I’ve been doing this weekly fiction thing (refreshingly SHORT posts in comparison to what I typically write) and each time I provide back links for anyone who wants to catch up on what came before.
This is getting to be more than a couple of links…so I thought I’d create a place where I could keep everything together. I’ll just update it each time I write more.
10/5/09: The Wrong Shoes
Ivy hated her shoes.
They were navy blue with a delicate heel. The slightly pointed toes were much like those of the shoes her mother wore to work, and there were two tiny straps on each that fastened with pearly blue buttons. They looked like something from another time. Old fashioned.
The minute she saw the shoes she wanted them. She loved them. And they were navy which was an approved color for her school uniform.
She could tell her mother was pleased with the selection. The approving smile seemed to say, “what taste my nine year old has.”
And that should have been the first warning sign. Because her mother’s idea of good taste didn’t quite fit in with the styles and trends rocketing in and out of her soon to be fourth grade classroom.
But on a hot August day, when memories of the previous semester were faded and limply tucked away between the leaves of old schoolbooks, Ivy forgot herself. Full of anticipation for the new season and its accompanying wools and plaids, she forgot that her love of all things “antique” was not shared by the other girls her age.
They went to soccer practice and sometimes ran faster than the boys. They loved feeling the wind in their hair. They were effortless and unstudied. Their braids were perfunctory while Ivy’s were painstaking.
They wore the sensible brown shoes their mothers purchased. The ones held up to them for approval while they sighed and wilted with boredom. Then they scuffed them on the playground without a second thought. They let the laces fray and the pennies tarnish. Shoes were admired for their wear, their down at the heels proof of a life well lived.
“Do you love them?” her mother had asked as the sales woman rustled tissue paper and searched for a pen. This was the scripted question preceding all transactions related to Ivy’s wardrobe. By the time this juncture of the shopping trip had been reached, only the affirmative was expected.
“Yes,” Ivy said, even as she could feel the boulder of self doubt starting to roll. It’s descent truly picking up speed when it was too late to turn back. That initial shifting of the earth beneath her feet should have sent her back to the shelves and the safety of shiny brown loafers and sturdy boat shoes.
But she told the truth, sealing her fate for yet another year of expressing that so little valued good taste.
And now on the playground watching the blur of effortless grace whirl around her, Ivy felt her folly keenly. She now hated her shoes. The art of ancient foot binding sounded no less painful than this bitter regret (and foot binding technically was old fashioned). She was her own worst enemy and was now thoroughly disgusted with herself.
When Melissa approached, her already scuffed loafers and slouchy hand me down sweater just rubbed salt in the self pitying wound. Oh to have Melissa’s older sisters…to have them make these clothing decisions in advance. The tall girl’s lanky angles and sloping gait were a study in confidence and the knowledge that others had already paved her way.
Right then, Ivy would have given anything for holey Weejuns.
At close range though, Melissa’s grey eyes wistfully hinted at a contradictory green. She looked down at Ivy’s feet and mournfully said, “I like your shoes.”
10/9/09: Vivian’s Roots
Do whatever you want Vivi, but for god’s sake don’t be boring.
Even as a young girl, Vivi found this common command of her mother’s to be the height of irony. Between all of the lounging and the cocktail sipping, Mama was quite possibly the most boring woman on earth.
But Ethel Clinton nee Chambers was also the most beautiful woman on earth – or close to it – so she didn’t think she owed the world too much else. At least that’s the way Vivi saw it. And Vivi got to see quite a bit of Ethel during the day, because in spite of “the child’s tedious questions” and “unnecessary theatrics,” Ethel didn’t like to be alone.
So young Vivi spent her days watching Mama wilt on couches while putting on airs that only a Southern woman who came from money could claim. Which, in fact she could not, since she was neither. At least that’s the way Vivi’s Daddy saw it, and said as much.
Ethel took great umbrage to this since she most certainly did consider herself to be Southern woman. But in spite of her Virginian birthright, her own daddy was a Yankee – and a middle class one at that – and it was only her dark eyed glare that kept people from reminding her of that fact.
Vivi didn’t take after her Mama in any way. She was a Clinton through and through, and her blue eyes twinkled more often than they narrowed at people. She was far more observant than Mama and learned early on that you get much further in life by laughing than glaring.
