One of the best things about women friends is that we pass things along–and we always have–recipes, patterns, sunflower seeds, herbs, books, advice. Sometimes poetry.
Before I knew Donna Hopkins, I cruised her blog. One post showed her in a brand-new apron she’d just whipped up, complete with a pocket to slip poetry into. I was enchanted with this notion.
Who doesn’t love aprons? My mother’s aprons were homemade affairs, stitched from feedsack gingham, sometimes fancied up with rickrack on the pocket. Yes, there was always a pocket, handy for clothespins, a few tomatoes plucked from the patch, a letter from her own mother she wanted to re-read when she had a spare minute.
Of course I have a small collection of vintage aprons and wear them sometimes (okay, most barely tie around my waist). When I visit fabric stores, I pick out retro calico for the aprons I’m going to make but never do. Then Donna presented me with my very own Poetry Apron, in colors she knows I love, complete with two poems in the pocket.
I wanted to show off my new made-just-for-me apron. I wanted to be photographed in that cute farm-girl style, standing on a chair, fists on hips, in a green meadow against cloud-puffed blue sky, like Donna is in the picture above. But with the drought our yard looks like crushed Fritos and nobody had the energy to go out in 105 degree heat to look for a meadow that didn’t have dead stalks fainting under a scoured sun-boiled sky.
So I posed in the library of our house. First I had to convince my husband to take a picture of me with my head cut off, deliberately. (Once he got the hang of it, he seemed to enjoy lopping off my head in photographs.)
Here are some lines from one of the poems Donna put in the pocket:
Home isn’t just a place or a location. It’s a feeling, a memory, a sound, sometimes a smell . . . It can be . . . that farmstead you long for. When you’re sick for the farmgirl life you’ve never led, hang laundry outside and the scent will take you there. Crochet at the end of the day and simple becomes your sanctuary . . . from Mary Jane’s Farm Journal.
How did my friend know I always used to draw farms when I was in third grade? How did she know I’d sketch a chicken coop, cow barn, pig pen, tractor shed, and duck pond? That I’d render three-board fences curving up and down hills and add a farmhouse with a big porch? Nose close to the paper, I’d follow the pencil as it created my place of comfort.
My new apron ties me to home and family–and friends. I can slip letters in that pocket, or scribblings of poetry, or photographs. Maybe even sunflower seeds to nibble . . . with extra to pass along.
Photos of Donna Hopkins by Patchwork Photos.
The Perfect Purse (see Part I) had to meet stiff requirements: wide straps with at least a ten-inch drop; pockets galore; big enough to hold a wallet, two pairs of glasses, composition notebook, library book, and all my neuroses; be made of durable lightweight material; and, if the stars lined up, would match my eyes. On my search, I measured and hefted and considered purses as if I were packing for a twenty-year flight to Mars.
Then I had an inspiration: go shopping in my closet! The Handbag Hall of Fame resides in my sitting room closet. Retired Vera Bradleys, last fall’s Perfect Purse which turned out to be, oddly enough, an Aigner (now I say, “Ai-gnay”) yet couldn’t hold its own in the Perfect category more than a month, and, underneath a bunch of scrap totes, a Lug tote bag. Lug bags are from Canada and come in several styles and colors.
I first saw them in our here-today-gone-tomorrow Joseph-Beth bookstore, a wonderful shop that had bleached blond floors, quiet reading nooks, eclectic titles you actually wanted to read, and non-electronic side items, so of course the store went under. But before it did, I bought a Lug tote that I used as a purse and carry-on when I flew to an SCBWI conference. Then I stuffed the bag in my closet and forgot about it.
Tugging it out again, I wondered what new styles Lug was offering. I flew back to my computer. After days of deliberation (the Paris Peace talks were decided quicker), I chose the Mini Puddle Jumper in grass green (more of an olive green to match my eyes). It was due to arrive in time for my birthday.
Days passed. No bag. Every time the UPS man trundled past, I hurled myself out on my porch. I checked the status every hour. Still hadn’t shipped. Did Canada evacuate and not tell me? Finally I emailed and asked when my purse was going to ship. The Lug bag people had tea and crumpets and read The Tattler from front to back, took a nap, then answered me. My order had been canceled.
Canceled? I didn’t cancel it! I’d been foaming at the mouth waiting for my purse. Well, there was a mix-up of some sort, they told me. I re-ordered the bag, so worried they would run out of grass green Mini Puddle Jumpers my fingers jittered on the keyboard.
By the time perfect bag arrived on my front porch, I was ready for a body bag. I’d worn myself to a frazzle, stopped writing, eaten nothing but Krispy Kreme birthday cake donuts (strawberry and vanilla), had trouble sleeping, and let my house plants die.
