Sentenced to The Chair

(This story first appeared in Scosche of Class some years ago, but has been expanded upon to include additional characters in my life.)

It may not be the very least favorite place in my world, but it comes pretty darn close. This morning was my scheduled six-month check-up/cleaning, and I was prepared for the usual tsk-tsking about the sad condition of my mouthful of teeth. If you walked down the street and asked every person who looked to be at least 65 years old to open his or her mouth, you’d quickly determine that about 50% lacked dental insurance in the critical early years, maybe even later years. Until I was 14 years old, I only ever went to the dentist when my mouth was exploding with pain caused by a cavity. . . likely from eating too many Snickers. By the time I made it to “The Chair”, the dentist’s course of treatment nearly always was: pull it!

I really and truly tried to make amends starting as a teenager, but it may have been a case of too little, too late. I’ve only once heard, “Your teeth look good.” I think the dentist must either have, just prior, dipped his ladle in the well of happy gas; or had momentarily suffered a mental lapse, thinking he was still talking with the patient he had treated just before me. 

The hygienist never seems to come over to my side, either, on the issue — why can’t I just have fewer teeth? In fact, why is it necessary for humans to be assigned a set of, what is it, 36? Isn’t there some redundancy in that? Instead, what I hear is, you need to floss more, use a mouth rinse regularly, and stop eating Snickers bars as an apres-lunch (apres with that little backwards accent mark above the e) snack. No, the hygienist did NOT say that about the Snickers bars; she doesn’t know about them.*

Deep breathing gets me through most sittings, but it doesn’t always work, especially when my jaw is being pressed so hard that oxygen — one of my closest friends — concludes that there is no discernible pathway to my lungs. Oxygen takes the high road, and I’m left with the choice of either passing out or most inarticulately communicating that, “ahhhng url reeeee!” I choose life.

Dr. Tim is the cheeriest dentist that I’ve ever met, and I’ve had plenty. He typically begins our “sessions” by investigating my newest handbag, showing real interest in my handmade products, but — invariably — pointing out that he can find lovely alternatives for his wife at Marshall’s for a fraction of the price I advertise on my shop’s website. It always goes this way, and he remains ever unconvinced when I point out that custom, one-of-a-kind products come at a cost. He smiles, asks me how my business is doing, and then gets down to his business. I once asked him how he managed to always be so happy. (His resting face always features a smile.) He responded, “It’s easy; you just surround yourself with positive people.”  “But, how’s that possible in your line of work?” I wanted to know, because he obviously had to deal with unpleasant patients on occasion. “I just refer them elsewhere; problem solved.” And he smiled. 

There is a most wonderful up-side to the dental chair. . . after the initial twenty minutes or so of jackhammering to remove plaque buildup. One can become — by focusing on the fish mobile in the corner of the room — very reflective. It begins by noting the fascinating differences between those vividly painted fish. Before you know it, you’re drafting thank you notes, deciding on a new color palette for your living room, heck, you’re adding on an additional 500 square feet to your current home (which doesn’t need it, but instead needs some deep cleaning and a Marie Kondo-esque tidying regimen).

As woeful is the state of my mouth — as evidenced by the vast number of porcelain-crowned occupants, I feel profoundly blessed that I can — because of insurance — visit the dentist every six months for a cleaning. I’m reminded of an occasion several years ago in which my mother — a woman of great ingenuity and audacity, but inadequate dental insurance — took it upon her own initiative to solve a dental dilemma (and thus avoid a trip to “The Chair”). I had just arrived with my young daughters at the home she shared with two of her siblings on Manomet Bluffs and, as soon as the excitement and frenzy over our arrival had subsided, I detected something “off” about her face. Looking more closely, it became clear that her smile — ever broad and confident — had an altered appearance. “Mom, what’s going on with your mouth?” She exchanged a quick, knowing glance with my Aunt Marie, co-conspirator in all their screwy schemes, and the two burst out laughing. Mom took a fresh gulp of air, swallowed, then explained. As she launched into her story, her voice dipped. . . conspiratorially — it always did that when she began a narration, “Funny thing. A few days ago I lost my front tooth when I bit into a toffee bar. . .,” (she had dentures) “. . . so Re and I decided we could re-implant it just as easily as the dentist does, with a little Super-Glue. I didn’t notice until it was too late that it was crooked.” She smiled broadly, Aunt Re giggled, and the two of them were then lost in fits of uncontrolled laughter. Seeing Mom’s two lines of generally compliant little soldiers standing rigidly shoulder-to-shoulder at attention (north and south in her flexed mouth) but with one of their ranks keeling over, I was instantly reminded of those old cemeteries where the headstones sit all akilter.  I had to look away.

