Back in the days of my Brooklyn childhood, women often wore Christmas corsages pinned to their coats during the holiday season. These might consist of a cluster of ribbon and sprig of pine, with a fake poinsettia, plastic candy cane, or some other seasonal artifact at the center, and lots of glitter and sparkle. I remember admiring the choices in a store window one gray December day, just as I would admire, come February, the beautiful heart-shaped boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolate on display, burgundy velvet or adorned with red roses. I just had a weakness for this stuff. I was a skinny, scrappy girl with bruises on her knees, but I had decidedly frilly and fem sensibilities. I imagined it would be a great pleasure to sport a Christmas corsage on the lapel of my winter coat, and now I lingered at the storefront peering through the glass, wondering which one I would choose if I had the means for such a luxury. My mother was with me, but this was only a looking game, and I never would have asked or expected her to buy one. I haven’t the foggiest notion what such a corsage would have cost back then, in the 1950s, but even if they were only a dollar, that would have been too extravagant.
Then the proprietor of the shop stepped out onto the street with two corsages
in his hand. I cannot recall his face, only his kindly demeanor. He was an
older man, balding perhaps. He handed me a corsage and said, “Little girls
should have corsages for the holiday.” Then, turning to give one to my mother,
he said, “And pretty ladies too.” He wished us a good day and a Merry
Christmas, gave a courtly sort of bow, and retreated back into the shop. I
spent the rest of the day feeling giddy, staring down at my corsage, touching its
ribbons and tiny plastic charms, believing that I was now part of the festive
pageantry and procession of Christmas in the city.
I never forgot that man’s gesture. I never knew his name, barely even managed
to sputter out a thank you, but more than fifty years later, I am thinking of
him. He achieved a kind of immortality that day, and whoever he was, he is famous to me. He helped the
child that was me to perceive the world as a place that could be gentle and
unexpectedly indulgent, and I have tried many times to do the same for others. It's easy to feel depressed and overwhelmed when considering the state of the world, but maybe the idea is to think a little smaller sometimes. I like the credo expressed by Naomi Shihab Nye's in her poem Famous, which concludes with these words:
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
So here's to small kindnesses and frivolous gallantries, to smiles returned or offered first, to ephemeral and essential ice cream kinds of giving.
week the Geminid meteor showers were at their peak. There was not much moon,
the night was clear, and a spellbinding show was predicted. In the old days, I
might have bundled up and camped out on the deck, but this time I just forced
myself awake and lay down on the living room floor for a few minutes, looking
up and out the window to the sky, not a very committed stargazer. But even from
my awkward vantage point on the floor, I actually caught a couple of meteors.
(“Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket…”) I tucked these into my
heart and went back to bed.
I have decided to approach Christmas the same way.
I won’t get into a big frenzy about it, but I think I need to at least force
myself awake and pay attention to whatever good is still going on. Even a flash or occasional glimmer will be welcome.
And I will try to pin a metaphorical Christmas corsage on a bleak lapel here and there.