It has been a big week here at in the love nest. On Monday, I received the first of my Covid vaccine shots. A snowstorm the week before caused appointment cancellations, resulting in twice the number of people for each time slot on my appointed day. When I arrived there were clusters of seniors, waiting to enter the building when their time slot was called. Once you were inside, the process went extremely smoothly and in no time I had my shot, was scheduled for the second, and headed out the door. The trials and tribulations of scoring a coveted spot on the list will become one of the shared stories years from now when we talk about the lost year, the Pandemic, and when we were vaccinated.
Another spot of excitement in my week is that I purchased a new shiny pink ride! It has a basket, a bell, a cup holder and I love it! I see myself tooling around town – off to the library, the French bakery or just enjoying the sunshine.
One thing it didn’t come with is a lock. I need to hurry and pick one up because my precious pink bike was nearly stolen by a sexy Frenchman!
The week’s highlight, however, was seeing our energetic, creative granddaughter, Eleanor, for the first time in months.
Eleanor’s mother started the long journey to citizenship nearly five years ago. On Friday while Eleanor stayed with Mr. Smith and me, her parents went to Philadelphia for Hsin Yi to complete her interview and citizenship test. She passed! They return in a couple weeks for her official swearing in ceremony.
Grandpa and I had a great day with Eleanor. We sculpted with Play Doh, painted colorful pictures, baked and decorated cookies, went for a walk over our favorite bridge and took a relaxing bubble bath. Eleanor did a fine job of making sure her grandparents were ready for a good night’s sleep.
So as the long winter begins to wear me down and I start to wonder if we will ever have fun again, here comes the sun and I say it’s all right!
As we inch toward normalcy, the first thing on my ‘can’t wait to-do it list’ is visiting all our children and grandchildren. After that, I am eagerly looking forward to the day I can call up friends and say, “Come for cocktails!” I long to plan a party, dress up and raise a glass with my favorite people.
As I started to dream of my next social gathering, I wondered who the first person was to wake up one morning and think – I’ll just dig out the martini glasses, whip up some canapes, purchase copious amounts of ice and have the gang over for drinks. One story is it all started with eggnog.
According to the Huffington Post, “The principal antecedent for the cocktail party comes from September 1890 when Mrs. Richard S. Dana introduced the concept of an ‘eggnog party’ in the society resort of Lenox, Mass., parties she would throw every autumn for years, when the goldenrod was in blossom. Following the lead of the Lenox “cottagers,” it became the height of the Gilded Age fashion to host a party around a bowl of eggnog.”
As much as I admire a beautiful punch bowl, I don’t think I would enjoy an entire evening consuming a dairy-oriented drink. Luckily, apparently neither did Clara Walsh of St. Louis, Missouri. In 1917, Clara gave a highly publicized party that captured the curiosity of the public. She hosted a “Baby Party” during which adults drank booze from baby bottles. Inviting over 50 of her closest friends for a one-hour party of drinking and merriment, she termed it a Cocktail Party. There were Bronx cocktails (gin, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth and orange juice), Clover Leafs (gin, grenadine, lime juice and egg white, garnished with a mint leaf), highballs, gin fizzes, martinis and Manhattans. I am curious how much staff she had for the occasion. The local newspapers showered her with praise and her inspiration spread quickly throughout the city.
The gatherings I see in my mind’s eye harken back to the 50s and 60s. Following World War II and the mass exodus to the newly sprouting suburbs, people were removed from the cities and bars and found ways to entertain their nearby neighbors and friends in their home.
Entertaining at home became almost an obsession for some. They perfected the art of the cocktail. Out came the bowls of olives and nuts. The party dress was renamed the cocktail dress and shelled peanuts were no longer simply peanuts, but cocktail peanuts. Checking out the array of finger foods, you could pretty much count on the ubiquitous silver chafing dish brimming with warm cocktail weenies swimming in questionable red sauce!