In any event, and despite all the efforts to rinse and spit and wipe with crinkly bib, I leave the dentist’s office with a face reddened from exertion, and with that gritty feeling still in my mouth. I’m confident, however, that everyone I acknowledge with my exaggeratedly wide, teeth-baring smile will observe how white and beautiful my teeth are. And with all that time in the chair to reflect and sort things out, I cannot help but think: isn’t life grand?! So what if next month I have to return to have my cracked molar “assessed”? That white-knuckled ride is a whole month away.

*By the way, when a hygienist asks how often you floss, it’s pointless to lie — they already know the answer to that question.

Happy Birthday Messages

(In order to protect the privacy of family I’m using initials for siblings and spouses.)

The author wins with an early (tactile) greeting!

The COVID-inspired group texts began as an affectionate reaching-out among the siblings, a way to acknowledge each other’s birthdays, a way — too — to preserve the threads that bind us together. I don’t remember when it started or who started it (probably it was “PM”; no, surely it was her), but it was a simple happy birthday message and because it included the group of siblings and spouses, it served as a reminder to those of us who might otherwise forget the birthday. As with most things in this family, the thoughtful gesture kindled the competitive spirit that often defines our special relationship. The birthday greeting soon became sport, today’s version of sport. . . which is to say, competition that must also entertain. The back-and-forth volleys continue all day long and sometimes resemble stream of consciousness, entering and exiting topics to the point where the message’s focus and clarity are often temporarily lost. No rules guide the conversation, but it all concludes with an acknowledgement of who the winner is, not that that’s ever in doubt; quite simply, whoever expressed happy birthday first is the winner.

At our age, and as we grapple with all the COVID-generated challenges that carry uncertain implications, the simple gesture of wishing each other a happy birthday takes on added value. It brings a little bit of joy and humor to our day. (I wonder if the others have come to depend on this new ritual as much as I have. I’m retired — I have plenty of time not to forget their birthdays.)

Our family’s interactions — even via text messages — illuminate who we really are and the powerful yet concealed dynamics that shape our hierarchy. It might be obvious who among the thirteen siblings and spouses enjoys great respect by virtue of birth order (the oldest) or who gets teased the most (the youngest), but we rarely dive deep to try and understand, say, why one sibling — always willing to try something new — eagerly (and optimistically) cartwheels right into the middle of things, why another is content to stand apart and simply observe what’s going on, why another converts a thing said or done into a joke, and yet another offers words that always pull us close together when we’ve unwittingly drifted onto potentially dangerous emotional minefields. We fall quickly and easily into our typical roles.

For many of us, deprived of the freedom to move easily among people (haven’t we all become more deliberate in our social contact?), we’ve been compelled to fill the void by instead connecting with each other through words, and this seems like a positive byproduct of social distancing. And words are never just words; they carry overt, as well as subtle and implied meaning. I never have bought into that saying about sticks and stones — it’s just a hollow attempt to excuse meanness. The messages, emails, face-time, and even cards and letters, do much to reduce the space between us; they serve as timely signposts that we’re being thought of, that we’re part of something essential.

Now, for your entertainment, I offer you a sample of one of our birthday exchanges; it just happens to be the most recent one.

Key to actors:

  • KM = brother #1 (oldest)
  • TM = brother #2
  • MGM = wife of brother #2
  • CM = brother #3
  • PM = wife of brother #3
  • JTM = middle child of 7 (and author)
  • MD = sister (5th child)
  • TD = husband of sister
  • M-nmn-M = brother #4 (6th child)
  • JM = wife of brother #4
  • RM = brother #5 (7th child, youngest)
  • MM = wife of brother #5

(KM): Let there be no equivocation, JTM is the winner of the birthday greeting sweepstakes. (text is accompanied by photo of opened birthday card.)

