With the release of The Stone House Legacy, I have begun to think more about the legacies left for me by those who passed through this life before me. The other day, I told my husband I would be ready to leave the house as soon as I "put on a face." He looked at me with an odd expression and I paused mid-step as a vision of my grandmother flashed through my memory.
NanNan, as she preferred to be called, never left the house without her make-up, hat and gloves. She was hopelessly stuck in a bygone era when ladies never left the house unless they were properly attired. I used to lie on her bed with my chin in my hands watching her morning ritual whenever I had the privilege of spending the night. It took her hours to get ready to go out while she "put on her face" to greet the public. Dressing for the day was handled with great care.Her dresser was covered in lace doilies and she had all manner of lotions and powders that were magical and mysterious to me. Her "delicates" were always hand-washed with special soaps and smelled of lavender. She was extremely proud of her small narrow feet and spoke with pride of having to special order her shoes in a size AAA narrow.
Back on the farm, where we lived, make-up was a luxury we could never afford. I had an old mirror in the room I shared with my sister, but it was cracked and much of the silver had worn off. There was a single light bulb to illuminate the room and a myriad of extension cords running from the single outlet on the wall. We shared the room with all manner of spiders, and wasps lived in their muddy nests high in the window sills. Years ago someone had tried to paste wallpaper over the cement walls, but it had long-ago peeled and hung sadly from the walls and ceilings. When we tried to tear it down, showers of cement dust rained down upon us, so we left it be.
Sleep-overs at Grandma's house were a glimpse into another world. The house was small, but always fastidiously kept. There were lace curtains on the window and a pink bedspread with quilted dolls on it that made me feel like a princess. Going shopping with Grandma was an adventure back into the times of the great department stores with several floors dedicated to each type of merchandise. I was enthralled by the elevator cages with the operator dressed in a spiffy uniform who announced each floor. I imagined myself to be a grand lady tagging along beside her and dutifully stuck out my pinkie finger when we lunched in the tea room on the upper floor.
I am indebted to my grandmother for this glimpse into a world I might never have known otherwise. She helped me to see that we are not limited by our environment. Who we become in life is our choice. We can blame the world for the misfortunes we suffer in life, or we can rise above them. Even today, I feel I must "put on my face" just to go to the grocery store or my Pilates class. It's my way for letting the world know I am ready to face whatever the day has in store for me. This was my grandmother's legacy to me.