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FairyMiddlin

Reflections on finding peace and magic in the middle of…

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Fashion for Mortals and Fae Alike

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When I was in eighth grade, that oh-so-painful age of adolescence, I wanted a pair of blue jeans so badly I was quite nearly in agony. Please remember that this was the age of Brooke Shields, who never let anything come between her and her Calvins, and Gloria Vanderbilt’s straight, super-dark-blue-with-gold-stitching disco ready denims. I didn’t necessarily care that my jeans be designer label, I understood only too well my family’s poverty. I was dressed in garage sale clothes that didn’t fit, or repurposed clothes from my mother’s 1970’s remnants (one of my favorite outfits was a blue chambray maxi dress covered in strawberries that my maternal grandmother had helped me redesign and sew into a skirt and blouse. I was vintage before vintage was cool.) Genie pants were a trend when I was in seventh grade, I had tried (with disastrous results) to tie yarn around the ankles of a pair of brown polyester slacks I found in my mom’s closet. When all my friends had braces, I wrapped a rubber band around my front four teeth and tried to convince my classmates I was starting orthodontics. Yes, that really happened. And yes, my teeth were sore for days. When my family moved across town and I started a new school, I saw my chance to be someone different, someone who had not utterly embarrassed herself by doing a cartwheel at cheerleading tryouts, only to find every single other candidate standing in perfect formation and kids in the bleachers pointing and laughing. Someone who looked and lived like everyone else.

I wanted jeans.

I rarely voiced my wishes, resources were so scarce, but I must have voiced this one. When I look back, I realize that wishing for appropriate school clothes was not wicked of me. I honestly just wanted clothes that were appropriate for my age and fit right. And I wanted to blend in. Isn’t that the great conundrum that faces junior high kids? You want to blend in, to be like everyone else, but at the same time you ache to find your own identity.

My father did not know how to make these jeans happen. He just did not have the money to do it. So unbeknownst to me, he called my grandmother, a master seamstress, to see if she could help.

One day I got a box in the mail, addressed from Lubbock, Texas. Usually, these boxes were filled with dresses or blouses made from the leftover fabrics from my grandmother’s clients. This time, I opened the lid to find dark blue denim. My blessed grandmother had made me a pair of blue jeans! Now, as a seamstress myself, I can tell you that denim is a real pain to work with. It’s heavy. It breaks needles. And the finished, flat-fold seams that are standard on the sides and yokes are quite literally impossible without special industrial machines, so my jeans were actually made from a women’s trouser pattern. I didn’t know any of that then. I just knew that I could wear denim on the bus the next day!

The next morning, I put on my jeans with a favorite peach colored top (also one made by my grandmother) and a pair of too-small Famolare shoes found at a garage sale (remember those- they had wavy rubber soles?) I fixed my short frizzy hair and rubbed on eyeliner taken from a jar of shattered Mary Kay kohl left over from the sixties, and walked to the bus stop.

And here is where I learned that no matter where I went, I would always be the girl kids loved to make fun of. Instead of my jeans helping me fit in, they stood out like sore thumbs. No back pockets, no side seams, no pretty stitching, no designer label. I was that morning’s bus target.

I did my best to put a dignified face forward, shielding my thoughts from the mean-spirited peers surrounding me. At first those thoughts were of burning the cursed pants. Well, not really burning, but maybe ripping or burying in the bottom of my closet. But then I thought of my grandmother sitting at her machine, pins in her mouth, humming hymns or listening to Paul Harvey, sacrificing time sewing for paying customers to make me a pair of jeans. I thought of my father setting aside his pride to ask this of her. And I wore those jeans.

Eventually, some of my peers became friends. I never really got invited to sleepovers, but I had people to sit with on the way to and from school. Once my voice was discovered, I became the bus entertainment.

What I learned was that family love trumps everything, and that family love doesn’t always come from where you think it will. That same dear grandmother was still showing her love for me at the sewing machine two years later, making my white dress with a blue satin sash for my role as Liesl in the school musical, five years later with my pink and blue graduation dress, seven years later, helping to make my mother’s dress for my wedding, and then again making crocheted booties for my first child.

I miss that dear lady. She taught her children and grandchildren that loving family matters. She showed each of us that love is not always spoken, it is proven in serving and forgiving others. Loved by her husband, siblings, and descendants until her very last breath, her life was a testament to the power of family love.

Fashions come and go. Grandmothers are forever.

Shopping. Ouch.

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I am not a great shopper. I get a little lost in the stores and sort of wander around aimlessly, rubbing things that are soft and darting from pretty color to pretty color like a dazed hummingbird. My closet reflects this inability to acquire what I believe is called a “cohesive wardrobe” (I learned that term from watching Project Runway). It’s a motley assortment of shirts handed down from my girls, skirts from resale shops, and  black, brown, and silver pairs of shoes (one set is for when it’s cold, one for when it’s hot). I did manage a small shopping trip in September, during which I splurged on a pair of autumnal orange cords. I absolutely adore them. I bought two outfits that day, all at JCP, because that store is comfy for me. The outfits are hung on four-way racks, so you know exactly what top is supposed to go with what bottom. It’s kind of like Garanimals for working moms.

I also experience tremendous guilt when I buy clothes. That’s why almost nothing in my closet is new. I just feel like one of my kids must need something more, or I should make an extra payment on a debt, or send some money to a starving child in Africa. My family has started confiscating the receipts after a shopping trip so that I cannot return everything the next day when regret takes over. I looked at a pair of exquisite cashmere hand beaded gloves this afternoon at a new store called Soft Surroundings. They were so beautiful I almost wept. Then I saw the price tag- $120!!! I dabbed my eyes and put them away. That’s a payment to my neurosurgeon or ten months of support for my local NPR station right there.