(MD): That is cheating! No early entries. But really she is the winner!

(JTM): (laughs at “That is cheating!…winner”)

(KM): I consider a card the highest form of fraternal affection so JTM wins not only relative to the timing of the occasion but also in the form of said expression.

(CM): I’ve been planning next year.

(KM): Clearly a capitulation to the stylistic and expertly conducted campaign by JTM.

(CM): no, this was in my plans all along due to the extensive nature of the preparation as well as the significant capital deployment.

(TD): . . . in other words, no card, no gift?

(CM): and no text

(KM) By your words you have obviously conceded that you could not compete with the emotional commitment and outlay of a simple but meaningful gesture.

(CM): Dah.

(TD): (laughs at “and no text”)

(KM): I offer the old but sage expression, “It’s the thought that counts”

(KM): As I plan my celebration of my entry on this orb, I plan to arise with the sun, walk the beach in deep contemplation of all the gifts and talents I have experienced over the course of a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of communing with my fellow man.

(KM): I then will repair to my humble abode and prepare a sumptuous petite dejeuner of crepes and imported mixed fruit compote with which to share with my devoted wife of 28 years.

(CM): Somebody break KM’s phone.

(TD): (submits an animated GIF of his wife MD looking either bewildered or “out of it” or perhaps long-suffering. It’s hard to tell.)

(KM): Having so sustained myself I will head over to the local St. Vincent DePaul thrift store where I will offer my services for the poor and indigent. Thus having restored both body and soul I will return home for a luxurious nap.

(PM): (laughs at “somebody break KM’s phone.”) Then, (laughs at “having so sustained myself. . . nap”)

(TM): This has been so much fun. Can we do this again tomorrow? Oops, it is tomorrow. So, Happy Birthday, KM.

(JM): Happy Birthday Kev! Enjoy the crepes & compote.

(MM): HAPPY BIRTHDAY (with party/celebration icon)

(KM): Thanks to all, love you

(MD): Happy birthday!!! (with party/celebration and cake icons)

(MGM): I am the late bird. Happy happy birthday, KM!! (with several celebration icons) Hope it’s a great day and year!

(CM): HB, KM

(And where’s RM, people?!)

*************************************

Alas, my feelings of victory are hollow ones because (I must confess) the card arrived earlier than KM’s birthday only because I can never remember the precise date!

My Introduction to Dough

I set out recently to learn a new skill. I’ve never been able to work with dough, not the gratifying kind that earns interest. . . well, maybe that, too, but rather the sticky goop that insists on shrinking when you manhandle it with a rolling pin and yell at it to expand. As if in a cruel twist of irony, all the other necessary ingredients and supplies that you remove from your cabinets do very much appear to swell to eventually consume the entire expanse of your kitchen island, as well as all remaining open counter space. (I never concern myself with the rogue bits of cheese and diced vegetables that descend to the floor, as the dogs will work conscientiously to address that issue.)

My husband George was the pizza expert in our house, having acquired mastery in the years he worked (as a high school senior and then while a student at North Shore Community College) at Monty’s Restaurant in Lynn (of the “Monty’s Monty’s by the sea, buy two pizzas get one free” renown.) Over the years he perfected his own recipe, very similar to the thin-crust sort that Monty’s sold. We were all big fans of his style of pizza. Sadly, he never wrote down the recipe, nor did he share it orally with any of us.

This past Christmas Eve, my older daughter and I joined our McKenna relations in Beverly and had a relaxed dinner featuring pizza with crust that very much resembled George’s, nice and thin and crispy. I consider it close enough to say that it is. . . well, close enough, so I have an acceptable contender for the crust. I’m still working on what goes on top of that, as well as my skills in making it look round and even.

Not content to satisfactorily make just pizza, I got it in my head that I wanted to learn how to make English muffins. I blame it on Judy, because she came to one of our “girls’ breakfasts out” with bags of homemade english muffins for each of us. Darn it, but weren’t they the most delicious?! That was at least a year ago, and now that I’m working on my dough skills with serious purpose, I decided this past weekend to make some myself. “So easy”, “the simplest recipe”, “a snap”, “a cinch” — such lies those culinary bloggers boldly (and cheerily) posted. Maybe my first mistake was consulting people who spend their days in their own home test kitchens. It would have been more helpful to land on a blog in which the blogger admitted frankly that they don’t know what the f**** they’re doing in the kitchen. It would serve as a vital object lesson for all other amateurs (and by “amateur” I mean a total ignoramus).

