back to me. He often laughingly insisted that I was a great dancer who needed to loosen up just a bit. We never bothered to learn much about each other. As far as we were concerned we were just dance partners, and for me it was so much better than sitting on the sidelines all night long.

I remember one evening when I spent hours dancing with this person. The next week in school one of the boys in my class commented that he had never imagined that I even knew how to dance. I wasn’t quite sure how to take his pronouncement, so I essentially ignored it. What I really wanted to do is let him know that if he had taken the time to ask me to cut the rug with him he might have found out sooner that I was more than just a very studious girl.

Eventually I graduated from high school and found a sudden burst of popularity in college. I went to a street dance at the University of Houston and never missed a beat. I suppose that everyone has their shining moment and that was the beginning of mine. Not long after  that I met my husband who loves to tell everyone that he was thunderstruck when he first saw me. I felt the same about him and the rest is fifty years of blissful history. Unfortunately he absolutely hates to dance and so my dreams of having a partner for the future was dashed. It was not until my grandsons became older that I was able to let loose on the dance floor again. 

The happy ending to the story is that in the modern world there are no holds barred when it comes to dances. Anyone can just hit the floor and move to the music all alone or with a big group. Nobody thinks less of a woman who asks someone to be her partner. The whole process has become so democratic and fun. It is no longer fraught with the angst that so dominated my feelings during my high school years. I’ve come a long way, baby, and and so have my fellow women. I love it!

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The Final Adventure

All good things come to an end and so it was with our trip to England. On our final day we decided to go to the “High Street” shopping areas of London. We began our adventure at Harrods which is perhaps the most famous of the city’s department stores. To say that we were in awe of what we saw would be an understatement. We literally walked through aisle after aisle of every single floor and soon learned that we would not be purchasing much unless we decided to take out a bank loan.

I’ve never before seen such a variety of handbags, all of which were gorgeous with prices to match. Virtually every well known designer was featured in the clothing areas. I was drooling at the designs but didn’t feel too badly about having to pass on them because most of them were made for much younger bodies than mine. My sister-in-law Becky inquired about a sweater that she like but decided not to purchase it when she learned of its twelve hundred dollar price tag. The interesting thing is that so little of the merchandise came with a price tag which made me think of the old saw that if you have to ask how much something costs it’s probably too expensive for your pocket book. Nonetheless we enjoyed seeing so many lovely things and wondering who the people are who have the income to purchase them.

One of my favorite areas was the home section that featured incredibly lovely china. I actually bought a small bowl for one of my daughters and didn’t break the bank doing so. I also found a unique pot holder that was reasonable. I had to laugh at the idea that only I would walk through Harrods and end up with a potholder, but the truth is that I love to cook and I enjoy a well stocked kitchen.

I also broke down and bought a lipstick. Luckily the cosmetics were priced exactly the same as they are in Macy’s. I wanted a lovely berry color from the Mac Aladdin collection but they were sold out so I settled on a nice pink that I have already enjoyed wearing. Later I found the Aladdin lipstick at Macy’s and bought it there with fond memories of my foray into the upscale world of Harrods.

Eventually we found our way to the basement where all of the tourists go. The affordable items were down there. I bought a little purse for my granddaughter, some toffee for my grandsons, a couple of tea towels, some tea, and a bag that I now use to hold all of the books that I collected at the various places in London that we visited.

From Harrods we went to Oxford Street and wandered over to all of the bespoke clothing stores. These are places where men order custom made suits that are tailored to fit the individual exactly. I was interested in seeing them because one of my former students is hoping to one day open his own bespoke clothing business and also because Mike had told me about the methodical process used to make the incredible looking pieces. I took Mike’s picture in front of many of the establishments and we all joked with him that he should order one of the suits for himself. Sadly it takes six weeks to complete a suit with numerous fittings in between, not to mention a cost of many thousands of dollars.

