The Heart of Dixie: A Holiday Story

(Originally published 12/21/2017)

A little preface may be called for here. Way back in the last century—in the mid-70s—our local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) established a number of consciousness-raising groups. Those of us who were interested were randomly assigned to one group or another.

C-R meetings were safe spaces where women could share our deepest secrets, questions, fears, and issues as women. Initially, C-R groups were meant to be a mass-organizing tool for broad political action, but consciousness raising quickly became a form of political action in its own right.

At C-R gatherings, our sense of isolation imploded as we each discovered our individual experiences were anything but unique, anything but small. As we discussed problems and events from our own lives, our stories became a tool for change. We gained strength and courage to take on systemic, structural sexism wherever it existed—sometimes in our own heads. It’s an on-going process, but one where we learned that indeed the personal is political, a truth we still see in today’s various human rights struggles. And though C-R groups were sometimes pooh-poohed as nothing more than group navel gazing, those who benefited from the institution of sexism soon found the results a power to be reckoned with.

*****

We were eight or nine in number, almost all strangers when our Consciousness-Raising group had been formed. In our short time together, we’d tackled all manner of topics, from workplace discrimination to deeply personal and painful issues to women’s health care to daily gender-based slights. It didn’t take long to bond. We were tight.

Dixie volunteered to host our December meeting, more a holiday celebration than a discussion of feminist politics. We had agreed in advance that, in lieu of tangible gifts, we’d each read a favored poem or essay—any subject. I chose Rod McKuen’s “A Cat Named Sloopy.”

It was an appropriate selection on several levels. I’d always been a cat lover and was owned by two of them at the time. And at our very first group meeting, one of the members observed that I reminded her of a cat with my easy movements and my quiet, sensitive manner.

After the rest of us had read our pieces, it was Dixie’s turn. Instead of pulling out a book, she asked to be excused for a minute. When she returned, she was wearing a big grin and carrying a basket full of small, white gift boxes. Cries of “Oh, Dixie” and the like filled the room. The rest of us had followed our mutual agreement—why was she giving out presents?

But, for reasons of her own, Dixie needed to bring an offering. And it was obvious from the pleased exclamations and laughter as we opened our little boxes and pulled out identical items that what she chose was perfect.

Dixie gave us each an egg. More accurately stated, she gave us each an eggshell, an egg whose contents had been carefully blown out. With red ink, Dixie had drawn facial features on each egg and encircled each one with a fat piece of red yarn tied into a bow at its narrowed top. An ornament hook was stuck into the bow’s knot. My name was written on the back of my egg.

It had to have been a tedious, time-consuming process, likely with more than a few failed attempts. It was a gift of thoughtfulness and love. Dixie found a clever, personal expression of our shared womanhood—the very essence of our relationship.

That was almost forty-five years ago. I still have my egg. The ink has faded, yet it’s an unrivaled possession, safely stored with other treasured holiday ornaments and always ready to play a starring role when it’s brought out for special occasions. In the intervening years, I’ve given a few of my own.

dixie egg

My prized vintage egg from Dixie

My egg reminds me of more than that heady time and those extraordinary women. It reminds me of change, of the unexpected. My egg has traveled with me across two states; through a wild adventure of leaving behind almost everything I knew to hand-build a home with my soulmate; it’s been with me through child-rearing, a career, and now my life’s vintage chapter.

My fragile, yet enduring, egg is a symbol of the strength of perseverance, courage, and tenacity. It symbolizes the power of knowledge and community of spirit. It symbolizes friendship and freedom of thought. It symbolizes time and all the experience that accompanies it. And it epitomizes the exquisite purity of giving from the heart.

Wherever you are today, dear Dixie, thank you for breaking the rules, thank you for your generous heart, and thank you for opening mine a little wider.

The List, Part III: The Bra and I

The List, Part III: The Bra and I

(If you’re just tuning in, you’ll want to catch up on Parts I and II of The List. You can find them here and here.)

Actually, I had written a hundred and one items on my hundred-things-I-want-to-do-when-I-retire list. One, though, was something I simply didn’t feel comfortable broadcasting to professional colleagues. Yet, if my list had been in priority order, this one item would have been at the very top. The number one thing I wanted to do when I retired was to take off my bra.

It was the number one thing I did, too. For awhile. Then I remembered something Maya Angelou once said about her aging experience: “My breasts are in a race to see which one gets to my bellybutton first.” I’d seen that effect first hand at Asheville’s Go Topless Day, and I really didn’t want to speed things up for myself.

Funny thing about bras. Back in the sixth grade, we girls could barely wait to get our first bras, whether we needed them or not. (We didn’t.) We huddled together during recess whispering about them—who had one, who needed one, how embarrassing it would be wearing one to school for the first time. My two best friends and I coordinated our bra-buying plans so we’d arrive at school wearing our first bra on the same day. We reasoned no one of us would feel quite so conspicuous that way. Proud and conspiratorial, maybe, but inconspicuous.

