Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: After the Party, a Respite and Rewind

(Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels.com)

It was not a restful night. I awakened fuzzy, trailed by difficult dreams. So I spent more than enough time reading a fashion magazine, the sort you don’t have to absorb so much as scan–the words and pictures. The greater emphasis is on pictures. (A few fashion magazines highlight essays, interviews of powerful women, the latest socioeconomic or political info, and health and beauty.) But I am not so intellectually or ethically elevated an individual (well, in my fantasies, likely) that I can’t enjoy a fabulous fashion shoot.

I have always liked aspects of fashion–its visual abundance; the process of transforming inspiration into an array of materials and designs; the performance aspect, no matter where it is shown to the world. It’s ordinary or glamourous impact counts; it’s startling at its best, an accessible sort of theater. It ventures into experiences that most only observe and consider, not engage with beyond the looking. But it somehow can matter a bit. Maybe it gives a jolt to creatives in odd ways. Like the designers whose work reminded me of old Lily Pulitzer designs plus the artist Miro’s paintings. It made me want to get out my own box of paints or collage scraps. It made me, decidely not domestically skilled, want to sew a bit more.

Let’s face it, though: a fashion mag is brazen escapism. I imdulge in this recreation as needed, a simple prescription for discouragment, physical unwellness, worry, even anger. It’s one little coping skill learned as an adolescent. After crying/praying/working hard/helping others, or heavy speculation about a future so like a maze, I take twenty minutes and go through a breezy fashion portal. Fashion also interprets and broadcasts societal goings-on–but from a distance that is safer. Me, I go straight to the easier stuff first.

I read more challenging magazines. I enjoy piles of physical books, delving into a chapters each day and night of fiction, poetry and nonfiction. I study coffee table tomes at my leisure–dragonflies? Pottery? Old maps? Check. I can be enchanted and frustrated by the smorgasboard of materials, the time factor. And then: choose stimulation of mind and spirit or of the eyes, perhaps the heart? Today has been a day for perking up weary eyes and brain cells. A leisurely taking in color and texture and style. And what about the photographer’s interesting ideas? (Oh, uh, I can name admired fashion photographers, old and new. I’ve read these mags for decades, you know.) I dive right in and float awhile in those inventive tableaus.

Of course I enjoy clothes, the looking and wearing of comfy, fun or classy ensembles, and unique, handmade jewelry, a brilliant scarf. But that’s another sort of personal essay, me and how I use or disuse things–closets I have known and choices made. (Did mention I also just enjoy clothing? Or at times, these days. So I wore velveteen emerald green pants and an apple green sweater on Christmas Eve… and a fuschia cashmere with navy pants Christmas Day. And navy wool felt slippers both times. In case you wondered.)

But today I fell into the shiny pages because I am still–after nights of decent sleep (also poor)– sluggish following kaleidoscopic activity of the holidays. The time passed feels a long way away in some regard. I mean Christmas, really. (We watched a show on house renovation New Year’s Eve, then read, then to bed. I heard fireworks going off: 2022 and I lay awake a long time.) The leading up to the Season, then various experiences of the Eve and Day. And a daughter and her partner staying a few more days since they had flown quite a distance. Four out of five adult kids, their honeys and children! I have video of some of the happiness I can replay now and then.

Then at the end of it all closing the door against a wintry mix of weather, turning on the new electric fireplace from our son, sitting and sighing. Imagining how those adults were once kids in other houses with fragrant trees chopped down and decorated to the max. On January 1st we began the tear down and clean up. Which took three days. There are still two boxes that need to be stacked up somewhere in the garage.

How is it that the weeks leading up to Christmas were such fun and now I am still feeling the aftereffects of socializing and eating and gift wrapping and exchanging and ….well, the whole lovely, blurry, fast-action experience. I had shopped like personal shopping was my full time job, a smart and happy shopper, rooting out items on lists, triumphantly spotting options. It felt good to know that the money was there this year, as it was not so much last year after my husband’s lay-off. I headed out on foot but also online, family members square in mind as I got to it. Because this year we planned on as muich family gathering as possible at our home. (Only one daughter was not, and her son, our grandson; she is a minister far away, he works in another state, too.) Between testing, vaccinations and masking, we could make it happen.

And we did, thankfully. It was amazing to have most children and grandchildren at our table, then circled about glimmering, gift-laden tree. But at times I felt as it was a dream. Being much more isolated for nearly two years, it was a rare experience to be in the middle of such abundance. Our unique, adored family. Overwhelming at moments, perhaps, joyful for the time we shared. Love disseminated with words, looks, laughs. It seemed almost too good to be true since life has been defined so often by turmoil, unease and sorrow. One can become leery when so much has been torn from normalcy; foreboding can creep right in. But we seemed to vibrate with pleasure, nonetheless.

Christmas was a mixture of secular and religious/spiritual energy. It has been for a few decades. Sometimes I think it’d be better to separate the two experiences. Or skip gifts altogether. (But: toddler granddaughters…) Or set aside greater time for faith traditions–much harder to do when in a pandemic. No candle lighting service in a sanctuary stilled by respect and full darkness, believers with hands raising brilliant candles aflame in that dome of darkness. The singing of hymns and carols.

