Words that ring with particular sweetness and light when falling on the ears of a woman whose 60th birthday looms closer than she’d like to acknowledge.
That would be me.
The words only work their magic under two conditions. First, they need to be sincere. They can’t be lies or exaggerations. They certainly can’t be manipulative; spoken to achieve a desired result.
Second, they need to be delivered as unsolicited gifts. While it’s fine to have someone say, “You look great,” in response to the question, “How do you like my new dress?”, that’s not magic.
That nectar routinely flowed from the lips of my ex-husband, Alan. Here’s how it worked.
We’d be driving home from some dinner party, restaurant, gala event when he’d turn to me and say, “How did it feel to be the prettiest girl in the room?”
Maybe I was the prettiest girl in the room. Often I wasn’t. That didn’t matter. What mattered was that in his eyes I was.
Until the evening, six months after my 50th birthday, when we were driving home from the symphony ball.
“Georgia, how did it feel to be the prettiest girl in the room?” he asked.
Typically I didn’t say anything in response to this question. I’d smile, maybe pat his knee, maybe kiss his cheek, maybe caress his neck. I’d always return his gift with my own gift of tenderness.
This time I thought a bit, then spoke. “How about, ‘How did it feel to be the prettiest girl over 35 in the room?’”
He paused a beat, smiled and replied, “You’re right. How did it feel to be the prettiest girl over 35 in the room?”
That worked for me.
Now I’m a divorced woman and that particular honey hasn’t flowed my way in quite a long time.
Until one Saturday night, date night, when I had a date. For this coolish evening in early summer I picked out a simple sleeveless black sheathe, strappy black sandals with a bit of heel, and my black shawl.
Not just any black shawl; my flamenco shawl, from Spain (the same shawl I wore in Night of the Tied Up Husbands). Yards of black fabric are covered in embroidered silk flowers, with fringe that dangles long and fine. Picture patrician women with aquiline features, olive complexions, masses of raven hair held up off their slender necks by tortoiseshell combs. They stroll around the plazas of Seville with shawls draped around their neck, hanging dramatically over one shoulder or tied around their waist. Generations of the aristocratic tastes of these women went into the design and making of my shawl.
I stepped out of my date’s black SUV, threw the shawl around my shoulders and flung one side up and over the opposite shoulder. My tall frame was covered from neck to knees by black and gold, with black silken fringe dangling from my knees to my ankles. All that was visible of me was my pale Nordic face, blonde hair and freshly pedicured feet in their strappy sandals.
My date and I strolled along the sidewalk, headed to the theater, when two cute, 20-something women approached us. One of them called out to me as she passed, “I don’t know what you’re wearing, but that looks great.”
What a gift. An unsolicited compliment from a young, pretty, hip woman to an old, unhip woman. I could feast on that compliment for a week.
Then it got better. My date and I crossed an intersection, headed in the direction of a snazzy black Mercedes stopped for a stop sign. The driver leaned from his open window, flashed me a smile and said the magic words, “You’re so beautiful.”
Unsolicited words. Spoken sincerely. I gave him the gift of a moment’s pleasure and he generously handed the gift right back to me.
I was tempted to leave my date’s side, step over to the passenger door of the Mercedes, open it and slide in next to this attractive stranger.
Instead, his three words, “You’re so beautiful,” will ring in my ears with sweetness and light for a long, long time.