And she laughed. A lot.
She laughed at Mama when she went off on one of her tirades about…anything. She laughed at her sisters when they told her she couldn’t climb trees like the boys. She laughed at everyone who lamented over her not inheriting her mother’s beauty like her sisters did.
She especially laughed at that. Because she was plenty beautiful on her own.
In fact she didn’t give two hoots about having a Yankee Granddaddy since she fully intended to be a Yankee herself one day. As soon as she was old enough, she was taking her red curls and long legs to New York. She was going to be a fashion model.
The rest of the women in her family could faint on couches all they liked. She was going to be someone. Not just someone’s beautiful wife.
Now at age 59, Vivi had to laugh again. Because she never did move to New York. She never did become a real “Yankee” as they used to call them. And she did in fact become someone’s beautiful wife. But she wouldn’t change a thing, because whatever she did or didn’t do, she made sure it was on her own terms.
Now, looking at her perennially red curls in the mirror, she thought two things. First, that it was time for a touch up. Her roots were showing. Mental note: must call Claude for an appointment. And second, that Mama did teach her something very valuable all those years ago. Vivi may have been many things in life – but she was never boring.
10/16/09: Just a Little More Vivi
Sam often claimed that this was what he loved best about her. He said that she always made everything fun, and that he liked a girl with moxie.
Vivi liked a man with a good vocabulary. And she loved it when her husband would gift her with one of these gems.
She delighted in hearing what others thought of her. She lived so very much in her own skin that it was hard to see herself from the outside. Some might consider her unquenchable thirst for definition to be a sign of extreme narcissism, and they wouldn’t be half wrong about that… But truly, Vivi just liked to feel special. And Sam made her feel like the most fascinating woman in the room.
So she admired her sparkling “moxie” in the light and then tucked it carefully away with the rainbow strands of words that made her Sam’s Vivi. While she had many sides to show the world – and she often boasted that she didn’t have a bad side – this was her favorite. It was the one that she most wished to see. To see herself through Sam’s eyes was precious and private, and one of the things that she missed most now that he was gone.
10/30/09: The Role of a Lifetime
Losing Sam at such a young age was one of Vivi’s greatest regrets. And it was the only one that ever made her feel bitter. To her way of thinking, if you didn’t have any regrets in life, then you didn’t expect very much for yourself. And Vivi’s child bride expectations could have eclipsed the grandeur of Notre Dame at sunset…of the New York skyline at twilight…of any helicopter ride through Hawaiian rainbows. She had see all of those things. With Sam. And not one of them compared to her hopes for their future.
At the very least, she had expected that they’d grow old together.
When your husband drops dead of a brain aneurysm at age 49, you can’t help but have a few bitter moments of regret.
But Vivi chose not to linger over long in those melancholy moments. As much as she would have given anything to rewrite that one piece of history, she was far too committed to her own life to live for Sam’s death. Limbo wasn’t a place for the likes of her.
She never did anything halfway and she gave grief her full attention when it was new. She stayed in bed for weeks on end and planned to follow Sam within the year. Mama of course rolled her eyes and said “Vivi honey – do you have any idea when first act will be over? As soon as it’s intermission, I’m going to need a drink.”
While this would have sounded shocking to anyone outside of the family, it always made Vivi throw back her head and laugh. A deep belly laugh. Another off kilter response that bonded them as mother and daughter…I’ll see your insensitive quip and raise you an inappropriate peal of laughter.
Ethel was never known for her brains, but it was just this kind of comment that hinted at her considerably sharp wit. And not for the first time, Vivi wondered what Mama would have been like in life if she actually cared enough to participate.
Fourteen years ago, Vivi’s surprised laugh was dry and brief, and it flew into a thousand papery wisps as soon as it left her throat. There is no music in bitter laughter.
But it did wake her up a little. And she realized that no amount of overly dramatic posturing would make the terrible truth any less real. She couldn’t play the tragic heroine or victim because this wasn’t the stage. There was no audience save herself, and she preferred something a bit lighter.
She who was always said to be so full of life then made the predictable choice to go on living. It wasn’t what she had wanted or expected for herself. But Mama was right – the show must go on. So she got out of bed, made the old bitch a drink and started considering her next twist of plot.