Well, no actual church for us but we had family, and cause to cautiously celebrate completion of a difficult year. Though I admit: I forgot the prayer at dinner, our hands holding each others’ hands. No, the truth: I was afraid I would break down due to the invisible but real empty chair…our oldest granddaughter suddenly died in April. How do you pray with gratitude when someone has fast exited the circle? Everyone would weep, there would be tears covering us, grief’s mask with its heaviness. I thought her mother, our daughter, would no longer be able to embrace beauty of this Christmas, only heartache cracking it into pieces. But she had tried and she had done it, enough. So I let that prayer go and proceeded with my husband into the wonders of the time. We wept later.

All that. All the good a tonic, a reprieve, a break in many onerous days and nights… until even coping seemed barely enough. So each moment together was necessary for me, for us all. It wasn’t perfection. We are not all in accordance about everything, not at all, and are opinionated and expressive and smart. It was great human hope and a penchant for more goodness that brought us closer again, and it was seen, heard and held. We wanted to be normal. More caring. And it was further shaped by the eternal presence of Divinity; no matter how people practice their beliefs, everyone knows it, acknowledges it. At our old oak dining table, God has the best seat, the one in the center of the show. And we are family forever, amen.

Now the days go on in their pedestrian manner. Catch up on chores. Catch up with a few not here. More time to read, write, walk, consider creative projects and stat one, call friends, other family (my remaining sister, who has dementia, did not join us but I saw her a few days before).

But, too, harder news: one member who came on Christmas Eve became infected (via an acquaintance) with Covid-19 several days following our gathering. She was vaccinated. She is slowly recovering after 5 days. A daughter that visited from the east coast is now in Colorado with her partner, trying to cancel her flight back. Because she got shingles. And major airports are madness, short staffed, and there are many cancellations with travellers stuck. Snow may complicate things. That Omicron variant is speeding its way across America every moment. It is strange–science but still strange–that something invisible to the naked eye has made us captive to it…

It is back to living more like a solitary soul, with greater cautions– despite being vaccinated and boosted. A virus has its ways. I am suddenly ordering food and essentials for delivery again. No more fun outings unless outdoors and apart from people or picking through a bright mound of tomatos. It is not so bad; I deal with it, as we all must. Being a daily walker and a hiker when I can do that works magic. I can get through most things with a decent walk and a prayer.

The point that came to me after Christmas was how holidays bring an avalanche of real-time love, a release of pent-up energy, the sudden waterfall of happiness. And then the possibility of so much loss. It is enough to make my heart swell and skip too many beats.

How long shall we plod on?–who knows? We have held on, have practiced acceptance, and those of us who’ve been able to have gone on day by day–with courage and adaptability. We gain from greater introspection, become more self-reliant. Are we stalwart enough to keep on fighting discouragement, perhaps loneliness? There have been good dashes of hope; it has been enough for me. Now it’s the wait and wonder part– whatever time will reveal.

And so, then, moving into 2022 from one hard year to another made of primarily unknown qualities. I could tell you how many years have been that way in some iteration. Much if not most of my life. So one more can be looked in the eye.

And hence, the fashion magazines. Not The Seven Lamps of Architecture by John Ruskin that awaits me a mere five inches away. I admit that more frivolous diversions seem so frothy that it is embaraasing to mention but, hey, we do what we can do to alleviate the odd mental dizziness tensions can create these days. And I have done more foolish or worse, that’s for sure. It’s not a drink or a drug or, goodness forbid, a man captivating eye or mind. It’s just good ole Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren; The Row; Dior, Chanel. It’s Bulgari or Van Cleef and Arpels or Paloma Picasso. It’s glossy pages, fast reads. I soak it all up with a flick of the pages, chocolate and strawberries in a time of so many radishes and turnips.

In the midst of challenges that lack few certain answers, problems that want for full resolutions I can find random moments of respite, even insignificant and fleeting. The mundane has its curious nature; a simple thing can offer an illumined moment. It doesn’t all need to be more lofty, though that may be a preference. A fabulous fashion photo by Annie Leibovitz or David LaChapelle interests me immediately, as does a Vivian Maier or Paul Nicklen photo. Then my attention flits to other matters. After all, these are not deep clues to more purposeful questions. Not the core of peace I build upon.

So I stand up, stretch, and discover a refreshed, jauntier viewpoint. I have had a break from a pressing immediacy of reality. I spin around, arms opening to whatever comes. The dryer stops so gather a warm bundle of clean laundry. Then send a quick check-in to two daughters. I’m up to more substantial business, creative explorations. Like a little song writing, power walking, poem making. Blogging my way into 2022. It takes everything–the tinsel and the constancy of the North Star.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Eleven Years/Thanks Giving

Eleven years.