If you saw the resultant state of my kitchen (both days, since you are advised to “proof” it overnight and do a second proof on day 2), you would be struck by how uncannily similar it appeared to the Ardennes Forest in the Battle of the Bulge. Every surface staggered under the weight and chaos of bowls, skillets, whisk, sheet pans, spatulas, flour, cornmeal, more flour, more cornmeal, small bowl for milk (that I failed to warm up), additional bowls (because “medium-size” is such a relative term), melted butter (because I was too aggressive with the microwave), specks of yeast (because those packets are impossible to open neatly), cooling rack, and all manner of measuring utensils. But not, significantly, a metric weight scale. I won’t go into the specifics and tease out where I first went wrong (and where I subsequently went wrong), but I will say that despite sensing at nearly every stage that I should scrap the mission, I persevered. . . nevertheless.

Lacking the highly desirable nooks and crannies, and denser than the expected “light and fluffy” quality, and not so much round as asymmetrical and somewhat oval and of varying sizes, they have — in the end — a mild and satisfying flavor. I’ll take it! If George were here, I think he’d applaud my efforts. He’d probably gush — as he poured syrup all over them — about how delicious my pancakes are, and I wouldn’t feel the least need to disabuse him!

The Mona Lisa is Non-Fungible*

I learned today that the Mona Lisa is non-fungible. It only took me three articles and two You-Tube videos to learn that. Don’t get me wrong — I learned a lot today, all having to do with virtual reality and things like “NFT’s” and blockchain and bitcoin (although I have to admit there’s a certain quality about all these things that my brain just naturally rebels against, and, consequently, I’ll probably forget by tomorrow everything I learned today.) If you’re wondering why I would waste “valuable time” on things that don’t really exist or only exist digitally or intangibly, it’s because I wanted to understand why the hosts of Good Morning America were behaving this morning as if they’d all just glanced out the studio window at 44th and Broadway and seen a flying saucer. Gobsmacked, they were.

I can only take so much of GMA’s reporting, as it tends to see-saw between alarming, ohmygodwe’reallgoingtodie delivery and overly ebullient, ilovepuppies feel good stories. I understand that if they reported that Grady McGrady (not a real person, by the way), an average person working in a typical job was having an average day, it wouldn’t capture and hold anyone’s attention, even the average American who would — and should — be inclined to sympathize with Mr. McGrady. I always feel as if they’re masterfully manipulating my emotions. I’m up, I’m down. I’m up again (because heaven forbid I be left in a puddle of my own despair at the end of the show.

The news that apparently left the GMA hosts dumbstruck was the disclosure of Walmart’s recent forays into the metaverse and their plans to create their own cryptocurrency, as well as begin making and selling virtual goods. That’s right; pretty soon you’ll be able to buy personal care items and toys — the not real kind — if you have approved levels of NFT’s (non-fungible tokens). If you pause for just a moment to reflect on why they’re muscling into this realm, well, why not? In their own words, they’re “continuously exploring how emerging technologies may shape future shopping experiences.” (It’s perhaps cynical of me to suspect that this big-box giant has within its mission statement some language about garnering a bigger percentage of consumer spending than the competition.)

You might be surprised to hear that I don’t believe the lines between our physical and virtual lives are becoming blurred. I’m more apt to reframe it all by pointing out that our virtual behaviors are claiming more of our time, time being something that will always have finite value. If I ever have occasion to look back on something I either did or had and can’t remember if I did it or had it virtually or physically, then I might concede that the lines are blurred. The argument really has to do with how realistic-seeming these virtual elements have become, how effectively they mimic the real world.

