Like most young girls, I loved going through my grandmother’s jewelry box . I played dress up, mixing her real and faux pieces: Art Deco diamond bracelets with crystal beads, strands of cultured and South Sea pearls with marcasite brooches. During my preteens, when my parents got divorced, when I was getting braces and starting to think about boys, I turned to her for guidance and she taught me life lessons as well as passing on style, beauty and jewelry tips, sometimes mingling them for more impact.
Last week, a month before her 97th birthday, she passed away, which has brought up many memories of the real gems she passed down: her love, friendship, honesty and wisdom. The more humorous recollections are comforting and are keeping me going.
As early as I can remember, my grandmother’s rule was “never leave the house without a little lipstick and some earrings as you never know who you are going to meet.” She believed that “they brightened your face, but worn with a smile–even better –as that can enliven the people around you.” My mother completely shared in this sentiment (with the exceptions of the earrings when I was eight) and both were truly appalled when they came to visit me in college. I was on my way to do the laundry, sans make-up, in overalls and my hair up in a high “Pebbles style” ponytail. “And you complain that you haven’t met a guy here yet! Maybe a little lipstick and wearing your hair down might give you more of an advantage,” said my grandmother.
Later on, my grandmother suggested “taking two minutes to put on a little ‘rouge’.” Even when she was diagnosed with dementia at 93 and we had to move her into a nursing home, where her ‘flat mates’ were wearing pajamas, my grandmother was fully dressed in a twinset and what she called ‘slacks’ with light makeup and turquoise and gold clips earrings and a gold bangle on her wrist. When I arrived in what I though was a chic version of sweats: gunmetal gray wide velour pants and hoodie , suitable for the environment, she shook her head and said “I thought you were coming to visit me not going for a work-out at the gym,” As she hugged me tightly, she continued, “There are single doctors here and perhaps a pair of jeans and a sweater might have been a better choice.”
She also believed that black brings you down and color is the way to go. “Add some pink, some lilac, any shade of blue …and if you must wear neutrals, try a nice shade of ecru or a pale gray and a beautiful strand of pearls.”
Since, she warned me early on not to buy dented cans as they could cause botulism, my grandmother was very definite in her response to my inquiry of whether she thought I’d look better with a bit of Botox. “The lines on your forehead show that you laughed, cried and lived. And when I can actually see them, I am sure they will add more character to your face!” She also eschewed ‘fancy anti-aging serums’ and believed Pond’s Cold Cream as the number one moisturizer and the key to a youthful and smooth appearance. It seemed to work for her.
She had a theme: getting me hitched and insisted, ” please find a nice man who will appreciate you, rather than the unavailable schmendricks that you’re choosing”. She also took pride in introducing me to all her friends and talking about my writing on the topics of style, jewelry and fashion. “Maybe one day you could come here looking the part.” As always, it was said somewhat teasingly, and I never let on that I spend most days at the computer in different versions of sweats, except when I am traveling, going to industry events and on hot (and not so hot) dates.
Most of my grandmother’s life was spent taking care of her family and doing charity work for less fortunate children for two different organizations. She was a proud woman, who believed less in vanity then “when you look your best, people won’t know what you are feeling inside, even when your heart might be breaking.”
At her funeral, mine was indeed broken, but I got dressed-not in black- but in a mix of white shirt and sand color jacket and trousers, put on my favorite earrings (the antique mine cut Russian double drops she’d passed down to me), the required lipstick, ‘rouge’ and even some mascara, in honor of her. I think she would have been happy.
Both of my brothers (who are married) noticed that the reformed Rabbi we had chosen, (who was a tad younger than me and in great shape ) was showing interest in me and saw it as a sign. I saw it as a sense of comic relief and a wink from my grandmother.
So, before I sat down to type this–in sweat pants and my hair–yes up in that high ponytail, I put on a bit of lipstick and my moonstone stud earrings. I could hear her say “Take a walk; get fresh air and remember to smile. You never know who you are going to meet.”
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