Wedding Day 1955

Wedding Day 1955
David and Sally and the dress

Monday, October 26, 2015


On our second date both David Mark Olds and I knew we were meant for each other. So, in November 1955, after having known each other for all of one month, David and I decided to get married, and we wanted to set the date as soon as possible. At first my mother thought I was in such a hurry because I was pregnant. But when she did the math based on how short a time I’d known David, she realized that even if I was pregnant, I wouldn’t know it yet. Our timing had more to do with David’s employer, Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, which was about to transfer him from Philadelphia (where we met) to Cleveland (where we would live for the next three years).

Mom and I rushed to go shopping, and I fell in love with a “Mr. Mort” design on the rack in Bonwit Teller’s juniors department. I was 22 years old, a junior size 7. The dress, white wool princess line, ballerina length, sweetheart neckline and three-quarter-length sleeves, was perfect for a December wedding. It fit perfectly too. I loved wearing it on the Big Day, with the crinoline petticoat underneath that made my waist look so small. Not Scarlett O’Hara small, but small enough. And I liked the fact that it didn’t broadcast “Wedding!” so I would be able to wear it to parties and other occasions. As it turned out, the only parties I ever wore it for were on our wedding anniversaries.

That first year went quickly. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, living in my old bedroom with my parents for a couple of months while David started his new job and found an apartment for us. Soon after I joined him in Cleveland I found my first full-time job with a small advertising agency as receptionist/Girl Friday/errand girl/you name it. By the time I quit, just before our first anniversary, I had received some morsels of copywriting to do, but it never occurred to me to stay on and advance in the field. I was expecting our first child in a few weeks, and in 1956 I didn’t know any women who had children and continued to work at a paid job.

Being big with child, I couldn’t wear my treasured dress on our first anniversary, one month before the arrival of our first daughter. I did wear it out to dinner on our second anniversary, since the well-timed birth of our second daughter had allowed for that. And I wore it a couple of more times in the first few years. Life was full, our little family was happy, over the next few years I took a succession of part-time jobs and eventually embarked on a freelance writing career. Meanwhile, the doomsayers that had prophesied certain failure for marriage to a man I had hardly known and who was thirteen years older than I were proved wrong.
By the time our third daughter was born three years later, we had left Cleveland for Manhattan. David used to say that being a broadcaster was like being a professional ball player: If you wanted to move up, you had to be willing to move sideways. So we carted the dress around the country on moves to Chicago, St. Louis, and finally, back to New York.

Through the years I slipped back into the dress for several anniversaries, including a Hudson River cruise, the big party we threw for our 25th anniversary, and the more intimate black-tie dinner for our thirtieth. I was jubilant that I still fit into it, and I still liked the way I looked in it. The white wool had not yellowed over the years, and even without the crinoline petticoat (no longer the fashion), the cloth still held its body.

After almost fifty-four wonderful years together, David died. I wouldn’t be wearing the dress for any more anniversaries, and I couldn’t see wearing it for any other occasion. Yes, it was only a dress, but with all those memories it had become something more. So it moved with me to Manhattan from the Long Island house that I sold the following year.

I wasn’t ready yet to say good-bye to the dress, though. Although none of my daughters had worn it, by now there were four granddaughters. Maybe one of them might want to take it. I went to the closet and found that even after sixty years and all that schlepping around, there were no moth-holes, the wool still had its creamy white glow, the dress looked good. Just for fun (and self-knowledge), I tried it on. A miracle: I could still zip it all the way up.

But – and it was a big but – even though I could get into the dress, it didn’t look the same. While it was aging sixty years, so was I. And yes, there were those three childbirths. Time had not stood still. My weight may have still been the same, but my body parts seemed to have rearranged themselves when I wasn’t looking. Oh well, a granddaughter would probably look beautiful in it on her wedding day and might treasure its history of more than fifty years of wedded bliss (well, bliss most of the time).