As much as I love a dinner party, cocktail parties are much more hassle free to plan. They don’t have my biggest dinner party stress of trying to schedule the dishes so they are ready at the right time. Canapes can be made well ahead of time, giving me time to slip into something more festive plus no worries that the souffle will flop! It gives me an opportunity to use the sparkly stemware I have collected over the decades. Some vintage, some not, I have been known as the woman with a glass for everything, a title I am happy to bear!
So someday soon I will be gathering my favorite appetizer recipes, polishing up my stemware collection, and sending you a proper invite, even if the goldenrod is not in blossom. Now I just need to find the perfect hostess apron…
National Women’s History Month began with a single day. Every year on March 8 more than 100 countries celebrate International Women’s Day. But why March 8?
In 1909, the Socialist Party of America organized a Women’s Day in New York City. The next year, German delegates at the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference proposed that “a special Women’s Day” be organized yearly. But it was Russia who unwittingly established March 8 as the official date. On that day in 1917, tens of thousands of Russian women took to the streets demanding change. Their unified cry for rights was instrumental in paving the way for Russian women to finally win the vote.
Women’s Day was primarily celebrated by the Socialist Movement and communist countries, it was adopted by the Feminist Movement around 1967. The United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day in 1975. In some countries it is now a public holiday, in others it is largely ignored. In some places it is a day of protest, in others it celebrates womanhood. In Portugal where my sister lived, women gathered for lunch and drinks to celebrate the day and each other.
I knew nothing about International Women’s Day in the summer of 1974 when I was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended Summerfest. This festival, held along the shores of Lake Michigan each summer, now features over 1,000 performances on 12 stages. In 1974, I think there were two stages. I was in the audience at one of those stages and with hundreds of other women, sang my heart out along with Helen Reddy when she performed “I Am Woman.” Unfortunately, in those days my naïve idea of woman power meant burning your bra and using Ms. instead of Miss.
Too many important issues were not yet on my radar, gender parity in the workplace, reproductive rights, domestic abuse, navigating career and motherhood, lack of respect for caregiving. I was raised to be a “nice” girl, to stay in my lane, not be “difficult.” Thankfully over the next decades my inner feminist blossomed, my journey being more of a marathon than a sprint. And I’m ok with that. I haven’t shattered any glass ceilings, but I have given the world three amazing men who know that women are their equal.
I admire the trailblazers and intrepid women who have done so much to bring about change, but this morning I am also thinking about all the women for whom tomorrow is just another day. Another day to try and keep their kids safe, to put food on the table and roof over their head, no time off for a special celebration.
In 1996, The United Nations began adopting annual themes for International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is Choose to Challenge. I have stood up for women – co-workers, friends, family, sometimes strangers. But I have also sometimes failed to speak up. I will always be me. I am more traditionalist than radical, but this year I challenge myself to be more aware of gender bias and inequality and find ways to Choose to Challenge. After all, I have four granddaughters who have a right to grow up in a fairer, more just world.
Having happily devoured several of Curtis Sittenfeld’s previous novels, I was eager to read Rodham. This is the story of what might have happened had Hillary not married Bill. As in real life, she graduates from Wellesley and attends law school at Yale where she meets Bill. After graduation, they head for Arkansas so Bill can start his political climb. He proposes several times until Hillary finals accepts. In the novel, when she discovers he has been unfaithful, she endures a painful breakup and leaves Arkansas to blaze her own trail, eventually becoming the first woman president of the United States.
The first third of the book was borderline creepy with much too much information on the sexual antics of the couple for my taste. It became much more interesting after the breakup. I learned some things about how politics work. Even though I already knew money influences politics, this book – even if it wasn’t the intent – certainly makes the case for campaign finance reform.
