As a little girl I was fascinated with this lady. I loved her pearl earrings, her pearl necklace, her perfect red lips. She was beautiful, and she sat, in her perfection, on a shelf, just out of reach, in my Grandma Retha's living room.
Lots of beautiful things lived on shelves in my grandma's living. Photographs--so many photographs-- in black and white and shades of brown that we were all we knew in 1980. Glass figurines of animals, random plastic toys that had caught my grandma's fancy at some point, baby dolls of all shapes and sizes. Oh, the baby dolls. And, bronze baby shoes for all seven of her children, bronze baby shoes that I now realize she must have scrimped and saved for. I confess I was ever only really interested in one pair, though-- the pair with the torn toe worn by my daddy in 1953 as he stood by a teddy bear and 1939 Ford.
Lots of things lived in my Grandma Retha's house, a house that grew in rooms and contents over the years. The house, built of cinder blacks, changed in color, too, although the pink years were my favorite. Each room, from floor to ceilings, was packed with treasure untold. Some might say it was hoarding, but I always saw each stack or pile as carefully picked and arranged with purpose by Grandma. Each piece had meaning and mattered. Why wouldn't I? That was how she treated each of us.
Despite the way the house morphed with the years, the shelves never changed and neither did the location of the beautiful woman who lived on the shelf.
I would search for her...
And, I would find her there, just like I found myself in my grandma's house every summer before I was ten--until about five years ago, when the woman began to live on my shelf.
That's when my grandma gave me the object of my childhood desires.
She gave it to me when she still knew who I was, before the Alzheimer's stole her away...
With a little research, I learned that my beautiful woman was originally created to be a vase-- a head vase, to be exact. These head vases were popular in the 1950s when florists would fill the small opening with flowers.
I guess I'll never know who originally filled this vase with flowers. I'll never know know how my Grandma Retha acquired this beautiful woman, if someone, like my Grandpa Junior, gave her flowers to woo her.
What I do know is that today, on the day of my grandma's passing, I am filling the vase, not with flowers, but with the petals of memories with which I am left holding...
bits of time
that together form the bouquet of my memory and love for her...
Little tiny glasses that were just the right size for us
Beauty pageants and underwear crowns where there was no winner because we were all too beautiful
Ice cream from the freezer with the magic top. It must have been magic because how else could you explain the way she could open the top, slip out ice cream cups, while never losing any of the stacks of stuff that sat precariously on its top?
Closets in every room, holding everything you would ever need and which probably already had your name on it. If the closet was full, well...it might be hidden in her bedroom that was protected by a padlock on the door.
Baby dolls of all shapes and sizes, in glass cabinets, complete with certificates of authentication
Real babies, the ones of her own flesh and blood. At last count she had 42 babies, grandbabies, and great grandbabies. Many of us are lucky enough to remember her calling us baby.
And who else will ever call me Lucy?
Buicks of various models with no car seats and boosters, each with a pillow that would boost Grandma high enough to see above the steering wheel and help her maneuver past the bad men who lived in the house just after you came down the hill. All of us kids would hunker down in the back seat, hiding from the bad men every time we drove past that house.
But we were never too scared because, even if the door lock on the house was shaky, we knew everybody in the neighborhood knew Ms. Retha had a shotgun waiting on the other side.
To the post office, Box 863, where she picked up piles of mail, including the latest Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes offer from Ed McMahon. Grandma saved them all because she was going to win big.
To the Hardee's where cousins fought over whether they were related or not.
To the Dime Store where I can't remember what we bought, only that Grandma always had the change for it.
She also always had a cure for it, too. Whatever it was, a little aloe vera, a little vinegar, a Hershey's kiss.
I still remember the shock of finding out what was really in the "chocolate" she dipped and in the pill bottles where she stowed the evidence.
We all have our vices.
So Grandma's was a little snuff, and I guess you could say her other vice was loving too much.
She loved us all with a fierceness that was comforting if you were the one she was protecting, biting if you were the one she was attacking. You didn't mess with her children, and forget ever thinking you were good enough for them because, well, you weren't.
Regardless of what she ever said about Grandpa Junior, we all knew it came from the same place everything else Grandma ever said came from-- a place of love.
She gave me my first love-- my daddy-- and I will never think of Valentine's Day without recalling how she always called my daddy "her Valentine."
The wood stove, her tiny feet, the bobby pins placed just so, biscuit pudding, chicken pastry
Playing in the grove of trees by the road, the snowball bush by her bedroom window, the well- worn path to the store
Pentecostal revivals, The Price is Right, General Hospital, Hee Haw
And, it's in the remembering that I realize there's a beautiful woman who lives on my shelf, but an even more beautiful woman who lives in my heart.