Winston-Salem, NC – Holly Lewis shares her #SolarteStrong story for Women’s History Month.
If These Walls Could Talk
Stubbs and Wootton, The House of Chanel, Palm Beach, Manhattan, and the Hamptons undeniably equate to luxury, money, beauty, sophistication, and prestige. No one on the outside looking in could have ever imagined the life I had lived, for many years, because I was able to smile big for the camera, shine bright with a twinkle in my eye, and everyone applauded that warm beauty that appeared effortless. On some days I was in the presence of Barbara Walters and Rod Stewart, selling shoes at Stubbs and Wootton, and on other days I was barely getting by, counting every dime to make it to the following week. Showing up day in and day out on the scenes of the fantasy world of chauffeurs, fine dining, and exquisite ice sculptures, only amplified the disparity of the real world I lived in for most of my life. Having been so close to it all, I dreamed of the days I too, could enjoy an 8-course meal, place winning bids on silent auction items, and toast to raising millions of dollars for charity with $1000.00 bottles of champagne. Who wouldn’t want that lifestyle? Looking back on that period of my life and even with all the extravagance I witnessed, I’ve learned so much about myself and others, and I’m truly grateful. And the most important one is that I am strong and capable of overcoming the difficult seasons.
The truth of the matter was that I wasn’t born into a wealthy family, and my childhood was anything but glamorous. I believe my parents did the best they could with the cards they were dealt. My parents were glorified hippies who hitch-hiked from Ohio to Palm Beach in the middle of my mom’s pregnancy with me after their car broke down. They wanted to live at the beach and had no idea about the ways of the world of fame and fortune. Be that as it may, my dad was hoping to get a job, and interviewed at world renowned hotel, The Breakers, but could not get the job because we didn’t have a permanent address. As crazy as it sounds, a family in Palm Beach took us in for a few months, as they wanted to make sure my mom had a healthy delivery and my parents could get back on their feet. It was a cycle that repeated itself over and over until my parents got divorced when I was eight years old. In the thick of custody battles, child support deficits, and food stamp lines, there were always glimmers of hope taught by my role models.
As a child, I remember learning to crochet under the tender teachings of my great-grandmother, where I found order in the method of looping and dipping the yarn. It turned out to be an incredibly soothing therapy, gazing at the finished work of perfectly imperfect matched squares. There were certainly many moments of peace I found in creating beautiful masterpieces out of the external chaos that I could not control. A few years later, just as things were calming down, the roller coaster of my parent’s tumultuous divorce continued to show up. In a turn of events, somehow my dad was able to convince the judge that my mom owed him child support, even though I was living with her full time. What happened next was something that I could never understand. I have a hard time saying it even now as a grown woman, with children of my own. My mom had to go to jail, and I was devastated! I remember calling my dad and asking him: “How could you do this to us?” I was in high school at the time and that was hard enough to endure. No respite for the weary, but I had to remember that while I couldn’t control this unfathomable event, I had to find a way to overcome it. In true grit fashion, my mom maintained her composure and loving compassion, doing what she could do to help some of the other women in jail, who were there on other minor charges. Having a huge heart, my mom would call my stepdad and ask if he could bail out the other women who only had $50.00 owed to be released. These women had nothing to their name and no family to help them get back on their feet. My mother’s display of generosity amid her pain taught me how to turn the worst-case scenarios into focusing on the wins, even if it meant making small sacrifices along the way. We must look for ways to win even when we see nothing but defeat at the moment. Our future and our mental health depend on it. I tell my children this every time they complain that life isn’t fair.
The next season of my life shined like the noon-day sun and proved that I had the “look” that the model industry was pursuing in the late nineties. Without a second thought, I took them up on it, and worked at The House of Chanel in Palm Beach and modeled in fashion shows for Lily Pulitzer. I believed I could, so I did. I worked hard and even met some great friends along the way who had harrowing stories of their own. Making a life of my own, apart from the past 20 years was my goal. I wanted to finally break free from the inconsistent life I once knew and make decisions that I could be proud of and that could offer me the world. It was a few years later that I would meet my husband, Jeff, on location at a photo shoot, and everything seemed like the clouds were clearing. As the Director of Production, Jeff was on the set and was very professional, fun, and witty. He always made everyone relax, and enjoy the “work” of lifestyle photography on very busy sets with sometimes entitled models. It was nice to see a man who respected women and treated them professionally and not as objects. I felt like I met someone who would understand my unique and messy background and not judge me for the childhood I couldn’t avoid. We hit it off immediately, dated, got married and proverbially rode off into the sunset. Well, sort of. My dream of a predictable future with matching side tables was abruptly interrupted when I was 34 years old. We were happy, had two amazing girls, and then our last child, a sweet baby boy. That is when the next challenge of my life appeared out of nowhere, and very soon after the birth of Jeffrey. Little Jeffrey was just learning to walk, that unforgettable day the ominous blood tests came back, and I literally fell to my knees hearing the words: “It’s cancer. Your husband has cancer.” This was definitely not part of my plan. I found myself telling God, “Remember, I’m supposed to have pain-free adulthood since I had such a painful childhood. I have worked hard to overcome that season, to become a healthy adult.”
What do you do with that news, when you have three young children and a very unknown future? Lots of prayers. I had to give the uncertainty to God. And do lots of Yoga. I also did what my mom would do, and looked for ways to make this horrific news as positive as I could. I know it seems like I have had one hardship after another in every chapter of my life, but I am not a victim and the truth is, nobody knows when hardships are going to happen. And over the last 11 years, we have been blessed with an incredible community filled with people who have showered us with meals, love, and even financial support during Jeff’s chemo and Bone Marrow transplants. I have been absolutely blown away by the deep connections we have made and the overflow of compassion. Even after much heartache, I can smile writing about this journey. We are stronger as a family, our beautiful children are thriving, and we have much to be thankful for as Jeff has survived his relapse and ongoing maintenance of his cancer. He is thankfully now in near remission and we continue to pray that the near remission continues for many years.
Looking back on the Palm Beach period of my life, and with all the extravagance I witnessed, I’ve learned so much about myself and others, and I’m truly grateful. And the most important one is that I am strong and capable of overcoming difficult seasons. You are too.
My hope, in sharing my story, is that you will find solace, love, and peace in the truth that you were made for whatever battles come your way. You are a Solarte Strong woman with incredible gifts, talents, and resources if you will look up and ask for help when you need it. Make sure to do the work you need to do, to become as healthy as you can so that you can overcome any challenge that comes your way. You have what it takes!
Much Love, Holly
Solarté Collections is a private luxury body care brand that pledges to inspire fearless lives filled with confidence, joy, and well-being. Solarté offers an exquisite line of French body care to boutiques hand-picked by Angela Jenkins, CEO. The collection features all-natural shea butters, hand creams, body lotions, shower creams, and soaps. In addition to a beautiful line, Solarté partners with safe houses and non-profit organizations nationwide to take a stance in the overall cycle to end domestic violence and abuse.