WordPress informed me this week that it has been eleven years since my first blog post. That seems almost absurd. How can that be? I was sixty years old in 2010. And the passing of time has been a rhythmic flow of minutes, hours, days…starts and stops and this life resuming once again. And so, too, the posts on WordPress.

I recall it feeling like a small, entertaining adventure when I first learned the ropes. I jumped in and charged ahead. I learned through trial and error. And soon enjoyed the process. Yet, who would keep toiling away at a blog that long? Some of us just keep our foot on the pedal and go. It becomes a discipline and a habit, a way to also keep writing juices flowing. And the truth is, it hasn’t been very taxing to share the small theater of my life. We bloggers find pleasure and meaning as we put on pages the images that speak to us; stories that snare us; heartbreaks and recoveries that add up; random encounters that puzzle and move us. Blogging is a method of placing our thoughts and feelings into a more coherent perspective–as it is with any sort of writing (or any imaginative) endeavor.

Perhaps it has become one way to journal–whether the content is travelling, photography, hobbies, personal transformation, commentary on society and the world, true passion projects, deepening spiritual experiences, multimedia endeavors, humorous anecdotes. Or a simple tale of life that presses to reveal itself–and so we–I– obey. We create and place it into others’ hands…those often unknown others who are also moving and resting, chuckling or crying out.

Here: take these words and images and perhaps find me there and then find yourself here and there. Reach to the core of the story. The bare elegance of the view. The soundtrack of night as a woman or man flees wakefulness. The spill of light that flushes roots and limbs of the tree. But connect, be less alone. Peek into another way of living and engage mind and senses with no goal besides learning. And risk being open with moments of sharing. It will pull you from yourself even as it expands your knowldege. It has mine.

When I began this blogging adventure, I actually created and wrote one separate blog for poetry; another for prose; and one for photgraphy. Then I condensed the format (it got a bit much) so it became one blog that spanned three basic genres of fiction, nonfiction and poetry (with subgenres), as well as photography widely interspersed. It has evolved like most blogs do– and I have evloved, I suppose, and thus found my way from one kind of expression to different ones. I could spend more time on design, presentation and so on. (Proofreading more carefully, my apologies; also, there is a physical explanation for my poor typing–but another time!) I might attract more readers, who knows? (I guess I have well over 15,000 readers, but I have doubts about that count.) I lack motivation to experiment with it more, still. Maybe in 2022–year 12?

The bottom line is that I write and photograph because I am a creative person –here among countless others. I so love the process. The end results are of interest, but it is the actual doing whatever I do that magnetizes me, holds me captive until I am done enough. I spend on average 6-8 hours three days a week writing posts, working on the blog. I could do more ambitious things like submit work again, tackle another novel, explore art more seriously, get back to music (my cello sleeps upstairs in a corner; my voice hums very quietly). Some days I suspect I blog so much because I can procrastinate re: taking riskier chances out there. Perhaps, or perhaps not. I keep at this because it is a pleasure to do it, within a parcel of time put aside for myself. A rambling journey that takes me to bloggers and readers. We can all equally exchange our work and thoughts here. An overall democratic platform. I peruse the work of others, then begin once more.

In 2010, I had an active career in the mental health field, providing assessments, doing education groups several times a day, and counseling clients via individual therapy as well as group therapy. I valued and enjoyed my work. But I needed to write more. To breathe more freely, cleanse myself of the trauma and loss of those complex lives that could hover about my being when I got home. I had long been keen on good self-care and did a decent job of it. But that part of me that yearned to be more creative for myself first and last nagged at me. I was hungry and thirsty for it. I looked into blogging for that fun and release, for greater community with others, and another route to creative growth. It worked out nicely. I have been happy to keep my Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule (more or less) for all this time. I am nothing if not a persistent sort, it appears.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I, like many millions, am a bit worn by the anxiety and drear that try to engulf us. I refuse to give in to it. I may weep and gnash teeth now and then, but then I am done–until the next time. I get up from the floor. And not that I don’t know sorrow. I grieve the vanishing of easy freedom and also people. In just the past year my 26 year old granddaughter died. My older and only remaining sister is losing her way in the morass of dementia. My best friend moved to Arizona. I feel the weight of our sorrowing earth–I have a devotion to nature–and of the slouching and redeeming humanity that inhabits it. We are full of our failures and long for wholeness and peace. And I keep striving. I know I am not alone.

So, I am not giving in to any lingering melancholy much less despair now. I have made it this far. I hope to make it at least a bit farther. I am powered by the regenerative essence of life, the leaps of joy in living–if also challenged. I am inspired and invigorated by the peculiar mysteries of love; gifts of encounters with other people; and surprising illuminations of God that I experience in everyday moments. In short, I am grateful, yes. I say so each morning and night. Praying and working to be present and to learn from others and remain aware of a multitude of wonders is edemic to my path.

What is at the root of your creative blogging journey? How do you keep moving forward amid strain of troubles? Where lives your gratitude?

