Dolls and furniture at the Foire Nationale aux Antiquites a la Brocante et aux Jambons, Chatou, France.
Today would have been my late grandmother Lucille's birthday. As children, when my brothers and I spent the weekend with our grandparents, Grandmother would bring a wooden table from a carport closet and set it up in the driveway. She also provided us with old enamel and aluminum dishes and utensils for making mud pies and hosting tea parties for dolls. Grandmother referred to our toys as "play pretties." She called little beads of caked dirt on our necks - after a day of playing outdoors in heat and humidity - "dinah beads." She made sure we scrubbed ourselves clean in the bath.
I've written previously that she was a talented seamstress and made a wardrobe of beautiful clothes for my Barbies. She also made a dress like one I admired on the cover of Seventeen magazine and later, a dress copied from the pages of Vogue.
She and her friends had occasional "quilting bees" and Grandmother's attention to detail resulted in beautiful and unique quilts. She sewed most of her own clothes, until her eyesight worsened, making sewing difficult. She always took pride in her appearance, visiting the hairdresser once a week. On Sundays, she donned her finest clothes for church.
Grandmother had carpentry skills, making lamps out of unlikely objects and side tables out of stacked wooden cable spools. She filled these tables with her collection of little porcelain figurines. A perfectionist, her home was immaculately kept. She was a good cook, making the best caramel pie ever (no one in our family has been able to duplicate it, using her recipe). Every year at Christmas, I make a "refrigerator roll" dessert using Grandmother's recipe.
Grandmother also had a green thumb: her house was surrounded by gorgeous hydrangeas and rose bushes. And she and Granddaddy planted a huge garden full of vegetables.
Our grandparents loved me and my brothers (and later my baby sister) unconditionally - but not uncritically. I wonder what Grandmother would make of me living abroad. I know she was proud of me and supportive when I went off to journalism school and later to New York to pursue my dreams. Still she worried that I wouldn't find a good man to take care of me - not understanding I could take care of myself. I think she'd be happy I've accomplished many things on my own, plus I married a good man.
I'm sorry Grandmother didn't live to know my daughter Jordana, who has inherited her amazing abilities with a needle and thread and a sewing machine.* They met briefly, when Jordana was a baby. By this time, Grandmother had suffered a series of debilitating diabetes-related strokes, but she managed to say, "My, doesn't she have such pretty eyelashes!" Just thinking about that episode brings tears to my eyes.
Throughout the years, I've often felt Grandmother's presence, as though she's watching over me. In her memory, I'm off to buy a huge bouquet of hydrangeas (or hortensia, as it is known here).
*Jordana is a young designer for an American fashion house.