Category Archives: Personal

Thomas

As I began cleaning out my current apartment this morning to decide what to keep, toss, or donate, I came across a little bear named Thomas, and I thought I’d share this entry from many moons ago on a now all-but-defunct website. I hope this isn’t considered cheating for Holidailies purposes, but I was reminded of it, so here it is.


Thomas

About six months after my mother passed away, my eldest sister had one of her coats made into four little teddy bears, one for each of “the girls.” The coat was my mother’s pride and joy and the envy of every woman on the block because it was a “leopard” coat.

I put leopard in quotes because it really wasn’t made from a leopard pelt. It was made from stenciled calfskin. Back in the 1940s, when people didn’t complain so much that this job or that one was “beneath” them and they took any work that amounted to an honest day’s pay, my grandfather took a position as a tanner, and he learned how to stencil patterns onto calfskin so that it looked like something other than what it was.

My grandfather gave the coat to my mother before my mother met my father, and she used to wear it when she went out in the evenings. The coat was soft and sleek, with trim made from some sort of fur that was probably real, though I’m not sure. It had fluffy black cuffs and a fluffy black collar to match the black in the “leopard” spots. It was her “good” coat up until the early 1970s, when the fur had rubbed clean off in places. The seams had begun to loosen as well, and finally, one day, my mother put it in the back of the coat closet in the hallway next to the front door. That was pretty much the last we thought about it until my mother died and my sister had the teddy bears made.

I named my bear Thomas, which is my grandfather’s name. The name we knew my mother by is Thomasina, although her birth certificate says something else entirely. Back in the 1920s, when she was born, the Roman Catholic Church insisted that parents name their children after saints. There was no saint by the name my grandparents had originally chosen, and my grandfather blurted out the first thing that came into his head when they were in the baptistery and the priest told them they needed a different name.

Thomas sits on a nightstand next to our bed, next to Ross’s childhood ceramic Dumbo bank, a crystal vase with glass pebbles and a carved flamingo “flower” a friend gave me, and a cherrywood picture frame that holds a photo of Ross and me from before we got engaged.

Last night, after talking with one of my sisters about our forthcoming trip to Hawaii this summer to finally carry out my mother’s last wish to scatter her ashes there, I got to thinking about Thomas. After I got ready for bed, I picked Thomas up and noticed his ears and eyes were getting a little dusty, so I brushed him off. Then I brushed off his tummy, arms, legs, and back, and the tufty tail on his bottom.

Then—and I don’t know what compelled me to do this—I ran my fingers along the seam on his back, below the red ribbon around his neck, and held him to my face.

Softly, sweetly, a scent so faint that I thought I was hallucinating rose from the seam.

It was my mother’s perfume.

I sniffed again, and there it was, barely discernable, just a hint. It was so faint that if I had never smelled that perfume before, I wouldn’t have caught it. But it was there. My mother’s perfume must have rubbed off on a sleeve, or she must have given herself a last-second spritz with an atomizer on her way out one night.

They probably don’t even make that perfume anymore. The last time I saw my mother wear that coat, I must have been about five or six, which would mean 1971 or 1972. She still wore the perfume whenever she and my father went out on a “grown-up night” until about 1980, when one of my sisters gave her some Estee Lauder signature scent. In the late 1980s she switched to Oscar de la Renta’s signature scent, and in the 1990s she started wearing Tommy Girl. (“Naturally,” she said.)

And all the while, the coat remained in the back of the closet. It must have been there for 25 years before my sister took it out after my mother passed away.

Standing there sniffing Thomas, I had a flash memory of my mother standing in the doorway, looking into the living room, waiting for my father, who was always running late, to get himself together so they could go out. It was a kid’s eye view, so I don’t know what kind of clothing she was wearing, just that it was long, black, and velvet. It might have been a floor-length skirt, or an evening dress, I really can’t tell. I just remember the coat over it. I think she had on gloves, and I think she was holding an evening clutch. When my mother went out, she was always dressed appropriately, in line with Connecticut Yankee etiquette. This was when there was no such thing as “creative black-tie” and everyone knew what the word formal meant on an invitation. Her hair was dark brown, too, so it’s an old memory, as she started going lighter and lighter when she started working, until finally she was a blonde when she passed away.

All of this came back to me as I stood there sniffing this little teddy bear. When I couldn’t smell anything anymore, I scratched the fur against the grain, and the scent came back a little bit stronger, but still faint.