This all brings me to my larger point. I’ll offer an example here: RTFKT is a sneaker brand; they design virtual sneakers that are then auctioned off, one pair per month. They’ve sold out every month, and the highest bids consistently come in at $15,000 or higher. I can’t speak for other consumers, but even if I had that kind of money to spend on anything virtual, I question the authenticity of emotion that that type of purchase (and possession) would generate. I spend more money on boots than I ought to, but when I physically wear them, they make me feel good. Could I feel the same if I dressed up my avatar in one of my pairs? Mmmm. . . doubtful.

So, why have we become a virtually acquisitive society? Washington, D.C. filmmaker/journalist Johnny Harris explains this phenomenon from a psychological standpoint, “As soon as humans have enough abundance to have their basic needs met — food, shelter, warmth, etc. — the next frontier is to create value in things that have no inherent value.” Cyclically, perhaps, and often tied to periods of plenty, we’ve been doing this for a long, long time. All it takes is a persuasive salesperson to proclaim that such-and-such has great inherent value, and it provokes a human response to want to acquire it. Hence, you’ll have people willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, er. . . NFT’s to “own” a few seconds of video of NBA Top Shots.

For Johnny Harris’ clear and very understandable explanation on YouTube, click here.

*”non-fungible” – A term used in economics, for all intents and purposes it means unique and irreplaceable.

Goodbye, 2021

Before we all kicked the year 2021 square in the butt, I’m sure we were already imagining ways in which 2022 might be better. It can’t be worse, we all say with more wishful thinking than confidence. I wonder, though, whether we begin 2022 with greater determination to succeed in our resolutions and promises or instead with a noncommittal shrug of the shoulders that suggests we wield less power over our lives than we would wish. Like the next person, I gave some thought to the new year, but at this juncture there’s still a great deal of vagueness; I’d say my resolutions are yet unformed, but might include ideas such as “be kinder” and “practice intentionality”, which means, I think, that I won’t be able to continue for long with my yet unformed resolutions. The impediment to launching — right now — into any list of concrete, measurable, and healthful goals is that I’m not finished with 2021.

It started by musing out loud in the presence of my daughter that there must have been something positive about 2021, some gains; you can’t have a whole year that was just awful from beginning to end. . . can you? Thus, before I wrestle with any mental exercises to view 2022 with suitable optimism, I’ll pause to reflect on the upside of 2021.

So, here’s what I’ve got:

  • Our society is thinking more creatively about the 40-hour/week/9-5 work paradigm. The concept of “deep work” finally caught on, resulting in lots of companies going to a four-day work week. The common sense inherent in the term means that businesses have re-structured how their workers behave while on the clock. Without getting into the finer points, a couple of typical examples would be: adjustments to meeting schedules to allow for greater productivity, and when and how many times a worker should look at email messages. Businesses have generally been urged to consider modifications that bring about greater efficiency, less wasted time. In a related way, working remotely has become acceptable; finally, employers are trusting that many tasks can be performed off-site and out of view of the boss.
  • Lighter traffic on the roads. As a consequence of the first item on this list, there are fewer cars, hence fewer annoying people out there. In many cases, we are also surprised by available parking where heretofore one had to be unusually lucky to find a parking spot.
  • Improved air quality (especially in countries and regions with historically horrible patterns of pollution, namely the United States, China, and Europe), less so in countries that have already been proactive in reducing carbon emissions (such as Sweden).
  • Expanded choices for lovers of jigsaw puzzles. I leave you to reflect on that however you will.
  • “Oobleck” is officially in the dictionary. (Increased home schooling likely was a factor.) In a year in which Dr. Seuss’ legacy came under harsh scrutiny, this validation by Merriam-Webster warms the heart of all of us. Who didn’t — at least once (and probably only once) — destroy their parents’ kitchen creating a school project with a cornstarch, water, and food coloring concoction? And, of course, because memory softens over time, we repeated the nightmare with our own children.*

It’s easy to see how the few examples above inter-connect, at least if we tease out their genesis. And while it might cause us to pucker our faces, the notion that COVID has brought about anything good is worthy of rejoicing. Such thinking allows us to say with no sense of contradiction, Hallelujah, and good riddance, 2021!

*Recipe for Oobleck: 1c cornstarch, 1-2c water, few drops food coloring; add water to cornstarch in mixing bowl; add food coloring. To achieve desired consistency, add more water or cornstarch as needed.