Of course anticipation (in this case, swelled by lunacy) always exceeds the actual event. Is this The Perfect Purse? No. No bag could possibly gather up my tattered life, discard the pieces I don’t want to deal with, and pat me on the hand.
The perfection of the Aigner purse I bought as a teenager lasted about twelve minutes. Nothing could have saved me from the humiliation and misery that marked my eighth grade year, certainly not a pocketbook. So why should I expect so much from a handbag now? Not surprisingly when I told my sister about my descent into purse madness, she admitted to having the same problem. I don’t think we’re alone.
It may be that we buy into the lie of once we get our ducks in a row, everything will be okay. Once our house is perfectly clean and our yard is perfectly groomed and we are at our perfect weight and our cuticles are pushed back, then we can concentrate on what we really want to do. In my case it’s having my creative work flow steadily, not like the annoying drip of a leaky faucet.
The Perfect Purse (looks remarkably like The Big Green Pocketbook, doesn’t it?) is a pretty good fit. It remains to be seen if this bag will satisfy my pocketbook needs for more than a month. I hope when restlessness strikes again, I’ll realize there is no such thing as “getting back to normal.” Life by nature is messy, sometimes messier than others.
Now if I can just find the Perfect Wallet, my life will truly be on track.
Lately my life has been a junkyard falling down the basement stairs: a lot of events to go to, a lot of time on backed-up interstates, feeling overwhelmed and hot as hell besides. The week before I was to leave for Roanoke, do you think I was packing? No. I was out looking for The Perfect Purse.
The purse I was carrying wasn’t cutting it. It’s a Vera Bradley, nice and light-weight, but it had been getting on my nerves something fierce. It wasn’t working for me, or to be more accurate, it couldn’t fix what was wrong with my life.
So I tramped through Spotsylvania Mall and Towne Centre (the name has been recently gentrified to make us sound like Tyson’s Corner which we are not by a long chalk), haunting Macy’s, Belk, Saxon’s, Penney’s. Then I drove to Kohl’s, Marshall’s, Ross’s, Target, and even Wal-Mart. I passed through these stores not just once, but every day, looking at the same purses and rejecting them for the same reasons.
I was on a mission: find The Perfect Purse. It’s out there, I told myself as I plodded along steamy pavement. And when I found it, I would organize all the messy parts of my life in zippered and buttoned compartments.
But none of the purses were right. I didn’t want a leather purse—too heavy. Don’t even mention Coach. Vera Bradley’s cloth purses have pockets, but the patterns are so busy. Most purses were too squashy—they look good on your shoulder, but when you set them down they pluff up like a rotted toadstool. I didn’t want a boxy commuter bag, either.
When I exhausted all the stores within a fifty-mile radius of Fredericksburg, I went online, scouring sites like Zappos and ebags for hours until the whites of my eyes resembled a Metro map.
Searching for The Perfect Purse is nothing new for me. I can trace the origin of this particular obsession back to the day my mother gave me her old green pocketbook. That green wool purse held the treasures of my five-year-old life until I left it on the Trailways bus. The driver returned my purse to me later, but I had already suffered the transitory nature of The Perfect Purse. You can have it and then you can lose it.
When I was seven, the insurance man came to our house. Official-types rarely visited—they even used the front door which always stuck fast—and strangers somehow turned me into Nell. I scuttled around in the background, yeeping if anyone spoke to me. The insurance man politely pretended not to notice as he took out a leatherette envelope that held our papers. Suddenly I was stuck to his side like a burr, struck with lust.
I panted after that envelope. It was perfect for my stories, and it closed with such a satisfying snap. My stories would be safe in that envelope and they’d look better, too, not all ring-holey and dog-eared. I hovered over the coffee table, hoping he’d leave that wonderful thing behind, or even give it to me, but he didn’t. In fact, he left in a hurry, casting nervous glances down the hall as if looking for my cage.
My next episode with The Perfect Purse occurred when I was thirteen and was unable to start eighth grade, or draw another breath, without an Aigner purse. Aigner (we pronounced it, “Ag-ner”) bags were all the go, along with Bass Weejuns, circle pins, and heather-toned twin sets. With a genuine Aigner purse–not a plastic facsimile from Woolworth’s–I could hold my head up at Robert Frost Intermediate. But I had to earn it.
My mother was participating in a group yard sale. Back in the 60s, you didn’t throw yard sales every five minutes. We set up cloth-covered tables, none of this business of flinging boxes on the ground for people to paw through. I had my own refreshment stand. I sold lemonade and brownies which my mother had made but I told everyone I had baked with my own two little hands so they’d be charmed. I sold the brownies for ten cents a square or two for a quarter. No one questioned my sign, but no one bought two brownies for a quarter, either.