I felt a gentle touch on my arm. Ross had reached up from where he lay in the bed, and he was looking at me with curiosity. I told him I could smell my mother’s perfume on Thomas and he gave my arm a comforting pat.

Finally, I set Thomas down on the nightstand again and climbed into bed. After I turned off the light, I thought of my mother for a long time, probably about an hour. I thought of the time my parents came to visit me in Hawaii, and how much she loved it there. I thought of her as Class Mom, when we went to the pumpkin farm for a Halloween field trip. I thought of her in her pajamas, and in her work clothes, and in this outfit or that, sometimes with her hair done, sometimes in curlers.

Before I fell asleep, the very last thought I had of her was of her in her coat and her black velvet again, only this time, my father had opened the door for her, and she was stepping out into a soft, magical night.

—January 23, 2004


I made only minor edits to this entry, including changing my ex-husband’s name.

 

And Now for Something Not Necessarily Completely Different

Holidailies asks: What new things did you do, see, or experience this year?

I answer: Well, that’s a loaded question! A knee-jerk reaction is to say “a global pandemic,” but it’s really not the first one of my 54-year lifetime. The Hong Kong flu pandemic, which was an H3N2 flu, happened in 1968, when I was 2 years old. Not that I remember it, but my siblings do. Then there was the swine flu pandemic of 2009-2019, which was an H1N1 flu—a new strain of the virus that caused the Spanish Flu and the pandemic of 1918. However, it’s the first time I’ve ever had to adjust my lifestyle for a pandemic, and it’s a safe bet that many people on the planet can say the same thing.

Not all of the changes have been unwelcome. I don’t miss commuting, the morning rush to do hair and make-up, and bras. I’m fairly introverted, so it wasn’t a big deal for me to stock up and stay home, and I have yet to get bored. I do miss happy hours, Sunday brunches, group hikes, and holiday parties, however. Last December was a bit of a whirlwind with holiday gatherings, a day trip for a city hike around Philadelphia, and a party hosted by one of my fellow hikers. It was more social activity than I normally had, and I was just getting the hang of filling up my calendar and then boom, everything stopped. I know I’ll see everyone again, and I look forward to the time we can all whoop it up, although I will probably need to brush up on my social skills first because I’m used to just blurting whatever is on my mind to Inigo.

My little therapist.

Also worried about the fate of democracy in America, which is a first for me. But let’s not get into that, except to say that after I am done moving I would be more than happy to donate my boxes and packing materials for the current occupant of the White House to use when he is evicted.

Ah, this list should have been longer and happier. My New Year’s Resolution for 2020 was to take three trips, with three rules:

  • One had to be purely for pleasure
  • One had to be somewhere I’d never been before
  • New York and Baltimore didn’t count, as I’m from Long Island originally and in normal times I try to get to Baltimore at least once, if not twice, a year for a girls’ night with some friends

I could mix and match—I could travel somewhere I’d never been before for work and I could travel somewhere I’d been before purely for pleasure to visit friends, or any other combination, but one place had to be new to me and one trip had to be just for fun.

For 2020 I figured there would be at least one work trip, one to San Antonio and possibly one to Philadelphia. I’m a little bummed about not going to San Antonio because next week I would have been at La Cantera Resort and Spa, at least during the day, for a meeting that is one of the highlights of my professional year. But after my last experience in San Antonio, maybe the silver lining is being spared another bout of lead legs.

I also wanted to take two pleasure trips, as well, both to places I’d never been before: Either Arizona or Michigan to visit friends (or maybe both), and to Finland to be a tourist and see Poets of the Fall, a band I fell in love with six years ago.

So much for all of that.

And the award for Buzzkill of the Year goes to…

Not sure it will happen in 2021, either. It really depends on how the pandemic goes. I’m not all that optimistic, but at least moving to a less expensive apartment will enable me to put aside a nice travel fund for when the the time comes.

Someday, boys. Someday. In the meantime, I have my memories of ProgPower 2019 in Atlanta to keep me going.

Here’s one of my favorite songs of theirs. It came out in 2017, but this year they’ve been doing one song a month in a special series and they premiered this one on my birthday, so double whammy of yay. I love the message, and it’s so utterly fitting for what we’re all going through with this pandemic. Consider it an aural hug from me to you.

Moving Into 2021

What is the definition of insanity?

Aside from counting votes over and over again and expecting a different outcome, I mean.