Fun Fact: quicksand operates on the same principle as Oobleck; they’re non-Newtonian fluids, neither solid nor liquid. Instead they get their properties by either increasing or decreasing pressure. Here’s a great article on Oobleck by Scientific American, whereby they even coax you to make a “big batch” of the substance in a large bin, then remove your shoes and socks and step into it and walk around in it. (Do you sink in when you stand on it? they invite you to discover.)

Lamenting the Decline of the Semicolon

Seriously, when was the last time you used a semicolon? Are you so afraid of using it wrong that you just don’t? Did you know that it’s considered the most controversial punctuation mark?

This past week I came across an essay on the diminished use of the semicolon, and it piqued my interest. I confess that I’m a big fan of that particular mark of punctuation; sometimes, a comma just can’t do the job, and using a period to create a full stop hews my ideas too radically. If you shy from using it, here’s a simple piece of wisdom from a 17th century language expert; Richard Hodges gives us this guidance: “At a comma, stop a little; at a semicolon, somewhat more.” (Follow link here to ThoughtCo.)

The essay that caught my interest, “The melancholy decline of the semicolon” by Will Lloyd (follow link here) was a delightful look at how authors and readers feel about the inherent worth of a punctuation mark that is so often misunderstood that it engenders strong feelings of contempt. Imagine that! A tiny grammatical function has the power to incite loathing.

Pause to consider what Ben Platt discovered in 2017: from 1800 to 2000, semicolon usage decreased 70%. Also, researchers at Lancaster University tell us that in the last 30 years, usage of the semicolon has decreased by 25%. One should not conclude that I’m a smug know-it-all when it comes to grammar and punctuation. I make lots of mistakes, and I frequently will re-write chunks of sentences just to avoid cornering myself in a situation in which only the best editors and language experts can maneuver with finesse. But there are times when I will not be dissuaded from its use; I will not, as others might suggest, use the em-dash or simply slap a period down with a sense of dramatic finality. I worry, too, that I’ll wake up one of these mornings and the headlines will be some version of: “Semicolon Usage to be Outlawed.” Just as worrisome is the thought that I’ll be among the 5% still using the semicolon, while the rest of the population will be communicating entirely in acronyms and sentence fragments. At some point, someone will ask with complete bewilderment, “What’s a sentence?” SMH WTF

Planned Obsolescence Is Not an L.L. Bean Principle

 This is a love story about an L.L. Bean fleece vest. Now, here’s what you need to know. I’ve worn the vest every day for the last fourteen days, no exceptions. In fact, I’m wearing it as I write this post.

Now, if I didn’t also include the small detail – that I’ve washed it three or four times – you might think, ew, that’s just gross, instead of getting my real point, which is that I have found an article of clothing that, having survived several trips through both the washer and dryer, I love, or, better said, I still love. That hasn’t happened in so long, and it’s usually because once I put something into the washer and then dryer, it comes out as something other than what I put in, something decidedly not good. And that makes me angry because I view it as a breach of contract. Never mind that the washing instructions might say, “hand wash only” and “hang dry”.  I think they put that on just about everything these days to let them off the hook. The liberal and, in my mind, excessive use of labels like this is designed to convince you that all clothing is a giant gamble.  Have you noticed that labels are now sewn into seams in batches of ten or more to cover all languages? And, do you find yourself standing in front of your washing machine and squinting at the tiny icons, saying to yourself, That “X” is either telling me I can’t put this in the washer, or I can’t put this in the dryer, or it’s not microwavable.” Discouraged thus, you throw it in and follow with a Fuck it. (Be especially suspicious if a label says, “dry flat”, because that’s an indication that the item was constructed by garment workers in the midst of a New Year’s Eve celebration and they expect it to either emerge from the washing machine as something entirely unrecognizable or in no fewer than a dozen pieces.)  Sad to say, the expected shelf life of clothing these days has been reduced to about the same length of time one can expect fresh raspberries to stay. . . well. . . fresh.  The most maddening thing is that clothing manufacturers go about their business with deliberate, planned obsolescence as a key part of their model. I think, as proper punishment (or poetic justice) they all should be made to wear their own constructions after three washes*.