I earned $12.50 and bought my Aigner purse at Peebles. With The Perfect Purse firmly hooked over my arm I could die happy.
Too bad that feeling didn’t last or I wouldn’t have spent the last few weeks shuffling along sizzling asphalt like someone lost in the Sahara.
To be continued…
Somebody Up There is throwing a lot of challenges at me this summer. None of my bookstore signings have been on a normal day. I’ve battled derechoes, 117 degree heat, conflicting events that have sucked customers away as if into a black hole, and painful underwear.
On our way to the Fountain Bookstore in Richmond this past Saturday, we ran into a storm. Thunder rumbled and rain pelted the city. We dashed into City Dogs for lunch, but since I had a nasty little stomach bug, I watched my husband eat while I sipped water.
The storm, Obama’s visit in another part of Richmond, and a softball tournament competed with my event. But . . .
Some wonderful people came, after all. My good friend and photographer Donna Hopkins skipped on down from Fredericksburg, with her husband and son. Donna took most of the photos on this post and I’m grateful. That’s very cute acrylic purse is hers–a thrift shop find–that she displays her photos in.
Later my sister Patricia and her husband came down from the West End. And, surprising me to pieces, my cousin Tom and his wife and daughter drove across the river from Midlothian. We had ourselves a little tiny family reunion right in the bookstore.
Not every signing will have mobs of people clamoring for your book. But that’s okay, because the people who do show up more than make up for huge sales.
Thank you, Donna, for taking pictures!
Hey, y’all! I’ll be signing Rebel and Iva at the Fountain Bookstore, tomorrow starting at 2:00 p.m. The Fountain Bookstore is famous in Richmond, located at 1312 East Cary Street, in historic Shockoe Slip.
C’mon down (it won’t be so hot!) and have a bite at City Dogs, or, if you’re flush, the Tobacco Warehouse, and shop at the cool antique stores and boutiques.
The next morning, the day of my book launch party, we all got up to downed trees and no power. Which meant no groceries, gas, traffic lights, restaurants, ice, or air conditioning. Buzzards waited patiently in the tree across from the library. Yep, it was Death Valley in the Roanoke Valley.
We decided to move the party from the Hollins Room in the library to the basement of the student services building, which was semi-cool, or at least not boiling, and had a few arrow-slit windows so we wouldn’t bump into each other like people in an earthquake.
Before the party, I spent time with Tracey and Josh Adams, my agents, and their daughters. We ate at K&W Cafeteria, barely open and thronged with the starving hordes of Roanoke. Here’s what Tracey’s youngest daughter chose, all white food like Rudy!
And this is what her oldest daughter picked. Don’t you love the way her food color coordinated with the Rebel book cover?
After lunch, we went to the campus. I changed, and the girls rode in the “Buzzard truck” (after my vanity plate and not the ones waiting for us to keel over) to the party.
The place was hopping! This is the beautiful cake. I’ve never had a Virginia cake before! Uncertain is marked on it, sure as anything. Certain little girls had to have certain flowers on different corners of the cake.
There was a big bunch of Queen Anne’s lace in food coloring and preacher cookies, inspired by Iva. Tina Hanlon made a Cracker Volcano from Rebel.
By the time I did my reading, though, some of us were starting to wilt. No a/c was tolerable if you did nothing more taxing than circulate your blood.
Bambi Lovering, pageant winner and expert beauty consultant: Didn’t I tell you how to stay cool and fresh and dainty? I sent you a special Book Launch Party Beauty Tip newsletter on that very subject for that fake party you had a week ago. I brought copies to the real party! It wasn’t my fault you were a sweaty mess! Read this!
Me: Even if I’d rolled myself in cornmeal like a catfish, I wouldn’t have been any drier.
Bambi: I saw you holding your drink to your face to cool off. So unladylike.
Me: I didn’t care if I looked like Atilla the Hun. Amanda’s husband Tony heroically brought us ice from somewhere in that sizzling city. We’re all still grateful.
Bambi: I bet he stole those ice cubes from people with bad fevers at the hospital.
Me: Whatever. All in all, it was a very Iva and Rebel party: elaborate plans that sort of fell apart, an event we can all dine on for years to come.
Bambi: That dress is all wrong for your coloring. And you shouldn’t squint in the sunlight, you’ll get worse crow’s feet than you already have. Next time you throw a book launch party, hire me for your party planner. Everything will be perfect.
Me: You’ll hold back derechoes and keep the power from going out?
Bambi: In a hot second. Here’s my card. Call me.