But then I noticed something. The inside of the dress now felt like sandpaper scraping my skin. Whatever Mr. Mort had used to give body to the dress had been flaking away, and I couldn’t imagine anyone inside this garment for even the briefest City Hall ceremony. A friend said, “You could find a good seamstress to reline it.” And then the granddaughters’ mothers asked “How do you know any of the girls would want to wear it?” None were even close to saying their vows. And what if the weddings would be in 90-degree heat?
And so the dress marinated in my closet a little longer, and one day last week I walked it over to Housing Works, which sells gently-used clothing to benefit its charitable mission. I hope that someone good with a needle can solve the lining problem and that some winter bride can absorb some of the happiness I knew. Maybe it would be a lucky charm.

But for me it was time to let go. To let go of the dress. To let go of the past. To treasure the memories, but not be ruled by them. The Bible’s saying, “To everything there is a season,” told me that the season for this dress and me was no more.

This essay was published October 2015 by

Sunday, October 18, 2015


On September 29 a free-wheeling conversation took place at New York City’s Housing Works Bookstore Café with four authors of challenged books. The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) is a sponsor of Banned Books Week, an outgrowth of our first campaign against book banning in 1982.

This year’s Banned Books Week’s theme was Young Adult books, the most censored category. David Shipler, author of "Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword," moderated the discussion with David Levithan, author of "Two Boys Kissing"; Meg Medina, author of "Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass"; and Coe Booth, author of "Kinda Like Brothers." The discussion focused on each author's experience being banned or challenged, and the importance of free and open access to all books, especially for young adult readers.

Why were these books restricted, undergoing “soft banning”? For Levithan’s books it was the focus on homosexuality, although some school districts and libraries that either didn’t buy the book or kept it unavailable often came up with other reasons, not wanting to be thought of as homophobic. For Medina’s novel it was the title although it didn’t include any word that hasn’t been said on TV. And for Booth’s books, which center on the lives of African American students, a common reason for not buying the book was a statement that a school or community had only a small percentage of nonwhite students or of students on free or reduced lunch plans.

Several themes emerged from the discussion and the Q and A period that followed, including:
• Should books be mirrors of the people and communities that students know – or windows, letting them learn about other values and points of view?
• Teachers and parents should use books to help students explore their feelings about issues, instead of ignoring them. This is especially important for YA readers, who are beginning to explore who they are – and who they want to be.
Shipler reminded us that Huckleberry Finn had been banned in some places soon after its 1885 publication, often because of its poor grammar. It has also come under fire for its use of the word “nigger.” Booth’s books have also run into trouble because of this and other racial slurs – especially among white teachers uncomfortable about teaching them. (I have trouble writing some of these words myself.)

Restrictions, or “soft” banning, varied in form. Sometimes books were kept out of sight or have to be signed out instead of being on the shelf. In one school a student who wanted to read a certain book had to go to the principal’s office to get it – at which point the principal could decide whether the student was mature enough to handle it. This raises two questions: How well does the principal know all of the students? And what kind of judge is he or she about the issues in a particular book, assuming she/he has read it?
So it looks as if First Amendment defenders still have plenty of work to do in protecting the right to read – and the right to write and be published.

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

I am now serving as the Interim Chair of ASJA's First Amendment Committee, which I have been a member of for many years. In 1982 when I was serving as ASJA president, we launched our "I Read Banned Books" campaign with a read-out on the stops of the New York Public Library, and we started distributing our "I Read Banned Books" buttons, which are still available today from ASJA. Unfortunately, censorship is still an important issue.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


I just finished a terrific book that I’m telling everybody I know about. The reader of “Survival in the Shadows: Seven Hidden Jews in Hitler’s Berlin” by Barbara Lovenheim is plunged right into the tense situation of the survivors -- and their non-Jewish saviors, who risked their lives to feed and hide their neighbors, and to help in other ways. Interspersed is some history of the era, with the many-faceted view it gives of “ordinary” Germans, many of whom behaved in extraordinary ways.