We keep at it, don’t we, and what we find may instruct or thrill us. As one more blogger and writer, I do feel privileged. How auspicious an experience to offer our words, images and more. It is an opportunity to practice what I care about doing without judgement or pressures, and it brings such happiness.

I’ll remain here, then, at least for the time being.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Blessings to you and yours,

Cynthia

Husband Marc and me, 2010, when I began this blog. A little tension around those smiles, perhaps… We both worked too hard and such long hours back then. Careers that demanded much, but all work asks much!
Now retired for 7 years, still dreaming and doing–I thank Divine Light/Love/God.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: What Now? The Shuttering of a Mall and its Ice Rink

(Above photos: 2017 at Lloyd Center Mall rink; granddaughter, Avery, and me; just me; daughter, Naomi, and me being silly)

I read yesterday that Lloyd Center Mall–covering 23 acres and at one time the largest shopping center anywhere–is closing. And may be torn down. Built in 1960, it was a whole new shopping experience; thousands attended the ribbon cutting as the then-Governor did the honors. Big stores moved in, restaurants. A food court was built later that overlooked the fun below. A huge draw was the indoor ice skating rink. Originally an open air mall, it was beautifully glass-roofed when I moved to Portland in 1993. Generations have long enjoyed its convenience and offerings, but over the years there has been a downturn in numbers of shoppers, as new malls have sprung up and small businesses have continued to flourish the last 30 years. With the devastation and restrictions brought by the pandemic, it appears to have finally come to a full stop and must be sold or demolished.

It’s a sad moment as I reflect upon this older local hub of activities. Many events took place there over the decades, from Clydesdale horses to gardening/flower shows to fashion shows to wildly popular midnight sales. I wonder what else went on that I missed those years before.

The mall was a primary stop for my family when we lived in NE Portland. We walked over (a few blocks from our old neighborhood) for a quick pick up of a necessary item, or to find a gift for a special occasion. Or we stopped by a couple of hours to just browse on a rainy day, grabbing a bite to eat and watching skaters below in the center of it all. Just taking a curious appraisal of milling crowds can be entertaining. And when we met family, say at Barnes and Noble Bookstore, for coffee, a scone and a new book, that was pleasant, too. Everywhere there was chatter, activity. Youthful friends often met their cohorts there to shop or while away time or attend a movie in the indoor movie theaters. It was a safe place for even young teens to be on their own, overall, though in the last years there was some illegal activity in and about the mall. And that likely contributed to its demise. A nearby corner park also became known for drug activity.

But when I had time, I certainly spent a fair share of money there. Sometimes it was a small and distracting getaway between work and other life business, or to distract myself if disgruntled or confounded by some issue. I’d get exercise walking there; I could meander a bit, get a drink, a treat. But mainly I was glad to have last minute shopping options so handy.

And then there was the ice rink. I have long been an ice skater seeking good ice.

Just thinking of that oval of slick stuff no longer existing there brings a small lump to my throat. For where else will I –and so many other ice lovers–end up with skates in hand? I can think of no place, at all. There once was a bigger ice rink at a newer mall (Tonya Harding used to practice there), but that rink closed due to less interest. Lloyd Mall rink was popular with area residents and those who came from a distance to enjoy family recreation–or just singular skating. There were classes for all ages, different kinds of skating events. It met a demand for our greater community. What pleasure to witness fathers or mothers and their children, older and younger friends with linked arms, kids zooming about on their own, littler ones teetering, trying to regain balance amid forward motion. You saw happiness out there. I felt my own. And there were hard falls, sliding off course, then skating on. There are always failed moments, mine included as I executed a barest half of a waltz jump that was easy at 30, but not so much at 60. But I tried to improve as well as just speed skate some, weaving betwen others, backwards and forwards. It got my heart thumping hard and that was good– my body sang.

Now that the mall is closing, I realize I should have skated there more. I was 43 when I moved to my first Oregon home and I quickly seized the opportunity to try the rink. And was delighted despite it being smallish. Yet I might have skated there only four times a year, to my regret. Between family obligations and long hours at work, it was a lower priority to me. When I retired from working in the mental health field, I planned to skate more but instead I wrote more….and saw more family and friends amd explored other interests. I never rekindled the habit I cultivated as a younger person.

Indoor ice skating was a bit odd, in a way. There were no biting, sleety, snowy winds as I raced around the rink. Far less layers of clothing; not even gloves were required. Of course, I’d readily adapted to northern weather vagaries growing up in Michigan. But I learned to skate at a well maintained outdoor rink, took figure skating lessons from early childhood. It was one passion of several I nurtured and though I did well, my daily disciplined study and practice began to fade by my late teens. I had skated for the joy of it as well as for competitive sport– and it was a blast. And a winter activity that was a rejuventator, one which saved me from the weight of despair many times.