11/6/09: Fine Feathers
Of course it wasn’t easy – but it was a start. And then each day, getting out of bed sounded just a little bit better. The world came back into focus and even the sun shone brighter.
Though the latter may have had something to do with finally opening the shades…
Emerging from that cocoon of blankets, bourbon and tears made her feel like a brand new butterfly in truth. A little fragile, but ready to test her new wings. And while corny metaphors typically made her snort in derision, this was the exact image she held in her mind as she walked out her door for the first time since the funeral.
Vivi put a great deal of thought into her choice of clothing that day. She wondered whether she was expected to wear black or gray. Were somber colors still considered more appropriate for a recent widow?
Well screw that. Black was for evening and gray was for secretaries. She selected her favorite teal silk. Paired with matching heels and the pearl cluster earrings Sam gave her for their last anniversary, she was ready. But ready for what?
Having not really considered where she was going, Vivi paused in the foyer to think about that. And a good thing too. The natural light streaming through the front windows had thrown the dark circles under her eyes into high relief. The hall mirror showed her a shadow version of herself that was rather disconcerting.
“Well,” she thought, “that’s what God made sunglasses for.”
She decided to go to the National Gallery. Then maybe she would have a cup of coffee by the fountain.
The idea of being with people, but not having to talk to them was very appealing to Vivi. Regardless of how fabulous she looked, there was still the very real possibility that she might burst into tears, and that just wouldn’t do. She would ruin her makeup and possibly soil her lovely clothing if she cried.
Vanity aside, it was these fine feathers that were holding her together. The thinnest of barriers, her looks were no more than an egg shell. Just one crack, and she might truly fall apart.
She wasn’t ready for conversation. She wanted to be seen, and that was all. To announce her presence to the world at large. That she was back.
And who would have thought that any comeback Vivi Rogers made would be so quiet. Certainly not her. But that’s what it was. A quiet day of walking through galleries and people watching on the Mall.
It was just like any other day. Except Sam wasn’t with her…or there when she got home…or expected to walk through the door in time for dinner…or just on a business trip… That was her favorite one – to pretend he was on a business trip.
These little fancies – pretending that he wasn’t really gone – never did go away for Vivi. It was an indulgence that she refused to give up. Maybe someday. But not yet, and certainly not then.
Back then she had an excuse though. She had to start small. Just leave the house. Think about what to wear. Thinking about how to live the rest of her life without Sam would have to wait until later when she was stronger.
So every day her first thought was about what to wear. Frivolous or not – it was an unconscious morning ritual. Some people had coffee…she had her closet. And strangely enough, clothes became so much more than the beginning of her daily routine. They started her career. They introduced her to some of her most treasured friends. And because of this, the first thing she noticed about anyone was what they were wearing.
She liked to tell this to people so she could see their reactions. Some just chalked it up to her being shallow. Others took it personally. But everyone thought about it.
Ellen was horrified. Nancy laughed. David looked smug. And Ivy had to smile.
11/13/09: What Ivy Was Wearing
And thinking of what Ivy looked like when they met always made Vivi smile.
The St. Sebastian was a quiet building for all of its 36 personal residences, and it was rare that anyone ever lingered in the lobby. So arriving home from her weekly champagne brunch with David that chilly October day, the last thing she expected to find was a little girl shivering in a bathing suit.
12/11/09: Where We Last Left Off with Vivi…
The first thought that flew into Vivi’s mind was irritation with David for being somewhere else. Considering the fact that he also lived in the St. Sebastian, he could have been there to share her surprise and possibly take charge of the situation. Because it was obvious that this was going to be complicated, and she was so looking forward to taking a nap.
Well, there was nothing to be done about it. Little girls couldn’t be left alone in lobbies. A fact that raised the very serious question of why she was left alone there, in a bathing suit no less.
Either way, the condo board would not be pleased by water stains on the newly upholstered settee. As the only adult resident present, she would abosolutely be held accountable and that snippy Mrs. Kramer would never let her hear the end of it.
Trying to ignore the champagne headache that was begining to pound she asked, “sweetie what are you doing down here and why are you dressed for the beach?”