I have mixed feelings about the book. On one hand, it is the perfect revenge story for a woman who gave up her dreams to follow those of her husband. On the other hand, I had to remind myself while I was reading that it is FICTION. I wonder what Hillary thinks.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
British author Matt Haig gives us the story of a woman on the verge of ending her life. She has lost her job, her life is falling apart and her cat is dead. So, Nora overdoses on pills. When she wakes up, she is not in heaven, hell or purgatory, but in a library. Nora is filled with regrets about decisions she has made in her life. The Midnight Library is a place where people can go when they are between life and death, not entirely sure which way to go. It is filled with endless books to choose from, allowing you to try on another life you could have lived. Author Jodi Picoult described it as “…an It’s a Wonderful Life for the modern age…”
While not life changing, I did like the book. I loved that Nora’s school librarian, Mrs. Elm, who was a great comfort to Nora growing up, runs The Midnight Library. And while I was pretty certain I knew where the story would end up, it was still a satisfactory read. By age 65, I have certainly wondered what life would have been like if I had made different choices. What better place to work out those thoughts than in a library!
Touched by the Sun, My Friendship with Jackie by Carly Simon
In early December, I received a text from my friend, Lou Anne, inquiring whether I had read Touched by the Sun. I had not and she proceeded to send me a copy as a Christmas gift, along with ordering a copy of her own. Around the end of January, we both found time to read it.
Carly lost me early on in the book when she went on and on about Jackie’s town car being so much better and cleaner than anyone else’s. “…It was tempting to conjure up images of chambermaids licking every leathery square inch in one fast, last, lapping touch up…” Really?
In addition to thinking maybe Carly should stick to songwriting, I struggled with the privilege of it all. Between the lingering lunches at all the best restaurants and parties on Martha’s Vineyard, I was getting annoyed with Carly, her drug use and whininess.
One aspect of being a part of a book group that I miss was that other people’s perspective sometimes made me re-evaluate my own. Lou Anne and I “discussed” the book via text and her insights made me look a little into Carly’s background which made me feel a little kindlier towards her. I appreciate Lou Anne making me dig a little deeper, but I’ll never forgive Carly the chambermaid’s line.
The book is really more about Carly than Jackie, but Lou Anne and I both appreciated that she was respectful of Jackie’s privacy. If you like Carly and admired Jackie, you will find the book interesting. We both gave it three grandmas.
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
Paris, libraries, friendships and family. This historical novel is a dual narrative, not usually a favorite format of mine, but this one works beautifully. Odile is a young woman working at the American Library in Paris from 1939 to the liberation in 1944. Lily is a young, lonely teenager, in small-town Montana from 1983 to 1988.
When Germany occupies Paris, libraries are targeted for banned books and given lists of to cull from their stacks. Jews are not allowed in and some libraries are closed. Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, I was drawn to book from the beginning. Odile is part of a group of dedicated employees who keep the American Library in Paris open during the war. When the war finally ends, there is a betrayal causing Odile to leave the library and volunteer at the American Hospital. There she meets the American she will marry and move to Montana with.
Lily has recently suffered the loss of her mother. Grief-stricken and lonely, she befriends Odile, now widowed. Odile teaches her French and reveals secrets about her life in Paris. They share a love of language and books and find that they have much in common. Ms. Skeslien Charles stated, “My novel is a love letter to libraries and librarians, reminding us that in the digital age, our libraries – our third space, our sanctuary, our source of facts in a fake-news world – are more vital than ever.” She also receives the coveted Five Grandmas!
When Carrie Bradshaw uttered these words in the movie Sex and the City, few of us could have foreseen what was in store for Fashion Week. In February, 2021 the majority of these anticipated stylish shows were virtual and each designer had an exclusive half-hour time slot to debut their collection through the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s digital platform, Runway 360, and on nyfw.com.
February 2012 was a different story. My daughter-in-law, Emily, who was the fashion editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer at that time, honored one of my bucket items lists and invited me to join her at Fashion Week. It was exciting and eye-opening. I was exposed to the hierarchy of the whole extravaganza. Her press credentials admitted her into some shows and she managed to finangled me into a couple. As interesting as these were, much like Bill Cunningham, I preferred the chic New York street wear, the fashionistas decked out in their finest hoping to be photographed and see themselves in the style pages. Afterwards, I introduced my willing daughter-in-law to my favorite New York wine bar where we spent way too much on champagne. We shared taxis and meals and had a most excellent adventure. It was perfect. A consummate example of carpe diem because the trip wouldn’t have been possible this year.
