At the Red Dress Awards last month, I felt like my life was on reel-to-reel playing in the back of my mind. So many things I especially enjoy were part of those few days.

First of all, I got to spend time with my best friend, who happens to be my husband, Marc. We took the train from Alexandria, Va., to New York’s Penn Station. I love to watch the scenery of America, the unpolished, not-so-pretty parts of our nation and try to imagine they feel special that someone has noticed their rust, graffiti, and air dried laundry along the Amtrak rails. Those lives and stories are important too. Hopefully, dreams are born and grow there, despite reality.

On the train, we ate our boxed snacks and read the paper. My best friend is very funny, so even when he was on work calls between the clattering rail cars talking to a city employee at the permit office, it was a challenge to make him laugh. Marc’s fun to tease. He’s Irish, and looks it, so people give him a lot of leeway — even when he is being “persuasive” at high volume. (You have to be pretty loud to be heard through a door over the sound of a running railway car.)

When we arrived at Penn Station, the first person we met was a toy salesman. No lie. Where but in New York are you going to meet a toy salesman in 2012? We have his card, and know all about his marvelous toy. Soon after, my husband’s air-headed wife said, “where is the big clock?” That, of course, would be at GRAND CENTRAL Station. But one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years awaited in the women’s restroom. As you entered, on a sizable placard was posted: “Guidelines for Use.” And sure enough, clearly spelled out were the rules of the road and protocol for using a bathroom in Penn Station. Again … only in New York.

We headed off to a dress fitting and into the world of my childhood dreams: the Garment District. My mother taught me to sew when I was 9 or 10. She was an expert seamstress and won many 4-H awards growing up in Indiana. She was a taskmaster, and I’m glad. I learned the “right” way and never was allowed to be lazy. “Rip it out.” That was her mantra and that is what I did. It was a sound philosophy in the lines of “do it right, or don’t do it at all.” I also benefited from the skills of my grandfather. He was a dairy farmer, but one of the ways he worked to make ends meet was as a welder. During my summer visits at the farm, I would always have a sewing project or two underway, and he advised me on economical use of material in my pattern layouts. It was just as on sheet metal for him. He had a good eye and no tolerance for waste. Geneva, a delightful neighbor lady who was my second grandmother, also would take great interest in my projects. I remember her helping me with ric-rac trim on a sundress and button holing.

So on February 14, as Marc and I walked from Penn Station to the showroom of Theia designer, Don O’Neill, I slowed my steps. Nearly every store front we passed was filled with bolts of fabric. Yard after yard. Embellished or not. Every color and hue beyond the rainbow. It was magical. At one corner, I had to stop and take a picture. An enormous needle and button formed a piece of urban art. And then we were there … in the heart of New York’s fashion district.

With time to kill, we bought lunch. Marc presented me with a “model’s lunch” — a sample cup (the size of a child’s pain reliever dosing cup) of chili. It had one kidney bean and an oyster cracker he had carefully placed on top. We took the funniest picture of me preparing to dig into my morsel of food. Our actual lunch was delicious, and we ate outside between the bike lane and pedestrian traffic on the street. Once in the design studio, I again was transported. Very mod in design, the place was abuzz with models being fitted for O’Neill’s first Fashion Week runway show. I tried on my dress and followed our lovely guide to what I thought was a seamstress station for someone to take up the hem. Instead, I was led into the office of the designer himself. I thought I had died. I’d read articles and watched video on the Internet, yet there he was complaining that my shoes weren’t tall enough and sitting down on the floor to pin my hem. He was a dream. And he’s Irish! (Marc was beside himself talking about Irish cousins, plus I’m a Kelly.)

It truly was the best Valentine’s Day ever. We bought half-price tickets to a Broadway show. I asked a cop for a pizza recommendation and we ate delicious pie at a hole-in-the wall called Famous Ray’s. Back at Hudson Hotel, we sat in the Library, a bar with over-sized portraits of Holstein’s — again in tribute to my youth. In addition to sewing, I’ve always loved cows with whom I shared a special bond out on the farm in Indiana. I’d use my Kodak Instamatic camera, bought with Cheerios premiums, to take picture after picture of cows, generally Herefords.

Wednesday, February 15th, the day of the awards was a blur. An over-heated hotel room plus nerves yielded a massive migraine. Marc surprised me by having my childhood friend Susie arrive for the awards. We grabbed an early meal, dressed and prepared for something you just CAN’T prepare for: speaking to a crowd at the Allen Room, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. It was hard to be in the front row at that moment, apart from my two best friends, not to mention my two loves, Ian and Evan, at home with their grandmother. But what touched the evening like the hand of God was a singer, Javier Colon.

“And I’ll give you all my pieces broken
In your hands, there’s nothing that you can’t fix
My heart is frayed, my scars are open
So put me back together now, stitch by stitch”

Until he sang those words, I’d had two days free from being a heart disease patient. Odd as is sounds, I was in New York having fun. I was living the life we all wish we could each day, completely carefree. And then he said it. He described my heart and my loves, all in one verse. Thank God for my wonderful husband, cardiologist, and surgeon.

“Put me back together now, stitch by stitch.” It took almost nine years and the efforts of family, friends, health care professionals, and strangers. But, I think I’m finally mended.

Thank you Marc. Thank you WomenHeart. Thank you Mayo Clinic. Thank you Woman’s Day Magazine. Thank you.

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