I don’t know how it happened. I was never meant to be 60!
Cake from Wegman’s (chocolate, natch). My husband ordered icing to match our breakfast nook. That’s a tiny Mr. Peanut charm on top.
I snagged these vintage favor baskets a while ago.
Flowers from my husband. The 1952 calendar holds a picture of my mother, the day she brought me home from the hospital. She looks like she just borrowed that baby!
I left for Roanoke early that Friday morning, fat, dumb, and happy. It was hot. Really hot. People think it’s cooler in the mountains but Roanoke is closer to the sun. Truthfully, heat gets trapped between the Alleghenies and Blue Ridge Mountains and just sits there.
For my Margaret Wise Brown lecture, I wore a long dress I’d gotten at Goodwill ages ago. I called the color “Margaret Wise Brown blue” to match the poster. The dress is pretty, but I couldn’t have been hotter if it was lined in fur. And I thought I’d need that shrug in case it got chilly!
On my way to meet Amanda Cockrell and others for dinner before the lecture, I glanced over at the famous Hollins rock, painted so many times it’s probably no bigger than a pebble. I nearly wrecked my truck when I saw my name on it! And Iva! At dinner I learned that my former students Beth Feagan, Tracey Chesler, and Megan Archer painted the rock in 103 degree heat that afternoon. Crazy, crazy girls . . . love them to pieces!
After dinner we all went into the lecture hall, still unaware of what was barreling towards us at 95 mph. Amanda Cockrell and her husband helped set up my PowerPoint. Amanda is a blur because she does so many things: children’s literature program director, faculty member, pug foster mother, and YA writer.
I knew Tracey Chesler was on campus (she graduated last year) but it was such a thrill to see her walk in the lecture hall carrying an armload of roses for me. Beth Feagan handed me sunflowers. I felt like Miss America. I gave my talk, with slides, and moved out to the reception area to sign books. And then the lights went out . . .
Heaven Honeycutt: I could have told you what was going to happen! But nooooo, nobody ever listens to me. You-all think my double-first cousin Iva is all that and a box of vanilla wafers, but you’re wrong!
Me: Heaven, Iva is the discoverer. She knows about weather and stuff.
Heaven: Really? She missed this storm by a country mile! And you know why? Because Iva’s always looking at the ground, like she’s gonna find a diamond ring or something. I look up at the sky. I can tell time by the position of the sun to the minute. Also, I look at the sky because I have connections Up There.
Me: We all know you want to be a Sunday school teacher and you pray a lot.
Heaven: It pays to keep the Line open. Who do you think put in a good word so the power didn’t go off until your talk was over? My face should be on that rock, not Iva’s!
Me: Next time, would you ask if the power could stay on until I finish signing books? And can find my way into the ladies’ room?
Heaven: Only if you make me and Yard Sale the star of your next book.
Tracey, Beth, and I spent a long scary time in the basement of building where the lecture was held, watching the windows breathe. I hoped the falling branches wouldn’t hit my newish truck, parked not ten feet away. And I wished I hadn’t worn such a hot dress.
Continued in Part II
Today . . . lunch with my friend Donna who, poor soul, is doing my new publicity photo. I can hear my mother now, “You can’t make a peach out of a pear.” She used to tell me this when I was a teenager and complained I didn’t look like Colleen Corby in Seventeen. Thank heavens Donna has Photoshop!
Tomorrow . . . signing at Hooray for Books, 1555 King Street, in Alexandria. Yes, it’s supposed to five billion degrees. However, they have a/c! The signing starts at 3:00 p.m. C’mon by if you’re in the area. Just pretend it’s snowing!
This is the husband who bought the grill on July 4 for a holiday cookout. It has one million pieces and very poor directions. Still, he is hopeful.
This is the eating nook about to be decorated by the wife in anticipation of the hotdogs to be cooked on the grill the husband was building.
This is the banner made by the wonderful photographer Donna Hopkins that the wife hung in the window of the eating nook.
This is a better picture of that banner.
This is the vintage chalkware fruit the wife bought on her way home from her trip to Roanoke which she is showing off because it’s red and she is all over red this summer.
This is the saltwater taffy about to be eaten by the wife of the man building the grill even though she gained two pounds during her trip.
This is the grilled-looking hotdog cooked on the stove (and burned) by the wife who stuffed herself with saltwater taffy. This is not the meal the wife had planned to fix but the grill didn’t get built and she was too freaking hot to give a rip.
This is the cake baked by Wegman’s and not by the wife of the man who didn’t finish building the grill but it tasted just as good. Maybe even better.
[Note: Posts on the trip, the storm, the other storm, the book launch party, the talks–coming!]