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Archive for the ‘memories’ Category

My apologies to longtime blog readers.  This is a reprint from my old blog.  But I’ve been thinking about my grandmother a lot, and I wanted to share this tribute with new readers.  Written July 9, 2008.

GrandmaWedSmallMy grandmother passed away unexpectedly on May 29th. Amid all the excitement of photographer interviews, cake tasting, and invitation designing, the last month has been somber and surreal.

Days shy of her 84th birthday, Grandma was active and fiercely independent. She worked nearly full-time as a volunteer for the local hospital and major league baseball team, walked to the mall and grocery store when the weather was nice, and took cruise vacations and road trips to visit family and see new places whenever she had the opportunity. She was loving, giving, and adventurous. She was also a woman who lived her own way and spoke her own mind—and made no apologies for it. And that was something everyone she befriended came to love about her.

Thinking of Grandma, many things come to mind: Baseball. Her perfectly styled hair. The Sweet Tomatoes and Fresh Choice coupons she always clipped for me. Retro furniture. Jigsaw puzzles. Her impeccable handwriting and ridiculously prompt thank-you cards. Crystal napkin rings. The smell of burnt chocolate at her house (she lived near a chocolate factory). And the Christmas Eve celebrations we had at her place for many, many years. She’d make us a fabulous dinner, one of us would sneak a treat into her stocking, we’d open gifts (which always included savings bonds, socks, and See’s candy), and just spend the evening talking and laughing and having some of the best of times.

And, of course, I remember the dating pressure…

Ever since I broke up with my high school boyfriend, Grandma would ask about my love life and offer unsolicited advice and opinions. “Why doesn’t Michael come around anymore?” “You let a good one go.” “Aren’t there any available young men at that church of yours?” She once tried to set me up on a blind date with a twentysomething she met at an Oakland A’s game. And one Valentine’s Day while I was away at college, she tucked a newspaper clipping about online dating services into my card.

It drove me nuts. I even schemed with a coworker about him posing as a new boyfriend at Thanksgiving dinner and acting so terribly my grandmother might lay off the dating encouragement for a while. Hehehe. (We never did it.) But I knew she meant well. Grandma wanted to see me happy. And the source of her life’s happiness was family—her husband, her sons, her daughter-in-law, her four grandkids, her siblings, and her sister-in-law-turned-best friend. She wanted these things for me, too.

I took Grandma out to lunch earlier this year and, knowing Paul and I were headed in the direction of marriage, I asked her questions about the love of her life. She told me stories I had never before heard—about meeting my grandfather (who passed away when I was 12); how as witnesses to a friend’s Reno wedding, they ended up eloping themselves; how they announced it at her sister’s wedding reception; how she was one of two girls in her senior class to marry before graduation. I listened, amused—but not surprised—by the image of my grandmother as a rebellious teenager. As she recalled the memories, her eyes lit up and she laughed heartily, and I wondered why I hadn’t engaged her in these types of conversations before.

Preparing for the memorial service, my mom, dad, and sisters looked through Grandma’s albums, gathering the best photos for a display. Her love story played out in scrapbooks—handwritten notes, anniversary cards, event programs, and photos pasted onto yellowed pages. News of her young nuptials made the local papers, and she’d saved the clippings. And I saw the only “wedding” photo she owned: The newlyweds captured descending a staircase with their marriage license in hand.

I made myself a copy of that photo, and it’s been sitting on my desk ever since. I miss Grandma terribly, and I am overcome with sadness when I think about how she won’t be at my wedding. My mother told me that the day Grandma went into the hospital, despite being very ill, she kept asking about the wedding. She wanted to know about the colors and who was in the wedding party and everything. It seems she sensed she wouldn’t get to experience it herself. Wouldn’t ever see me, or any of her grandchildren, get married. Wouldn’t ever meet her great grandchildren.

The last time I saw Grandma was at my engagement party. I suppose that is appropriate. After years of dating inquiry, my status was very clear: I was in love with a wonderful man who made me happy, and I was going to spend the rest of my life with him. And it was clear that day that my grandmother was so very happy for me.

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Back to School

“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” —Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail

The start of the school year was always my favorite time. That meant my mom would take me and my siblings out shopping for school supplies!  I’d roam the aisles of McWhorter’s, eyes wide as I took in the rows of markers, glue, colorful notebooks, backpacks, and so many things I didn’t need but had to have—like those ball-point pens that had 10 different colors of ink you could switch between.  Love.lunchbox-shark

I’m always amazed at the new school supplies that come out each year. Kids today have such variety—and can really express their personality through it all.  (I had to add patches to my plain Jansport backpack and doodle on my homemade book covers.)  Check out this face-meltingly adorable insulated lunch box from Dante Beatrix!  If only I could go back in time to first grade and proudly carry it to school!

What were some of your favorite back-to-school goodies?

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A red sequin. That’s all evidence of me that remains in my old apartment. I spotted it on the floor as we were leaving, having taken one last, tearful look around our first home together—our “honeymoon home,” he calls it.

Paul and I had scrubbed, wiped, and vacuumed every surface, our fingers raw from water and cleansers, but somehow the sequin persisted. It’s fitting, I suppose. Paul has teasingly complained about my favorite shirt since we started dating; how it would shed sequins that he’d later find around his place—and shiny, sparkly things are not supposed to be in a guy’s place.

Now, two hours after dropping off our keys at the apartment manager’s office, the memory makes me smile. That bittersweet smile of change, of growth, of sad endings transforming into exciting beginnings.

I am sitting in the living room of our brand-new condo. It’s the first home I’ve ever purchased, and another milestone in what has been a string of them this year. Some were big (getting married, buying a condo) and some were small (Is that a grey hair!?), but all seem to indicate my arrival into adulthood.

