Feeling the fall

There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Maybe it’s a symptom of middle age, or maybe it’s just my old Celtic soul stirring up a seasonal memory.

Either way, late October always tugs on my sleeve and insists that I slow down to take stock of the passing year. Despite the “worries of the week” — or whatever I’ve chosen to focus on — Mother Nature reminds me that life is all about cycles. Some seasons flow more easily than others, but I have many reasons to be grateful for every one I’m given.

Last week, when I looked down over the ravine that dips toward the river behind our home in St. Joseph, I remembered an excerpt from this poem by Billy Collins:

Directions

The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things, and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.

But it is hard to speak of these things —
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories;
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles;
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.

—Billy Collins, excerpted from The Art of Drowning

Homecoming memories

Nobody cares if you can’t dance well.  Just get up and dance.”  ~Dave Barry

My son Nate is 25 now, and past the stage of high school homecoming dances. But this week, some of my neighbors are gearing up for this sweet tradition, and I remembered this essay from my book, Writing Home. Happy news: Nate is engaged to the young woman mentioned at the end of the essay and shown in the photo at left. –CL

“The Homecoming Dance”

September 21, 2003

From baptism to bar mitzvah, rituals and rites of passage honor the milestones in our lives.  Certain rituals are so closely tied to autumn, in fact, that I can’t imagine the season without them. Raking leaves, visiting cider mills, and digging woolens out of storage are just a few.

But the annual high school homecoming dance crowns them all.

At our house, as surely as the maples shed yellow leaves on the lawn, this semi-formal event kicks up a whirlwind of activity and emotion. Some of it is not pretty.

Since I’m the mother of a son, my homecoming rituals do not include shopping for the ultimate evening gown and the perfect shade of nail polish. Admittedly, I miss playing Fairy Godmother to Cinderella, so I live vicariously through other moms who have teenaged daughters. That’s how I’ve learned that things are different with boys. The angst level, for instance, is much lower in the wardrobe department. Guys don’t worry about their hair, and they don’t have to obsess over finding a purse to coordinate with a pair of shoes that will be worn only once.

Traditionally, a boy waits until forty-five minutes before the big event to consider whether or not his dress shirt needs to be unearthed from the closet floor. (This is based on the assumption that he owns a dress shirt.) At that point, all hell breaks loose, sending his beleaguered parents in search of an ironing board while the boy hunts down a pair of matching socks. He also waits until the final hour to announce that his good suit has cake frosting on the lapel – a souvenir from the last semi-formal event he attended.

Homecoming rituals will test any parent’s mettle, but I believe I’m a sturdier person because of them.

I miss playing Fairy Godmother to Cinderella, so I live vicariously through other moms who have teenaged daughters.

Last year, a week before the big dance, we drove Nate to Nordstrom’s to shop for a new shirt and tie. Anticipating conflict, I backed off and let him sort through the merchandise with his dad. I tried to keep quiet – until I spotted a handsome gold dress shirt that was perfect for his black suit.

“Look at this one, guys!” I shouted, holding up the prize. On cue, Doug spotted a great tie to go with it. Our sweet son glanced at the ensemble, rolled his eyes, and muttered his new favorite word: “Hideous.”

Seconds later, Nate’s cell phone rang. It was Andrea – a young lady with impeccable fashion sense. Andrea happened to be shopping in the area and would come to his rescue. She would help him find the right shirt.

Well, when the fashionista arrived in the men’s department, she immediately chose – you guessed it – the gold shirt. Suddenly this shirt was awesome, and the tie was fairly cool, too. (I bit my tongue and reminded myself that God really does look out for parents, and He is everywhere, including Nordstrom’s.)

As I type this, the next homecoming dance is a week away. Just as I did last year, and the year before that, I’ve reminded Nate to ask a date in advance. Once again, I’ve explained how girls need time to shop for dresses and book hair appointments. And just as he did last year, the kid kept his plans under wraps until he needed advice on ordering a corsage.

As it turns out, Nate’s date this year is Andrea, the sharp young lady with good taste in men’s shirts. Thinking ahead last week, we bought Nate a new shirt and tie to co-ordinate with her dress. Thank goodness, Andrea approves. Meanwhile, I am not taking any chances and have dropped off the black suit at the dry cleaner.