The author’s sensitive interviewing of the survivors and the rescuers whom she met many years later – and their keen memories for their ordeal – bring the reader right into this gripping story, which also has its moments of levity, like the time two of the women got all dressed up and walked into an SS Christmas party. They carried off their adventure so well that they had to deal with an unexpected dilemma: one of the SS officers wanted to walk one of the women home.

I’m looking forward to the dramatic movie that must put these events on the screen. Till then, readers are rewarded by getting to know these courageous and resourceful survivors and the people who saved them.

Monday, June 29, 2015


Amazing, the thrilling things that can happen in New York – just from paying attention! Two years ago as I was walking home to my Upper West Side apartment, I heard music coming from the outdoor plaza of Lincoln Center. I walked across the street to check it out, and I saw thousands of people in a sea of white – white clothing, white tables and chairs, white china plates. It was definitely – in 1970s parlance – a Happening. But what exactly was happening? Other than a jubilant throng of strangers having a wonderful time, dancing, laughing, eating, drinking champagne, waving white napkins in the air? I finally buttonholed a couple on their way out and learned that this was Le Diner en Blanc (The Dinner in White), an annual flash-mob event that started in Paris in 1988, has spread to more than 60 cities in 25 countries around the world, and was making its second appearance in New York.

I rushed home, found Le Diner’s website and immediately signed up online to receive notices of the next year’s event. And then life intervened and I forgot about it – until summeer 2014. Exactly two years later I received an email telling me I was eligible to sign up for the August 25, 2014 dinner in New York. I phoned my friend, Charles – no one can come to the event alone; you have to bring someone, anyone, any gender; we signed up and paid a $5 membership fee and a $30 per person attendance fee. We were lucky – the party was capped at 4,800 diners, and 25,000 people had to languish on the waiting list.

Getting ready for the event was a big part of the fun. Our instructions stipulated that everything had to be white – and elegant. Charles and I put together our outfits and accessories, buying a few items we didn’t have (thanks to the Salvation Army, the Dollar store, and IKEA), and ordered wine through the website (you’re not allowed to bring in alcoholic beverages). We could have ordered champagne: Moet & Chandon is a sponsor of the event, which is organized by Diner en Blanc International.

On the afternoon of the big event, we loaded up a hand truck with our folding table and two chairs, white china place settings, white table linens, real cutlery (no plastic or paper allowed), table decorations, and a picnic supper (although we could have ordered that too from celebrity chef Todd English), and took everything by subway down to our group’s meeting place at South Ferry. Other groups were meeting at various points throughout the city. Brandi Miller, our table leader, checked us in, took us back onto the #1 train, and we finally learned our destination: the waterfront Nelson A. Rockefeller Park in Battery City. It was a 15-minute walk from the subway, so we were glad we heeded the recommendation to wear comfortable shoes (which we were encouraged to trade for more stylish ones onsite).

The evening was magical, as we got to know our dining companions, set up our table according to a preset grid plan, waved our white napkins to signal the beginning of the event, marveled at a brilliant sunset over the water, listened to a young violinist wending her way through the crowds, and then danced to a live band.

We formed instant friendships with the people at the tables on either side of us. First, Peter, a dentist who had been with his table-mate, Richard, an event planner, for 18 years, said to me, “Oh, they put the seniors together.” (Although at somewhere around 50, I think, Peter could be my son.) It was a young assemblage, with most attendees looking to be 30-something, a few younger (all over 21 since alcohol was being served), and the rest in upper age strata. Sonia and DJ Chef (aka Marc Weiss) on our other side were celebrating their first anniversary, and Sonia kept taking pictures, inexplicably hiding her beautiful face with a “Phantom of the Opera” mask. After sharing our food and wine, we all toasted Gerry and Priscilla, one table down. After 13 years together, Gerry added to the evening’s sparkle by presenting an engagement ring to Priscilla. She said yes.

We all kissed and hugged when it was time to go home, saying “See you next year!” Throughout this exhilarating evening I never heard a voice raised except in glee, never heard a complaint, never saw a cranky face. With almost 5,000 New Yorkers! So miracles do happen.