Then I went to college, got married and my children were born. It was up to us to find a pond or lake frozen over each winter, which we often did. And what antics there were out there, the family gliding and falling and rushing over the rough ice nature afforded us. My first husband was a decent skater and enjoyed outdoor sports as much as did I. When married a second time we lived for years in Rochester, Michigan. Just two houses down from ours was sprawling Rochester Park with a rushing brook– and a pond. In winter it froze, thick and safe. There was a rustic warming house; we changed into our skates, took breaks to heat up hands and feet and sip cocoa. Every one of five children skated, though some were more enthusiastic than others. Marc was less enthralled but willing to try a bit, then watch and cheer us on. I was full of happiness, helping the children step and push onto ice, then find their own power and glide; to skate backwards; to stand with feet placed just so, then draw in arms quickly to create a spin. Despite the generally poor condition of snow-skimmed (or encrusted) ice–and excited hockey and speed skaters that gouged the surface and interrupted our trajectories–it was an outing always worth our time. The cold left our cheeks reddened, noses dripping and fingers tingling.

I was a skating nut, an outdoors lover way back, and grateful for all of it. And my blades on ice felt special. Thrilling.

So, now I wonder what to do with no rink. Of course I desire to skate even more now that the old standby is closing. And I long to teach the toddler grand-twins how to skate. I suppose I may have taken the rink–and the mall–for granted. Now I’ll have to search for a new ice rink. Hopefully, within an hour’s drive.

Thanksgiving is next week, then… Christmas. I for years looked forward to gawking at gaudy holiday decorations strung about Lloyd Mall, bright reds and greens with gold and silver accents, sometimes huge snowflakes and maybe icicles sparkling in the lights. It was a noisy, crowded, festive place, a spot where we shared energy of a loose community. Where groups merged briefly then separated. There was something for everyone if you looked long enough. I do feel a shopping mall is never the best place to authentically socialize. I am not supporting the idea of anyone becoming a “mall rat.” Though for soem folks this may be a safe place, the pause from a wearying or harsh life, a kind of comfort. Lots of older people could be seen sitting with coffee, eating a cheaper lunch, at the edge of such bustling life yet within the group of humankind.

I came to malls late and never missed them. There were none (other than small and ugly strip malls) in my hometown as a kid. Nonetheless, it is a place that is public, like parks, and available to all (in theory, usually in practice), offering a modicum of shelter and food. And Lloyd Mall was meant to be a people’s mall, and there are trains and buses about the area; it is close to Portland’s city center. The mall had begun to look a bit run down but it was spruced up a few years ago. Yet I had a fondness for that faded luster–it had been well used, enjoyed so long by thousands.

Not that I don’t have other choices for shopping and meet-ups. It’s a big metro area; there are multiple destinations to meet needs. My more local downtown is pretty–overlooks a lake–but small and very high-priced. There are other “downtowns” out my way, streets lined with a mix of shops and other businesses, but it is mostly so suburban. I also live a few minutes from an attractive shopping center designed like a large village square, with good restaurants and other businesses on narrow streets, with lamposts and flowers everywhere. It is a bit chi chi, or tries to be with fancier fittings, higher end stores, But I go, anyway. It suits me well enough for now–until I get more time in Portland’s unique shops, when the pandemic wanes…if and when it does.

This week I noticed a huge Doug fir tree up on the faux village mall corner, decked out in a festive spirit with shiny things. I saw more people shopping, and they looked cheerier than they have for awhile. We all want life to behave more normally, so even if it isn’t yet we pretend it is and seek ordinary but improved experiences, and the bit of lightness we bring to this more superficial activity creates a ripple effect. Who doesn’t love holiday candles? Bought one. Who doesn’t like peppermint mochas? Well, I do. Who wouldn’t want to purchase a wonderful book or ten for their family? I did so.

The pandemic has thus far impacted many businesses. Stores have been shuttered all over that could not make ends meet without daily foot traffic, a steady flow of buying and selling. We need to support small businesses, especially. And keep finding ways to get together, to safely mingle, to exchange greetings and news, to share our love and appreciation. I am counting on more of this to come, even in smaller doses, far fewer people. As far as the old mall goes: the Lloyd Center Mall real estate will be revamped, utilized for mixed residential-business spaces. I suppose we get used to new architecture, the unknowns accompanying redevelopment. At least I do hope I am not in complete shock when I drive by the palce again one day. Until then I will be elsehwere, living beyond the density and action of the big city.

But I’ll also look for another ice skating rink… I so wish for a new place. May it come true so I can glide and spin, skid and play with grandkids, adult kids or alone for years to come. I want to feel the chill air whip my hair as I skate, then come to a spetacular T-stop that discharges snowy spray into bright air.

(Naomi; daughter, Alexandra, behind her niece, Avery; Avery and Grandma/me.)

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Sail Us Away

I finally rolled out of my comfortable cave of sleep and blindly slumped into the bathroom. And immediately noted remnants of a lingering presence. It wasn’t the foggy medicine cabinet mirror above the sink, damp towels hung or half-folded here and there–all seven of us used one bathroom in the bungalow. It was the fragrance. Spicy and warm, rich and uplifting. Dad had finished his daily routine, and left evidence of preparations for the new day.

