Months on end I would have to stay home waiting for my body to heal from some operation that the ‘powers that wear white coats’ had deemed necessary for my well being. Other children would spend hours in school learning their ABC‘s. I would spend hours with my grandmother and her two sisters; Nana, Aunt Elsie, and Aunt Izella. I learned to play Canasta like a pro, dine at expensive restaurants, use ’proper’ English, read the best books, attend the best live theatrical productions, and shop at the best stores. But mostly I learned “to be a lady”.
“Ladies DO NOT say, ’I’m full’.” “Ladies say, ’I’ve had sufficient ’.”
Ladies do not sit with their legs crossed one on top of the other. Ladies sit with their ankles crossed and their legs pulled in and tucked to the side.
Ladies always LISTEN well.
Ladies always send thank you notes.
Ladies read so that their conversation will be topical and interesting.
A woman could always be a woman, but LADYhood was something that a women should strive to attain.
They had all gone to college, had all made good marriages, had all become widows too early, and they adored one another. Nana and Aunt Izella were full sisters. Aunt Elsie was their half sister from their mother’s second marriage. Of the three sisters, my grandmother Pearl aka Nana, was the only one that had had children. And that is why the three sisters loved caring for and teaching me. I was the physically limited girl child. The oldest child, the child that had to find entertainment while my body healed. I loved my time with them. And, I wanted more then anything to be a part of their wonderous world of ladyhood.
Aunt Elsie was considered the most beautiful. Aunt Elsie was considered to be the ultimate in ladyness. I once lived with Aunt Elsie for three months. I lived in the rarefied world of the wealthy and proper. I learned the importance of the correct jewelry . I learned the importance of the correct wardrobe. I learned the importance of combining the two to achieve perfection. I learned to LOVE bracelets and earrings. I couldn’t learn to love necklaces. I walked with a slight limp on the right side and the necklace would swing over to the right and get caught on my right breast . A necklace caught on ones breast could interfere with the ladyness of ones presence; therefore no necklaces.
The love of costume jewelry has stayed with me my whole life. Every time I bought yardage to make myself something new I would coordinate jewelry to wear when the new garment was finished. I loved the look and feel of the ‘complete ‘ look. I have a large rattan basket full of bangle bracelets of every color and design. I have a large plastic storage box full of earrings that can be coordinated with the bangle bracelets. Some of the jewelry was a bit pricey, but most of it is affordable costume jewelry. All of it is fun jewelry. All of it has memories attached.
My granddaughter discovered the jewelry when she was about three years old. She used to play with the bracelets when she played ’dress up’. Several months ago she asked if she and several of her friends could use some of the jewelry so they could dress like ’gypsies’ for something going on at school. I sat and watched as they picked through the things making noises like they had found a lost treasure. I complemented them on their choices and made them promise to bring it right back when school was over. They did as they promised and I forgot about the jewelry hidden in it’s storage containers. But my granddaughter didn’t.
Four or five times she has come to me and asked if she could wear a certain bracelet that would ’just be a perfect match’ for an outfit she was wearing that day. I always let her wear the piece, but I always asked her if she had put it away at the end of day the too.
Before Christmas one of her friends said, “Ryan is so cool. She has the coolest ’retro’ jewelry. All the girls are jealous, but Ryan just tells them that she has a ’retro grandmother’.”
I should have wrapped all the jewelry up in Christmas paper and put it under the tree. It would have been a great gift to pass to her, but I couldn’t part with the hope the jewelry symbolized. Then last night I was going through some things that were part of ‘those days’; the days when I could walk. The days when I would put on my newly made clothes and slide the colorful bracelets on my wrist, attach the colorful earrings to my ears, and WALK out of the house feeling beautiful and LADYlike. Those days are over. I still dress, I still wear jewelry, I still go out the door feeling put together and ladylike, but I will never again go out the door walking. The jewelry is a ‘once upon a time’ symbol. I cried when I handed the rattan basket full of bracelets to my granddaughter. Ryan’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree as she accepted the gift. When she saw that I had tears filling my eyes she put her arms around me and promised that she would take good care of them.
"It's not that, Ryan. I trust you. It's the power of acceptance. Giving you the jewelry is my way of accepting a hard truth. I WILL NEVER WALK AGAIN. But on the other hand....................................I am a one of a kind RETRO GRANDMOTHER, that loved feeling like a lady!