This year’s Dinner in White will be held Tuesday evening, July 28. You may be too late to sign up for this year, but you can get on the list for 2016. Just go to:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


My friend and colleague Joan Price has done it again! I had thought that in her previous books she had said all there was to say about sex after 50 – but was I wrong! In her new book, THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SEX AFTER FIFTY: HOW TO MAINTAIN – OR REGAIN – A SPICY, SATISFYING SEX LIFE, she has expanded and expounded on this vital topic.

I know a little about this issue, having written about it myself in THE ETERNAL GARDEN: SEASONS OF OUR SEXUALITY, for which I interviewed sexually active people up to age 80. But I didn’t do the extensive research among older people and experts about older people that Joan has – so I clearly cede to her the title of the Guru of Senior Sex. It seems she has thought of everything.

What’s new in this book? So much – as you can glean just from a rundown of the chapter titles, including Busting the Myths about Sex and Aging, Sex with a Longtime Partner, Sex with a New Partner, Stretching Boundaries, and Sex without Erections. She talks about G-spots, P-spots, sex after widowhood, the impact of such health problems as cancer, heart trouble, arthritis, and joint disease.

She quotes a virtual army of experts, even including a phone sex operator, who says “I wish there was some way that I could reach out to the partners of my callers and tell them what amazing, loyal, giving, and loving husbands they have, and how they could do some very small things to reinstate closeness with these men.”

Joan’s chapter on The New Rules of Dating could be profitably read by a single person of any age, with its emphasis on being clear what you want in a date, how to put yourself forward to attract someone, how to stay safe and healthy, and to recognize the usefulness of bad dates, which are likely to outnumber the good ones. As sex columnist Dan Savage told Joan, “Every relationship fails – until one doesn’t.”

She also takes up the issue of sex after cognitive loss, a topic in the news last year, when a 79-year-old former Iowa state representative was criminally charged with third-degree sexual abuse for having sex with his wife. Spurred by her daughters from a previous marriage, the elder care center where the wife lived claimed that her Alzheimer’s disease made her incapable of giving consent to sexual activity. Fortunately, a jury found the husband not guilty, especially after it was established that the wife often initiated the activity. Joan suggests an addendum to your advance health care directive to assure a lifetime of good sex.

It’s hard to think of a topic relating to sex in the later years that’s not covered in this book. If you’re over 50 – partnered or single; straight, gay, or transgender; whether you want more sex, some sex, or better sex – you owe it to yourself to take a look at this warm, loving book. Published by Cleis Press, its $22.95 cover price can open the door to hours – even years – of happy sexuality, the birthright of everyone.

Monday, June 8, 2015


I was fortunate enough to meet Lynn Dell-Cohen after writing an article about Ari Seth Cohen, who has built his career on photographing older women. I would see Lynn walking in my Manhattan Upper West Side neighborhood always looking as if she could pose for a magazine cover as I walked around in jeans or jogging tights. When I met her at a party given by Debra Rapoport, another of Ari's favorite models, I told her that I was too intimidated to come into her elegant boutique, Off Broadway, because I usually look so un-glamorous when I'm just in the street. She flashed a big wide smile and told me, "I don't care how you look when you walk in -- as long as you look good when you walk out."

Lynn died last week after suffering a head injury from a fall. One of her friends said, "When she fell she was doing what she loved most -- after dressing up -- shopping." She was 80 years old and gorgeous and warm and gracious. I'm sorry that I didn't get a chance to tell her how much I love the skirt I bought from her 50-year-old shop. Off Broadway will stay in business, staffed by longtime associates.

I'm reprinting these 10 Style Tips From Lynn, as presented in Advanced Style a couple of years ago.