The poor little thing looked mortified and practically whispered her answer involving a mix up about the time that she would be dropped off from a birthday party at Wilson High School’s indoor pool, a bag of clothes that she left in the trunk of a car driven by a highly distracted mother who had to drop off four other little girls, and a set of keys that had gone missing several days prior.
Vivi had a number of follow up questions, as she usually did when it came to matters of personal drama. But some quick thinking brought her to the conclusion that it would most efficient for them to go directly to her apartment where she could find something for the girl to wear and take two much needed aspirin. This was exactly why Vivi would always be a good person to have around during a crisis.
1/18/10: This One’s Kind of a Bridge
As they walked from the elevator to Vivi’s door, they discovered something unexpected. They shared a balcony.
Vivi lived in apartment 5B on the West side of the St. Sebastian. And as it turned out, Ivy and her family lived in 5B on the East side.
The St. Sebastian was split down the middle with a separate entrance on either side of the most hideous piece of modern art that Vivi had ever seen. Honestly, if she had been a resident at the time that particular piece of garbage was installed, it would have been the first and only occasion that she ever gave two hoots about what that bunch of wind bags on the board had to say. But ugliness aside, it hid the mailboxes and served to dissect the building into an East and West side, each with their own elevators.
Apparently, the girl had her own quick mind and practical streak, because the first clear statement she articulated was that if they shared apartment numbers, then they must share living room balconies.
Each apartment had two balconies. One tiny one off of the master bedroom, and one larger one off of the living room. And the living room balconies were stationed at the center of the back wall of the building. Since the East and West sides of the St. Sebastian were mirror images, the balconies were connected and only separated by a thin plaster wall. There was even a slim space between the wall and the railing where one could slip though. While not privacy friendly, it was necessary for the East side residents to be able to reach the fire escape stairs attached to the West side balconies.
Vivi had no idea if Ivy knew anything about why their balconies were connected, but she had obviously noticed that they were. And this led her to the conclusion that she could probably just walk over to her own balcony door and enter her apartment.
Unfortunately, it seemed that her parents were far more responsible than she expected, and the balcony door was locked.
Vivi would be lying if she claimed that she wasn’t disappointed. She wanted nothing more than to curl up on her couch for a cat nap. It was part of the Sunday ritual. Brunch with champagne and then a nap.
And then a phone call from Mama in which she would be required to explain yet again why she had forsaken her God, because she would only be truly at peace with her late husband’s death if she started going to church again and stopped wasting time with those fancy boys who were an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. But that was neither here nor there. Champagne and naps were a luxury to be enjoyed. And Mama’s lectures were just a reality that Vivi learned to tune out long ago.
Who knew what Mama would make of this. She was not exactly known for her rapport with young girls. In fact she would probably do anything to get the child off her hands. Possibly knocking on other neighbors’ doors or perhaps calling Child Protective Services.
But Vivi wasn’t Mama. Regardless of her decision to skip the having kids part of her marriage, she truly did love children.
1/22/10: A Much Needed Nap
In fact, Sam was shocked when she agreed that everything seemed pretty perfect as it was. He saw how she doted on her nieces and nephews and worried that she would want her own house full of children to boss around (that last part being a direct quote from him of course).
At the end of the day though, Vivi was just too in love with her husband to share him. And she was both honest enough and conceited enough to admit this without a twinge of shame. She couldn’t be bothered with anyone else’s notions about children bringing more love to a marriage or the fact that only a very immature person would consider “sharing” to be a problem (that last part being a direct quote from Mama of course, the old busybody).
But Vivi was a realist as well as a younger sister, and she saw exactly what children brought to a marriage. And no matter how wonderful and magical they were, they did in fact take away from the parts that she liked best.
She liked waking up on the weekend and knowing that she could snuggle up to her husband’s warm body for another hour’s sleep. She liked lingering over breakfast and the morning paper, and then giving him her undivided attention as he told her what he thought about what was going on in the world. And she liked having his undivided attention while she told him that she couldn’t agree more – or explained why he couldn’t be more wrong. She liked dressing up for him and going out to wonderful restaurants. She liked going away for the weekend on a whim. And she liked knowing that she was the center of his universe – because from the first moment she laid eyes on him, he was the center of hers.
Selfish or not, she didn’t want to share their life with anyone else. And if that meant never being a mother, it was a price she was willing to pay. A price taxed with sidelong looks and whispered aspersions – but still worth it to her.
