Have you ever met my grandma, Ma? My whole life she's been both my rock and my style icon. When I was little and bad, she never yelled at me, not even when I trashed her super fly navy crushed patent leather boots. (What can I say, they transformed me into Wonder Woman and/or Isis!)
When I was a teenage nerd, she taught me advanced accessorizing, gave me many of her vintage sparklies, and doled out the best dating advice ever -- don't be so serious! just have fun! (Did I follow it? Not till I was 35.)
Now that I'm grown up, we have a chattier relationship and I get to hear about lots of awesome stuff. Like the very Parent Trap-ish tricks she and her twin sister played on their high school boyfriends ... and the day she decided to marry my dashing older grandpa instead of the boy she'd been engaged to before The War ... and all the fun times they had cruising around in their mint green Cadillac with the white leather interior.
In short, Ma has the best stories, the best clothes, and the best laugh. Even when life whacks her upside the head, she is impish hilarity incarnate.
After 88 remarkably hale and hearty years, she's been struggling with some health problems the last few months, and was recently admitted to a rehab center where she's been resting and getting physical therapy ... and, not surprisingly, hating every minute of it.
The first few weeks there were the worst. She was irritable and depressed and scared -- as any of us would be. She's been independent and super social her entire life, so it's been hard for her to get used to not being able to do as much as she once could. She's usually a voracious conversationalist and reader, but she was quiet, and nothing seemed to hold her interest -- not murder books or sexy books or even sexy murder books. All of this was very unlike her and pretty upsetting for all of us.
The hardest part was that she didn't want to see anyone besides family. One particularly spectacular autumn afternoon a few weeks ago, I tried to talk her into going outside with me where I could wheel her around in the sunshine and she could get a look at the fall colors. "Oh, no, Meg," she said, hands flying up to her usually blonde and poofy / now gray and flat hair. "I just can't let anyone see me like this."
My heart broke for her, but I didn't push. Instead, I made her an appointment at the beauty shop.
The day after her primp and perm, my fiancee and I came to visit her and experienced synchronized jaw drops at what we saw. Her usual response to our arrival was a weak smile and a description of how hard the day had sucked. But that night she was sitting up in bed, chowing down on shortbread and making plans for what she'd like to do with us, more full of piss and vinegar than I'd seen her in months.
For the first time since she got there, we went for a walk around the building, and I was gratified to see her pick up a particularly trashy looking paperback found in the lounge -- Having The Cowboy's Baby, a title from Desire by Harlequin. Go Ma go!
The next morning, I called her before visiting to see if I could bring her anything. "Why don't you just stay home today, Meg?" she replied. "You need a day off, and I'm fine. I love you and I'll see you tomorrow."
My eyes filled up with tears as I hung up the phone. Even weak from a heart attack and unable to get up from her hospital bed, she was able to marshall the resources to care for me, just as she's done since the day I was born. This was the first time she'd been able to since she got sick, and it meant a lot to me. I know it did to her, too.
I credit this both to my Ma's inherent awesomeness and to her hair being beautiful and poofy again. You know, it gives a girl strength!
That the way we look impacts the way we feel seems like the most obvious and even frivolous idea, but gets more profound and real the more you look at it. The dumbest little things can make you feel like -- and even BE -- the best version of yourself.
I know, for me, there is a tangible difference between a day when I feel cute and one when I don't. On a not-so-cute day, I want to stay home and eat ice cream. On a cute day, I want to GO OUT and eat ice cream ... and lots of other stuff, too, like make goofy jokes, play in the leaves, and smile at strangers in the street.
When you feel cute, you become a portal of cute, and out it all pours. It's kind of magic, no?
Next up for the beauty shop lady: Some kind of thank you. Maybe cookies?
Next up for Ma: Reintroduction to lipstick, earrings, and head-to-toe black-and-gold.
Next up for me: Hanging with Ma and remembering to tell her how gorgeous she truly is.