Lynn Dell's Top Ten Style Tips
1. "We must dress every day for the theatre of our lives."
2. "You must have a smile, you never get a second chance to make a first impression."
3. "My philosophy is fashion says 'me too,' while style says 'only me.'"
4. "It's not what you are wearing, It's how you put it together."
5. "Dress for yourself. If you are happy, you will make the world happy."
6. "Accessories are the most important thing. You can wear the same thing many times by adding different jewelry, scarves or a hat."
7. "Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative."
8. "Your attitude is your altitude."
9. "When you walk into a room with a hat, you own the room."
10. "I like strong colors and I like strong people. All colors work if the intensity is strong enough."

As Ari said on hearing of Lynn's death, "Heaven just got a little more glamorous."

Thursday, May 21, 2015


My love affair with Nepal began back in 1987 on my first trek there at age 53, and continued well beyond my seventh and most recent visit in 2003. I went from being a tourist drawn by its magnificent mountain scenery and the adventure of hiking in such an exotic locale, to becoming a friend of the people in Badel, a remote hill village northeast of Kathmandu, due south of Mount Everest, where, with a friend I helped to found a library, arrange and pay for cleft lip surgery for two children, and finance the installation of modern simple latrines to help protect the health of village children. And then I wrote a book about the people we had met -- "A Balcony in Nepal: Glimpses of a Himalayan Village," with art by Margaret Roche.

In 1993 my friend Margaret Roche and I spent time in Badel, where our bright young guide, Buddi Rai, had grown up and then returned as a trekking company owner after becoming the first university graduate in his village. We came to know his parents, his brothers and sister, and his wife and children, and to welcome them to my home on Long Island when they eventually were able to come to the United States.

The engine that drove my return trips to Nepal was the admiration I had for her people. After my initial trekking adventures I felt I needed to go back to learn more about them. I wanted to understand how they were able to show such remarkable sweetness and cheerfulness in view of the arrant poverty most of them struggle with and of their hard lives. I needed to find out what these people, who wrested beauty from a harsh and primitive land, could teach me, a woman who lived in one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced countries in the world. I knew I had to return. I did return, and I did learn so much from my Nepali friends. Those visits changed me forever.

And so when I heard the tragic news of the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit this beautiful little country on April 25, my heart ached. I was desperate to find out how “my” village was doing. Happily, I received good news from my first trek leader, Peter Owens, an American who now lives in Kathmandu. Even after the second earthquake two weeks later, of a 7.3 magnitude, which dealt more blows to Nepal, and especially to the area between Kathmandu and Mount Everest, Badel’s people and houses had been spared. No one was injured and although some of the houses developed cracks, none were seriously damaged. And our little library still stands.
But my heart keeps breaking for Nepal. Last week The New York Times reported on the devastating destruction in the village of Barpak, the epicenter of the 7.8 magnitude hurricane that has taken more than 8,000 lives and flattened untold villages. I remember the much different view of Barpak, a village much like Badel, that I had on my first trek in Nepal in the spring of 1987, as captured in these passages from my journal.

"We set out, first uphill, and then contouring around the terraced slopes until we reach the village of Barpak, populated by members of the Gurung ethnic group, one of about one hundred groups in Nepal, each with its own language. Barpak is sizeable by Himalayan standards, spread out over a mile, with some 1,000 sturdy slate-roofed houses built from wood and from slabs of heavy stone scraped from the mountains that surround the village. With a population of about 10,000, Barpak gives off an air of prosperity, with its well-dressed children, many in western clothes; its school with classes 1 through 7; and its medical clinic under construction."

On May 6, 2015 The New York Times reported that about 1200 of the village’s 1450 buildings are gone or so badly damaged that they might as well be. The few houses built from concrete in the 28 years since our little group camped in the village largely stood up to the earthquake that destroyed so many of these remote mountain villages. I cannot bear to imagine what happened to Barpak’s medical clinic and to the staff and patients who were in it on that fateful Saturday.

"School closed early today to let the volleyball team practice for a big game coming up, but word of our arrival spreads, and six teachers come over to our campsite in the yard of the village panchayat (the governing council). A goodly contingent of villagers turns out too, and watches raptly as we present the English teacher, Khem Ghale, with items we’ve brought just for this purpose – ballpoint pens, felt-tipped markers, crayons, picture postcards of our home towns in the U.S. He’s a good-looking young man – slender, 5’8”, with thick black hair and chiseled features. Khem earned his S.L.C. (school leaving certificate, akin to high school graduation), and plans to study science at university in Kathmandu. He accepts our gifts and tells us about the school, the village, and himself."

