You should note that I’ve never been a fussy, frilly, girly girl. When my little friends were playing with Barbie dolls, I was building forts in the backyard and playing "Army" with my younger brother. When I was 20 in 1976, I became a certified SCUBA diver, back in the days when, as part of the standard final exam known as an "open water dive", the instructor came up behind me out in the Pacific ocean off Monterey Bay and turned off my tank of air and then watched to make sure that I exhaled completely before starting a very controlled ascent (no panicking allowed) from a depth of sixty feet in murky water. They don’t have that requirement anymore, I’m told.
In my mid-20s I bought my first handgun, and enjoyed qualifying alongside my then police officer husband when Richmond’s Police Reserve force met quarterly at Southern Pacific Railroad’s outdoor range in northern California. The largest weapon I’ve had the privilege to fire is a 12mm, Italian-made Lotti anti-tank gun (with a powerful kickback) and the fastest gun I’ve discharged is a fully-automatic Thompson machine gun.
To this day I enjoy shooting my .357 magnum at indoor and outdoor ranges here on the east coast, most recently at the Thurmont Gun Club during the Washington D.C. Swiss Club’s fall picnic in September 2011.
When I was 30 in 1986, I enrolled in whitewater-guide school and was the only woman in my class of 23 people to shoot the treacherous Class V rapid known as "Maytag" on the Upper Yuba river in northern California. The other five women (and some of the men) portaged their rafts over land to the other side of the perilous stretch. The rushing snowmelt of early March was so forceful and cold that we all had to wear wetsuits to avoid hypothermia, especially since purposely capsizing our rafts several times was part of the instruction. I recall with no small amount of pride that all of my fingernails had been torn off by the end of the physically demanding course.
When I was 37 in 1993, I parachuted out of a plane for the first time. Not a tandem jump where you’re holding on to a seasoned skydiver, mind you, but all by myself in 14-knot sustained winds, a static-line jump out of a rickety old Cessna 152 from 4000 feet over the high Nevada desert north of Reno. I had believed what I’d seen in war movies, that when the jump master says "go", you step out the plane door. But no. I had to actually climb out onto the wheel struts and stand there, holding on for dear life, and wait for the jump master to give the word. Once he said "go", all I had to do was will my hands to let go of the wing struts. It was one of the most difficult "mind-over-matter" tasks I’ve ever attempted. But the four-minute ride down with my parachute open was spectacular, with views of Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta in the distance and absolutely no sense of "falling" until about 200 feet above the ground, when I prepared for landing by adjusting my body to a vertical position.
When I was 53 in 2009, I zip-lined across deep canyons in a Mexican jungle with my best friend, Kari. There were eleven challenging gorges to transit and I crossed every one of them with a smile on my face, even letting go of the handholds long enough to wave at the videographer filming the day’s events.
I share these stories with you to explain why my sense of fashion does not run to delicate lace and fancy bows, but rather to a more masculine appeal born of my straightforward, rough-and-tumble persona. This, then, informs today’s outfit for my commute to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.: olive and black buffalo-plaid flannel shirt by Newport News, Avon’s fashion line, which I purchased in several colors many years ago, an ankle-length olive skirt by J.Peterman over short black booties with scallop trim by Lower East Side and a wide black stretchy belt from Target. I accessorized today’s look with a necklace and matching earrings of olive and amber beads on black chains by Mixit for JCPenney, a stretchy bracelet of black stones, a green-glass fashion ring that was a gift from Kari’s mom, Joyce, and my favorite gold-metal bracelet watch from Chico’s. No lace or frill, perhaps, but distinctly feminine, nevertheless.
It has long been my belief that there is broad sex appeal in a woman who pulls herself up by her bootstraps and has a can-do attitude about physical challenges, although I don’t shy away from showing off my curves, either. Today was no exception. I received several complements from passersby in the halls of the Congressional Library. It would seem that tomboy femininity is a fashion plus.