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Posts Tagged ‘memories’

redman photo 82 side k pref head vert typaI had a very strict mother. Not about everything, you understand. She was actually quite a free-thinker, an intellectual and a good deal ahead of her time, feministically speaking. 🙂 But she believed in a certain kind of public behavior. Manners. Refinement.

Lucy at typewriterWhatever you call it, she must have made a bigger impression on me than I realized. I like to think of myself as terrifically open-minded, a little avante garde in a very ladylike way, not at all repressed or repressive.

Imagine my shock, then, when my daughter told me that, way back when she was in elementary school and someone did something crazy, her friends would pose the sardonic question, “Irene, would your mother call this vulgar? Or tacky?”

OMG. That is how they saw me? Cool, intellectual, free-thinking me? Apparently.

puzzle monsterSo, just for the record, girls, here’s how you know what’s vulgar, and what’s tacky.

TACKY is just a bit cheap, poorly made, or the etiquette equivalent of poorly made. It hints that you might not have champagne tastes or the Queen’s manners. Nobody gets hurt with tacky. It includes innocent sins, like showing too much cleavage at a funeral, or letting your dog lick your plate when you’re finished.

VULGAR is much, much worse. Vulgar is when you send naked pictures of yourself in a Santa hat as Christmas cards–and you actually believe it’s sexy, not gross. Vulgar is when you make body-function jokes in front of your maiden aunt, or tell strangers too many details about things that should be private.

Tacky makes you look bad. Vulgar makes other people uncomfortable.

Or so my mother taught me.

However, there are quite a few things that the world probably considers tacky (and I *KNOW* my mother did!) that I absolutely adore. Don’t we all have some? Here’s my list of my top five Tacky Treats.

St. Francis corner1) Yard knick-knacks. I know…I really do know…that a dozen cheap little ornaments scattered around your yard don’t look very swanky. But I don’t care. I’m addicted. I do keep my shame in the *back* yard, though, to avoid embarrassing the rest of the family.

beach store mannequin2) Kitschy beach stores. I love the smell of plastic beach toys shaped like alligators, and what we used to call “suntan oil,” but now would undoubtedly call “sunscreen.” I like towels embroidered with the name of my favorite beach: Indian Rocks. I like flip flops and straw hats and yellow plastic buckets with crenelated bottoms for making sand castles. I even like…get ready…little people and creatures made entirely of shells, like these poker players.

puppy in christmas lights

3) Christmas lights hanging crooked, or mismatched. I love the idea that real people who want to twinkle a Merry Christmas to their neighbors actually get on ladders and string these babies up…maybe getting a little cranky, even, while they do it. I like yards that have gone a little too far (not Griswold far), or who clearly let the six-year-old pick out the color scheme. I don’t really like those net strands of lights, because they look too neat, too linear, as if someone professional put them on.swing at christmas I also love lights that stay on all year. I have an outdoor swing that I decorate with fairy lights. I have some in all different colors–pink for Valentine’s Day, red-white-blue for Fourth of July, purple and orange for Halloween. I’m hopeless.

glitter

4) Glitter. This is obviously a hangover from childhood. We had a babysitter once who knew how to draw a ballerina using only a very few lines to make a fluffy tutu skirt. And then she’d let us paste glitter along each ruffle of the skirt. Oh, it was magical, and I never got over it. Also, we used to drive to Indian Rocks Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast every summer, and somewhere along the way we passed a billboard that had a strip of something metallic that glittered in the noonday sun. I can’t remember what it advertised…if anyone else remembers, please let me know! I see that glittering sign in my dreams!

Tiara5) Wacky costume jewelry. I don’t wear this, you understand. Not because I’m afraid of offending the memory of my mother. She thought costume jewelry could approach true art. I don’t wear it because I wear four piece of jewelry, the same ones all the time. A necklace, a watch, my wedding rings, and a pair of earrings. I got them all from His Highness on special occasions, and, except for the earrings, I never take change them. The necklace hasn’t come off in twenty-six years…although don’t worry–it does take showers. But in a purely “museum” way, I love a fabulously tacky piece of costume jewelry. The more color and kitch the better! I particularly can’t resist tiaras. 🙂 Pinterest was invented to allow people like me to indulge interests like that. 🙂

Big blue monsterI also love wonderful, horrible tearjerker ballads, like “Shake Me I Rattle, Squeeze Me, I Cry.” But those songs can’t be on this list, because they’re corny, not tacky. Don’t believe me? Ask your mom. 🙂

How about you? What do you insist on loving, in spite of snob pressure to renounce it?

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Hi, everyone! I just got back from the frozen North…and while I’m thrilled to be home I’m missing the winter wonderland I left behind.

I am getting my MFA in writing from Seton Hill University, a gorgeous Hogwarts-like school in Greensburg, PA. Most of my work is done via the computer, but twice a year I attend a week-long residency up there. The winter residency is a dream come true for this Florida gal!