The first New York Fashion Week took place in 1943. Originally called “Press Week”, it was created to pull attention away from French fashion during World War II when the fashion industry insiders were unable to travel to Paris to attend French fashion shows. It was such a success, it has continued. Many cities now have seasonal fashion shows, but Paris, London, Milan and New York have long been the main attractions.
In a time when currently no one is asking “What should I wear today?”, does fashion matter? We have abandoned office wear and cocktail dresses for “lounge” wear. I admit, I have been struggling. Sweatpants and cheese sticks feel good. They are cozy and comfortable, but a body needs vegetables, protein and quality food. And just as a body deserves good fuel, it also deserves to be donned occasionally in fashion.
I have wondered if an interest in fashion is shallow. Is it self-love or social indoctrination? At the lovely age of 65, I have decided I don’t care if it is shallow. Looking at all the wondrous, fantastical outfits coming down the runway warms the cockles of my heart. But even when drooling over some of the styles, in the back of my mind is always the question “But can I wear that?” It reminds of me of watching The Dick Clark Show with my sisters back in the late 50s. Dick would play a record for two fresh-faced teens to rate from 1-10, always with the thought “Can I dance to it?”
Fashion is always changing, even before COVID we were embracing more casual styles. In our digital on-demand world, is it still relevant to “show” collections six months in advance? We have had time during our Pandemic Pause to re-evaluate our excess consumption and consider the many ethical and sustainable clothing brands that are pushing back against fast fashion. Even the regal Anna Wintour believes fashion will never be quite the same again as “values will have shifted.”
For fun, I compared several “Fall Fashion Trends” lists from the likes of Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, fashionista.com and others. There seem to be more differences of opinion than consensus, but one thing they do agree on is we’ll finally be wearing color – particularly hot pink! While I will be leaning more towards the cream-on-cream prediction, it is certainly about choices, wearing what you believe looks good and feels good. And indeed, that showcases your personality and provides the world with an accurate depiction of your soul. Luckily, I have last year’s pink linen jacket. I’m ahead of the game!
Fashion historians predict that once it is a safer world, people will quickly find a reason to go out again and will be excited to finally dress for the occasion. I know I will. I look forward to family dinners, meeting friends for coffee or cocktails and dining with Mr. Smith in our favorite Italian restaurant with its spettacolare, intoxicating aromas! I may not be wearing haute couture, but I won’t be wearing sweats.
Good morning. I hope the sun is shining wherever you are. Here in the northeast, we had snow (again!) on Monday and Tuesday, but my weather app is teasing me with the promise of sunshine and temperatures near 50 today! Welcome to this week’s Midweek Mélange, my opportunity to let my stream of consciousness brain take over and write about what has caught my attention lately.
My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue…. Oh my, has it ever. I didn’t own a lot of albums while growing up, but Carole King’s Tapestry pretty much played on repeat throughout my sophomore and junior years of high school. I didn’t care – probably didn’t even know – that it won the Grammy award for Album of the Year, I was simply drawn to the music. The photo on the cover made me feel as if she was looking directly into my soul and we had a connection. We celebrated young lust together (I Feel the Earth Move) and she kept me company on many a lonely Saturday night (You’ve Got a Friend.) Back in February of 1971 (FIFTY YEARS AGO!) when Carole King’s Tapestry album was released, I could have had no idea how all the threads of my experiences were going to weave together to create my life, but this album is definitely one of those threads. Half a century later, it is still one of my favorite albums and one I would want if I were stranded on a desert isle. Song lyrics can be powerful and emotive, and this album played a huge part in helping me navigate the awkwardness of my teenage years. Did you have a particular album or song that spoke to you during your crazy, horomonal youth? Do you still listen to it today?
