Family Jewels

A couple of months ago, my daughter Abby went away on vacation and asked me to do a guest post for her blog, Transition is My Middle Name.  Abby often blogs about food and fashion. She has a masterful way of sniffing out a new trend before it is mass marketed, posts beautiful images, and includes short, cheerful texts.

I was very enthusiastic about helping her out, but a little apprehensive. I have no expertise about food or fashion.  Mostly I write about family. Here is what I could offer:

My daughters have their own unique styles, and are often called upon by friends and family for their expertise on clothes, shoes and makeup.  Shopping with them is like playing an adult game of paper dolls.  I see an interesting outfit on the hanger and tell them to try it on so I can see what it looks like. They are usually more than happy to comply, putting together unusual combinations of textile and color, and modeling the outfits while I sit in a comfortable dressing room chair.

Unlike my daughters, I am no fashionista. I can muddle my way through deciding which sweater goes with what skirt, but I get lost with accessories.

I know that Coco Chanel said,“When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on,” but in my case that would mean that most days I would walk out the door in my underwear. However, I do have a few favorite accessories. One of these is a necklace that my son Gabriel made out of sea shells.  He drilled the shells by himself and tied them to a length of bright orange gimp. 

He gave it to me for Mother’s Day when he was seven and begged me to wear it to work the next morning. I did. All day.  And although it raised a few eyebrows, and prompted much behind-my-back snickering, it was worth it to see his little face light up when I told him that everyone noticed and remarked upon his beautiful gift.

What I suspected then and know now is that the worth of most people’s jewelry is measured in carats, but they cannot come close to the sparkle in my children’s eyes.

Eat your heart out Coco.

Saying Yes to the Dress- A Mother’s Perspective on Wedding Gowns

I have an old video of my daughter Abby dancing in our living room.  She was in kindergarten at the time, and her one dream was to be a ballerina.  We were unable to afford dance lessons, but I was able to save enough money to buy her a pair of delicate pink ballet slippers, and one afternoon while Gabriel and Elizabeth napped, she donned a pink circle skirt and her ballet slippers and performed a solo dance performance in front of a borrowed video recorder.

I taped in silent wonder as she twirled and leapt, limited only by her own imagination.  Her waist-length hair lilted behind her like a blond chiffon scarf and she grinned in unbridled delight.  It was a song of life, choreographed for one- a magical moment that I will cherish long after the video crumbles from old age.

I thought of that day last week while she tried on wedding gowns.  The two of us went to a bridal salon with plush carpets and thick drapery, excited for a day of trying frothy white dresses for her upcoming nuptials.  This was new ground for us. When I married thirty-three years ago, I was a VISTA in Idaho.  We phoned my measurements to my mother who was in Massachusetts, and she bought fabric and a pattern, and sewed my gown while I was away.  I returned home four days before my wedding and she did the final fitting and finished the dress the day before the ceremony.  I fashioned my own veil and splurged on a pair of white shoes that still rest with the gown in the bottom of my cedar trunk.

Although I sew, I have neither the talent or inclination to attempt a wedding gown, so on a Saturday morning, we found ourselves in a small private room while a beaming young sales associate brought gown after gown for Abby to try.  I had expected there to be several that we didn’t like, but each garment looked amazing on her.  There was one in particular that stood out from the rest, and the sales woman suggested that she wear it to a larger room in the salon where large mirrors reflect the future bride from every angle.

Abby made her way to the three-way mirror and stepped up on the pedestal.  Her long hair was held back by a jeweled headband and after I straightened the gown’s train, I stepped back to survey my daughter.  There she was, tall and slender, elegant in ivory lace.  She turned to me, clapped her hands, and joyfully exclaimed, “I’m getting married!”

She had the same expression as that little girl who danced for me.  Her huge green eyes were full of excitement and anticipation.  Her smile was brilliant, and her cheeks were flushed the same delicate pink as her ballet slippers.  She was beautiful then.  She is more beautiful now.

And I did what every good mother does.  I cried.  Then I wiped my tears and laughed.

In the end, she didn’t end up buying that particular dress.  She found another that made her feel even more like the exquisite young bride she will be on Christmas Eve.  But she would look stunning in a paper bag, and although I know that television and bridal magazines would tell us that it is all about the dress, I know it is not.  It is about the heart.  It is about two hearts- Abby’s and Johnny’s, who will face life with free, unbridled delight, full of excitement and anticipation.  I will watch in silent wonder as they twirl and leap, limited only by their imaginations, as they interpret a new song.  It is the song of life, choreographed for two.

Reflections on 9/11

Over a year ago, Gary Cassanelli, the Fire Commissioner in Springfield Massachusetts, asked me to write a speech for him to deliver on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  During the ceremony a steel beam from the Twin Towers was to be dedicated in memorial to those who perished on 9/11. I was flattered, but more than that, I was honored.

I met Gary shortly after I began working on my yet unfinished book about fire fighters. He generously volunteered several of the Springfield firefighters for interviews, offered me a space to meet with them, and finished the day by treating me to lunch. He is well-educated, articulate and introspective, and endlessly encouraging of my writing. He could easily write a perfectly appropriate speech by himself, but he asked me to speak for him, and in a sense, I was to speak for fire fighters everywhere.

Writing the speech became a labor of love.  We all have feelings about September eleventh and this gave me the opportunity to lay my heart on a page- to speak not only of the loss and heartache we all felt, but of my undying belief that in all circumstances we have the opportunity- the responsibility- to turn evil to good.

So, here is my voice. I am so grateful to live in a country where it can be heard.

There is hardly an American alive who doesn’t remember where he was when the clear blue skies over our nation were split open by the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks that forever changed history. For the past ten years we have remembered those who perished, but this year, we have the opportunity to pay special tribute to the 343 firefighters of the Fire Department of New York who bravely charged into the face of danger, giving the ultimate sacrifice in their quest to save the lives of others.

How fitting that a column of steel from the Twin Towers is to be the focal point for this ceremony. Much like firefighters, steel is tough- forged to be strong enough to withstand great pressure. It is resilient and adaptable under the right circumstances, but unbending and unrelenting when necessary. This steel will remind us of the firefighters who, like the steel within Twin Towers, struggled until the very end to hold the weight of those who cried out for their help.

In the weeks that followed the attacks of September 11th ,  Americans responded with a mighty roar to the terrorists who desired to endanger the fabric that weaves our country. In a moment, we were reminded of what is important. We reached for our loved ones. We held fast to our children. We helped our neighbors. Streets became neighborhoods, neighborhoods became communities and communities were once again united into one strong, resolute nation.

Let me challenge you today to honor those who died on that tragic and fateful day. Honor the victims of the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and those who bravely perished in the fields of Pennsylvania. Honor those who have sacrificed and fought for our freedom since that horrific day, and those who continue to fight today. Honor them by living your life as we all did in the days that followed September 11th.  Live with pride and compassion. Each day brings a new opportunity to make a better world for our children, to feed the hungry and to help the needy. There is no better message, and no better victory over terrorism than that of the American spirit. Let us never forget 9/11, and let us always we remember what it means to be an American, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

Every year since their deaths, I take a moment to look at the photos of the 343 firefighters who died in the Twin Towers. I stare at their faces and search their eyes; and I wonder if they could speak- if they could tell us just one more thing- what they might say. And although I can’t tell for sure, I think this line from a poem by John MacRae might speak for them.

“To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high.” 

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