This is senior year, after all, and we’ve finally learned the steps to the homecoming dance. — Cindy La Ferle

Writing Home is available in local bookstores and on Amazon.com (see link at the top of this page). Proceeds from my book sales are donated annually to organizations serving the homeless, including the Welcome Inn and South Oakland Shelter, at holiday time.

 

Love those red shoes!

When in doubt, wear red. Red is the ultimate cure for sadness.” –Bill Blass

Big news for devoted fans of red shoes: A pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz will be auctioned off in December by Profiles in History, a California auction house.

As MSN Entertainment reported last week, replicas of the ruby slippers, including stunt shoes for the film, were sold in previous auctions. But the pair that’s up for bidding at the “Icons of Hollywood” event is one of four original pairs used in the filming of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. (One pair is displayed at the “Icons of American Culture” exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.)

I’ve always thought it strange that the famous shoes were called “slippers” in the classic film. Most women would agree that they were actually pumps with substantial heels. Those heels took Dorothy on a major detour through the haunted woods and held up for her big chase scene at the Wicked Witch’s castle. By the time she finally reached Oz, her footwear hadn’t lost a single sequin. That was one powerful pair of slippers.

The ruby slippers inspired me, early on, to start my own small collection of red shoes. Shopping online last month, I discovered a glittery pair that conjured a cheerful memory of Garland dancing with Ray Bolger’s “Scarecrow” down the Yellow Brick Road. Mine will likely dance with my husband at a Christmas party or a wedding reception. But even though I had no specific occasion in mind — and I really didn’t need more shoes! — I had to purchase the pair right away.

So, what is it about red shoes? Aside from their literary ties to the fabled Oz, why do red shoes seem to possess magical attributes?

For some fresh insight, I approached a long-distance friend, Bridgette, whose delightful blog is titled Life in Red Shoes. Bridgette claims that you can’t have a bad day if you’re wearing a pair of red shoes.

“I love them, wildly, madly, deeply. Just can’t get enough,” Bridgette told me.

“It was during a low point, one that lasted several years, that I bought my first pair of red shoes. It must have been the late 80s, and color was all the rage…remember neon? I was in a Payless shoe store, the only place I could afford at the time, and there they were — a pair of cherry red moc crock loafers!”

Bridgette was smitten, but she wondered: Were the shoes too bold? Do I dare wear them? What would people think? Of course, she bought the shoes anyway, and it didn’t take her long to find the courage to wear them. Today, she owns an impressive collection of footwear in riotous shades of red.


So, what is it about red shoes? Aside from their literary ties to the fabled Oz, why do red shoes seem to possess magical attributes?

As most women agree, red shoes aren’t for shrinking violets. They’re for women who refuse to surrender to a lousy mood; women who believe they have a God-given right to have fun — at any age.

“Wearing red shoes makes a statement,” Bridgette explains. “When you wear red shoes, you’re saying: I don’t take myself too seriously, I laugh out loud, and I don’t let the bastards get me down! Wearing a pair of red shoes is like adding an exclamation mark to your outfit, a smile to your feet, sunbeams streaming to your toes!”

But Bridgette’s blog isn’t limited to the topic of collecting shoes. For this grandmother in Utah, “Life in Red Shoes” is a byproduct of her midlife mission. It’s all about rediscovering what makes her happy — and finding inspiration in her daily round. She might post a reflection on her experience as a school teacher or share photos of a new craft project she just finished.

That said, when I first discovered Bridgette’s blog, I was inspired to pull my own collection of red shoes from the back of my closet — and to start wearing them.

My red shoes are a small but powerful antidote to the problems I’ve been wrestling with lately — including finding the right help for an elderly mother who’s falling under the cruel spell of dementia. As Bridgette reminded me, it’s important for all of us to savor the simple pleasures that lift our spirits, and to seize, as Dorothy did, every chance we get to step out of our comfort zones.

If you’re not a wearer of red shoes, do you have another article of footwear or clothing that wakes you up and makes your heart sing? — Cindy La Ferle

QUICK UPDATE: Bridgette, otherwise known to her friends as “Red,” just posted some photographs of her feet wearing red shoes from her impressive collection. Click here to see the photos on “Life in Red Shoes.”