When people started calling me a “lady” or a “woman,” it was so strange, and it continues to be strange. A few months ago, in the checkout line at the grocery store, the little girl behind me asked her dad, “Is that lady wearing her pajamas?” I was mortified—suddenly realizing I could no longer pull-off the run-to-Safeway-in-my-plaid-pants-and-ratty-tee maneuver, which was a staple of college life. “Shhhh,” the man said, “You shouldn’t talk about other people like that.”

At some point, probably about five years after I graduated, I stopped beginning conversations with, “In college…” I knew it sounded juvenile—the faces of my listeners often sunk a little at the mention, especially in professional circles—but for a long time, those years felt like the last of any significance in my life. I suppose it was because growth is such a focus in college, and afterward I felt stagnant with an internship instead of a job and roommates instead of a spouse—stuck between teenager and adult in a realm of uncertainty, even though I was maturing exponentially on a not-yet-realized level.

My biggest fear about getting older used to center around music. I figured there must be a point in life when people start to prefer the music of their youth to the music of “today.” That at some point, the light rock station that plays at the dentist’s office will be just my style, and I’ll no longer be comfortable blasting Linkin Park or Black Eyed Peas in my car with the windows rolled down and the bass rattling the rear-view mirror so badly I can’t use it.

Thankfully, so far, silliness remains. In fact, it’s what helps me get through the serious stuff of adulthood. Like when the economy tanks and people get laid off at work and I worry about whether I can actually afford this brand-new, three-bedroom condo. This condo that’s big enough to start a family in a few years from now, assuming we’re financially able to drop one income and allow me to be a stay-at-home mom, which is the only way I can imagine myself handling motherhood. Assuming I’m ever ready for motherhood! (Is anyone ever ready?)

Paul just came into the living room after what seemed like 15 minutes in the restroom. “Are you okay?” I asked. “Yes…” he said, confused. So I asked, “Were you in the bathroom that whole time?” “No. Well, yes. Well, I wasn’t on the toilet the whole time. I was standing at the sink, playing Risk on my iPhone.”

See, sometimes we are still silly kids. Kids who will be turning 30 in a matter of days! My birthday is a week from today, and his is 44 days later. It feels like such a big deal. Certainly, my feet will be cemented in adulthood once I replace that 2 with a 3. Right?

Well, what’s certain is that I’ve entered a new stage in life. I miss the comfort of the familiar, but the vast emptiness ahead doesn’t have to be scary. It’s the space, the freedom, to create my future. My exciting beginning. My adulthood.

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Seeing Beauty

Entering the multi-purpose room for my first school dance, I felt nervous and overwhelmed. It was dark and loud, the deejay playing a medley of Sir Mix-A-Lot, Kris Kross, and En Vogue while faceless strangers moved their bodies to the pulsing beats.

Even if I could make out everyone’s facial features, I probably wouldn’t know their names. I had recently transferred from Alaska, where sixth grade was the end of elementary school, to California, where sixth grade was the beginning of middle school. So, my new seventh grade peers had experienced a year of tween fashion, boy-girl parties, and school dances, while I felt hopelessly behind.

Already mocked for my poodle perm and wardrobe of striped, fluorescent jumpers, I was careful to choose a great outfit for the dance. My cousin Amy, five years my senior, had begun giving me her hand-me-downs.  She was über-cool, a popular high schooler with wavy blonde hair and the prestige of Homecoming royalty and class presidency.  I selected her blue and purple blouse with a muddled floral print that looked almost like tie-dye, and paired it with white short shorts.  I feathered my bangs off to one side, replaced my silver stud earrings with large hoops, and traced my eyelids with bright blue liner before putting my glasses back on.

Sure, my blouse wasn’t exactly the “in” style—the kind where the sleeves and midriff were see-through mesh printed to match the rest of the solid material on the back and chest.  My neighbor Lynnette, who I carpooled with, wore a black and while polka-dot one that night.  But despite my lack of mesh, I felt, for the first time, as though I fit in.

We were packed into the multi-purpose room, yet still organized into small dance circles by clique—jumping and wiggling, and sometimes trying moves like The Running Man, The Cabbage Patch, or The Roger Rabbit.  We longed to be grown-up and cool, even sexy, like the girls in music videos—yet we were still trapped in awkward preteen bodies.

Brandon asked me to dance—a slow dance—and I took my time following him to an open space in the crowd, peeking at the couples around us to figure out how to slow dance.  Wrapping my hands behind his neck seemed too intimate, so I just grabbed his biceps.  “Put your hands on my shoulders,” he whispered.  But, I didn’t hear him quite right and nervously put my head on his shoulder.  He laughed, gently pushed me back, and said, “No… um… nevermind.”  Eventually figuring it out, I inched my hands up to his shoulders.

Brandon was ridiculously cool.  He was good-looking and funny, and everyone liked him.  Unlike the other popular kids, Brandon was always so kind to me.  As we swayed to the slow groove of Boyz II Men, my thick, plastic frames began to fog up, so I took them off and put them in my shirt pocket.  When the song ended and we stepped apart, he looked at me for a few seconds and said, “Wow, LeeAnne, you look very pretty without your glasses.”

I don’t remember anything about the rest of that first school dance.  All I know is that Brandon’s sweet compliment became a significant touchstone in my life.  A boy thought I was pretty, and for the first time, I believed it.  I didn’t put my glasses back on again for nine years.  I didn’t get contacts (Voluntarily touch my eyeball? No thank you.); I just stopped wearing glasses.  It didn’t matter that I often couldn’t read the chalkboard, or that long periods in front of the computer gave me eye-strain headaches.  I wanted that feeling of beauty and confidence to last forever.

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