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Charm

Text by: Jennifer Hunsaker

I once heard that style is all about reinventing what has already been worn. I repeat this to myself, as I watch the same legging/tunic combinations come back in style that I wore in the 6th grade and pray that permanents and claw-like bangs stay in the annuals of our junior high year books. Think back ten years to when hippie chic was all the rage, and we all bought crinkle skirts and hand washed and rolled them to dry… Who is the soul that peruses the styles of decades gone by and thinks, "I think the world is ready for the reinvention of poodle skirts."

Yet, in spite of the times we have raided our mother's, sister's, or (yikes!) grandmother's closet for their vintage garb, why don't we bring back personal characteristics of yester year? Rather than bringing back Carey Grant's fedora or Clark Gable's mustache, why not resurrect the custom of standing when a woman enters the room, offering your seat to someone who is older than you, or simply saying "please" and "thank you"? Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, why can't I bring back charm?

For one thing, we suffer from a lack of great, modern examples. Think of someone who is considered charming. Chances are they were immortalized on grainy black and white film, and I'm willing to bet half the people you thought of were Kennedys. In today's world, someone considered charming is often seen as a con artist — phony, fake, manipulative. The people who can talk themselves out of a speeding ticket may be considered "charming." The man who can swindle millions out of lonely widows may be described as "charming" much in the way a snake charmer lulls poisonous serpents to sleep.

There used to be schools dedicated to the preservation of "charm." Women would walk around with books on their heads and learn how to pour afternoon tea. The virtues of well-pressed clothing and kind speech were extolled. When did charm become the saddle shoes of the etiquette world? Does it still even exist?

I think it does. I met a charm incarnate a little more than a decade ago. Her name is Colleen, but her friends call her Coke. When I met her, she was a beautiful, vibrant woman with perfectly coiffed white hair and a glimmer in her eye of a woman far younger than her then seventy-something years. She loves all things beautiful and believes that taking a few extra seconds to leave something prettier than you found it is time well spent. She speaks to you as if you are the only person in the world, and you can't help but smile when you are in her presence, but that is not to say she isn't one tough cookie.

You see, Coke was an Air Force wife in her younger years. Her husband flew top secret missions. He kept a bag packed by the back door and when the phone rang, he couldn't tell her where he was going or how long he would be gone. She jokes that they only had two kids because he wasn't home long enough at a time to have a third. Yet she carried on raising her daughters in her husband's often worrisome absence. After he retired from the Air Force, he worked for many years in a much safer job with the airline industry, but the "damage" had already been done. Coke had already learned that she could move mountains.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

So what makes this amazing woman so charming? One word — Coke is thoughtful.

She is thoughtful of her impact on others. She clearly knows who she is and what she is capable of. She knows that she has amazing abilities to teach young women and help them in their journey of self-discovery. She knows she is capable of creating change in her environment through a smile, hug, or kind word. She understands that the world is a better place with her in it and strives every day to live up to that honor.

Coke is thoughtful of others' lives, as well. When my second son was born, she sent my oldest a book about being a big brother. She sends me Irish blessings on St. Patrick's Day. She leaves notes for people who do kind things for others. She sees the good in others and strives to let them know that she appreciates them.

And finally, but perhaps most importantly, Coke is thoughtful of her environment. She believes in creating beauty wherever she goes. At eighty-something, she has started walking with a cane with a large white bow on the top. She affixes beautiful stickers on her cards and letters. She is not vain in the least, but she believes that if you can leave something more beautiful than when you found it, you should.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

What would happen if more of us adopted this more modern idea of what it means to be charming? Would we eschew "last season's" values of crudeness and vanity in favor of the newly stylish unselfishness? Would we happily chop off the mullet of self-loathing and begin again with an updated outlook on the impact we could have on our environment?

At a time when we are spring cleaning our wardrobes, perhaps it is time that we spring-cleaned our habits in an effort to lead more charming lives. We don't need to wear kid gloves and pillbox hats, but we could all stand to be a little kinder, a little more thoughtful. After all, it can't be as bad as putting on that pair of pleated acid washed jeans you have in the back of your closet.