Eventually we headed toward Selfridge’s Department Store with a few stops at other places in between. Selfridge’s was a fun place but the quality of the items just wasn’t as exceptional as those at Harrods, and yet the prices were not that much lower. We had lunch there and I splurged by calling a strawberry sundae my meal. Not only was the treat quite yummy but the people watching was great fun, not to mention noting that Selfridge’s sells fresh produce and meat right along with clothing and household goods. Who knew that one might do all of the necessary shopping under one roof?

We ended up purchasing some wonderful Earl Grey tea and a tin of biscuits at the store. The tea was so good that I am tempted to order more when we run out. I wanted the tin mostly because it celebrated Queen Elizabeth as the longest reigning monarch in the history of the country. It has a sweet photo of her and has ultimately become a respository for all of my trip postcards.

Ironically we all decided that we wanted to return to Harrods. Mike and I wanted to purchase a few more items from the gift shop but first we stopped for tea and found out that Harrods also sells produce and meat of very high quality with prices to match. We placed our packages on the floor as we sipped on yummy Earl Grey and shared a divine pastry. It was great to just sit and relax for a time before going back to the basement to get the rest of our purchases.

We had no sooner left the area where we had been enjoying our afternoon repast when Mike realized that he had left the package that he had been carrying. It was the one that held the items  that we had purchased from Harrods earlier in the day. We rushed back feeling certain that someone had found it, and given it to one of the employees. Sadly it was not there and the waitress indicated that a woman had briefly sat where we had been and then very suddenly announced that she had changed her mind about ordering something and had scurried off with a Harrods bag in hand. No doubt she had taken our things probably believing that she was going to find something wonderful inside. She must have been very disappointed to learn that she had a pot holder, two tea towels, some tea and a bit of toffee, along with a purse for a young girl.

We actually had a  good laugh and then rushed around repurchasing everything that we had lost. We did all of this with time to spare as we hurried to the designated meeting place where we eventually were reunited with the rest of our group. We felt that other than our driving adventures we had just experienced the best story of our trip.

We ended our wonderful day at an Italian restaurant that was surprisingly good. We sat back and enjoyed various forms of pasta and chattered endlessly about all that we had seen. It felt somewhat bittersweet to think about returning home but we knew that the morrow would be spent winging our way back to Texas. It had been the perfect ending to a perfect adventure and one that would hold a very special place in our hearts.

The Rack

The Rack

Driving a car in England is no small feat for a Yank, and doing so in London requires a leap of faith. Aside from the obvious problem of driving on the opposite side of the car and a different side of the street, there is the crush of traffic on streets so narrow that it is a wonder that anyone ever makes it out alive from a simple excursion. Nonetheless we were intent on seeing some of the surrounding countryside and towns, so we rented a car and gave the task of navigating it to my brother, Pat, whose resume as a chauffeur is rather impressive. As a college student he had worked for the United States Postal Service delivering mail in one of those paneled trucks with the steering wheel on what is usually the passenger side of the car. He’d also driven a fourteen wheeler for a department store, and both an ambulance and a fire truck for the City of Houston. His credentials certainly seemed to indicate that he was up to the task of taking us out for a little spin.

Aside from the obvious problems associated with driving was the realization that parking is almost nonexistent in London. We wanted to secure a car for a week and travel back and forth to various destinations from our home base at the Holiday Inn in Bloomsbury. Try as we may we had still not found a reliable solution for our parking dilemma after a week of inquiry and we worried that finding a place to store it each evening would be almost impossible. Thanks to the quick thinking and negotiation skills of sister-in-law Becky we were able to set that worry aside.

  On the very evening before we were scheduled to secure the car Becky and brother Mike were locked out of their room, forcing them to inquire at the front desk of the hotel as to why this was so. They learned that the manager wanted them change to a different location, an up grade in fact, so that a handicapped individual would be in an adjoining room to his traveling party. They begged Becky and Mike for understanding and even insured them that the process of moving would be taken care of by members of the staff. Becky saw an opening for a special request and boldly mentioned our concern with having a place to park the car that we were going to rent for a week. She noted that there appeared to be a few empty parking spots right in front of the hotel and suggested that they would be ideal. A few words with the manager made everyone happy, as he gladly announced that he would be overjoyed to provide us with the needed parking slot. Our most worrisome problem was instantly solved!

