From time to time, The Times will feature dispatches from Islanders around the globe. This week, Lorraine Parish writes from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Parish is a clothing designer and writer who lived on the Island for more than 40 years. She recently moved to San Miguel de Allende, where she’s pursuing her interest in writing screenplays, essays, and novels.
I am a fortunate woman. I have an ability that has served me well in life — the ability to trust my instincts. And who taught me this? My mother, Mary, I am sure of it.
At the age of 17, I possessed a relentless desire to further my dancing dream — go to the big bad apple of every serious dancer’s eye, New York City. My mother did not cave to my constant nagging about it; on the contrary, she encouraged it. She did her homework, though — I know she did, I remember. She not only applauded my ambition; she vocalized her faith that I had the necessary instincts to “take care of myself.” Those pointed words that I could take care of myself, placed a sense of responsibility in me — I know it did, I remember. This awareness of responsibility was something new to my selfish teenage self, and I did not want to let her down.
Smart lady, my mom.
She had to have seen something in me that I, a green 17-year-old girl, could not have comprehended. Looking back, I was not the brave one — I was too starry-eyed — she was. Her little girl was going it alone in a big city full of hungry wolves? Surely, she must have prayed daily that that young girl of hers actually did have the moxie to outwit those wolves, if need be. I clearly see now that not only did my mother (and father) give me the gift of life; she, most importantly, gave me the gift of courage to live it.
I miss you, Mother.
It was the year I turned 65 when my contentment, my absolute peace with my surroundings — my home, my business, my creativity, my everything — shifted to a sudden awareness: Is this it? Is this the last chapter, the last story of my life? I remember asking myself out loud, “Lorraine, is Martha’s Vineyard the place you want to live for the rest of your life?” At the time, I had lived on the Vineyard for 37 years. And “Is clothing design what you want to do for the rest of your life?” Surprising myself, I shouted no! Once you have been as spontaneous and vocal in answering such an important life question, you cannot suppress or abandon your feelings. Well, I at least cannot ignore or forget such a thing. A seed of change was planted in my spirit that day, never to be forgotten, only to grow and eventually flower.
I’ve had quite a few chapters in my life — all good, mind you: my beautiful childhood in Alabama, my dancing chapter in Manhattan, which led to my Los Angeles dancing and hippie chapter, which led to chasing my husband-to-be back to Manhattan, which led to my fashion beginnings in a little antique town in Maryland chapter, which led to my Europe and Spain chapter (one of my favorites), then my return to NYC, living in a loft in Tribeca with my husband and building my fashion career chapter, which spurred a solo vacation to Martha’s Vineyard and an eventual solo life chapter there for 41 years.
Lots of chapters for me, but I am certain many thousands of people have dozens more for all kinds of reasons, including change just for change, or knee-jerk reactions to a disappointment in life or, as we say in sobriety, changing seats on the Titanic because you think the view might be a tad better. But for me, this gargantuan life move was none of the above. I had a great life, one some people might envy, but that day when the seed was planted and my old, adventurous spirit reared its head, I realized that I was not through with my wanderlust, and that the last chapter in my life was not even close to being written.
I must not forget to say this: when you leave a place as spectacular and special as Martha’s Vineyard, you’d better choose a place equally spectacular and special. I have witnessed many people over my 41 years on the Vineyard leave, then try like hell to get back, as it’s nearly impossible to start from scratch again on the Island. I had known of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for a long time, and I’d always suspected that it might be just the place for me, so I made a trip here (I am now in SMA) in 2019, and yep, it was for me, maybe not forever, but who’s got forever, anyway?
I’d picked up stakes before, but this later in life stake-picking-up was quite different, to say the least. OK, it was enormous. I was not just selling and moving from a house I’d made my home for 30 years; I was selling inventory and fixtures from two stores. I sold over 200 garments from my clothing store. And from my Home Shop, I sold close to 800 yards of fabric and gobs of made inventory. I kept some of everything, of course, and all my machinery.
For the summer, I also had a heavy-duty tent erected that a dear friend loaned me. This “perpetual three-month yard sale” was loads of fun. The yard-sale part of my downsizing brought in all kinds of people. It was fun negotiating with husbands, especially when their wives shouted, “We don’t need that,” and I’d quietly say, “Oh yes, you do!”
The most fun was trying to give away books. I had lots of books — pretty good ones, mind you. I’d say, oh, that one is free, but in order for that one to be free, you have to take another one. One day, a man wanted to pay for a recent book on Robert F. Kennedy. I noticed he came with a carload of people, so I told him, no, it was free, but in order for it to be free, everybody in his car had to take a book! This went on all summer, and a great time was had by all.
One more “selling my stuff” story. For years, my summer bedroom was a little cottage I built on my patio — I called it “the cabana.” I found I couldn’t sleep at night because I kept waking up thinking I had to eventually sell the bed I was sleeping in. So to get a good night’s sleep, I sold the bed right out from under me! There, problem solved! ZZZZ.
I always have been one to see the pathways, not the obstacles, to something I truly know is right for me. So I spent the entire pandemic not only loving and taking care of my sweet old dog Rudy, who I knew would not make it to Mexico, but plotting and planning a new life for myself and my other dog, Pearl. Getting to this new life had many winding paths. I was moving to another country, so there were umpteen more details to it. Do you know how to figure out these kinds of things, besides Googling them? You ask people who have gone before you or have an ulterior motive to want to help you — say, a realtor in that country. I learned a lot by picking the brains of people who lived or had lived in San Miguel de Allende, but I found the best brains to pick were the Mexican realtors. And it was from one of these realtors that I bought my fabulous house.
Literally hundreds people came to my store after I let the cat out of the bag and told the world I was retiring. The majority of people who stopped by wished me well, expressed their sadness that I was leaving, and bought one last Lorraine Parish for themselves. But I was taken aback by how people who did not even know me or had ever been my shop showed me their fears without realizing it. They would ask, “Do you have family there? Do you have friends there?” They asked this not in a casual way, but in an “Are you crazy?” way. I distinctly saw why people get stuck in their lives, and how their fears become obstacles to change. And no, they weren’t concerned for me; they were projecting their fears onto me — end of story.
By far the most surprising thing in the days and months that propelled this next chapter into existence was, without a doubt, the warmth and gratitude people expressed. I was so focused every minute of every day on keeping the train rolling that when someone offered kind words about my departure, I was sincerely surprised. And when two friends suggested a going-away party, I was dumbfounded. I’m not trying to be humble here; I was taken back.
I can testify to this: We haven’t a clue as to how we are perceived by others. I certainly did not. At one of my going-away parties, everyone went around the circle (we were outside) and used an adjective that expressed their feelings and impressions of me. I had this extraordinary feeling: It was as if I were witnessing my own memorial service. It was incredible! How many people get to experience something like that?
A fortunate woman? I am that, without a doubt. And gracias, mother Mary, for the courage you gave me, to live my life and follow my dreams. Estas a mi lado ahora, siempre lo has estado.
You’re by my side now, you have always been.