As far as she was concerned, her ostensibly “concerned” friends and family could go stuff it. She would live her life any way she wanted to. And she wanted to live with only Sam.
So no children. And now he was gone.
But she knew in her heart that she made the right decision all those years ago, and would say as much to anyone who ever implied otherwise. They may not have had a lifetime together – but she wouldn’t trade what they did have for an army of children to keep her company now.
Vivi would never be at a loss for company. Frankly – she was just too much fun. And her old friends and new admirers made frequent visits to get their fix – one of the reasons why she always kept the refrigerator stocked with treats.
So her new little friend was quickly tucked into a terry cloth robe and under a cashmere throw, then plied with a plate of petit fours and a steaming cup of hot cocoa. All of which sounded like heaven to the hostess, who joined Ivy on the couch with her own blanket and sweets.
Ivy claimed that her mother would definitely be home to make dinner, so she would try knocking on the balcony door again at five o’clock.
Since they had an hour to kill, Vivi looked for something they could both enjoy on television. The headache made cartoons (which she secretly enjoyed from time to time) impossible, but the afternoon movie just happened to be The Wizard of Oz. This appealed to both parties, and minutes after Glinda gave Dorothy her mission, the two exhausted young and less young ladies fell fast asleep.
2/2/10: Introducing Ellen
In 1980, three important things happened to Ellen Chapin. She turned 35, moved to Washington DC and decided that her macrobiotic diet just wasn’t going to work out.
While it had been a long time since she felt particularly young, there was something about 35 that sounded decidedly old. So six months before her birthday, Ellen stood in front of her mirror and made a rather painful assessment of the state of affairs.
She wasn’t overweight, but after the birth of two children and several years of eating cookies out of the box in grocery store parking lots, she wasn’t exactly slim either. Her mother always claimed that extra weight aged you by ten years. So according to this theory, she looked about 44.
Carl always claimed that he liked her shape. That he preferred soft and womanly to muscular and masculine. But Ellen would have settled for something in between. Something less matronly. Maybe firm and curvy? Maybe just less flabby…
So the first thing she put on her to do list was “change eating habits.” Nancy suggested exercise, asserting that the endorphins she’d experience while running would give her “twice as much energy for chasing after the kids.” But after polite murmurs about good ideas and definitely thinking about it, Ellen promptly dismissed the idea. With the exception of years of dancing in her youth and a few failed attempts to attend a local Jazzercise class, Ellen did not exercise.
What she did do was read. So a trip to the bookstore was made and the answer to all of her problems was procured. Or at least, that’s what the book claimed to be able to do. It proposed that by changing her diet to include only “clean” foods, she would look better and feel better. And better was one goal to which Ellen felt she could confidently aspire.
2/12/10: Fatalism with a Feel Good Ending
The concept was very simple – and she could even satisfy Carl at meals by adding a sauce or some meat to his plate. But the big problem was that she kind of hated it. Sure, those 20 pounds she lost were a testament to the diet’s effectiveness – but Ellen missed butter. And white flour. And sugar. And especially all three combined.
So about a month after their move to DC, she threw in the towel and booked a table at Nora’s. And she ate every piece of bread in the basket.
Well, at least it was organic…
The move from their New York suburb, while exciting, was incredibly stressful. And as a lifelong stress eater, Ellen felt the pinch. But after maintaining that level of discipline for so long, she also felt pretty accomplished. So her inability to continue seemed less like a failure than an unexpected breakthrough. In fact, as far as her previous diet history went – it was a triumph. But one that she couldn’t reasonably continue. Even the most daring of sky divers have to come back to earth.
Shortly after the end of her food exile, she found herself in need of a new means of self actualization. And that’s when discovered Yes! Bookstore and Color Magic.
2/19/10: A Touch of Yellow
Color had been a driving force in Ellen’s life for as long as she could remember. As a little girl, she had several favorite colors and found herself completely flummoxed when asked to declare only one.
What’s your favorite color? wasn’t just an innocent attempt at conversation from a well meaning grownup. To Ellen, it presented a staggering conundrum.