Last week I received an email from Vogue.com with the article, These Are the 71 Best Documentaries of All Time. I perused the list and decided to start with Bill Cunningham New York. Mr. Cunningham was a unique American fashion photographer for the New York Times. It is a delightful documentary!
Mr. Cunningham was born into an Irish Catholic family and grew up in Boston. He has been quoted as stating his interest in fashion began in church, “I could never concentrate on Sunday church services because I’d be concentrating on women’s hats.” He attended Harvard University on a scholarship, dropping out after two months. Drafted during the Korean War, he found himself stationed in France, giving him his first exposure to French fashion. Back in the States after the war, he became a milliner, making hats under the name “William J”, working out of a tiny studio apartment in Carnegie Hall, where he continued to live for decades. His hats were fabulous, but I think he truly found his calling when he was given a $39 Olympus camera. He wrote for Women’s Wear Daily and the Chicago Tribune, and eventually had two weekly columns in The New York Times: On the Street featuring people on the streets of Manhattan and Evening Hours, chockful of photographs of high society events.
I was aware of Mr. Cunningham as the bicycle riding street fashion photographer in New York City, but Bill Cunningham New York provided me with an intimate peak into his captivating life, as well as giving me a much-needed dose of my favorite city.
I caught up on some projects this past Sunday morning and did not sit down with a cup of coffee and Mr. Smith to watch Sunday Today with Willie Geist until it was almost over. Luckily, I caught his Sunday Spotlight on The Women of Gee’sBend. What amazing women and what extraordinary quilts! Gee’s Bend, Alabama is a tiny town, population barely 300. This small, remote black community has been creating quilt masterpieces since the early twentieth century. Their works are bold and improvisational, often in geometrics that transform recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks and remnants into art. Turns out, I had a close encounter with these quilters a couple of years ago. The print in the skirt of Michelle Obama’s portrait dress that hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. was a beautiful reference to these talented women. At the end of the episode, Mr. Smith turned to me and said, “Women of consequence!”
I hope something inspiring or comforting caught your eye this month. I would love to hear what is keeping you entertained during this unusual time.
Even in the midst of many changes and unknowns She took a deep breath gathered her courage and dared to make today good.
Rachel Marie Martin
Every morning when I wake up, I spend a few moments easing into the day. First, I try to figure out what day of the week it is. My older and wiser sister tells me to let it go and not worry about what day it is, just be glad I woke up!
I eventually force myself out of the warm cocoon of my bed. Mr. Smith, having heard my stirrings, prepares my morning cappuccino. I drifted towards the fragrance, grabbed my coffee and settled into my perch near the window. After scanning the outside world to be sure it still sits solidly below me, I start scrolling through my phone, checking for emails, text messages, or new Facebook or Instagram posts, hopefully featuring my grandchildren. During my Thursday morning routine, I discovered the quote above by Rachel Marie Martin on my Facebook feed, via a Facebook friend. Amy’s personal comment was: Trying to make today a good day. Thanks Amy, challenge accepted.
All during the Pandemic, I have rejected the thought of a “silver lining.” People are dying, people are isolated, out of a job and struggling to get by. How on earth could anyone find a silver lining? A phone conversation with my first born one evening made me reconsider my pessimistic stance. I decided to look up the definition and make sure I was interpreting the expression correctly. According to vocabulary.com, “The common expression ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ means that even the worst events or situations have some positive aspects.” Like many others, my son and his family have worked to find their silver lining in a less harried lifestyle and more time together. Not every moment is perfect, but they are doing a great job of surviving the restrictive environment with creativity and some ingenuity.
So, I want to gather my courage and try to make today better, but for a self-proclaimed planner, the Pandemic has been a huge challenge. Without something to look forward to, I have felt stagnant and stuck in a rut. No get togethers to plan, parties, or themed sleepovers. Mostly I miss my family. Because there is still so much uncertainty, Mr. Smith and I are leery of planning a Camp Grandma for the summer of 2021. We aren’t comfortable asking all our children and grandchildren to travel until we are more confident that all is safe.
