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Friday, June 05, 2009

MEMORY: Jacob Maarse - free luxury


I might live on a farm - scuttling around with chickens in the yard, hanging laundry on the line in bare feet, slopping leftovers onto the compost pile and digging up dandelions from between bricks in the walkway. I might be a cheapskate, a rustic, a bohemian wannabe. I might even romanticize all that for you, showing you just the right peeling paint on the porch floor but hiding the wrong chipped paint on the deck skirt. One looks "shabby chic," while the other just looks hillbilly. (How carefully and purposefully we blog.)

But while part of me wants rustic, frugal and simple, another part of me revels in luxury, through the eyes, fingertips, mouth. Paris kind of luxury. I am the first to argue that my life is full of luxury - of the "best" kind - ample feathers, weathered wood, fresh eggs and veggies and overflowing goodness and kindness are but a few, what Thoreau and Emerson might call "the art of living well" - but just humor me.

Jacob Maarse Florists in Pasadena, California was my second-hand luxury in a previous lifetime. We were in our twenties living in this neighboring city of LA, with a tiny toddler and a new baby. We had no money to spare. This would have been around 1982, it was Christmas, and in Pasadena that meant it was 70 degrees F (21 C) - poinsettias were growing as shrubs outdoors. It was the year we couldn't afford Christmas gifts, so friends loaned us their Playskool jungle gym for Lesley and Peter to climb on when they woke up Christmas morning.

One Saturday before Christmas I put on my nicest casual outfit, smoothed back my long wavy hair with a headband, left the babies in Don's expert hands, and escaped alone downtown for some holiday inspiration.

On display in Jacob Maarse were effusive dried flower arrangements as well as evergreen ones with red holly berries, silver candlesticks and frames, potpourris, bath salts and soaps, stiff linens with lace borders, red velvet ribbons and plaid pillows. The place smelled rich. The wood door frames were old but well hung. Older Pasadena money'd ladies floated through the store as they awaited a floral order. I tried not to feel out of place. I even worked up some courage to ask the florist who was artistically filling a dozen grapevine Christmas baskets who had ordered them? They were full of every good thing the store had to offer, and I imagined them to be worth at least $100 apiece - a fortune to me at the time. She replied, "Julie Andrews."

Julie Andrews. Suddenly all the floating women in the store looked just like her - aging gracefully (she was only 47 then, but I was 20 years younger!), smooth, simple hair around a pretty face, and modest but fine clothes only a woman with old money would wear.

I stared at those copious gift baskets and - in spite of my own personal lack of means - felt that something was right in the world. A successful woman remembered her friends at Christmas by sending a basket of luxury. Would I have liked to be one of the recipients?

Maybe in a way, I was. I received the visual exuberance and generosity and still carry it in my heart and mind 27 years later.

46 comments:

Kat said...

What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

renaye said...

a beautiful memory. thanks for sharing.

JC said...

I love flowers just not the cost of them.

For Valentine's my hubby took me 'looking' at flowers and asked what I would want

I told him, 'Nothing' ... just looking at them was enough ...

ds said...

Ahhh, Julie Andrews. Such a lovely memory, and not just because of her. To hang the sheets on a clothesline strung outside while barefoot? That is my idea of luxury now...Thank you for every bit of this. Good weekend!

Loring Wirbel said...

1982 was a good year for starving. I was finishing senior year at UofA in Tucson and lived off a 40-pound bag of millet for months. Got kinda psychotic around graduation day, probably through malnutrition. Maybe the mention of Julie Andrews was really a fever dream?

Ruth said...

Thank you, Kat. Strange what you remember over the years.

Ruth said...

Hi, Renaye, one day you'll be old like me, remembering your stories. Because you're not going to believe all that about when you're gonna die on that silly quiz, right?

Ruth said...

That's so cool, JC.

Did you ever hear about Kirsty Alley? She had a drug addiction, and when she went clean, she decided to spend the same amount of $$ on flowers around the house.

Ruth said...

DS, one of the best things in life is that my ideas change. Enjoying the essence of things is truly luxury - no matter what they are.

Ruth said...

Oh my, Loring. You sound like someone from a pioneer story. Not good.

I think we were maybe living on around $400/month.

J.G. said...

Your beautiful story reminds me of what Thoreau said: "My wealth is not possession but enjoyment."

That's often the best kind of wealth, as you've discovered.

Ruth said...

J.G., "not possession but enjoyment." Hear, hear.

Susan said...

Lovely memory, Ruthie! I've always thought of Julie Andrews as being kind and caring and a lady with lots of class. Your story illustrates that. I'll bet the aroma in the shop was wonderful!

Ruth said...

Susie, I don't really know much about JA - besides being married to Blake Edwards. Don fell in love with her as Mary Poppins, sitting in the front row of the theater in whatever grade. She is lovely, and it's nice to imagine her being as lovely a person as she seems to be on screen.

Anet said...

What a beautiful memory!
A Christmas of little, but plenty in heart! I've had a few of those:) Looking back, I'm so glad I did have them!
I love your stories Ruth, I'm waiting for the book, really!

