Several years ago, my husband and I had some friends who were members of one of the Yacht Clubs in San Francisco. We would occasionally join the couple for dinner after a day of sailing.
The views were fantastic, the bartenders gave a deep pour, and the food was good (but not great).
San Francisco is well known for its more liberal political leanings, but the yacht clubs are where the more conservative (i.e. wealthy) can be found in the notorious hippie city. The rules of the yacht club dictated that we had to mind our p’s and q’s while there.
On one memorable night after a hearty dinner, the four of us retired to the bar with drinks in hand and began a rousing and competitive game of liar’s dice.
Just as things really got rolling, as it were, an Admiral of the club who was a huffing old man with a bulbous nose blooming with red capillaries, bustled over to us. He leaned over the bar and blurted, “Ladies do NOT throw dice in bars!”
Remember when you were a kid riding in the front seat of the car? And that moment when your mom would hit the brakes and throw out that strong mom arm to protectively keep you from flying through the windshield?
That is roughly the approach my husband took to keep me from getting very unladylike in a real hurry.
After the adrenaline dissipated and another drink was poured, I remember thinking how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.
The George Moro Dancers at El Rancho Vegas, 1949 — Photo by Don English, photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau
These days I’m a lot older and a lot less inclined to take any guff off of anyone, particularly a stuffy old rich man. But this concept of “being a lady” and acting ladylike is still something I think about. In fact, as I age, it’s on my mind more than ever.
My parents grew up during the Great Depression and had me late in life so I ended up with a more old fashioned set of values than many of my peers in school. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, women weren’t having kids into their late thirties, so my parents were a generation older than my friend’s parents.
Where they had cool bell bottom pant wearing moms and sideburn wearing dads who were easy, open, and permissive, my folks were stodgy and carried a depression-era sensibility about almost everything, including but not limited to: money, discipline, and politics.
But to their credit, where many of my female friends grew up with their parents saying, “When you grow up and get married…” mine were saying, “When you grow up and graduate from college…”
Pretty forward thinking for my ultra conservative folks.
So I followed their advice, went to college, got a post graduate degree and these days I work in operations to support scientists, including both physicists and engineers. While the percentage of women in the various STEM fields is still small, it is certainly growing. I am lucky to work with a lot of strong women in non-traditionally female professions. This has me thinking more and more about what it means to be a lady.
If clothes make the man, does how a woman dresses define whether or not she is a lady? With each passing year, the dress code of employers becomes more casual. Both men and women can wear khakis and a button down, so maybe clothes are no longer a deciding factor.
Once the measure of being a lady was being demure, subservient, speaking in low and melodic tones. My mother’s 1950’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook explains that my job as wife is to have the children clean and tidy for when my husband comes home. I should dress in a pleasing way and greet him at the door. That advice was prudent for the times, but is no longer the measure of what makes me, or anyone, a lady.
I’ve been noodling over writing this piece for a little over a month. I had started getting down the words when the Be a Lady They Said video went viral. I saw it posted on all of the social platforms. I didn’t want to seem like riding the coattails of that sentiment so I set this story aside. Perhaps I’m not the only one thinking on this topic.
This question of what it means to be a lady continues to rattle around in my brain so I dusted this story off and starting thinking about it again. As I enter the time of my life where I will no longer have the ability to bear children, an aspect some say defines the very nature of womanliness, I wonder who and what I am now that I am no longer young, with the power and energy that youth brings.
My face in the mirror is changing, my hair is rapidly turning gray, and what it means to be a lady, for myself anyway, is also changing.
So I haven’t yet answered the question of what it means to be a lady, and maybe I never will. Or maybe the answer is being a lady means whatever I want it to mean.
And for the record, ladies most certainly do throw dice in bars.
I was born with a troubling affliction. It’s been difficult to manage my whole life, and is embarrassing to discuss. Today I feel is the time to go public with my ailment.
I am affected by a disorder known colloquially as walnut bladder. Yes, it’s true. I so much as look at a glass of water and I have to pee.
In such times that my walnut bladder-itis impacts the life of my husband, he refers to me as a frog. “You know, you pick up a frog and it piddles in your hand?”
As a child I presented quite a challenge to my folks who liked to take road trips. You see, I had the kind of dad who refused to stop once we were on the road. “Gotta make good time,” he’d say.
The average child has to pee frequently but I was even more prone than normal. It was a problem.
We used to spend summers in a small town in Eastern New Mexico. The drive from our home in Albuquerque took about three hours, plus or minus. Even as an adult, three hours is just too long for me without a pit stop.
This vexed my mother terribly as she had to manage both my bladder and my straight-through-without-stopping father. Once she threatened to use a clothespin to clamp off my leaky plumbing.
Well that got my attention.
From that day forward I planned well ahead for any family road trip. My plan was to cease intake of liquids at least a day in advance of the trip and steadfastly refuse to drink any liquid until we arrived and a toilet was in sight.
In hindsight, not having much liquid while living in the high desert probably wasn’t the best idea, but it worked, thus avoiding any clothespin type of situations.