But I do need a project, something to plan. I thought about what I treasure most about Camp Grandma and one of the things at the top of my list is the cousins having time together. They live hundreds of miles apart and have few opportunities to be together. So, as often happens, my musings led me to a new undertaking. I am going to initiate a round robin style letter between the cousins and me. I will start by asking some prompting and fun questions but give them plenty of room to share what’s new with them, draw a picture or tell a joke. My goal is to keep their connection (and the letter) going and remind them that when it is safe, we will again roast marshmallows together and talk about the time Camp Grandma was cancelled.
Over the horizon, ever so faintly, I see a glimmer of hope. There are slightly warmer temperatures in the forecast. More and more people are receiving the magical life-saving vaccine. My grandsons will be returning to their classrooms soon. My granddaughters will have playdates with their friends. Thank you, Amy, for providing some much need inspiration to be creative and create my own silver lining. Or at least my own grandma keepsake of a Pandemic round robin letter with my grandchildren.
Along with several other awards she had received, in December of 1987, Beulah Mae Donald of Mobile, Alabama was named one of Ms. Magazine’s 1987 Women of the Year. I feel extremely sure Mrs. Donald wished there had never been a reason for her to receive those tributes. In honor of Black History Month, meet an extraordinary woman.
In March 21, 1981, Mrs. Donald, a divorced single mother of seven, woke from an unsettling dream around 2:00 a.m. There was no falling back to sleep so she got up and headed to the kitchen. On her way, she passed by the bedroom of her youngest son, Michael Donald. He was not in his bed. She telephoned one of her grown children where Michael had visited earlier in the evening, watching television with his cousins. She was told he left before midnight.
Beulah finished two cups of coffee before moving to her sofa and waited for the sun to come up. At dawn, Michael still wasn’t home. To keep busy, she went outside to rake her small yard. As she worked, a woman walked by and told her “They found a body” and continued walking. Shortly before 7:00 a.m., Beulah received a call. Michael Donald’s body was discovered hanging from a camphor tree. There was a perfectly tied noose with 13 loops around his neck. He had been beaten to death and his throat had been slit three times.
Michael had been alone, walking home, when he was spotted by Klansmen Henry Francis Hays and James (Tiger) Knowles. That week, a jury had been struggling to reach a verdict in the retrial of a black man accused of murdering a white policeman. The killing had occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, but the trial had been moved to Mobile. When the jury failed to reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared for the second time, a local Klansman declared, “If a black man can get away with killing a white man, we ought to be able to get away with killing a black man.” Spurred on by the hateful rhetoric of the United Klans of America, Hays (26 years old) and Tiger (17 years old), grabbed a pistol and a rope and headed out in Henry’s car.
When Hays and Knowles spotted Michael, they ordered him into their car at gunpoint and drove to a secluded area in the woods in the next county. When they stopped, Michael, terrified and confused, tried to escape. They chased him, caught him and beat him with a tree limb more than a hundred times according to trial testimony. When he lay still and was no longer moving, they wrapped the rope around his neck which they used to hang him on that camphor tree across the street from Hay’s house. They raised his body high enough that it would swing. Beulah Donald’s grief for her son, her youngest child, was overwhelming. She could hardly remember identifying his bloody body. She did find the strength to insist on an open casket for her battered son so “the world would know.” She wanted the world to witness the brutality of the assault.