The next morning we all walked to the Hertz rental location taking a long and circuitous route around the neighborhood before finally finding a small office on a hidden street. Since Pat was going to be the driver he had to secure the actual rental agreement which required documents that he had not brought, so there was another brief delay as he walked back to the hotel. Not long after noon we were excitedly piling into a Citroen that was supposedly designed for as many as seven people. We immediately realized that seats other than those in the very front were meant for only the smallest of children. To say that we were cramped is an understatement and the seats were not only tiny but also as hard as rocks. It didn’t take us long to refer to the vehicle as “the Rack,” as in an instrument of torture. Nonetheless we were quite excited about seeing more sights in the country so we squeezed ourselves inside and carried on.

As if driving in the country was not going to be difficult enough, the Citroen came with a manual transmission that required shifting gears with the left hand while steering with the right around corners. The second gear had an irritating habit of getting stuck in the worst of situations. It took Pat a bit longer to adapt than he had thought, but his wife Allison was an ever alert navigator by his side who kept him appraised of directions and alerted him whenever he was about to take off a mirror on a parked car. She came up with a way of telling him how to make his turns that eventually worked out well, “Make a wide right” or “This is a tight left.”

The first trip was to Brighton just to the south of London. It became more of a driving lesson for Pat than anything else and we only had a few close scrapes, but at first there was a lot of screaming and backseat driving as we all adapted to the strangeness of being in a car where everything was backwards. Not even Alice’s adventures in Wonderland were quite as ridiculously scary as our first hours in the tiny car.

By the time we reached Brighton we were famished, a bit shaky, and our limbs ached from the cramped conditions. We were more than ready to find a pub where we might enjoy a good Sunday roast and Google led us to the perfect spot. It was located on a neighborhood street and was packed with revelers giving us a sign that the food would be quite good. Happily we were not in the least disappointed.

We sat at an outdoor table where other diners came with their pets, sweet dogs that entertained us as we waited for our dinner. The meal was perhaps the best of our entire trip and husband Mike was particularly excited by the quality and taste of the Yorkshire pudding which reminded him of his own grandmother’s cooking. We splurged by ordering a sticky toffee dessert that was scrumptious and left full, satisfied and relaxed.

The beach at Brighton looked out on the English Channel. It’s rocky surface was not what we had expected and the piers and hotels were not as elegant as they appeared in movies set in the early twentieth century when women wore long white dresses and carried parasols to shade them from the sun. The famous gazebo and pier that is often associated with Brighton was a burnt out shell ravaged by fire and never rebuilt. The skeleton of its ruins sat forlornly in the water. Still it was a lovely place that looked out onto a route to the continent and to a storied history.

We walked on the rocky surface among hordes of sea birds and I even found one pebble shaped like a heart that I stuffed into my pocket as a remembrance of that day. It was nearing nightfall and we still had the drive back to London so we said our adieus and folded ourselves back inside the confines of “The Rack.”

For the most part our return journey was smooth, if uncomfortable, and Pat was quickly becoming a seasoned driver. He took our kibitzing in stride and we joked and laughed about the drawbacks of the car with a bit of lewd language. With grateful hearts we were soon safely parked in front of our hotel and congratulating Pat for getting us back “home” all in one piece. He and “the Rack” had served us well.

Into the Weeds

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I love to watch all of the programs on HGTV. There are so many good ideas that always appear to be so easy, at least until I try them. Then I find myself taking two to three times longer to accomplish any of the tasks than indicated by the always lovely looking stars of such programs. Not only do I generally end up with a huge mess to deal with but I myself look like a homeless person or a time traveler from the Tudor era when nobody took baths or washed their hair. I have no idea how to stay put together when attempting home repairs, decorating or gardening. In fact, I try to do such things during the week when my neighbors are not around so they won’t see what becomes of me when I begin to sweat and get grimy. I’d hate for them to be thinking, “Well there goes the neighborhood!”

