Wedding Day 1955

Wedding Day 1955
David and Sally and the dress

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Posting, bicycling, and a random act of kindness

I cannot believe it has been seven months since I have written in these pages. But now that we are having true spring weather, I have resolved to turn over many leaves, and this blog is one of them.

I took my first bike ride of the season today. I was a little nervous because I had fallen about a month ago, just walking on the sidewalk, needed three stitches in my chin (Thank you, Urgent Care Doctor Anderson!), and bruised my jawbone so that eating became a work-out in which I convinced myself that the best thing for me was ice cream.

But I told myself I can't be afraid forever -- I have to get back on my horse. Which I did, enjoying the beautiful day and the view of the Hudson River, away from the Manhattan street traffic. But I was slow, and after having to get off my bike to pass a barrier because of ongoing construction work, I made my way back down to the bike path -- and stopped, wanting to wait to be sure no cyclists were behind me and I wouldn't be in anyone's way, either to slow them down or knock me down.

I was pleasantly surprised when a young man stopped his bike and asked, "Are you all right?" I assured him I was, explained why I had stopped, and thanked him profusely. It's so warming to know you're not alone in the big city, that there are people who will take the time to go out of their way to be kind. It doesn't take much but it does mean so much.





Monday, October 26, 2015

I GAVE AWAY MY WEDDING DRESS

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 www.ThirdAge.com.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

BANNED BOOKS WEEK EVENT AT HOUSING WORKS BOOKSTORE CAFÉ


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

A SUSPENSE-FILLED PAGE-TURNER OF A TRUE STORY

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

WONDERFUL WHITE DINNER PARTY

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: http://newyork.dinerenblanc.info.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SEX AFTER FIFTY

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

LYNN DELL, COUNTESS OF FASHION

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."