Even though the Mobile police chief believed from the very beginning that the Klansmen were involved, they tried to redirect the evidence to suggest a drug deal gone bad. The police arrested three young men described as “junkie types”, but they were soon released. At this point, the District Attorney’s office invited the Federal Bureau of Investigation to enter the case. Their investigation produced no helpful evidence, and it appeared the killers would go unpunished. Mobile’s black community organized local rallies that eventually drew the attention of Reverend Jesse Jackson who led a protest march in Mobile and demanded answers from the police. Two years after that horrible night in 1981, a second FBI investigation elicited a confession from Knowles, allowing them to convict Tiger Knowles of violating Michael Donald’s civil rights and Henry Hays of murder. Henry Hays received the death sentence and was executed in Alabama’s electric chair on June 6, 1997, Alabama’s first execution since 1913 for white-on-black crime. Knowles who had served as a key witness against the Klan, was sentenced to life in prison. He was released on parole in 2010.
Finally, some justice for her son, but Beulah did not settle for that. She wasn’t looking for money. She wasn’t looking for revenge. She was wise enough to realize that the death of her son didn’t happen in a bubble and wanted the Klan held accountable for the acts of its members.
Early in 1984, attorney Morris Dees, co-founder of the esteemed Southern Poverty Law Center, approached Mrs. Donald about filing a civil suit against members of Unit 900 and the United Klans of America to prove Hays and Knowles were carrying out an organizational policy set by the group’s Imperial Wizard. They filed a wrongful death lawsuit that sought to hold the organization and its members liable for the murder. If they could prove in court that the “theory of agency” applied, the Klan would be held liable for the murder as a corporation is for the detrimental actions of its employees in the service of business.
At the culmination of the civil trial, it took an all-white jury in Mobile only four hours of deliberation before awarding Beulah Mae Donald $7 million. The Klan didn’t have the money and eventually turned over the deed to its only significant asset, the national headquarters building in Tuscaloosa. The building eventually sold for $51, 875, the proceedings going to Donald’s mother. The result of the trial bankrupted the Klan and represented the first time the KKK was held financially responsible for the actions.
Beulah Donald’s is a story that has stuck with me, niggling away. I think about her sitting on the couch waiting for the sun to rise, wondering where her son was. I am also a mother and have worried about my children. But unlike Mrs. Donald, I have never had to worry that my sons would be targeted simply for the color of their skin. I think about her strength, her refusal to back down and how that began to change the options for victims of hate crimes and their families.
And I think about her devotion to her children. She was determined that Michael would not become “just another colored man, as they say, gone on and forgotten.” Beulah Mae passed away in 1988 at the age of 67. She was a hero and a Woman of Consequence.
Yesterday afternoon after I had scheduled this post for today, I received a phone call from my sister. She had seen a promo for the new CNN Original Series THE PEOPLE v THE KLAN, coming in April, 2021 focusing on Mrs. Donald’s fight for justice for her son. If this post piqued your interest, you may want to keep your eye out for the special. I know I’ll be watching.
When I sent Mr. Smith off to work on January 4 after two 4-day holiday weekends in a row, I wondered how I was going to make it through January with no holidays or long weekends. Now here we are, smack in the middle of February!
My granddaughters have been busily preparing to celebrate and have spent time working on their Valentine boxes. This brought back warm memories of my time in first grade and the excitement of taking an empty cereal box to school to decorate for classmates to put their Valentines in.
My grandsons on the other hand were not so interested in making fancy boxes and took reusable grocery bags to collect their greetings. Sam did write out his Valentines, whereas Henry and Eli decided to just throw candy at the other kids and be done with it. Eli explained, “It’s okay, I’m not really a fan of the love thing.” Oh Eli, we’ll remind you of that in ten years.
One of my favorite things about the St. Valentine holiday is that it has grown beyond roses and chocolates. Apparently, we have the fictional character Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation to thank for the creation of “Galentine’s Day”, a day of women celebrating women. Leslie explained, “Every February 13, my ladyfriends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and we just come and kick it, breakfast style. Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas.” With February 13 being unofficially added to the calendar, it is now more a “season” of love than one stressful day where significant others feel considerable pressure to create a perfect experience. Acknowledging that there are many different kinds of love and none of them perfect, The Washington Post offers up this list of romantic movies showing love in all its permutations.