It’s announcing that you’re doing Holidailies when you haven’t been able to complete one in four years! But it’s tradition, so here we go…

When last we left off, I was preparing for a move. That move is taking place on January 4. Just can’t handle the noise and bother of my current building anymore. It’s one thing to have mediocre soundproofing when you work outside the home, but telecommuting during the pandemic has been pretty awful. There was also a flood a few weeks ago, the third major one I’ve seen in this building in five years, although this time it didn’t affect me.

Also, that pool renovation that I mentioned a couple of entries ago? It was supposed to be done by now, plaster laid, tiles placed and glazed, and pool winterized, and lo…

They didn’t even find Hoffa.

I knew that was going to happen. When I saw three guys show up for what is arguably a six- or seven-guy project, I knew they would barely finish demolition by Thanksgiving. I doubt they are going to be able to finish this project this year. Once the ground freezes, they’re going to have to cover it up and wait until spring.

Besides, it’s a renter’s market. I live in a young part of town, and many of the 20-somethings moved back home with their parents, particularly if they were in graduate school as classes are all remote now. I’m sure a lot of people moved out for financial reasons as well, although I’m not sure how much unemployment has affected my area. Point is, a lot of the buildings here are hurting for tenants, so rents are anywhere from $300 to $700 less a month than they were before the pandemic, and property managers are offering incentives like a month free of rent, free parking for three months, waived application fees, and so on.

So I went about touring exactly one new building, applied for exactly one new apartment, and lo…

Did someone say “food influencer?”

Or, that’s what mine will look like when the renovation there is over. But the current finish, which is more of a maple brown with brown and black speckled countertops, isn’t bad, either. And people, there’s an island. Never had one of those before and am looking forward to concocting concoctions on it. Guess I need a couple of bar stools, too.

The landlord will paint two accent walls free of charge—you could have knocked me over with a feather when the property manager told me that—but I have no idea what I’m doing in terms of picking out paint colors. Apparently enough people like that particular shade so much that they tell the landlord to go ahead and paint their doors the same way, but I might do a wall of the dining room a warm shade of blue to match my dishes, and then one wall a dove gray in the bedroom. Or maybe the blue for the door and the dining room. Decisions, decisions!

Yet the biggest challenge is finding a sofa. Apparently the world has gone bland because all of the major furniture stores seem to carry nothing but beige, gray, dog-doo brown, beige, beige, gray, beige, or gray. If you want color, you have to go to a boutique and pay three times as much and wait twice as long for delivery. Minimalism is in, I guess, but I’m a Libra. We don’t do drab. In fact, I got so irked by the lack of affordable, colorful choices that I considered just getting a beige sofa and going off the rails with a slipcover.

HEH! Just kidding. Mostly.

I will have a better idea when I go to showrooms in a socially distant, mask-wearing kind of way this weekend. If I can’t find anything I like, I can always order something online and take my loveseat with me while I wait for delivery. (After looking online for about an hour last night, of course everything I am interested in has a three- to five-month wait.) My three-seater is shot, but the loveseat is still okay as it hasn’t been used as much. Not like I’m going to be entertaining any time soon, thanks COVID.

In the meantime, I bought a new mattress and box-spring. Like my current sofa and loveseat, my old ones were 20 years old—five years past the guarantee—and ya know? No. Let the movers take them to wherever bedding goes to die and take the dust and dander of ex-husband and lovers past with them. Thanks, Congress, for the economic stimulus payment!

This is a downsizing. I’m losing about 100 square feet—giving up the den and the extra half-bath—but I’m okay with that. Not taking my banged-up old desk with me (again, 20 years old, and it’s held together with Gorilla Glue at this point), and have already relegated to the trash bin several bags of stuff I’ve carted up and down the east coast. My coffee table is lift-top and my dining table seats 6 without the leaf, so meh, no need for a desk or accompanying chair. In fact, I’ve written more articles with my notes spread out on the dining table than at this little 36″ x 28″ desk. Point is, no one could ever accuse me of being a hoarder.

Bedroom furniture is also on the list, but after the move—nightstands and probably a bachelor’s chest. I know black furniture is bad feng shui but it will go with my bed (black-painted brass), so that’s what I’m looking for. My apartment-warming gift to me might be a pair of bird lamps for the nightstands.

Need to get area rugs, too. Never had to worry about that before as I’ve always had wall-to-wall carpet. At least now it will be easier to clean up after this guy, who often flings as much food as he eats:

Who, me?

At any rate, big changes are afoot at Chez Zenzalei, and it’s going to be a busy December. I may have peaked with this first Holidailies entry, but I never did claim sanity, so see you here tomorrow. Maybe.