lesson #23: the gingham sundress
…From my fashion- meets-wisdom letter/novella to my nieces
lesson #23: gingham sundress
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a gingham sundress that took me through my bohemian phase. I purchased it at a store called Cactus Flower on Kirkwood Avenue in Bloomington.
I was probably twenty-one or two, living with my first serious boyfriend, in a house I loved but that was really the narrow back-end of a professor’s home, working at restaurant called The Porticos, and trying desperately to hold on to the freedom of being young and untethered. This was a time o’ poetry (yes, written by me, very badly, if I do say so myself, and by my then-boyfriend who was rather swoony and handsome), of Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance”, and chocolate mousse eaten with stolen bottles of Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse. This was a time of falling in love with aforementioned boy and with a part of myself that I had never met before: the free-er me.
The freer-me didn’t care if she exercised or got good grades or went to church or any of the stuff that I truly thought would make me happy and virtuous. This dress began a phase that I guess you could say has never ended, because it is THAT part of me that is me at my most content. Truthfully, for some reason, the dress also reminded me of my Granny Finke who used to wear handmade sun frocks, and in my mind, the black-and- white checked fabric took me back to black and white photographs of the leaning barn in her backyard and the way the sun would streak in through her kitchen window, the peace of her summer kitchen from which I still have a table.
I could try to struggle for some poignant connection between the two: the bohemian and the memory of Granny—but there is none. The truth is, my mind free associates randomly and quickly, and the truth is the mind of the universe does as well. Connectedness makes the world go around. (Now, I sound like a hippie, and that’s okay, too).
So today as I sit in my conventional suburban home, the one you, my dear nieces, most likely remember, with my reading glasses and my list of important things to do, the doorbell rings and here arrives a present from one of my Bread Loaf friends. It is a purse that her mother in law made that reminded her of that gingham dress. And as Bread Loaf was another serendipitous phase of my life where I felt happy and free and authentic and appreciated, I realized just how much that dress had carried me through. And I was whisked briefly back to a former self that had so much life still to be lived and who was ready to take risks, and throw away old ideas and replace them with new ones. The self that is so hard to resuscitate consistently through middle age when the heart grows soft and a bit weary. I say this with a genuine nostalgia and appreciation for my wonderful life, and my wonderful friends like Aerie, who remind me how great people can be. I say this to remind myself and to remind you that there is still living to be done and it is important to question your self, your ideas, the traditions that you were raised in, your thoughts about your self and others. For without this questioning, you are merely a robotic cog in the wheel (and who wants to be a cog?) and the wheel keeps on spinning man, the wheel keeps on spinning.