Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Grandma Paula wore bright red lipstick. It left marks on everything--coffee cups, cigarette filters, cheeks. She would touch up her lipstick at the table after a meal using the tiny mirror in her lipstick case. I hated it. Grandma went to the beauty parlor once a week to have her hair set and trimmed. Her nails were polished and kept short. When she was an old lady, her hair was white-white and worn in a wiry brush cut. Her hair was gorgeous. Her make-up was thick and ugly and unnecessary. When I was little, I hated that she smoked. I would cough and wave away her smoke. I would complain that no matter where she sat, her smoke would blow into my face. When she quit, I took credit for it. Mom told me that Grandma didn't start smoking until after Grandpa died.

When Grandma was younger, she had blonde hair. She looked like a movie star. She had narrow hips and a big bust. She bound her breasts to fit in the narrow dresses of the '20s. She wore cloche hats and wool bathing suits. She was a flapper. She told me that the term "flapper" referred to the flapping of untied shoelaces on women's shoes. When she was a middle-aged married woman in the '50s she had bouffant hair-dos and wore full skirts and lamé party dresses. She wore a lot of costume jewelry. She was always fashionable. Men loved her.

Her house was immaculate. Dad joked that if he tipped ashes from his cigarette into an ashtray and next thing he knew there was a clean ashtray there--before he even finished the cigarette. If you stayed with Grandma, you didn't leave things lying around. Never, under any circumstances, was it acceptable to put damp towels in the hamper. There were consequences if you did.

My mom didn't inherit Grandma's neatness or style. Mom dresses well, but her hair was never "done" like Grandma's. Mom never wore foundation and the lipstick and blush she might put on rarely made it to the end of the day. She bites her nails and doesn't polish them. She is more beautiful than Grandma, though. Grandma was striking, but didn't have a fine nose or well-defined features. She had presence. Mom was in her shadow--where Grandma needed her to be.

I'm more like Mom than Grandma. I bite my nails and can't keep polish on them. I have the same super-straight, dark brown, impossible to style hair as mom. I've never worn spiky heels and I never will. I don't look like Grandma. I don't have her polish. I wear make-up for costume parties not to go to work.

But I've started to wear lipstick. And I'm leaving marks on things--like the straw through which I sipped my iced coffee this morning. Those traces of lipstick on the straw made me think about Grandma.

I'm like Grandma because I'm stubborn and I know who I am. I take care of people if they need it. I can listen to anyone's problems and provide reassurance. I'm more organized than almost anyone I know.

When people complained about getting older, Grandma would say, "Consider the alternative." Grandma said that when we die, we live on in the memories of others. I find this sad and reassuring. Even though not all of my memories of Grandma are happy, I do remember her. She lives in me. And my lipstick.

Grateful for: Grandma.

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