I felt as if I’d stepped into one of my own books. Now that I think about it, I’ve written three books that feature glorious winters–“Mistletoe Man,” “Winter Baby” and “We Need A Little Christmas.” It was amazing to learn that real winter is just as romantic and magical as I imagined.

I just blogged about my love affair with the snow, in fact, over at Tote Bags ‘n’ Blogs Stop by if you can, and see more of the beauty of Greensburg in January!

Now, before you decide I’m truly insane, remember I was born in Florida, and I have lived in Florida all my life. I once spent a few winter days in Innsbruck, Austria, where I saw plenty of picturesque snow, but I was working and didn’t have any real time for play.

Other than that, I’ve had to settle for a few flakes here and there, and a glimpse or two from a train window. But while I’m in Greensburg, I can frolic like a fool. And boy, did I! I caught snowflakes on my tongue. I made my first snow angel. I pummeled my friends with snowballs. In every way, I allowed myself to be swept into fantasy by the beauty of the hilly landscape.

So as I get back to real life, to work on my new book (a spin-off from “For the Love of Family”), carrying the frosty sparkles in my heart, I wanted to share a little of it with you. Here’s a very short video my daughter captured with her iIPhone. She knew I’d want to have a memento of this magical moment. I hope you enjoy it, too!

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Edna Nichols

A scientist named William Osler apparently once said, “No bubble is so iridescent or floats longer than that blown by the successful teacher.”

I’ve been lucky enough to have several teachers like that.  One was Edna Nichols, who taught English and creative writing at my high school.  She also was the advisor (inspiration, fearless leader, drill sergeant) for the little literary magazine we published.  She may not have realized it, but she was terrifically important to me.

In some ways, my memory is probably suspect.  My time with her was long, long ago, that infamously self-absorbed age—the hormonal teenage years.  I was young, diffident, easily embarrassed, terrified of being conspicuous.  I’d been newly transplanted to this high school, having just left the part of town where I’d been born, and where all my friends still lived.  I had just adopted a new nickname, in the hopes of sounding confident and breezy instead of the prissy former convent-school girl I really was.

I was, I think, a bit lost.

She wasn’t.  She owned her classroom, and, for that hour, she owned us, too.  She was middle-aged and she looked tired, but wiry.  She wore her curly hair short, and it was the color of a night with lots of clouds.  Her eyes watched you with the sharp, restless attention of a bird.  A hawk, not a sparrow.  A hawk with lasers.  She saw everything, and one look into those eyes made it clear that trying to fool her was a waste of time.

She wanted your best, and it irritated her when you didn’t give it.  When she was irritated, the eyes sharpened, and she made a wry comment that didn’t quite sting…but almost did.  Like a warning shot, into the wall beside your head.  Close enough to change your attitude without hardening your heart.

The year she taught me, she was recovering from surgery, and she needed to lie down.  She brought her patio chair into the classroom and taught from a reclining position.  Looking back now, I can’t believe she held control of a room full of seniors that way.  But somehow—perhaps with those eyes alone–she did.

I teach now, too, though just part-time, and never with her brilliance.  But when I recently broke my foot and had to teach from a ridiculous knee-scooter for seven long, embarrassing weeks, I remembered Mrs. Nichols and the elan with which she carried off her “chaise lounge.”  I knew it could be done.

I wish I remembered more of her magic.  I wish I knew how she maintained such strict discipline without blighting the confidence and enthusiasm necessary for reading poetry or writing from your soul.  Many, many times I’ve wished I could go back to my high school, and sit like a ghost in one of the empty chairs, watching Mrs. Nichols teach.  I could learn things now, I’m sure, that I was too young to understand back then.

How did she convince me that my silly, self-indulgent poems were good enough to publish for the rest of the school?  How did she inspire me to take the infinitesimal seed of talent and grow it into a lifetime career?  How did she blow the bubble of writing joy into my life, a bubble that still floats through every day?

Perhaps it was that, in the end, she liked us.  She believed in us.  And she kept her message simple.  She had one writing rule, stressed over and over until we finally got it.  “Begin in media res,” she’d say.  Begin in the middle of things.  Begin where it matters.

And she had one life rule, too.  She signed my yearbook with this Jonathan Swift quote, and I’ll bet I could find that same message in a hundred other yearbooks, too.  “May you live every day of your life.”

I just learned that Mrs. Nichols has been struggling with some health problems.  I hate that.  I hate that she’s not still standing in a classroom, aiming a wry joke just beyond the ears of some teenagers who need to settle down, so that she can teach them the joys of books and poetry…and life.

But I know the bubbles she created in all these years still survive.  And I want to thank her for mine.  Be well, Mrs. Nichols!  Thank you.

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