Swanning About

Swanning About

One of the things I cherished as a child was make-believe. Growing up, we had a rather long window seat in our old house with curtains you could draw, making it the perfect miniature stage. My little brother and I would put on plays from that perch while our indulgent and long-suffering parents would clap and applaud. It made us feel pretty good I recall, and we would spend hours planning our little shows and creating our characters. It was reminiscent of Little Women in Louisa May Alcott’s “must read” book for so many of us growing up.

My mother had an old steamer trunk that she filled with fabric and old clothes, gowns, costume jewelry, and other fascinating things to try on. There was even an antique brass helmet from a Swiss Fire Department—my brother always claimed that for himself. There were a couple of wooden swords, rubber daggers, and such. In those days, a play wasn’t a play without a dramatic death scene. We had such fun. And truth be told, it was one of the best memories because, for the most part I thought my little brother was such a pest—you know how that is—and we only got along really well when we were planning our plays.

After I had children of my own, I kept the tradition up. I still had the old trunk and again, it was filled with fabric, old prom dresses, and all kinds of props to engage the imagination of my two daughters and their young friends. We cobbled together a little make-up table with rouges and lipstick and—ohm my goodness—the electric-blue eye shadow. We decided on a new name for the plays because I didn’t have a window-seat stage. We called it just “Swanning About.” The girls would spend hours getting ready, and then they would swish about the house fluffing and tossing their skirts and talking about the latest palace gossip or whatever. They would have tea in tiny china cups and nibble on little chocolate chip cookies. When their plays concluded, high drama and dramatic death scenes were absolutely the best way to end things.

Before you knew it, the afternoon was gone, and all the ladies changed back into their regular clothes and went back to their regular lives. But, for those golden, often rainy or wintery afternoons, they were ladies of the castle, fashion icons, princesses, or whatever they chose to be. One girl insisted on being a knight. I was glad I’d kept that helmet. She would wear an old ratty velvet cape and plunge into the room, sword drawn, asking where the dragon went. It was thrilling.

We have such a tech-savvy and fast-moving society these days that it’s easy to forget some of the more important things about just letting your mind take you away. Make believe is essential, especially regarding children’s developing minds. Sometimes imagination, such a healthy and powerful tool, gets lost the endless practicalities of life.

Fast forward, and now these girls are all grown up with families of their own. Occasionally I hear from them, and one said she found an old trunk in the attic of a house she and her family had recently purchased. Was it filled with costumes and fabric and such? Nope. But she did say she would remedy that as fast as possible. Swanning About had been one of her best recollections from her own childhood, and she wants to keep the tradition alive. So, here’s to the next generation of Swanners. Long may they flounce and swish!

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Shelagh Talbot

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