Today, I ventured into Forever 21, where Libby was looking for a dress for her college auditions next week. Having been told by her super awesome voice teacher that a study in L.A. found that teal and turquoise were top colors to audition in, we had our eyes open for garments in these hues. While she was in the dressing room, a deep turquoise lace overlay dress called my name. I showed it to Libby- she loved it so much she bought it without even trying it on! Success! Imagine my surprise- I had picked out something my 18 year old loved! No eye rolling, no sweet little pats on my dowdy old head (which, by the way, has not had a haircut in 13 months. Hence the ever present low pony and plastic headband)!

So, here are my new thoughts on shopping:

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1. Drink at least two glasses of wine first. This will shut the hyper-critical second-guesser in my head right on up. I’ll be whipping out my debit card in no time, buying highly impractical heels and fluttery skirts! Of course, this is the strategy that led to the acquisition of a tattoo in the East Village last summer, so a little caution should probably be exercised.

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2. Take a daughter with me. My girls are fantastic at putting outfits together, and they can keep me from the yoga pants-tunic ensembles that have become my go-to. In fact, when I do get compliments on my clothes, it’s always something one of my girls bought for me! However, I must be sure not to buy a corn hat.

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3. Stop being distracted by costume ideas when shopping. Some of you will totally get this. I would always rather buy for one of my costumes that buy for mundane work clothes! I had to make a conscious effort today to walk away from the pretty headbands that would go so perfectly with my fairy costume. I don’t want to buy an every day purse, I want a beaded bag to go with my red dupioni silk bustle dress. I want earrings with skulls and crossbones for Rosie. I just have to have the raspberry tights, suede kitten heeled pumps and crystal encrusted shoe baubles to go with my French courtesan costume (see above)!

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4. Have fun. I really need to embrace this philosophy in pretty much everything. I need to lighten up! My girls tell me that clothing can be a way to express one’s creativity, mood, and personality. I used to know that! I have a friend, Melody, who is a theatre teacher, like me. But she wears feathers in her hair, bright colors, and lots of sparkles. Mel wore a feathered hat to the Tommy Tunes awards last April that was like an avant garde work of art on top of her head. She is fearless and so much fun!It’s time to let my inner Melody out to play. I need to find my inner drama queen. Maybe even my inner drag queen.

Image Yep, it’s time to brave the mall, change my inner monologue(I am NOT fat), and start discovering a new fashion sense before I become a victim of the dreaded red hat lady syndrome! Know of any good sales, gals?

Beware the poodle!

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I hate my hair. I know, I should be grateful I still have it, and I am. Nevertheless, I would like to change it. My Grandmother Puckett had really beautiful hair, red with a white streak (we’re of Scots descent- red hair, blue eyes, striking cheekbones. My cousin Garyn is the one that got all that, drat her.) Grandmother wore her hair long, down her back until she lost it to chemotherapy in her seventies. When I was in college I used to sit on the daybed in my grandmother’s bedroom and watch my Aunt Molly brush Grandmother’s hair and put it up for her. I remember she always looked more vulnerable with her hair down.

But it’s not my grandmother’s red hair I want. It’s my Libby’s.

If you’ve seen Libby’s hair, you know what I am talking about. It’s a thick and heavy mass of golden ringlets, a solid mass of perfect corkscrew curls. I like to look underneath all of it and find the wee curls and wrap them around my finger, pull them out, and let them go. They bounce like springs.

Libby loves her hair, but that was not always the case. When she was little, it took an act of God to get her to sit still for me to brush it, and she would not even consider letting me put it in a pony tail so that it would get less tangled. When she was about five, she wanted it cut into a bob. I refused, so one night on the way to “Hello, Dolly” rehearsal, she gave herself that bob with scissors in the back of the mini van. When we got to rehearsal, I opened the van door to discover piles of curls and a very unrepentant daughter. She got her hair bobbed the following day at a salon.

I have been threatening to cut my hair into a pixie. My girls veto this. What I really want to do, though, is get a perm. I want a salon perm from a pro who can give me Libby’s perfect corkscrews. I can just see it: I wash my hair, mousse it, dry it a touch with a diffuser, add some cute feathers like my friend Mel, and walk my sassy self all over town. I work those curls in the school hallway. I work those curls in my fairy costume. I work those curls in private for Trav.

The last perm I got was in 1990. I splurged for a salon perm, though still in college, but I didn’t leave enough time in the appointment to let it process. Trav and I had an Amway meeting with Dr. Hinds (some of you will get that reference) and no way could I be late. Much to the stylist’s dismay, I had to have him pull out the rods about halfway through. The stylist was nearly in tears and made me promise not to reveal his identity (no lie). I looked awful. The pictures of me from this time are a mess. I have thrown all photos away except for the ones with Hilary.

But I have faith in modern technology. If we can build a space station, if we can carry around digital devices that connect us to each other instantly, if we can have hybrid cars, by the goddess, I can have curls.

I found just the right look on Google images last night. It’s perfect. It’s the haircut that would absolutely change my life. Isn’t it funny how we ladies get that in our heads? The right hair, dress, or shoes will grant immediate contentment. But I find that the buzz from the new ‘do or outfit lasts just one evening. Then I still crave true intimacy and the adoration of someone who could not care less what my hair looks like. That’s when I look at my husband and know that he’s seen me through every imaginable hairstyle, the good, the bad, and the ugly (for the record, he likes it super short). He will lovingly watch as it turns gray. He will love me if I am ever bald. He will love me no matter what.

And that’s the best beauty tip I have, to see myself through his eyes and know that nothing else matters.

Does anyone have the name of a great hair stylist who specializes in perms?

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