This year more than ever we need an excuse to disrupt the banality of our daily life and a little creativity may be required. COVID-19 has made the possibility of our typical celebrations challenging and unsafe. Like so many, I am missing restaurants and longing to indulge in a long, leisurely meal at our favorite bistro, but alas we are waiting. Out on our walk the other afternoon, we passed our favorite Thai restaurant. The centerpiece on the sweet little front window table is no longer a candle, it is a bottle of hand sanitizer. Nothing says romance quite like that.
Mr. Smith and I rarely dined out on Valentine’s Day even pre-Pandemic, but we still endeavor to make the day pleasing. Today we’ll get out for a long walk and then do some reading. I’m planning to drag every candle I can find into the bathroom and have a lovely candlelit soak with my best bath oil. We’re making pizza for dinner, sharing a bottle of Chianti and watching Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. And we are still each other’s favorite Valentines.
Every year as Valentine’s Day approaches, I embark on finding the perfect setting to create an atmosphere of intimate romance for our table for two. And since love is not something to be celebrated only one day a year, I decided to indulge in some fun this past Saturday.
I have been searching the internet for inspiration and was rewarded most serendipitously! Most of the tablespaces presented for Valentine’s Day focus on the color red and hearts. I wasn’t interested in purchasing “heart” plates and I’m not a huge fan of red, but one place setting of an older pattern from Mikasa caught my eye. It was a little more subtle in its pattern but sadly, the pattern was no longer available. Mr. Smith and I had previously used Replacements, Ltd. when we broke some dinner plates, so I hopped onto their website in hopes they might have some pieces. One click led to another and then – there they were! The sweetest little salad plates covered in script writing and named Love Letter. As I entered my credit card information for the purchase, my dinner theme wrote itself.
Mr. Smith and I collaborated on the menu for Saturday night and agreed to keep it pretty simple. The main attraction would be New York Times Cooking Filet Mignon with Mushrooms and Madeira Wine Sauce accompanied by Wegman’s Potatoes Gratin Rosemary & Thyme (so easy and so yummy), green beans with raspberry clafoutis for dessert. Saturday morning, I made the clafoutis. If you haven’t made one before, I highly recommend giving it a try. This French light and custardy baked dessert is simple and has never disappointed. With our dessert prepared, my meal prep responsibilities were pretty much complete which gave me time to focus on setting the table.
In addition to purchasing the new small plates, I ordered a couple of glass bead chargers from Etsy. I usually try to work with what I have on hand but was really in the mood to add a bit of sparkle. Plus, the chargers can do double duty as platters on a buffet table. Lots of candles, some beautiful spray roses and a little surprise held back to add at the last minute.
With Chris Botti’s album When I Fall in Love adding to the ambiance, Mr. Smith outdid himself in preparing the filets and sauce. The mushrooms, shallots and wine combined into an exquisite sauce for our delicious filets. Mr. Smith’s choice of a tasty Bordeaux was the perfect complement our dinner.
Back to that little surprise I added to our table setting just before we sat down to dinner. Little stacks of handwritten letters tied together with a ribbon. I have saved letters that Mr. Smith has written to me over the years, the oldest ones from the month after we married in 1978 when he went on a camping trip in Canada with his father. All the letters were written before email and text became a way of life, when either he was traveling for work or we were in the middle of a geographic move, a literal timeline of our life together. He had no idea that I had saved them.
After we cleared the dinner plates, I poured us each another glass of wine and sat and sipped while I listened to my husband of 43 years read each and every one aloud to me. The letters are very dear to me. The thought that went into them, the time it took to write them and the journey they took to arrive, sometimes crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I wonder if when I am gone my children will go through my box of treasured memories examining them to get a fuller picture of their parents, or if they will consider them my memories and nothing they need to see.
Either way, I hope that one day they will share with my grandchildren and greatgrandchildren that Mr. Smith wrote me letters that I treasured enough to save for decades. Maybe they will be inspired to write a letter or two of their own.