Party Dresses, Pearls & A Proposition for You, Dear Reader

I believe in party dresses. I don’t necessarily mean tulle and satin and crinoline and patent leather Mary-Janes. These days my party clothes are more like cashmere cowl-neck sweaters, black pencil skirts and my knee-high Docs with opaque tights. Fancy earrings. Maybe break out my blingiest ring. Today, of course, was a day primed for Party Clothes. It being my birthday and all. So what to wear? I didn’t have to teach today, and had canceled office hours. I wasn’t meeting friends, and wasn’t going out any place fancy to eat. It was just going to be me keeping my own good (or crabby; it was hard to say at 7 am when I woke up) company.

I ended up in an ensemble pretty close to what I describe above. Substitute “tweed” for “pencil” and “vest for “cowl-neck,” and you get the picture. Not my fanciest outfit by far, but I felt kicky and cute and this seemed like the right way to begin my 41st year.

The jewelry this morning, was the thing I really paused over. Especially on my birthday, I like to adorn myself with pieces that people have given me. Special people, special pieces. A bloom of diamonds from my mother-in-law. My grandmother’s Immaculate medal decorated with enamel roses. My mother’s deep green jade brooch.I always wear the opal ring I bought myself when I turned 30 (and I figured out that guy was not going to be buying me any rings so dammit, I’d buy it myself!). And I usually wear some other piece Paul has given me over the years. Today, my green crystal drop earrings. I needed a necklace, though, and today’s pick was easy: a simple, single strand of pearls–the last gift my grandmother gave me before she died. They happened to be perfect with the outfit, but they also suited beautifully because for some reason I woke up with her on my mind. Not such a stretch, probably, since she was one of the people I could always count on to call (and sing!) on my birthday and I miss her every other day of the year as well. I’m tempted to go on and on right now about just how excellent a person she was, how I aspire to be like her in a thousand ways, but instead I’ll talk about just one, since it has been on my mind recently.

My grandmother was a letter-writer. She had beautiful hand-writing and spent hours composing missives to me about her days. They were not elegant days–a retiree’s life in south Florida–but they were elegantly rendered by her hand. She wrote to me regularly for years, sometimes several times a month. I kept many of them and love to see her patient script on the envelopes when I encounter them unexpectedly in a box or a drawer while looking for something else.

I’ve had the pleasure of other letter-writers in my life, too. My first mother-in-law (who had a years-long correspondence with my grandmother) writes letters like she talks: filled with exuberant sighs and tangents and brilliant cynicism and smart-assery. My great-aunt Marie whose letters come to me from her convent and which include details about Saturn’s rings as well as prayer cards for Saint Therese of Lisieux– “The Little Flower”– who she always called my patron Saint.  I’ve had boyfriends and lovers and best girlfriends who have written me beautiful messages that have made my breath catch when they appeared in my mailbox and which I’ve filed away with their Birds of North America stamps and their sparkly return addresses. Someone out there loves me.

So today, on my birthday, I have a proposal for you: I will write you a letter. A real, pen-to-paper missive. I will think about you and how much you mean to me. I will go off on tangents and I will come back to make silly observations about how long we’ve known one another or how it feels like we’ve been friends just forever. Would you like that? If you would, comment on this post and give me a way to get in touch with you so I can get your mailing address.

I bought some gorgeous, too-expensive stationary and a flowy pen at the downtown place today. I’m serious about this. I might even get some sealing wax!

Really, when was the last time you got a letter in the mail? Please let me write you one. I would be honored.

It would be such a gift.

12 thoughts on “Party Dresses, Pearls & A Proposition for You, Dear Reader

  1. Michael JB (@southbayfoodies) says:

    I agree, hand written letters are the best! These days, though, they come along few and far between given all of our digital methods for getting in touch with people. My dad used to call me a superb letter writer (i sent them from college) and I have stacks of letters that an old sweetheart and I sent to each other while we were in school. I hope to share them with my daughter one day; how ironic is it that I’m thinking about scanning them to digital form for preservation!? 🙂

    • Sheila says:


      That’s the thing, though: as much as I long for the tactile-love of a hand-written letter, I am SO grateful that we have technology that can preserve such things for us beyond the page. I feel okay loving both things. May I write you a letter? I’ll tell you all about what I’m cooking these days! Send me your mailing address at Thanks for reading!

  2. Faulkner says:

    Oh, I adore handwritten notes, and letters are even better. Last month, I found a letter my mother wrote to her mom, Miriam, when I was a few months old. Wow! It was in some sewing things I inherited from my grandmother. She, of course, kept it all of those years. I imagine her reading and rereading it. It was all about mothering.

    • Zeph says:

      My mother’s mother’s letters are like fine jewels tucked in tissue under layers of everyday view, too. Your letter here, though not hand written but equally beautiful in alternate format, makes me full of sentiment. Happy Birthday, Sheila. Thank you.

      • Sheila says:

        Zeph, I’d love to write you one! I think friendships can happen this way. May I? Send me your mailing address over at FB if you’d like one. 🙂

  3. Lisa says:

    I hate that I write letters to my mom and dad in my head and never get the words on paper. I have saved pictures the girls have drawn to include with these letters. In my office is a flat rate box so I can send letters, pictures and other little things I want to send her. Ditto this for many other relatives, some who are now dead who never did get the letter b/c I never sent it. Why is it so hard to do such a small thing? I hope your post will again remind me to follow through and send some letters. I love getting them so why is it so hard for me to do the same?

    • Sheila says:

      Lisa, I love the idea of keeping the flat rate boxes on hand. That is part of my problem: laziness. Why is it so hard for me to get my fanny to the post office? Anyway, send me your mailing address and I will put pen to paper for you, dearest! xo

  4. Nikki Magennis says:

    I don’t want to presume on your time, Sheila, by asking you to write a total stranger a letter, though that’s a very generous offer! I just wanted to say how much I loved your poem at qarrtsiluni, and that I hope to read your memoir when it’s out. Your jewellery is beautiful, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s