How could she say “yellow,” when it was specifically pale yellow that made her feel light inside? Especially when pale yellow was really best experienced when paired with various shades of blue, ranging from a delicate powder to a punchier robin’s egg. And on top of that, she liked different combinations for different purposes. The brighter blues were definitely better choices for clothing (pastels did nothing for her complexion), but for interiors, she preferred less saturated shades. All of which was nearly impossible to convey since she experienced these preferences as feelings and not intellectual observations.
In the end she usually just said “pink,” which seemed to please her inquisitor. But she always felt like a bit of a sell out.
Eventually, it all began to make more sense as she grew older. First, she learned to sew her own clothes which opened up a new world of creative expression. Later, when she had her first apartment, she was able to experiment with decorating. And it was then that her true life passion was born.
Decorating wasn’t just a hobby for her. It was a lifestyle. She liked nothing better than to hunt through dusty antique shops (to use a term as loose as her budget was tight), and make another family’s discarded furniture her own with paint and varnish.
After a number of years and various affairs with the ever changing color trends, she found herself right back where she started. And everywhere she lived, she based her decor on a color palette of pale yellow and various shades of blue.
This intuitive connection to color and its place in her world wasn’t something that Ellen had ever discussed before since very few of her friends or family members thought beyond perfunctory decorating. So the new people she met in fabric stores and furniture shops seemed like long lost relatives who shared her DNA. And instead of startling her with faces bearing her own nose or eyes, they delighted her with their mirrored ardor for chinoiserie or chenille.
She had no idea that such a world existed. And she promised herself that she would try to infuse her future children’s world with the beauty so often missing in her own childhood home.
Her sweet mother tiptoed through life, leaving her lovely mark on only the smallest corners that she claimed for herself. Ellen sensed this before she really noticed it, and when she was old enough to start finding similarities in herself, she vowed that she would do things differently. Luckily, Carl appreciated her style and allowed her to have free reign in all aspects of homemaking. As long as she was able to make room for the treasures he collected in his brief but defining world travels, he wasn’t overly concerned with paint colors and upholstery.
Ellen suspected that she gained many points in her favor early on by offhandedly professing an apathy for the ubiquitous pink typically attached to feminine style. Carl wouldn’t have appreciated a pink house.
Their first home was the apartment that Carl had lived in while they were dating, so there was only so much she could do in the way of updates before it was time for them to move. Then they bought their little house in in the suburbs where finally, Ellen was able to start from scratch. No more white rented walls – she could do anything she wanted without a single thought about security deposits. It was thrilling.
Even when she was pregnant, as she very quickly was, she continued to paint rooms and sew curtains. She mixed her older refurbished furniture with the new pieces they bought, and decided to call her style eclectic. They never had unlimited funds for decorating, but they spent what could – and Ellen loved her husband for sharing her priorities. Or at least allowing her them.
Eventually, she created a kind of business out of this hobby and made a little extra money decorating rooms for various friends and friends of friends. Carl claimed that he never saw a dime of it in their bank account since she immediately put everything she earned right back into one of her ongoing home projects. But he was proud of her. And he was proud of their home.
When friends came to visit, they were inevitably taken on a tour to see the changes. And since changes were a constant, it was a long held belief of Ivy’s that when people came to visit you were supposed to show them around. She always found it strange when she would go to a play date and never even see the master bedroom.
As most girls do, Ivy absorbed her mother’s sensibilities over the years and cultivated her own tendency to find definition in personal surroundings. Much to Ellen’s chagrin, this included a pink and ruffles phase most likely influenced by her friends. But she would always encourage her daughter’s forays into style development, regardless of how it conflicted with her own taste.
There was one moment in which Ellen took great solace no matter how horrifying Ivy’s latest Barbie-hued passion might be. She often had to bring her children to decorating consultations, and on one such afternoon, her three year old daughter interrupted a rather spirited textile discussion with words that nearly knocked Ellen right out of her chair. As if in response to the client’s hesitation at using a butter colored Brunshwig & Fils linen for accent pillows in her darkly masculine living room, Ivy looked up from a Sleeping Beauty coloring book and made the astute observation that “every room needs a touch of yellow.”
After this, Ellen rarely worried over her daughter’s penchant for over the top frills. Such brilliance at such a young age surely augured for bigger and better things.