I have lately been working on my yard. Aside from the fact that it almost always rains when I choose a day for such work, I find that I invariably end up looking like I have been participating in a mud wrestling competition. I also have a tendency to get scratched by thorns and bitten by any stray insect that might be around. I do wear gloves and heavy rubber boots, but somehow the injuries to my skin and my appearance have a way of happening in spite of my best efforts, and I always run into some unforeseen problem.

I have a nineteen foot long flowerbed on the side of my house that is filled with double knockout roses that are simply gorgeous at this time of year. I prune and feed them and watch for problems. Generally they are quite lovely, literal car stoppers. I’ve had folks drive by and thank me for brightening the neighborhood with them. So why is it that in the long hedge there is that one bush that doesn’t make it? All of the others did just fine, so why that one that leaves a hole?

It reminds me of the time that I planted a trio of pines in my front yard. They were growing just the way I had hoped, and the look was exactly what I wanted to achieve. Then one day one of them was damaged by beyond repair by a freak accident. Somehow the balance was never quite right again, but I suppose that it could have been worse like the time a tiny tornado moved over the yard taking out everything in sight. I was glad that nobody was hurt and nothing major was damaged, but had to wonder if my yard was some kind of magnet for trouble.

I’ve put down tile floors and painted just about everything known to man. I’m not afraid to do things on my own, but I have learned that if the directions say it will take an afternoon, I must expect that afternoon to turn into several days. I don’t know if I’m just slow or if it’s a rule of thumb for Murphy’s Law to be part of every home improvement project. If there is something that might go wrong, it will go wrong for me. I’ve had to cultivate lots of patience which I suppose is a good thing after all.

My neighbor across the street works as hard as I do to make his home lovely, and it really is, but both of us noticed that the lawn at the house where nobody does anything is the greenest on the street. We were wondering if the key is to neglect and let nature take it’s course. Instead I’m becoming a devotee of Randy Lemmon, a local radio talk show host who has a supposedly sure fire schedule for achieving the perfect lawn. I’ve applied the fertilizers and pre-emergent herbicides as well as the weed attacker exactly as he outlines. I’m waiting to see if the dollar grass goes away and the St. Augustine flourishes. We’ll see. With my track record it will work and then some fool will lose control of his car as he enters the cul-de-sac and make tire tracks on the lovely green carpet.

I suppose that I should just be satisfied that I am not one of those poor souls who has lost a home due to flood or fire or tornado. I saw so much of that during hurricane Harvey. My heart was saddened by the damage that was all around me. Earlier this spring I saw a before and after photo of a home that was totally destroyed by a tornado. I can’t even imagine how horrific such a thing would be. My little annoyances are nothing by comparison, so I should just count my blessings.

Still I am intrigued by the beautiful women who demolish walls, install wiring and plumbing, paint exteriors and still look as though they are ready to model the latest home repair fashions. Seriously, do they not think that we are on to them? Of course they don’t really do any of the work. They just pose for the cameras after some poor soul gets their hands in the muck. They can preach all they want, but I know how it really works, and it is never easy.

I tip my hat to the folks who work in yards or on construction sites every single day. They must have callouses and scratches and dirt under their fingernails. They are hardy souls who wade into the weeds and rarely get the credit for the beauty of the world. I try to remember that they are the ones who dug the holes and carried the bricks. They are my heroes.

Fashion

adult beautiful elegant eyewear
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A good twenty years ago one of the principals with whom I worked was complaining about a shopping excursion with his middle school aged daughter. He described how she had begged to purchase a pair of jeans with an acid wash that made them appear to be well worn. The jeans were expensive due only to the brand, so he was appalled by the idea of paying so much for something that looked like it had come from a rag bag. He asked the girl why they didn’t just go to a thrift store and find a pair of used jeans that cost maybe one sixth of the price. He wondered if I had ever experienced what he saw as the ridiculousness of fashion or if he was simply out of touch.

