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It's high time to make those statements!

By SHEILA STOLL

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 28, 2001


I sent a full-length purple cloak with a hood to my older daughter for her birthday. She loves it. Her two sons, who are Harry Potter fans, say that she is eligible for an honorary degree from Hogwart's. She loves the color purple, and she runs a costume shop. I imagine that the cloak will do double duty as a personal statement and accessory.

* * *

When my kids were small, we lived in a little town in northwestern Illinois. Also living there at that time was a delightful woman named Rowena Bennett who wrote fairy tales. She was a whimsical, charming woman who always wore purple, lavender and magenta capes, hats and flowing dresses. Rowena was a treat for the eyes.

She was our neighbor, and once we got to know her, she invited us over to visit. We would sip tea, eat little cookies and talk about fairies. She ignited my children's interest in fantasy literature. Thanks to Rowena, they filled their time alone imagining elfin worlds. She also stimulated their appetites for reading and writing. Her little house, her style of dress and her delightfully optimistic view were statements. She was completely her own person, unaffected by the expectations of the fashions of the time and place; gently, she changed us all.

Now I feel entitled to my own style. It pleases me to wear what I want. My home reflects my eclectic tastes and those of Darling Husband. In the past two years, I have bought three paintings at local art fairs. All are extremely colorful. One, a stylized picture of Haitians, seems to make its own music. One is of gleeful, dancing frogs, one a riotously colored depiction of baby birds in a nest, mouths agape. My artistically inclined friends know that I'm not buying art as an investment. I'm buying things that make my heart sing.

It's no fun to be an outsider. The pressure to be like everyone else is strong. But the urge to do one's own thing is also strong. (If one's own thing involves being obnoxious, anti-social or a pesky, one should restrain the impulse.)

Being one of a kind has its rewards: Unforgettability is a form of immortality.

One advantage of advancing years is license: to be eccentric, to be a free spirit, to wear purple if it suits you, to speak your mind. The bad news is that one doesn't have long enough to enjoy the freedom from fashion, conformity and concern about what others may think.

My family knew Rowena for only a few years. Her family worried about her living alone, having no one to look out for her. She had a farewell party at the hotel in Galena and moved to an assisted living facility near her children. She was no longer part of our world, and we missed her.

My brother worried that he would have to leave his little home, decorated with all his treasures. He had moved in only a few months before, but it was a statement of who he was. Mercifully he was able to stay there, surrounded by his family, until he died.

Probably a time will come when I will have to move to a place that has no room for my Haitians, frogs and baby birds.

That's why I sent my daughter a purple cloak. I want her to get some practice now. The sooner one makes peace with one's most comfortable self-image, the longer one has to enjoy it.

- You can write to Sheila Stoll c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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