On the day my grandmother died, it was her half-finished foundation bottles that caught me. I hadn’t paused since I got the call she’d died, but went about the rest of the day with robotic efficiency. I wrapped up the meeting I was in, made arrangements for the kids, headed to her apartment, said my goodbyes, and started clearing it out after they took away her body. I worked my way through her living room and bedroom, parsing items for family, donation, and trash – family pictures, beautiful clothes, antique jewelry, but it was the foundation bottles …
My grandparents lived in Florida in the winter and Maine in the summer, and they stopped at my childhood home en route. Her turquoise cosmetic bag occupied prime real estate on our bathroom counter, and I was sort of fascinated with it – those spiky curlers she’d set her hair with, her perfume, the Maalox, and of course, the foundation. Bottles and bottles of it, none of them finished enough to throw away, but low enough to warrant another purchase – or 2 or 3. Why keep track when you can just pick up another bottle when you go to the drug store?
That was Grandmother. So was the turquoise of her cosmetic bag. It was her color, she’d say, which is why she wore it all the time. “Doesn’t turquoise look nice on me?” she’d ask. I’d nod yes. She was my grandmother, and I loved her. Any color looked nice on her so far as I was concerned. And she’d say the same about me. I was her granddaughter, and she loved me. Any color looked nice on me so far as she was concerned.
Whoever is in charge sets the tone. Grandmother was that lady for my mother’s side of the family. And the tone she set? Be who you are. Don’t let anyone tell you who that is. You tell them – without apology or excuse. Be who you are. Appreciate it. Protect it.
Growing up, her encouragement and support were my normal. She raised my mom with the same words, and between them, my home – my world – was a place where any color was my color. It wasn’t until much later I realized the rest of the world didn’t agree and chinked away at who I was before I could think to protect myself.
But then Grandmother would come to town twice a year with her turquoise cosmetic bag and half-finished foundation bottles and build up what I’d let others tear down. You listen to me, she’d say. You have my eyes. Don’t ever let other people tell you hazel eyes aren’t special. They don’t know what they’re talking about. I know what I’m talking about. We have the best eyes.
The morning after she died I stopped operating like a robot and finally cried. Grandmother was gone. Gone. Yes, I had the memories, the words – and her eyes – but frankly, I’d rather have the person. I’d rather have my grandmother back.
My oldest son, Jesse, came home sad the other day because the kids at school were making fun of him.
“It’s because of my curly hair. I wish it was straight.”
He’s 9 and has a lot of world to live. I can’t stop him from stepping out my door – I wouldn’t want to – but in my house? I’m gonna pull rank. I remembered my grandmother’s words. It has been a long time since I needed them, but they were never meant to end with me. Her words – her love, her support – are her legacy that’s lived out now through her son, daughter, and five granddaughters. It’s a family investment.
I channeled it as I looked into my son’s clear blue eyes that are very much his own. I channeled her as I put my hands on his shoulders.
You listen to me. You have my hair. Don’t ever let other people tell you curly hair isn’t special. They don’t know what they’re talking about. I know what I’m talking about. We have the best hair.
Whoever is in charge sets the tone.