3/19/10: Crystal Clarity
To be honest, Ellen wasn’t overly concerned with Ivy’s future taste level. She tended to be a glass half full type and preferred to assume that everything would work out in the end. This was something that Carl found intensely aggravating at times since his glass was usually half empty. Not in a morose way though – more along the lines of fatalistic realism.
This tendency toward the practical also led him to be entirely skeptical of Ellen’s budding interest in the healing powers of crystals and her new business venture as a consultant for Color Magic. While the two weren’t at all related, she found a common thread in the power of color. Carl found a common thread in his opinion that both were “a load of crap.”
Ellen didn’t take offense to his wise cracks about the crystals. It was her own fault for taking him to Yes! Bookstore. After a half hour of browsing book titles ranging from tree singing to the lost art of macrame, Carl said the incense was giving him a headache and departed for a cafe around the corner. Ellen had sighed with rueful regret. He probably would have taken her more seriously if she had just brought books home.
She didn’t blame him for dismissing the shop as a throwback to everything he hated about the ’60s. Because there was a large element of that. But there were also some wonderful people there who believed in things that were ancient and solid. These old world traditions spoke to Ellen on a very basic level and she wondered if maybe it was something left over from a past life. Either way, she could sift through the book titles that held no interest for her like organic cooking (after the year of food exile, she never wanted to see a jar of wheat germ again) and numerology (anything that involved math was immediate anathema to her). The books she read about crystals, auras and meditation were fascinating – and she was never one to let embarrassment or stigma get the best of her. She liked to keep an open mind and felt it helped to see the world more clearly than the tunnel vision enforced in the house of her conservative parents.
Carl on the other hand, was more a of a big picture guy. He took in the god’s eyes on the walls and the spiky purple hair of the girl at the register and instantly formulated an opinion. But once he established that Ellen wasn’t actually interested in practicing Wicca, he just treated her new interests with polite disinterest. And he largely ignored the rainbow of crystals she brought home for different purposes. This lack of interest tempered with minimal interference made for an arrangement that like so many others, suited them both well enough.
The Color Magic business on the other hand was a different story. Because that involved a more significant financial investment.
3/28/10: The Most Difficult Season
The premise behind Color Magic was that everyone looked best in specific colors, all of which could be grouped into four separate categories. And each category was a season.
When Ellen first heard people talking about someone being “a Winter” or “a Spring” – she was charmed. What a lovely idea. She always felt that each season had its own particular beauty and should be appreciated for what it was, rather than what it wasn’t.
And the same could be said for people. A pale redhead shouldn’t regret not being able to wear colors better suited to someone with black hair and dark skin. She should be focusing on all of the shades of green that would best set off her flaming locks.
This was a lesson that Ellen started learning as she dressed her blond cherub of a little sister in the pastel frocks that she and her mother so lovingly made. She was always drawn to delicate shades, but the petal pink that brought out roses in Nancy’s creamy complexion made her own sallow skin appear even more yellow. Like most teenage girls, she felt quite cheated by the universe that her favorite colors made her look like she had just returned from the rain forest with a raging case of malaria.
But of course, she eventually got over those hang ups and embraced what she now knew as her Winter coloring. She gravitated to vibrant hues of red and blue and wore deep crimson lipstick. She stopped putting lemon juice in her hair each summer and opted for makeup that accentuated her dark brown eyes. While studying in France, she emulated the chic little olive skinned women she saw on the street. She learned to appreciate qualities once lamented and dressed accordingly. In short – she discovered one of the most basic secrets of true style: she knew what suited her best and didn’t try to fight it.
She also came to terms with the fact that no diet in the world was going to make her as petite as those elegant French women, and looked elsewhere for body type role models. But body image aside, Ellen always felt confident in her color choices.
Color Magic was basically a tool that anyone could use to better understand what color choices they should be making. This seemed pretty ingenious to Ellen since she spent many an hour in friends’ bedrooms trying to explain why the fuchsia was a bit too bright for them and the pale aqua was the obvious winner. She could see the truth of this, but could never quite reason it out to anyone’s satisfaction.