Pretty sure my first bra was this very style! (But smaller—much, much smaller) 

 

At a church youth retreat a few years later, my friend George said to a bunch of us girls that he couldn’t comprehend how we could bear to be so confined. He thought wearing a bra would feel incredibly constricting, like being in a straitjacket. We were a tad scandalized by his brazen discussion of such an intimate subject, but we tried not to show it. We assured him it wasn’t like that at all, that bras were perfectly comfortable. Frankly, we couldn’t imagine life without a bra.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited about a bra. The more I’ve needed one, the less comfortable I’ve been wearing one. George had it right, after all. Constricting is exactly the right word.

In the end, my bra and I came to a compromise. That is to say, I compromised. Pretty soon I started wearing my bra again. Still do. These days, I free my breasts from their bra prison a little earlier in the evenings, though, hoping my body doesn’t notice I’m cheating.

Bras—there’s the Double Support, the Sexy Plunge, the Elegant Lift, the Magic Lift, the Convertible, the Vacationer, the Glamorise, the Wonderwire. Seamed, seamless, lined, unlined, foam lined. Sheer, padded, molded. Strapless, t-strap, gel strap. Wirefree or underwire. Front closure, back closure, pullover. Leisure, sports, nursing, active lifestyle. Extra lift, minimizer, slimming, back smoothing. Push-up, shelf, bandeau, bustier, demi-cup, long line. Cotton, nylon, silk, microfiber, jersey knit, lace, satin.

The most common theme in bra advertising is comfort: original comfort, smooth comfort, pure comfort, moving comfort, 18-hour comfort, super cool comfort, comfort flex, comfort revolution, passion for comfort. HA!

I have a passion for comfort. It’s why I wanted to dispense with my bra in the first place. But gravity is a law. And I’m a law abider, so I’m sticking with my bra.

(Photo images in this post are public domain photos via Creative Commons.)

No Touching

(Part of my Blowing on Embers series)

About this time of year I’m overcome with nostalgia. What brings it on is the flowering of touch-me-nots. My now grown children groan in exasperation whenever they hear me mention these wildflowers—they know what’s coming next.

It’s the story of how these jewel-toned flowers remind me it’s time for the school year to start in these parts. How I fondly remember watching the two of them emerge from a heavy fog as they walked up our newly-graded and graveled road after their first day of school barely more than a month after we moved up here on the diagonal. (Punkin was a fourth-grader, wishing she was back in the Brown School in Louisville. It was Cuddlebug’s very first day of school anywhere.) How their arrival home from late-summer school days was often delayed because they couldn’t resist the urge to stop along the way to do exactly the opposite of the warning implied by the plant’s name and pop the flowers’ seedpods. It’s an addictive pursuit, and it was a fun way to end the school day.

Handling a touch-me-not is a uniquely rewarding and giggle-worthy experience. The seedpods don’t look particularly fragile, but when they’re mature, the slightest movement causes a virtual explosion, with tiny seeds catapulting onto the landscape—no doubt the reason this wildflower is so prevalent in territory friendly to its needs. The steep banks along our country roads are saturated with touch-me-not plants right now.

Predictably, with all those explosive seedpods, touch-me-nots have taken over the roadsides.

Also known as jewelweed, this prolific wildflower may be either yellow or orange, each variety’s flowers freckled with deep reddish-brown spots near and in their deep throats. Their nectar-filled spurs make them attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. In appearance, they strike me as a cross between miniature orchids and larkspurs.Touch-me-nots are common throughout all of the U. S. with the exception of a few western states. They’re fascinating plants—beautiful, useful, quirky, and irresistible to kids of all ages. Once you’ve popped a few seedpods, you never outgrow the urge when you come upon a patch of these intriguing plants.

When a seedpod bursts open, either on its own or with a little human help, the hull instantly curls up into tight coils, like small, green springs. It’s all so fast you can’t see it happening. A captivating sight in itself. And even though you know that little explosion is coming and are waiting for it, it will inevitably make you jump in startled surprise.

The leaves are just as intriguing. If you find yourself in a patch of jewelweed on a dewy morning or just after a rain, its leaves will be the only dry thing around, displaying little beads of water on their surface. Dancing in sunlight, the water glistens like diamonds.

Submerge a leaf in water with its underside facing up and it turns silver. Pull it out and it will be dry, with only a few droplets of water here and there.

Touch-me-nots also have medicinal uses. The best-known and most practical use is as a remedy for itching. In fact, they’re often found in conveniently close proximity to itch-inducing poison ivy and stinging nettle. By breaking open the liquid-filled stems and spreading the watery sap on skin that’s been exposed to these plants or to insect bites or stings, you’ll most likely experience immediate relief.

And you can even eat the little seeds. They taste a lot like walnuts–really! Granted, it would take a lot of collecting to get enough to bake into a dish, but it’s a handy thing to know if you happen to find yourself lost and hungry in the midst of these delightful plants.

All this and nostalgia, too.

The sight of touch-me-nots, the start of the school year, the long held vision of our children in their first-day-of-school finery, the hint of autumn in the air, the memory of those first days of house-building—all these things represent the beginning of our life on the diagonal.

Kids, if you didn’t already realize, you might as well get used to it because whenever touch-me-nots are in bloom, I’ll continue to reminisce aloud about this giant tangle of sweet memories.