Old Spice, the common man’s transformative…. after shave. Accessible and intensely itself. A moderate scent that was and remains admired by both genders–and the one that introduced generations to fragrances for men alone. Prior to 1938, fragrances–perfume, cologne, toilette water–were predominantly women’s domain (in the US, at least). It was a hit from the start (though it began a year before as a woman’s fragrance, then tweaked to telegraph more masculinity.)

It was as much Dad’s signature as anything else, whether it was his ridiculous puns or sonorous viola playing or singing in my mother’s ear with arms about her or researching his Bible for Sunday school class. It was present everywhere after he put it on, moving room to room in his haste to get going. Fragrance elicits many images and feelings, associated with things that are even wordless. Masculine, yes, he was that; strong of heart and body but also gentle and prone to fun as much as deep pondering. I studied him, at times baffled by the contradictions but admired him. Old Spice spoke to lighter sides. Yet he was always poised to move and start accomplishing something, at ease in the greater world, his inviting smile radiating to others as he listened and spoke carefully. He was a traditionalist in a core sense yet one who cared little for constraining imagination–or only enough to harness the energy of ideas.

But beyond his professional world, there was a side that appreciated and sought the outdoors. Water activities and boats, camping among twittering birds and scurrying critters, riding his bike through tree-lined streets, taking to winding back roads that led to interesting places. He enjoyed being in the elements and learning nature’s ways, though there was little enough time for it.

My father, then, was a fit for an Old Spice user. It trailed him out of the house, then hung around inside. I sometimes sneaked a whiff from the iconic white bottle when he was on work trips. Though I have to admit he also wore other aftershaves–Aqua Velva, perhaps, or English Leather, Royall Bay Rum and, to really change it up, Royall Lyme (which I particularly liked). But he usually returned to Old Spice, from what memory asserts.

Increasingly I was intent on unlocking the fascinating codes of scent from my mother, sisters, girlfriends and glossy ads. As I became a teen, things changed more in the perfume business. If a trend or two altered in the late thirties, then by a decade afterward colognes and perfumes were associated with men as well as women. And worn increasingly by youths as the ’50s and ’60s arrived. As with everything, I had to wait until I was fourteen or fifteen to officially use a light perfume, try a new way of being and venture bravely into the world. And I could enjoy fragrances of others. Including wafts of the boys’ experiments.

Today every fashion magazine or site appeals to anyone who has an interest—there are dramatic, expensive ad campaigns and atmospheric pages with little scent strips, hoping to spur a longing for something more and better, more enticing and unique. And, as usual with any olfactory trigger, those scents are associated with certain males I have known–quite other than my father. I dated guys who wore Brut (what a name and marketing!), Hai Karate, Musk by English Leather, 4711 and Jaguar. Hefty even exotic names meant to overstate, lionize the male image most teenaged and college boys could rarely actually impart. Some bowled me over– into a near faint. I probably liked musky scents the most and knew this was pretty bold of me to admit at 16, 17. But another kind might persuade me the young man who wore it had good taste and a fortuitous future. And it might include me.

All teen boys and girls aspiring to be attractive men and women reached for what was deemed more adult–yet not the same; we needed our own signature styles. We spritzed, splashed, dabbed and slapped it on. And not always to increase our favor in the eyes–and through noses–of others. We just enjoyed it. Later in life, different scents helped shape images of boyfriends, then husbands, a few co-workers and friends. When those waft my way, a memory comes to the fore. Like Jade East and later Hugo Boss which resonate with long ago love that was lost. Like patchouli (more considered gender neutral even then), worn by quintessential hippie boys who captivated my attention. Or Aramis, which Marc wore for some years after we married, though he generally didn’t care for a fancy scent preceding him in in his professional life. And I think his favorite these days, despite approving of Atelier Cologne’s pungent Cedre Atlas (which I sometimes wear), is Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint liquid soap. He uses it daily and might wash his clothes with it if he could. Good thing I don’t mind the fragrance as it travels right my way after he washes face or hands.

Recently I was at a large grocery store with a daughter when she said she had to pick up something for her partner. His favorite body wash. Body wash…I followed, curious. She went right to a giant display of Old Spice and chose his favorite one. While I nearly fell backward, stunned as I gazed upon the overwhelming choices of…everything. I was not prepared for this, a wall of shelves stocked to the brim with Old Spice products–and not just after shave or anti-perspirant. There were air fresheners (really?), anti-chafe emollient (for a tad relief, I guess) and body washes and beard products and shampoos and conditioners. I probably have left something out. There were dozens of eye-catching new designs of packaging, and unusual scents galore despite the brand still trumpeting: “Old Spice.” At least there was still a ship–well, a yacht, if I saw it right, replacing the old standby of a colonial-type tall ship. One of my favorite sorts of boats. But now–a yacht!