In my adult life I manage my ailment by working a path between my desk at work and the restroom. At home I get up a minimum of once a night to pee.
There was a recent situation where I again recognized the utter torture of a completely full bladder and no good plan to empty it out.
It was a typical afternoon at work and I was, as usual, drinking lots of good fresh water. Stay hydrated, right? That means ol’ Walnutta has to be actively managed.
Before a work meeting I will use the restroom right before heading into the conference room to help ensure I can get through the hour stretch.
On this day, I was so busy with work and in other meetings that I bumped right up to the top of the hour when my next meeting was due to start. I did an internal gut check and then a clock check and thought, “Yeah, I’m ok.”
Silly, silly me.
At about twenty minutes into the hour and a half long meeting, a job interview with a prospective candidate no less, I had that first twinge of “oh…hmm, I’m going to need to pee here pretty soon.”
As the seconds on the clock ticked by with molasses speed, and the candidate droned on and on and on, things started to get bad.
I began to go through the stages of grief:
First, denial: “Pfft! I’m fine. No big deal. I can make it.”
Then bargaining: “Ok, well, if I can make it just ten more minutes, maybe I can excuse myself and take care of this. Please please bladder don’t let me pee my pants.”
Anger: “Dangblamit why did I drink so much water today! And why is my bladder so tiny? And why can’t I just distract myself and make this feeling go away!?!”
Depression: “Dude, you are such a loser. Look at everyone else at the table, they can hold their liquids. What is wrong with you?”
Acceptance: “It’s going to be ok. I’m going to make it. I’m not going to pee my pants. And if I do, it will be fine, right?”
Over the course of an hour and a half I moved up and down and back and forth through all of those stages while squirming mightily in my chair.
Look, my attention span isn’t that long to begin with, add in a full to bursting bladder and I don’t hear what anybody has to say on any topic.
It was horrible. At one point I thought I might even cry, I had to pee so badly.
And finally! Finally at the hour and forty five minute mark that damn candidate stopped talking and I was free to go use the restroom all the way over on the other side of the building.
Then it becomes that age old question of walking or running in the rain.
Do I walk to the bathroom thus taking longer and upping my odds for peeing my pants?
Or do I run thus jangling my bladder and making it more likely I’ll pee my pants?
I chose the middle road: a sort of tight-legged shuffle which worked and I made it safely to the bathroom stall.
Once in the safe zone my whole world looked a little brighter. A little happier. A little more at peace.
I know everyone has gone through the ballad of the full bladder at one point or another. When you have a walnut bladder it happens a little more often than I’d like.
For any reader who might have questions about my affliction: it’s been this way since I was a kid, I have discussed it with more than one doctor, and it just happens to be a feature (not a bug) of the big Karen machine.
On Friday morning I had what could best be referred to as one of them déjà vu kinda deals. Wikipedia says that’s “the feeling that one has lived through the present situation before.” Close enough, let’s go with it.
I ended the stressful workweek with a fairly intense morning meeting. It was a good meeting, but it was intense. When it was done, mentally beat up and a little worse for the wear, I left the building to walk to my car to move on to the next part of the workday.
Whether the heat, the quality of light, the alignment of clouds in the sky, a smell, or something entirely more woo-woo, as I walked to my car I had this overwhelming desire to lay down on the warm concrete sidewalk, just like I used to do when I was a kid. Follow with me here.
Growing up, I loved to go swimming at a public pool that was less than a mile from the house. Very walkable across a lovely green park and over to the pool. Once there I took to the water like it was my second home. Splashing around, spinning into summersaults, trying to see how long I could stay under, doing handstands, all of it. I’d stay in there for hours then when it was time to take a break, I’d breach the surface like a sea lion and flop onto the sun warmed concrete. Teeth chattering, I’d lay with my body straight out with arms tucked underneath.
The hot concrete warmed up my skin while the New Mexico sun baked the other side of me toasty brown.
There was a certain smell, the hot wet concrete and chlorine mixing with the cut grass smell from the park just over the fence. So much better, even, than laying in a pile of towels fresh out of the dryer, and that is pretty damn good.
This past Friday, I didn’t just think about this memory, I actively wanted to live it again by laying down and hugging the concrete. I had to use the grown-up voice inside of me to say, “don’t you do it or so help me…”
That feeling didn’t go away for a long while, long past when I’d climbed into my car and drove off, landing back at the office and back at work. The feeling still resonated with me and throughout the day, I had such a yearning, an overwhelming need to feel that feeling again.
Later, after work, over a glass of something lovely and chilled and delicious, I pondered why exactly I had such a strong memory and overwhelming desire to lay on warm pavement.
Was it nostalgia for the simple summers of childhood? Easy days not spent inside negotiating with recalcitrant suppliers. Days where could idle by the pool.
Was it the sense of warming comfort I’d get from hugging the concrete? A deep satisfying down to the bones warmth, like a comforting hug from the sun.