Leena said...

I would like today to get one cup of coffee and sit down and listen your memories and stories!
Somebody was asking your book! I remembered, that you once told me, that you are thinking a book about your mother or was it your grandmother, how is it?? Or should you wait for your retiring time, but then you may have many grandchildren to look after and no time at all for writing :))
I am waiting grandchildren here, we should do some repairing work to the house, but when we can start - no time for it, after these two children are other two coming and then Melli and her parents . . . :))
The life is wonderful!

leejatta said...

waiting for, Leena , remember for, for . . .

Barry said...

Sounds like a day rich in memories, Ruth.

I've had a few of those and treasure them still.

amuse me said...

I felt like I was walking in your shoes. What a wonderful memory that you shared. :) M

Oliag said...

...I love that quote from Thoreau...and your memory of course...it is amazing and interesting what sticks in the memory...I think I would have been a wee envious at that time to tell the truth:)

shoreacres said...

I first read this as a post about luxury. Then, after a few reads, it seemed much more about the art of the extravagant gesture.

Although your rhetorical question went unanswered ("Would I have liked to be one of the recipients?) it made me think of times I've been the recipient of an "extravagant gesture". One example came to mind immediately. I've since thought of three more that would quality.

What's most amazing is that each of the experiences involved people I didn't know and haven't seen since. Each was absolutely unplanned and took place within the context of travel.

You've surfaced some wonderful memories for me with your delightful story, and given me much to ponder.

Ruth said...

Anet, you're right of course. Without times of want, the plentiful years are less deep.

Thank you for the book nudge. :)

Ruth said...

Leena - you are getting ready for your summer at the lake with your family. The children will swim with the dog.

Maybe I will write down my memories and reflections in a book one day, and share it with a few friends and family. I don't think anyone else will be interested! You and Anet are kind to ask about it.

Ruth said...

Barry, there are those landmark places that become symbols over time.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Marion.

Ruth said...

Oliag - one thing about memory, we adjust it over time, n'est-ce pas?

Ruth said...

Thank you for being such a careful reader, Linda. That means so much.

I'm back to reading the wabi-sabi house - currently in a chapter on the point that really, what is important in our homes when we have guests over is that their needs are met. It's simple and in some ways seems extravagant when I watch how some people "entertain" - focused on how the table looks or extravagance of the menu.

I would love to see you write about those memories of an extravagant gesture.

shicat said...

Hi Ruth, Lets see, 1982I was out of school had a low paying job,as did my husband, and we had just gotten married. We lived near Birmingham and I too would,at times,wander the streets only to see that the teenagers outfits cost more than my monthly rent. Sort of made me ill,how indulged and unimportant,I would tell myself. Years of being poor in college,starting my beat up car with quick start and eating a bag of licorice for the entire week had jaded me. I was/ am glad that I had that experience. Survival really,but I must admit I did have a few favorite high end antique shops that I would visit and my favorite florist, Blossoms. So visually pleasing.

When you mentioned that you had to borrow a climber as a Christmas gift, it reminded me of the Christmas when I bought all of my sons toys at a garage sale:)

Peter said...

I guess my only comment here is that I just LOVED to read this story, for what it tells as such and for what I guess it tells about you !

California Girl said...

I went to the web site to enjoy their creations. Reading some of their history brought back memories of my godmother who lived in San Marino for many years. She had a beautiful home. I visited her as a child. She owned an insurance brokerage in Pasadena. She was Canadian, tall, elegant and her perfectly coiffed blonde hair turned white when she aged.

Ruth said...

Cathy, it seems to be a cliche to say it now, but I have absolutely no doubt that the lean times make us better. It stinks when it's NOW though - always easier to look back on.

Ruth said...

Peter, and I love you loving it.

Ruth said...

California Girl, maybe your godmother one of the ladies I saw in Jacob Maarse.

Merging Point said...

The essence of exuberance shown as generous expression, indeed, lets you share this even now...
wonderful!

Ruth said...

Merging Point - yes, and the generosity was not even extended to me personally.

Sandy said...

Wow Ruth, what a great post!

Relyn said...

Ah... But, that's your gift, isn't it? Being content with what you have and what you see. Not needing to own it all yourself.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Sandy.

Ruth said...

Hi, Relyn - as Thoreau said, it isn't possessions but enjoyment that makes wealth.

mystic rose said...

I love this post. Beautiful. Just like your heart :)

dutchbaby said...

That is part of the beauty of flowers isn't it? That they are fleeting, either for a minute or a week. Their delicate impermanence makes me appreciate them more.

Ginnie said...

Because Julie Andrews is one of my favorite women of all time, this story has special meaning for me, Sister. I never knew this about you back then!

Ruth said...

Thank you, how sweet, Mystic.

Ruth said...

Good point, Dutchbaby.

Ruth said...

Ah yes, Boots, I do associate you with her!

l0ulii said...

lol it's cute the little bird xD

You should visit my blog, it talks about french food, i give recipes and all ^^

And sorry for my english ><
Byee (k)