The first time I reinvented myself I was the new girl in the 10th grade after my family moved from Iowa to Colorado. I made my own clothes and wore two braids that hung to my “buttocks.” I had four girlfriends and our little group was low profile, so very few students knew who we were. I didn’t have a clue that other kids referred to me as “that girl with long braids.” but how could they miss me? I was the only girl in Englewood High School who looked old-timey.
Because of my homey clothes (not homely) and long braids they assumed I was from a Mennonite community, though I wasn’t. Eventually I felt a need to look modern and I wanted to cut my hair. After a week-long discussion with my parents they broke down and gave permission only if I promised that I wouldn’t change anything else about myself. I made a promise that I couldn’t possibly keep and then almost broke a leg getting to the telephone to make an appointment at the beauty shop. Mom insisted on going with me to supervise the job.
I was thrilled but terrified. What if I didn’t like looking modern? I sure couldn’t glue the braids back on. After two hours of all kinds of snipping, washing, drying, and curling, the transformation was complete. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t stop staring. I felt so pretty that I assumed I must have looked pretty.
I floated out of the beauty shop and into a clothing shop where Mom let me buy a pleated skirt, Sloppy Joe sweater, cute penny loafers, and angora anklets. Before going to school the next day I dabbed a hint of color on my lips and caught the bus. I felt so happy and confidant that I thought my pounding heart must have shown through my sweater. My friends liked the new look but no one else knew who I was. They had no idea I was that girl with long braids. They thought I had recently enrolled. A boy stopped me in the hall and said, “Hi there. I haven’t seen you before. Are you new?”
This change in appearance changed everything. I was no longer shy and trying to blend with the furniture. I dredged up some confidence and became active for the remaining two-and-a-half years of high school. It was the first self-discovery period in my life.
Now jump ahead 50 years. I was 70, widowed for two years and couldn’t stop writing about it. My notes eventually became the memoir, Dancing in My Nightgown. The adjustment of being alone after a long, good marriage prompted all kinds of stories that I wanted to preserve so I would not forget what widowhood was like. I knew that I’d better get used to being alone because, for sure, things would never be the same again.
While thinking those pitiful thoughts I realized that being alone meant I could do anything I wanted without negotiation. It was a scary but liberating idea. I felt the same way when I was 15 on the day of my haircut — just as scared but excited. At 70, I had no idea that my obsessive writing about the funny/sad experiences of widowhood would lead to another reinvention of myself. But it did.
Now I’ve been writing steadily for 13 years which has resulted in a second memoir: The Home for the Friendless. Reflecting and writing about where I came from, who I am, and where I might be going has changed my life in more ways than I can mention. The work of writing is fun. The work of editing and revising is fun. The work of getting published is just plain hard work and promoting and marketing is actually a necessary grind that can’t last forever because it is so NOT fun. As a public speaker with two books to sell, I enjoy meeting new people until it starts to be a job that I have to do. And once you publish a book it really is the author’s obligation to help market it, just like when you give birth to children your obligation AND desire is to take care of them. Both are commitments.
Now, at 81, I day-dream about un-inventing myself. I would like to live a more private life. I’m tired of pretending that I can hear what people are saying even though I wear hearing aids. My children tell me that I often laugh inappropriately. Heck. What I hear is sometimes funny, but apparently it’s not. I look forward to NOT pretending that I hear every word. In addition to that I want to work in the garden again and keep the roses deadheaded. Now, they just die and the petals fall and dry up where they land. I would like to read more books with no homework assignments such as giving feedback. I long to take one of my grandchildren on a vacation without their parents. I would like to sew again and start up my neighborhood water color group. We used to gather once a month in my kitchen where I taught water color lessons. I love teaching art. I would also enjoy flirting with gray-haired studs before I lose the desire to do so. There are all kinds of things I really want to do while I still remember what year it is. But I can’t stick with one thing for a long, long time because the fun just plain wears off.
I think about winding down. I don’t know when to start but when the time comes, I’ll let y’all know. I promise.
– Betty Auchard