Teri Orr: Messy, juicy, sticky
I looked at the woman wearing the shapely, crisp white dress and I wondered about her entire life, in a Walter Mitty moment. She was somewhere around her late thirties and immediately I assumed she had no children. I made this assumption because she wore a perfect white dress. I couldn’t imagine any pets either in her life. Or chocolate. Her pumps were tall maybe nude in color. She did not step in, well, anything. She floated, in her white dress and her tall shiny heels and her swingy blonde hair and she seemed the very definition of care free. The whisper of a peach-colored, probably cashmere, sweater was loosely tied around her strong, exposed shoulders. And her smart, small, caramel-colored, leather bag with the long straps, stayed close to her body.
I wondered if the dress was new. If she was headed to an interview, a lunch date, a tryst. She screamed Big City in a small town and I wondered if she was visiting or new or newly single. And then I realized the light had changed and someone was honking behind me and I hit the gas and my Coke flew sideways out of the car cup holder and onto my seat. My brown corduroys absorbed the liquid impact.
My life is messy. Sticky. Sometimes juicy. Though I have owned white articles of clothing they have never been a wardrobe success. For twenty-plus years I had a funny little black dog that shed with great regularity. And there were also the three cats — all dark-haired. My children lived big, messy lives growing up in our tiny house and spilled things and spilled out of rooms and off porches with all the friends they constantly brought home. We cooked spaghetti sauces and we watched ice cream melt in bowls and on our faces. And sometimes, it ended up on our clothes, and maybe the couch or a pillow… or a rug.
It all cleaned up fine and I think we did too, when needed. I watch with a certain sadness now the profusion of children and young families who seem to live such prescribed lives, I wonder where the juicy is? The dog is at the groomers and the children are racing from sports teams to art classes to lessons other lessons. All the snacks are healthy. And as my friend said, so well, the other day, "there seem to be a class of people who go shopping for clothes to go shopping in." And those lives are timed to the minute with elaborate schedules on multiple devices that ping with great regularity. There is little space for spontaneity.
These folks often ask in meetings, "what would be your measurement of success?" And it is so oft repeated it is like an ear worm now. Maybe we should stop trying to measure our success so frequently and just enjoy the ride. The constant questions about what is stainable, belies the inevitable law of the universe, nothing is.
Years ago I chipped one of my grandmother’s antique cobalt blue and creamy white tea cups I had inherited. I said with great sadness to my older friend I was sad to get rid of the cup. No, she said, the cup is only more interesting now — it has character and a story. And one by one, as the other cups shattered over time, I was grateful she had encouraged me to keep the cup. It is the only one of the set that remains. I drink from it when I need special comfort.
I attend many events and meetings in elaborate homes here. Homes blend together — with big stones and heavy timbers and decor that starts to feel like Pottery Barn must have created a special upscale division of sameness. The driveways have SUVs that have never been off the road and the yards are so very manicured, trees look like sculptures and flower beds like Monet paintings.
In my neighborhood where I have lived for 35 years, I have some young friends who happily drive a minivan and walk barefoot on the connecting shaggy grass lawns with a baby on their hip. Their dog is oversized and wildly affectionate. Their children can be delightfully noisy as they throw balls in a hoop and fly kites and chase each other around the cul-de-sac. Across the street there are often skateboards and mountain bikes akimbo on their lawn. The house of boys and dogs is a flurry of activity until the sun goes down.
There are walkers here. Rarely runners. Occasionally bikers. One couple who, arm in arm each evening, all year long, walk and talk softly to one another, in their native French. The young dog walkers from down the street have added a stroller with a sweet, messy-faced infant inside. And the older man and his adult son who share a house right now, between a marriage and a new retirement, trim their trees and replace the planks in their wooden porch and have a camaraderie born of hard work shared.
Sometimes I feel like there are growing numbers of people moving here who want to look and act like the four color photos we use to promote our town. Where everyone is healthy and active and attractive. And now also carefully prescribed and organized and talking in acronyms and sound bites. Maybe success isn’t something that should be measured… And failures and messy times, where the real learning/growing/living takes place, I have found to be the juiciest of places.
There is a pile of leaves in the corner of my yard the wind has created. I am hoping the neighborhood kids steal over and throw those leaves up in the air in gleeful, noisy, messy handfuls soon… maybe this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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