Sequin People - Take a Risk to Shine
A tribute to my special Aunt Marion and to those who aren't afraid to 'stand out':
by Billie Kelpin Olmon 2005
*** Update on Aunt Marion - See Note Below
There’s a certain group of people in this world whom I like to call “sequin people”. We all know them. My Aunt Marion is one. I knew it from the first time she dropped that tiny round sliver of silver into my hand. I must have been only five. I remember staring at the little piece of purposefully-processed metal that sat in my palm. It was cupped with pleated sides, and, were it not for the pinpoint hole in the center, it might serve well as a tiny bowl that a delicate butterfly might use for sipping.
Even though I was only five when I first watched Aunt Marion sew sequins on my cousin’s satin baton twirling costumes or on my Uncle Bob’s square-dance shirts, I knew that wearing sequins involved work. Sequin by sequin, silver threads laid silver rows and golden threads laid golden rows. And rows that built on eventual rows became designs on costumes that marched in parades and shimmered on the dance floor.
Through the years, I always knew Aunt Marion sparkled. I’d see her in her 30’s and 40’s and 50’s in skirts with sequined swirls that floated over layered crinoline as she left on Uncle Bob’s arm to a Friday night dance at any one of the Square Dancing Clubs in Milwaukee. I’d see Aunt Marion at Christmas and New Year’s and anniversaries - always in sparkly sweaters or shinny gold tops. Sometimes, she wore silver. And through the years there were always presents for my daughter and myself – shinny presents - rhinestone hearts on silver necklaces, a hand-embroidered red Mexican jacket with the senor in sequined sombrero and senorita in sequined shirt. There were earrings and bracelets that also glittered; the angel pin Aunt Marion gave me to remember Uncle Bob had diamond wings.
But it wasn’t until two years ago, when Aunt Marion was 85, that I realized the connection between the sequins, my Aunt Marion’s psyche in wearing them, and the power in doing so. My daughter was performing with the Mamma Mia tour at the MarcusCenter in Milwaukee and my cousins, college friends, and my Aunt Marion all agreed to meet at the theatre to celebrate the performance together. As my friends and I waited for our entire group to assemble, I turned to see Aunt Marion coming toward us from the parking lot in spiky heels that Nicole Kidman might wear. Even in the burnishing orange and pink of twilight, Aunt Marion was sparkling as she walked towards our group. Her sleeveless top shone with blue and green and red and silver sequins that danced as she moved. She made me smile, and when I looked at my friends, they were smiling too. An airiness seemed to sweep over us in some manner that I couldn’t define. Aunt Marion was coming to see her grandniece perform, and it was obvious she was proud – the sequins said it all. She touched my heart as people always do when they honor the child you bore.
The next day as I drove home to Minneapolis, my cell phone rang with calls that seemed to add some type of concluding paragraph to the essay of the evening before. There were praises for my daughter’s voice and warm pleasantries of “we’re so glad we came.” But in each conversation was something else – some mention of Aunt Marion: “It was so good to see your Aunt Marion again.” “Your aunt looked so beautiful.” “Your Aunt Marion is so cute. How old is she again?” And in those comments seemed to run an underground stream of thought: “”I hope that I can be so vibrant when I’m 85.” And perhaps the question: “I wonder if I’ve ever sparkled in that way?” was hiding in the corner of unspoken thoughts.
Aunt Marion has always, and will always, sparkle - for she’s a sequin person. In the psyche of sequin people seems to be an understanding that life provides enough black all on its own and is in no need of more. Perhaps it is sequin people who realize that we are created from the same star stuff of the universe – and the reason we were brought into existence is to not only exist, but to shine. Perhaps they feel that when the conductor points to their section of the orchestra, it’s their turn to play their solo with unabashed pride and confidence. (Sometimes they even dare to stand and play when no conductor has pointed to them.) But sequin people are more than confident. They are believers; they believe in themselves and in others belief in them. They believe that they have the power to light up a room and have no doubt that room needs light. And it is that belief, in and of itself, that is the light. And even if there are times that their light feels as if it's dimming, sequin people teach us that the proverbial show must go on. They teach us the paradoxical truth that sometimes the outside light of something as simple as a line of sequins seeps inward.
Einstein has said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle.” To me, sequins themselves are tiny miracles, and my Aunt Marion taught me about their power to transform. Wearing sequins takes work – inside soul-type work often with threads worn thin by life. But having seen the faces of my friends as my Aunt walked toward us that day at the Performing Arts Center, I realized that the work is worth it. The world has always been attracted to bright and shinny objects, and we can dare to be one. My Aunt Marion continues to dare to be one, and every time I see her I become more and more willing to shine.
*** I wrote this essay in 2005 when my Aunt Marion was 87. She passed away December, 2012 at the age of 94. I was able to fly to Milwaukee to see her in the hospital and was able to hold her hand during my visits to her room. Toward the end, Aunt Marion took my hand and with filmy eyes that were filled with love, she pulled my hand to her heart and held it there. I had told her on the Wednesday when I arrived, that my plane was leaving on Saturday. My Aunt Marion died an hour after I left the hospital - on Saturday, December 1. I will always love you, Aunt Marion.