Lately I’ve been trying to tighten-up my fashion, dress more like a hot librarian, or at least a cuter, more streamlined teacher. More edge and less of the post-prego phlump that has people asking me if I’m really due again…I penned three words of inspiration. Three words to help me find my way back to some semblance of style. Vintage was one of them, but I’m seeing that it’s not just fashion (and, yes, I should also, take better care of my nails).
My pull towards “vintagia” is more about roots showing up on my person. About being rustic and real. It is continuance, the memory of umbilical cord, the desire to feed my family from a bed of rich soil, and the tethering to all things good. It is the peace I make with my family tree. A transcendence which also colors my countenance and makes any leaf look wet with lush beauty. Vintage is the pressing of gold onto today’s feathers, a resounding in the heart.
The tension of “go” and “stay” until we simply hear, “It’s okay. We’re here.”
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”
― e.e. cummings
Vintage is the song crooning out of my mouth right now, the song of longing and trekking, lunging, squinting forward. It is my turn to take the kids to school, preschool bags strapped to handlebars.
I peddle through neighborhood blocks, tight clusters of Japanese houses and apartments. I’ve got two kids in tow, two year-old cutie boy in front and long-legged four-year old girl in back. We cruise to school, we Tokyoites, knowing all the back roads and most sunny spots. The bike is new, a battery-assist and our sole vehicle for the streets, other than our feet. Okay, and trains. A jackhammer pounds. Construction is always moving things around. I shift my cross-body bag a little farther down on my hip. We are a long way from where I grew up.
This bike is new, but I’ve been a bike girl from pink Huffy days, streamers streaming with the click of those rainbow spoke beads. Grandpa was cycling hero then, and since forever, strong slim calves gliding over highways, pushing over hills and dales. He once cycled from Maine to Florida, into the lot of The Melting Pot for fondue where we waited for him with a crown. Custom-built cycle. Round rearview mirrors and those built in cycling shirt pockets, while I was decorating my little bikes’s spokes with plastic rainbow-hued spoke beads. I know cycling from this man, also song and manners, how to maneuver a meal with gleaming, five-course silverware settings. I know finery and getting dirty, alike. I’m not afraid of a wrench and grease, or the reward of a crisp gin and tonic. I know how to make magic work. It’s a bit of grit and a lot of doo-wop, like Gene Kelley in the rain.
Fresh air fills my lungs; even in the city, here, air is clean. I ride with the strength of a few strong men. (I know, I’ve got that battery pack, but my heart is in it, dear) .
“This riding? It’s in your bones”, I call out to both kids. Gotta be loud with all this wind! The squeaky voice and swinging, kicking feet behind. “Grandpa Dick!” Precisely. She knows that strength and beauty is what I mean. These traits are passed down. Fearless confidence to navigate paths and read maps, even in French. Theirs is the heirloom of strength, a marriage of intellect and a love for smiles. A time piece can be a song. Songs of cousins and reunions with Ella on the record-player and wicked laughter that sends some of us racing to the bathroom. The sass of Grandma shimmying into pink jeans when every other woman was June Cleaver. Her purse, a leather pack for bullet shells. Picture Annie Oakley and the most sophisticated, cultured Vogue Twiggy. Vintage must be attitude-meets-class. And that’s just one side of the family! I carry some precious cargo, glittering harbors full of stories and recipes inside these veins.
Grandma gifted me jewels on this last trip–great grandmother’s silver and moonstone earrings and brooch. She brought it out of their walnut dresser, curved in art deco. I didn’t immediately think it my style. “Oh, I dunno, Grandma”, with my head cocked. Hmmm. It looked so old-fashioned. That was before I knew it’s history, before it gleamed extraordinary. I poked the stems into my earring holes and suddenly we all gasped. I was suddenly a dame in Roma or Seville, a woman of silk scarves and fabulous handbags. My great grandmother must have radiated style. I could begin to know her now. A remnant, a thread, a tangible sparkly element right here! My neck and chin raised. Those jewels could travel. I was vintage. A great grand daughter, known. (Problem is, these vintage jewels haven’t surfaced since my return to Japan. I am hurting and praying, loves).
Sometimes you don’t plan the things you pass down, the seeds that break open and shoot roots down. We hug our way into the earth, balanced on black rubber and gravel. It is a tree of life to those who hold onto it and all the supporters are happy. Legacy is how we speak, how we fumble and gaze at intimacy. My Grandpa and I saddle up to each other on those rides at the shore, singing songs, whistling stories and turning cobwebs into glory. Summertime and the living is easy… Old King Cole. Air Force, Army tunes, battle blues, folk songs, and spirituals. Stories with our white water bottle, trading off. Maybe vintage is vintage only if it’s passed down. Hand to hand. Otherwise it’s just old.
Soon enough my boy will sing these words. They will grow up his bones like invisible skeletal reinforcement for the soul. One of these days, you’re gonna take to the sky. And then it hits me. The time I think I am losing! The heirlooms I’ve lost! The artifacts of unknown whereabout, the drawbacks of many times moving. We can’t keep everything we treasure, so we write, and we weep, and we dance. I’ve got home, even here. The songs, they’re inside. Secure. Growing. I’ve got the loves hidden, all these conversations, all the glimpses of beauty. Each poster is pinned up on my walls. Really really on the inside wherever I move. As far away as Tokyo is. As far away as wherever. I’ve got my love to keep my warm. We sing that one, too. So off with my overcoat. I don’t need no overcoat. I’m burning with love. The flame grows higher, my love burns brighter and I can weather the storm!! What do I care…. I’ve got my love to keep my warm.
Another song to tick off. I’ve taught my girl this one, too. These are the pieces of worth, the things I can carry. Vintage is my voice taking the past into today, into my lap and into lullaby, round and round the circumference of the world, or at least my pedals. The things you pass on. Treasures in death and birth.
We must be known as the loudest here. Such is our projection and voice box. They are old songs, taught by the grands to our parents and handed down. We use them to make the ride easier, February rains gentler, and August sun cooler. Vintage is called more than getting by. It can be a lifeline and fun.
‘Cause I love you, a bushel and a peck! You bet your pretty neck I do. The sweet voice from behind me joins in, but she can’t keep up. I realize I’ve gone and changed the tune a bit. It is my jazz, so known on the insides that it can be squashed around and made different.
I’ve got my love to keep me, and us, warm. This is vintage-lovesick-peace, and it is good. It is a turn on a merry-go-round, a tour of love as it makes its way down our lane and even round our ankles, kitten heels or bare-feet.
A song of growing strong.
How ’bout you? What are your vintage treasures?
What are the songs? The smells? The treasure you keep safe or maybe want to create?
I’d love to know!
Here’s some inspiration, perhaps!
On the life-long rotation: