it’s golda meir of course.
and i show her here because she looks like somebody i knew.
there’s an old saying.
‘into every life a little rain must fall.’
and i would also add to that . . .
‘into every life . . . at least one real character will appear.’
a character we will never forget. and whom might just change our life.
belle was my character.
she was my friend.
would you laugh belle?
if you could see this?
would you laugh because i’m using golda meir’s pictures
to tell your story?
you probably would.
i have a picture of belle. she’s with my whole family
in that picture. i treasure it.
but at the moment. i can’t find it.
it was taken at a thanksgiving dinner she fixed for all of us.
and anyway. she looked remarkably like golda meir.
except her face might have been a bit smoother.
her hair a bit sleeker.
but the warmth and beauty. the same.
it was the year her son was in paris.
and she herself was hosting an exchange student from sweden.
that student became my very best friend.
my last year of high school.
my very best friend was with me. right by my side
that day my daddy died one afternoon. she didn’t talk. she just stayed there.
but this post is about belle.
that name or a derivative of it in most languages means
and my belle was not your classical beauty.
but look at golda’s face.
see the beauty there? it’s there alright.
it’s in the flashing dark eyes.
amused or thoughtful by turn.
the strong brow.
the dark hair lit with silver.
the mouth that can be stern or wise.
or just filled with humor.
she wore ‘fire and ice’ red lipstick. the only make up she wore.
she smoked. as it seemed now that i recall ~
all the adults i ever knew in that era ~ smoked.
she always. always used a long cigarette holder.
she had many of them. some vintage like this one.
on anyone but belle that would seem affected.
she had beautiful hands. she used it as an elongated expression of herself.
she died later of lung cancer.
like so many of them . . .
my darling little mother included.
but that’s not the belle i want you to know.
we all loved her. she was unique. the way
people are unique in old novels. without trying. you know?
she stood almost five feet tall. and she was not thin.
but you would never call her fat either. i don’t know. just belle!
belle seemed older than the other mothers.
i don’t know if she was. it just seemed that way.
she came into our lives when i was just 16 years old.
impressionable. dramatic. inquisitive.
belle had a brilliant son. he was 2 years older than i was.
they were very close. but
i think she always wanted a daughter too.
she had been a wealthy jewish princess from new york.
whose own family
disowned her because she fell in love with and married
a seriously quiet and studious young gentile. a goya.
she had been the apple of her papa’s eye.
and overnight. all that changed.
but she held fast. she followed her heart.
and they were happy together.
to lose her whole family.
i’m grown up now. i have lost all my family but the marine.
so now i have an inkling of what that kind of pain must have
she never spoke of it. her son told me.
belle was fun. and cultured. and outrageous.
i had one exactly like this.
i had a 19 inch waist in highschool
but after reading ‘gone with the wind’ . . .
nothing would have it but that i achieved a waist
just like scarlett o’hara.
a 16″ waist.
somehow i’d heard that if you wore a ‘waist cincher’ like this
day and night around the clock . . .
it would whittle your waist.
so . . .
on a shopping trip with my best friend . . . the exchange student
and belle . . . and me . . .
we all went in search of waist cinchers!
belle didn’t get one of course. but she let us get one.
and no. it didn’t make my tiny waist even tinier.
good grief. the stupid things teenage girls do.
that trip to the big city was my first experience having wine with lunch!
and meeting a famous author. well. he’d written many volumes of poetry.
can’t remember his name!
and we had lunch with one of her ‘old’ friends. who just happened
to have been in the ziegfeld follies ! ! !
you know . . .
hmmmm….. should i change my deodorant?
this is a scene from the classic movie ‘the great ziegfeld.’
the inspiration for barbra streisand’s later . . . funny girl.
belle had been from new York.
ziegfeld girls were like rock stars are now.
they were ‘quite risqué!’
and the old ziegfeld girl was still quite beautiful.
we two teenagers just sat spellbound while these two old
‘old to us’ anyway . . . LOL . . . legendary sophisticated beauties
how things have changed. i can’t see two teen girls actually
enjoying that kind of thing today. but we did.
we seemed to realize we were in the presence of fabulous
characters. characters totally comfortable in their own skin.
she tolerated anything but pretentiousness.
when you were with belle you were expected to say what you meant.
you were not allowed ‘cuteness’ or ‘coyness’.
you felt and were treated as if you were walking within the pages
of a book written by dorothy parker or oscar wilde.
her favorite mode of dressing was as unusual as was she.
she didn’t shop.
she had very few clothes. and most were old.
what she had was choice.
either a finely made white french slip that she had imported.
a finely made black dress that she wore with the softest cashmere shawls.
and in summer she wore silk and linen.
real silk. real linen. the kind that wrinkled.
everything about belle was authentic.
she would hold court for us whenever.
we were never turned away.
and light . . . age-appropriate . . . refreshment was
my favorites were ‘ironing’ days.
we would sit about their living room ~
sometimes three or four of us . . . all friends . . .
while she ironed in her slip.
she didn’t have a lot of ‘things’. but what she did have i was to learn
was of the highest quality you could buy.
while she ironed she sipped dom perignon from a baccarat flute.
like those above.
she NEVER was drunk. but she ALWAYS drank champagne when she ironed!
she said dryly . . . “there has to something remotely redeeming from it.”
she ironed expertly. as if it were her profession.
just the necessary amount of strokes. never more.
an elegant economy of motion.
something i have since realized is the mark of a certain ability
for living life itself.
my marine has that same ability. an economy of motion.
it truly is elegant and mesmerizing
to watch people like that do anything really!
hers was an acerbic wit.
i think i learned from her the subtleties of humor.
we talked of art and music.
we always heard something besides the latest rock n roll at her house.
sometimes classical. sometimes jazz.
i love mellow jazz to this day.
and madam butterfly is my favorite puccini opera.
i was upset.
but i was relieved.
i loved ballet. i’d studied it for years.
always new teachers. new classes. new buildings.
but the core of ballet is changeless. there are just differences in
the teaching of it.
finally jim reed ~ my father ~ had a serious talk with me.
if i really wanted to make it my life. he would support that.
if not. he could no longer afford it and i needed to quit.
i was not dedicated.
it is a commitment like none other. you must eat it. sleep it. live it.
to be really good.
belle and mother and i all had tea together the day i QUIT.
no big deal now. then. it was. i felt like a failure.
and yet ~
the most WONDERFUL FREEDOM too ! ! !
how often do we do something because it’s an old dream.
and we thought we wanted it. and somewhere along the way
we just started going through the motions?
belle was a mentor. there have been many.
not the least of those would be my own beautiful mother
and even in his own way . . .
how i love these people.
how important to have them in one’s life.
so beautiful belle.
where ever you are.
thank you for being the character in my life i shall
and hey old bean.
jewish though she was ~
she told mac her husband ~
when she found out her little swedish exchange student ~
was so lonely and homesick at christmas ~
well. in typical belle . belle said
“MAC. GO GET US THE BIGGEST AND TALLEST CHRISTMAS TREE
YOU CAN FIND. I WANT THE BEST! “
and with that she left with the little homesick swedish girl
to buy belle’s very own first christmas tree decorations.
til then belle.
til soon old bean.