I wonder where Khem Ghale is now. Did he go to Kathmandu , graduate from university, and get a better job? Did he return to teach in this close-knit community? Was he crushed by the earthquake, here or in Kathmandu? Or did he survive into his fifties to help his neighbors with the gargantuan task of rebuilding his shattered village?

"Khem takes us to see his home, with its walls covered with photos of family and friends. There’s a picture of his father, a retired Ghurka soldier, and a professional group shot of his parents, his four siblings, and himself. We meet his mother, sitting on her porch, weaving a bag she will use to do her marketing. We pass another house where a woman sits in front, on the ground, at a huge loom where she weaves an earth-brown hooded woolen cape, worn by all the boys and men in Barpak. They’re warm and waterproof and futuristic-looking with their peaked hoods. Just the thing for a cold rainy day on Long Island, I think, ready to pay $15 for one until I try it on and am weighed down by it. I can’t imagine how heavy it is when it gets wet.

"As we walk through the village, I ask Khem what his school needs. He tells us, “Blackboards and chairs.” A blackboard costs about $10. We caucus, take up a collection, and present the money. A few of our group go to see rakshi (the local liquor) being made in the home of the woman who sells it. I choose to stay back and repair my torn duffel bag. I’m a little sorry later that I didn’t go. But not broken-hearted. Is it the eastern influence that I seem to be more accepting of what is, what has been, what will be? Fewer regrets, fewer railings at chance."

But how can the survivors among these brave and cheerful people now accept the tragedy that has overcome them, buried their families, their friends, their homes, ruined their fertile beautifully sculpted undulating terraces that have enabled crops to grow up and down the steep hillsides? How accepting can they be? How can they go on, starting all over again? Will their strength come from their gods of the mountains, the rivers, the trees?

"Dinner back at camp, prepared by our ingenious kitchen staff, is chicken noodle soup, peppers, spinach noodles, a stew of meat, eggplant and peppers, boiled cauliflower, and blueberry cheese cake. The fifty or so children in their hooded capes watch our every move, looking like solemn little pupae in brown cocoons. They don’t watch us eat because they’re hungry, just because they are fascinated by our strange ways."

Where are these children now? They would be in their thirties today. Did the boys, like so many young men, leave the village to earn more money by working in construction in the Arab states, leaving Barpak populated by elderly farmers, women, and children? Did the girls look for work in Kathmandu or remain to raise their children alone? How many of them were felled by the earthquake?

"After dinner our porters and kitchen staff, after working hard all day, play music, and from our tents we watch them dancing under the stars until sleep takes over. I’m struck by their energy when I’m so tired – but even more by their seeming ability to be so happy with so little. Next morning we wake up at five, still seeing the stars. When the sun rises, its rays glint golden on the snowy 25,000-feet peak of Himalchuli before us. After breakfast we break camp and leave Barpak."

How have these villagers, whom I described then as living in dire poverty, in harsh conditions, while remaining cheerful and busy and purposeful and involved with life, coped with this new betrayal by nature? During my seven visits to Nepal between 1987 and 2003, I found her people not bitter, not beaten down, not even resigned. How are they today?

I can’t fight back tears at this tragedy, almost as if this were my family who was so brutally savaged. I’m overcome by a sense of powerlessness to help. I briefly consider flying to Nepal once again – and then am struck by the reality. There’s certainly no need for an 81-year-old woman with no training in medical care, construction, or other vital skills. And so I send checks to charities there on the scene and hope that the remarkable strength and resilience of the Nepali people, in the face of poverty, political unrest, and now the sudden loss of loved ones, of homes, of their very means of existence, will continue to wrest beauty from this harsh and primitive – and yes, beautiful – land.