Now with the Color Magic swatches and manual she could actually teach people how to identify their season and the colors that would help them to look their absolute best. So far, all of her friends were thrilled with their results. There was something decidedly glamorous about having your own season. The Winters felt dramatic, the Autumns, sophisticated and the Summers, as youthful and light as sunshine. The Springs were always smug in their status as the least common of color types. They had the same complex quality of the Autumns, but their paler version was a less frequent result when the swatches were draped.
Ellen found this amusing since the manual said that Spring was the most “difficult” season to style. For some reason, women interpreted that as rare or special. She couldn’t decide if this was commendable, as if they were looking for the bright side, or if it was just elitist vanity. Either way – there weren’t many of them, so it could just be chalked up to coincidence. Difficult people getting a difficult season.
She bought the Color Magic kit from a woman she knew through a wine tasting group they had joined. Julie often had a new “thing” that she was into, but this was the first that had appealed to Ellen beyond polite small talk. The package itself wasn’t very expensive, but the only way to really use it as a business was to buy some inventory of the Color Magic makeup formulated for the specific seasons.
She first bought some for herself and was impressed by the quality. Ellen was a bit of a makeup snob and would rather save her money for a trip to the counters at Bloomingdale’s than randomly pick up lipsticks as impulse purchases at the drug store. And in her opinion, this makeup was just as good as the retail brands she preferred. It wasn’t cheap – but unfortunately, good makeup never was.
So she presented her ideas to Carl. She would buy enough sets of the products to cover her own samples to bring to clients, as well as some extras to have on hand for purchase. She would be conservative to start – and just see how it went.
For some reason though, Carl didn’t find her approach to be conservative. When he heard how much she would have to spend before she would actually make any money, he became quite agitated. And Ellen grew more and more deflated as he pointed out the multitude of flaws in her plan. She would break even at best…she would run out of contacts…she didn’t have the killer instinct for sales…she would have to convince other people to sell under her to make a real business out of it (which of course, is exactly what Julie did to her)…
As the tirade went on, Ellen’s deflation turned to annoyance. Who said she was looking to make a a lot of money from this? She very clearly explained that she thought it would be fun and she could make “a little money” doing it. Honestly – Carl never ceased to amaze her with his ability blow every little thing out of proportion.
But when it came to money, Carl didn’t see any expenditures more than pocket change as little. And compromises would have to be made for Ellen to continue with Color Magic. She would have to spend 50% less than she had hoped, and she would have to develop a business plan detailing how she would recoup her investment.
Later as she demonstrated the system for Carl, draping him with the various swatches, it came as no surprise to her that he was without question, a definite Spring.
4/2/10: Ivy’s World – Meet the Parents (Part One)
Ivy had grown up knowing that her parents weren’t like those of her friends.
The other mothers were so casual. They wore jeans and tennis outfits, while it often seemed like her own mother woke up in a scarf and earrings. She wasn’t sure that Ellen even owned sneakers…if she did, they were probably in the storage room under the boxes of Christmas ornaments and half finished sewing projects.
It was true that Ellen had a far better closet for dress up clothes, but sometimes Ivy wondered if it wouldn’t be too much to ask for her mother to skip the three inch heels at the class trip to the zoo.
4/16/10: Ivy’s World – Meet the Parents (Part Two)
Well, Ellen never did fit in with the country club moms…but then Ivy wasn’t one to talk. She was terrible at sports and didn’t have much in common with the athletic country club girls. While they were all at swim meets, she was reading a book at the snack bar. And her own passion for what Ellen called “vintage” clothing made any critique of her mother’s inability to blend in a tad weak. Girls who wear bonnets shouldn’t throw stones.
And ultimately, Ivy really loved her mother. Ellen was so innately kind and nurturing that the room instantly warmed with her presence. She had a way of making people feel safe and cherished, and her children were no exception. Whether they acknowledged it or not, Ivy and Nicholas never questioned where they stood with their mother. And their oblivious expectation for her unconditional approval was a testament to Ellen’s effortless skill in the more important aspects of motherhood.
She may or may not have worn high heeled cowboy boots to Nicholas’ first soccer game, and her attitude could possibly be labeled by some as “unfair” when it came to pleas for popular Christmas gifts such as E-Z Bake Ovens and Barbie pools… But she would drop everything to prioritize her children, and any misstep was always made with the best of intentions. Ellen was the center of the Chapin family and her she lit up the lives of all that were in her orbit.