I laugh even to this day as I recall his concern, and wonder what he may be thinking if he has walked through the women’s and teen’s clothing sections lately. Trends have gone from washed out colors to purposefully placed holes in jeans. Sometimes the legs are even lopped off  to create shorts with stringy edges. Even I have gone from being an ardent supporter of the vagaries of fashion to wondering if procuring some very old jeans at a thrifty cost might make just as much sense as paying premium prices in the name of fashion. It would not take much skill to create the same looks that are on display in expensive boutiques with far less expense.

Fashion has evolved in so many directions over time. My husband was only recently longing for the days when women showed up at church on Easter Sunday with lovely pastel dresses accessorized with hats and gloves. He spoke of how elegantly his grandmother dressed even for Saturday shopping excursions. Now at church on Easter Sunday we will saw everything from jeans with sloppy t-shirts to shorts that seem more appropriate for a day at the beach. There are only a handful of ladies who still adhere to the idea of dressing up for services complete with wearing beautiful hats that compliment their lovely suits and dresses.

We have become a more casual society and I don’t mind that at all. I personally don’t like to wear hats. Most of them don’t fit right on my head and leave me with a headache after a few minutes. I am actually quite happy that I no longer have to worry about finding one that suits my features. I also hate the upkeep of those white gloves that we used to wear. I say good riddance to such things, but I miss others like the requirement of wearing hosiery for more formal occasions. There are very few women over the age of forty whose legs look good without stockings. The queen is correct to insist that all royals wear hose. They really do look nicer than pasty old legs and they aren’t all that uncomfortable.

I once looked into the possibility of wearing the same brand and color of hosiery that Princess Kate wears because she always looks so natural. I found out that I can even order a pair on Amazon. I was quite excited about the prospect of hiding the always and veins of my legs in a way that appeared to be almost invisible until I noticed that one pair costs forty five dollars. I knew that with my luck I would find a way to put a run in them on the first outing, so I decided not to even experiment with a pair. The problem is that finding an alternate source that does not look funny in today’s stockingless world is not that easy, so I just go with the flow of the current trend even though I would prefer to somehow camouflage my legs.

I’ve seen crazy things come and go. I was once part of the mini-skirt revolution back when hiking skirts was shocking to my elders. I loved the look and showed off my slender gams quite willingly. My girls wanted parachute pants and Vans which I never purchase for them because I thought that the price of those things was ridiculous. I still feel a bit guilty for not indulging them with looks that were popular at the time. My grandmother wore dresses that trailed down to her ankles and my mother got by with very short skirts by claiming that they were little playsuits. Women of every era try different ways of wearing clothing, some of which are actually stunning and timeless and others that quickly become dated.

I have settled into more classic looks in accordance with my age, but I actually appreciate the trendier styles for the younger set. It’s fun to try different styles and to determine what works best. I suppose that my mother was right whenever she told me to create my own looks by choosing the colors and the cuts that enhanced my figure rather than going with the flow. Each person indeed has skin tones and body issues that can be made to look lovely with a bit of care in choosing. The women who master such techniques are always beautiful and not obsessively worried about how they appear to the world.

Fashion is a superficial kind of thing, and yet I truly enjoy attempting to create a look for myself. I’ve lost two inches in height so I have had to change the way I pick clothing. My mid section is no longer long and slender so the sleek tower look doesn’t work for me like it once did. I do my best to hide my flaws and accentuate the things that are best about me. Mostly I now just want to blend in nicely. I sometimes have to remind myself that seventy year old women don’t have to look dowdy, but they should not look ridiculous either. There’s a fine line between staying modern and seeming to be a bit daft.

My granddaughter was recently invited to attend a military ball at her school. She wisely chose a very understated and classic dress, one that would work throughout the ages. I suppose that in the end the styles of women like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly are defined by their timelessness. A photo of Coco Chanel looks as lovely today as it did decades ago. Perhaps the key to fashion is to have some fun now and again but always remember that in general less is more.