It had apparently been rebranded over the years I had forgotten about it. It had begun by addressing the image long taken for granted, which had slowly become “an old man’s aftershave.” I mean, it was true that I didn’t know younger guys who’d worn Old Spice. Or only the musk-laced one which, if you consider it, makes sense. By 2008, though, the brand was growing more rapidly as they worked on the image. Then a few years later a smart, playful commercial was conceived and produced, and it successfully portrayed a buff male touting its masculine but fun virtues. I looked it up and you can, too. It absolutely was a different image they were going for, at last. It worked.

Old Spice had evolved to meet the expectations of more media-savvy, younger generations. As I gazed upon the choices before me, I was bedazzled–though I also laughed a bit. How could any man find all these surprising iterations that attractive? Coconut Old Spice? The packaging, scent variations, graphics. I was surprised that some sported an old red color or white with an additional flare–an attempt at reflecting the original style. But it was too much to study further and my daughter was ready. I started to walk away.

Then I turned back. Where was that regular Old Spice deodorant? I reached high and snagged one, put it in my basket. I was taking it home to Marc. Because he’d told me long ago that even though his father hadn’t been around after his parents divorced, his taciturn but steadying grandfather had been. And he wore only simple, trusty Old Spice. And was he delighted I bought it for him? Of course. The comfortable, pleasantly warm and bright scent is back again. And Marc smells pretty nice when we have a good hug.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Once Abandoned, Always Abandoned?

Photo by Pelipoer Lara on Pexels.com

Families leave legacies to the next generation, and young children likely have little clue what they will get. I don’t mean material goods–though the getting or not getting of those can pack power, too. I mean emotional goods. I hazard that as a kid, you get what you get, and you don’t truly know that it just is what it is, or perhaps not until much later. We come into the world from a watery womb and then it is a bubble consisting of family first and most of the time…. though by school age the outside world seeps in, anyway. Maybe we make nice friends, meet other adults we like. But home is the seat of our emotions. It steers us in ways we may not be conscious of as we grow up, choosing each tentative step to more independence. And when we take off, fledglings no more, it is a surprise that there often seems to be more of the same, a similar content as we attempted to escape.

So what dos that mean to those who have been abandoned early and perhaps often? I haven’t counselled clients in several years about the emotional minefields which being left behind creates for countless adults. It can brings too often self-loathing and self sabotage; it leads to addictive behaviors; it can lead to death. It is likely too big a topic to try to blog about, but I write of it, anyway. And I have been hearing talk of this topic in a broad way within my circle. A sister not paying attention during a visit. A spouse forgetting an anniversary. A friend moving away and never calling. A parent of someone’s niece getting lost in addiction–again. A partner on the verge of calling it quits. We all have “fear of abandonment” and have tasted the bitter fruit of it.

But many seem to be reviewing relationships more closely–that includes the one with our own selves. The pandemic has presented long hours of solitude, time to look into life with an acute vision, to bring up the past as well as try to imagine a more challenged future. Concerns might arise in roundabout ways as people deal with multiple difficult experiences, are worried about family members or see themselves stuck in an situation not as healthy as they prefer. As they intended and worked towards. They see the connections between years gone by and current times. Often issues they thought had been bypassed/outgrown/resolved are resurfacing during the days and nights of stress. More often than not it comes down to being left in actual fact or feeling as such at a vulnerable time of life. Being set aside by someone who was considered constant and trustworthy yet suddenly was not. Feeling a lone even with others around because somehow the ties began to fray.

It feels like getting punched in the heart. Abandonment. We don’t even care for the word: it echoes with crying out, shakes with anger, tells us we are unloved. It defines an emptied place inside us just as a building fully abandoned telegraphs that reality. It’s a big word, and carries a far more powerful feeling that just “uninhabited or “empty.”

What if a parent left you literally or figuratively when young but it was never discussed, even though that parent was basically around? Or if a parent was there for you–then came a divorce and the family decision was to bar that person from even finding you? (That is a true and terrible story.) Or someone gave you up to foster care because you were so “difficult’ or the caregiver was simply unable to deal with life on life’s terms. These are not minor separations from love, what was perceived and believed as love. It is clear that this sort of loss is a pain with staying power. An agony, even. And that goes for the ones who long ago decided they would be impervious to the gaping internal chasms created by those who might–and do–leave them. Even they cannot fully staunch seepage from the festering wound when it comes down to it.

So, once abandonment has occurred, does one ever get over it? Or is this the theme music by which a person is doomed to work and play and laugh and rage? I believe such woundedness can be healed, and know that it does happen. Maybe not perfectly so, leaving no trace, but enough that life is freer, fuller, even happier.

Those who have read my posts a long while know that as a child I was sexually abused a few years by a non-blood relative. I was blithely living my life until then. Soon, the facts were clear: no one was aware of or paid attention to signs of my increasing distress, no one seemed to care, and there was no rescue or plan of aid.

These things made an indelible impression. What had been a life of security and safety, genuine affection, careful guidance and support were about erased just like that. My mother–a caring mother I adored but who knew nothing of coping with such a thing in the 1950s– strongly suspected but never confronted me or the perpetrator. If the abuse was bad enough, the abandonment was as bad–if not worse. With no swift and loving intervention I was left to survive on my own. And that told me that I was weirdly, shockingly, not loved enough, after all, to be saved from constant fear and danger. I would not be surrounded by love like a fortress. It would have instigated a healing process and initiated legal action–which is becoming more common today, thankfully. But unheard of 65 years ago.

