“Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ~Franz Kafka
My Grandma Muriel was fabulous.
Fiery, artistic and independent, my Grandma Muriel worked outside the home – an unusual arrangement for a woman during the 1950s. But she was a decorator who needed to make things beautiful. She was a crafty critter, forever knitting and beading. She transformed umbrella stands and drab pieces of office furniture into a pieces of art with gallons of Mod-Podge and photographs of daffodils and tulips.
She loved a good party, loved to be the center of attention. Being sexy was important to her. Looking good was important to her. After she lost both breasts to cancer, she spent hours primping in the mirror, making sure her clothes laid just so, that her wigs and eye-lashes curled perfectly.
She liked to be prepared for events that might happen. “You never know when there might be a party,” she’d say.
My grandma couldn’t walk into a store and simply buy one item; she bought in quantity. Part of this may have been due to the fact that she and my grandfather were in hotel and restaurant supply, so they were used to buying in bulk, but her habit extended beyond that. In her basement storehouse, hundreds of napkins were stacked alongside, plastic plates, cups and forks. The bathroom closets shelved tens of toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste and dozens of bottles of Milk of Magnesia. Her kitchen pantry was always bursting with canned goods.
As a teenager, when I visited my grandparents during summer vacations, she took me shopping. “When you find something you love, buy one in every color,” she advised on more than one occasion.
My mother says it was difficult growing up with my grandmother. That my Grandma Muriel couldn’t get through a day without a glass of something or other. That she was depressed, narcissistic and unsympathetic.
But the grandmother I knew played games with me and helped me complete complicated crossword puzzles. The grandmother I knew indulged me, maybe even spoiled me. If my parents said, You can’t have those jeans, Grandma Muriel bought them for me.
She took me to ride horses. Leaning up against the other side of a broken-down fence, her thinning hair in skinny ponytails, she grinned wildly as I cantered and trotted and jumped.
Together, we visited flea markets. Under dark pavilions, we inspected the offerings. She taught me how to bargain, to name my price and be ready to walk away from whatever item I thought I wanted.
I stood in tall grass beside my grandmother, each of us wearing boots, quietly painting what we saw: she at a real easel, me on an oversized clipboard. Later, I squatted beside her in her magnificent garden, pinching Japanese beetles between our gloved fingers.
On days where the weather didn’t lend itself to outside endeavors, Grandma Muriel set me up with an old typewriter and told me to write. Sitting on her living room carpet, I tapped out stories. At night, she carried a smooth black bowl of fruit upstairs to my bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed. As I bit into a juicy black plum, my grandmother read the words I had written that day, and nodded her head. She told me I had promise, and I believed her.
The Grandma Muriel I knew was filled with joy, positive and affirming.
I suppose I pleased her.
Maybe by the time grandchildren arrived, she had relaxed, figured out what is important in life.
Or maybe she was self-medicating with alcohol and pills, as my mother suggests. I don’t know. It is not impossible for me to imagine my grandmother as difficult, opinionated and judgmental. I’m sure she was all that, too.
Just not with me.
My Grandma Muriel passed away in August 1982. Over thirty years later, I still think of her every day. She was the embodiment of beauty.
This piece in running in conjunction with other writers who are commemorating August McLaughlin’s 2nd annual Beauty of a Woman (BOAW) celebration. Check out the line-up over at her place.