People who study fashion, especially from a historical perspective, are quick to point out that in the 60’s and 70’s clothing was made to last for several seasons. I’m not sure, but “several seasons” probably meant three. If we’re looking for a much more dramatic comparison, I invite you to consider how clothing was viewed in colonial times; one’s last will and testament very likely included language to assure that the testator’s one wool greatcoat and homespun breeches went to son Ezekiel or close friend Isaac. They weren’t taking any chances with their priceless “waring apparil”. 

Consider, also, the status of closets in relationship to other rooms in colonial era houses.  While all rooms at that time would be classified as utilitarian, i.e., there were no pointless foyers that wasted space, or sitting rooms – who had time for that anyway?, closets were the quintessential multi-purpose room, serving a variety of purposes (but perhaps not all at the same time): for conducting business (not necessarily “that kind”, but business business), dressing, praying, freshening up with a water basin, and, yes, for conducting “that kind” of business, too. These types of closets were larger than the rarer clothes closets. So, the obvious reason as to why 18th and 19th century homes, even the nice ones, did not have clothes closets is because, as alluded to before, they didn’t have much in the way of clothing. 

It’s probably unimaginable to 21st century trendsetters, but three and four centuries ago, “fashionable” could be used to describe something that had been enjoying decades of “on trend” standing. There was a much longer trajectory from “conception to reality”, which can be better understood by taking a peek at a typical New Englander’s daily planner; instead of having quilled “school shopping”,   Ezekiel’s parents likely entered a reminder to self to  “shear sheep”, followed the next day by “clean wool”, followed the next by “card wool”, and so forth. Or maybe the notation was, “trade yrlng** for Asa’s 2nd jerkin***”. When you illuminate more broadly the historical context, it’s much easier to understand and appreciate the relationship that people had with their possessions.

Today’s habits paint a very different picture of our relationship with clothing and accessories.  We are apt to assess our mood first before we reach for any one article; “What am I feeling today?”, we think aloud before we reach for the cream colored, slouchy, cotton/poly blend, waffle-textured, high-low sweater, and the frayed hem, distressed look, boyfriend jeans. But then we waver, “Maybe I should wear that coppery colored, high-waisted, pleated corduroy skirt that I bought on sale last month.” Our thoughts about clothing contradict our behaviors; we can refer to a sweater as our favorite, and love-love-love it, but it’s likely to be in a bag destined for the Goodwill drop-off center before the very next season. And while my advice might be to never get too attached to an article of clothing, the world can be a cold and unfriendly place if we don’t indulge in some of those feel-good moments that happen – even if rarely – when, for example, an ensemble not only feels right, but fits perfectly, too, or even when we wiggle into a new pair of tights and make the happy discovery that they fit everywhere and there are no baggy ankles and we haven’t ripped them the very first time out of the package. It’s enough to make us skip around or dance in those tights in our walk-in closet. 

On the rare occasion when we stumble on an article of clothing that exceeds our much reduced expectations, it is indeed a cause for celebration. In my case, the celebration has taken the form of repeat usage. It’s not that I set out to see if I could find the breaking point of this one L.L. Bean fleece vest. I just happen to love how it feels. It’s so cozy and warm. I don’t find it impossible to believe that everyone has at least one item that’s their “go to”, one item that inspires warm and/or hopeful thoughts when they reach for it. These objects of our affection – the well-worn cap that invariably sits on a fisherman’s head when he goes out in his boat, or the Ugg slippers that would be worn to bed if the wearer could get away with it – become important talismans. While it’s highly unlikely that anyone in this day and age will puzzle over the wording of their last will and testament to assure the fate of their favorite baseball cap or L.L. Bean fleece vest, having such an attachment is of the most innocuous sort. Even if life expectancy (of the item in question) is reduced, as surely it must be, I say, Go for it!  Wear it fourteen days in a row! You can always throw it in the washing machine (unless, of course, that vexing label says it’s hand wash.)

* unless we’re talking about the jean jacket, which evidence suggests has been around since colonial times, and can take any manner of abuse and still look as good as the day it was woven. . . on a loom.

**yearling

*** Ezekiel’s uncle Asa operates the village’s only tannery behind his house on the west end, appropriately located just downwind of the last homestead.