It is a Sunday afternoon, sometime in the 80s. It’s sunny, crisp, red yellow and orange—not yet old enough to understand that the Blue Ridge Mountains bring Fall to us like no other place on Earth.
I’m sitting at the kitchen table with Grandma, after having searched through the fun-food drawer for the perfect, freshly cooked something from Little Debbe or Entemann’s. If the phone rings, Grandma lets me answer. We’re dressed in our Sunday best… church has happened, lunch is settling, croquet or football or basketball outside with the boys is definitely on the horizon. Maybe I’m a little dirty. An afternoon watered down pot of coffee has just finished brewing. I pretend it’s normal for an under 10 year old to drink coffee. Grandma helps me fill it with cream and sugar–to the point it’s almost not recognizable as what it actually is–and she pretends, too.
I make my way back to Grandma’s bathroom. No one knows I’m going back there. I walk in the yellow and green palace and plant my bare feet deeply into the shaggy carpet mats in front of each sink. I lock the door. I start on the left side of the counter, working my way to the right. It’s clean and everything is placed just so. There’s a pretty white box on the left, drawers (top for make-up, middle for rollers), a magical lipstick container, ending with a pyramid of luxurious perfumes on the far right.
I experience everything as it’s meant to be experienced, starting with the make-up. I put it all over my face. I try on every shade of lipstick until I find the right shade for me (in this case, probably the brightest pink in the bunch). I try on at least 3 different kinds of perfume. At last, I climb on the counter because this is the place I find it easiest to try on every piece of jewelry in Grandma’s incredible jewelry box. I take my time. I’m in there for at least an hour. When I’m satisfied, I wipe off all traces of my adventure apart from some lip rouge and a clip-on, maybe a ring or two. I think no one will notice.
Grandma notices. She says, “Well, Bets…” in a very pretty southern accent. Without saying another word, she walks me back to the palace. She finds the special shade I’ve kept on my little lips. She gives it to me and says to take good care of it. She also lets me keep a little brooch I’ve stuck to my Sunday dress.
Simple, but those moments have stuck with me so vividly through all these years. I felt such solace and peace in Grandma’s bathroom. I would graduate into rummaging through her closets in my high school years, donning the high school hallways with her big fake fur coat. Man, I looked good in that coat. With the exception of a few things, if I tried it on, she let me leave with it. I felt such pride and love in Grandma’s things.
There is only one reason that could be true–the woman behind them. My Grandmother, Mary Jane, was a woman of great beauty, depth, and love. I wanted to be like her and all the older women in my life (including my sis, Iya). I am so deeply touched by the impression she has left on this life. I am moved by memories of her. I only hope I can live my life as richly as she did.
Grandma, I miss you so much. I will always be the little girl rummaging through your pretty things.
Love love and more love, Bets
***Song of the Moment: Paper Aeroplane, by Angus & Julia Stone***