Was it simply a synaptic misfire in an already overwrought brain? Do I smell toast? Hell, I really don’t know.
Even as I write this a few days later, I can still feel that yearning somewhere inside. I don’t really need to do anything to remedy this, like go seek out a swimming pool and hot concrete. I just know that this out of nowhere memory stays really strong with me. A feeling of having lived through it and a desire to feel that again.
To compensate, I spent much of the past weekend out on the back deck soaking up a little California summer sun, but not so much that my fair skin burned. I sat out there watching the world go by and pondered my own life enough that I’m now tired of thinking about it.
I do still wonder, though, where the hell that memory came from. And why.
Then again, maybe thinking about it too much takes away the magic off the memory. A good reminder to myself to just, you know, let it be.
And oldie but a goodie from my Flickr archives, the swimming pool at Filoli Gardens
Originally written in a fit of holiday homesickness in 2007, I republished it at the holidays for many years.
It’s been a while since I put it up on the blog, and this year I decided not to republish that same post but instead write a new one. It’s now eleven years later and things have changed. I have changed.
I’m sure many of the items will be the same, but may be on the list for a different reason. I don’t know, I’m riffing this as it comes to me. Eleven years seems like a long time, then hardly a blip on the radar too.
Anyhow, I’m super sentimental today and I’m listening to oldies Christmas music (go Bing Crosby!) so here we go:
The (refreshed) Top Ten Things I Miss About Christmas in New Mexico:
1) The smell of piñon fire smoke mixed with the smell of snow or very cold air. Don’t think snow has a smell? Think again. And piñon is the smell of home, hands down. Where I live now it’s often a spare the air day, so no fires. And also, no snow.
2) Shopping with my mom for the annual Christmas ornament. Usually we shopped in Old Town, but not always. I took the challenge of picking out my annual ornament very seriously. I have all of them now in a box. Maybe I should hang them on the tree this year? I haven’t done that in a while.
3) Biscochitos for sale pretty much everywhere. I love making them but also love eating them so sometimes my demand outpaced my supply. There was a little restaurant in Los Lunas that my folks used to like for breakfast that sold their own biscochos by the register. So light and crumbly. Gah! I could go for one now.
4) Tamales as gifts. Tamales at holiday pot lucks. Tamales at holiday parties. Just, all the tamales! All the time.
5) Creamland Egg Nog. You might say, “What now? Don’t they have egg nog out there in crazy California?” Yes they do, but I’ve never found any I liked as much as that local NM dairy brand. Plus now that my ol’ rig can’t tolerate dairy like it used to, I just have live in memories of glasses of delicious chilled nog from childhood.
6) This holiday candle my mom had from Avon that she only put out at the holidays. It smelled SO good. I have no idea what the smell even was, some sort of spiced berry thing. It was in a really pretty gold painted glass container.
Oh wait, holy moly. I found a photo online. This is it! Called Avon First Christmas Frankincense & Myrrh, circa 1967 to 1972. This is the scent of my childhood holidays. Man I miss that smell. It’s all Christmas Eve just after Mass, gazing at the tree, eating tamales, and you know, drinking big glasses of egg nog.
Awesome nostalgic photo was, surprisingly, found here.
7) Holiday happy hour at Gardunos, the one by Winrock. They’d decorate that whole warehouse looking place for the holidays. The margaritas flowed and mariachis played and there were good eats in abundance. I hear that the quality of Gardunos has gone to meh in recent years, and that makes me sad. Those days live on in memories from my mid-to-late 20s. (Well, there are quite a few things I miss from my 20s. My waistline, for example.)
8) And also sopaipillas. Which isn’t really just a holiday but year-round thing, but gall durn I miss them.
9) Snow on Sandia Crest. Or snow on the Organ Mountains. Or snow on any of the gorgeous mountains in New Mexico. (and the delicious city water that flows at spring thaw). I do NOT miss driving in snow, or how crazy people get when it is snowing, or cleaning snow off the car. Or for that matter, snow melting then re-freezing for weeks so you have that one patch that you slip on every single morning on your way to work.
But snow in the mountains? Perfection.
10) Making, placing, and lighting luminarias. Yes, we called them luminarias, correctly or not. Labor intensive but a labor of love. Digging up good New Mexico soil to fill paper bags and plopping in a candle. Stamping out the fire when the NM winds got to be too much… Like that.
Wow, so that is ten. It’s over as quick as it started. You know, ten seems hardly enough to capture all of the homesick in my heart, but this list is a pretty good place to start.
Maybe later tonight I’ll sip a little good Irish Whiskey (which doesn’t hurt my tummy!) and put my old childhood ornaments on the tree and hug The Good Man and The Feline and let memories have me for a while.
Coming up in the next few days: When I am done with the Wayback Machine, I think it is time to write the Top Ten Things I Love about Christmas in the Bay Area. There is a lot to love at the holidays, and after living here for 20 years, maybe it is time to give it its due.
Very cool image of Central Avenue in the 1950s-ish, at Christmastime was found here.