And I paid the price, which included a strong expectation of ever more recurrent abandonment. Who can a child and then youth trust if not her parents and others in the family who were kind, capable and just there? Then just no longer there, so it had to be my fault; it made no sense that wonderful parents and siblings could let this happen. Everything that had been marvelous in my life began to feel bad. I felt marked, changed, wrong and wronged, and uncertain of so many things. I took all that with me as I tried to grow up alright, though deeply unwell. Tried to be a credit to my accomplished and respected family, but often failed badly, filled with more shame. How to overcome and rise up? To suture up those torn places that abandonment had made?

I had, it turned out, some decent tools for a better life already.

The most important thing was that I already had known deeply what it was to be loved, helped, included in a family of seven. I had been taught useful values and skills–how to play well with others and so how to make friends; how to plan, work hard and seek good results; how to use my curiosity to learn interesting things; how to get up when I fell down, clean up the scrapes, try again. How to keep clear focus when everything around me was pandemonium in a small house. So I had a basic sense of competency and self worth despite the harshness of a very different experience.

And I knew how to pray for help and comfort. That was a practical skill that segued with daily words from my father: “Chin up, honey”, i.e., be positive and have dignity, look upward, keep going forward. I could do both by 7 years old. If bad things happened to me, to my family, then I would make more good things happen. Nothing was insurmountable, apparently, according to my parents, and according to Jesus’ teachings. We earthlings were meant to be “greater than angels” I had heard, so the least I could do was be a human being who kept trying for better.

But then I had years of trials and errors, false starts and detours that took me to more harm. Still, giving up was not truly an option. I held onto the conviction that there were more choices available, that I’d recover, learn again to live well. I found many. Others were pointed out to me. Some seemed mysteriously there when I needed them. I was relentless in the search for answers and resources– and discovered I was not alone in my difficulties. And I learned that loving parents can be afraid, too, with too few good answers, and lacking adequate support. That they surely seem omnipotent to a child and youth but are mainly bigger human beings still trying to figure things out. They fail. They have regrets. And still they care as much as they can, in the ways they can.

Forgiveness has been helpful. The kind of forgiveness that doesn’t deny the pain and loss and remnants of anger… yet can arise from a greater compassion for the cruel offender as well as those who did the abandoning (for whatever reasons they had, it begins to matter less and less). But also: forgiveness of myself. For the many times I failed myself along the way, the skewed ideas and senseless decisions, the difficult reactions to others, missed opportunities, a sometimes hardened heart. The failure to love enough, even–my own self and many others. If I don’t forgive, then who? And who will give me needed relief if I cannot seek and accept it first? Then comes a new peace, slowly but profoundly.

Love doesn’t come with any pain-free guarantee. I learned that lesson well. I used to change the final page of fairy tales when I read to my own kids. I instead made up an ending that indicated life went on, sure, but with good and not-so-good, and that if there is a someone to share it with then that matters most, not an elusive “happily ever after”. There is going to be hardship awaiting us all. There are no spectacular times without visitations of difficulty or sadness. So, then, why not embrace it all?

There have, of course, been betrayals over the years, ones I thought might break me. Misunderstandings that kept me up at night. Words thrown at me that I wish I never heard. Leave-takings that almost broke my heart. Illnesses that have taken me or another to the edge and back. And there are also triggers from time to time that I feel coming alive deep within: See, I caution myself, there it is, this is a thing that might recall that old abandonment but it is NOT the same so I need to separate myself from it to avoid mistaking it for that terrible thing. It is an illusion; you make of it what you will. Be a grown up and take responsibility, refuse to be a victim of the past, such an old fear. If dipping into the ole self-pity pool happens, anyway, I further counsel myself, then keep it short and get over it; learn something and move on. There is nothing quite as relieving as a storming cry, a kick at the dirt, spouting off in private–then finding something positive to do. If it’s something truly needing a remedy, it is meant to be faced so a plan to address it needs to happen. After that, I hope I have done what I can, then will choose to do the next good thing. But in the final analysis, I will not ever abandon myself.

There are possibilities for change on every level. So many ways to move in a healthier direction and create a better time of it. I believe in myself–that I can be hurt and recover, that I can make something worthwhile out of less than I may want to have. That life is beautiful, still, and so are other people. I have hope in my faith in God. The truth is, everyone everyone on this planet is abandoned at some point; we each carry the memories and it is how we carry them. We love and we lose–romantic relationships fall apart, friends move away or move on, people we adore, die. We face ourselves in dark places and learn how to find courage for the battles, the truces, the peacemaking. Its seems to be the way things go here on earth. But I will risk it every time to experience the power and wonder of loving–and being loved– and how it shapes and propels my life. That’s the sort of legacy I want to leave my children and grandchildren.