You grow up the day you have the first real laugh at yourself. Ethel Barrymore from AZ quotes
The other morning I had one of those episodes where I had to laugh at myself or in spite of myself. I find I do it quite often these days; I believe it’s one of the perks brought on by aging and wisdom of our years.
I started my morning with my mind set on a plan for a project in the yard. I’m house sitting while taking care of my daughter’s eighty five pound furbaby. She and her husband have their hands full with careers and a toddler size human baby, so I decided to make use of idle time and clean up the yard a bit before they got home. Nothing major, I’m not a gardener. I had a small flower garden once which was mostly landscaped already when I bought the house. With minimal fuss, that garden managed to come back and thrive every year from spring through fall. These days I’m working on trying to get a potted orchid to flower again.
I was up and dressed bright and early with gardening shorts, t-shirt and safari hat. I wanted to get it done before the temperature became unbearable but I couldn’t find my daughter’s gardening gloves. I have allergies and an intense dislike for creepy crawly things, so I wasn’t going out there without gloves. What a dilemma! I had to run to the store to pick up a pair of gloves, but I was dressed for tropical weather gardening, not shopping.
To understand my problem, we’d have to go back to my family of origin where the mantra was “we may be poor, but we are proud!” Mom always made sure our clothes were clean, ironed with starch and our shoes polished. She learned from her mother.
My grandmother was an adorable, plump little woman. Over the years I’ve mentioned a few times that someday I wanted to be a cute, little old lady like her. (I’m practically there). She wore her thinning white hair in a small bun at the nape of her neck. Her back slightly curved from years as a seamstress. In her late 70s, her alabaster skin was without blemish and smooth, and her eyes were a turquoise green like the tranquil waters of the Caribbean Basin. It was just recently that my aunt had convinced her that she didn’t need to iron my grandfather’s boxers or her bed sheets because of the new permanent press fabrics. She still starched and pressed her house dresses and my grandfather’s white cotton shirts and khakis.
One summer when I was visiting my grandmother, she asked me if I wanted to go shopping in town with her. She was walking to town and wanted some company. We were already in town, but she meant about 20 minutes to the stores on the main street, more if she saw friends along the way. I dressed quickly and waited for my grandmother on the porch.
My grandmother, Mrs. Plumeria Bridge put one foot out on the porch, looked at me and stopped in her tracks. She looked up and down at me, and I noticed the tranquil waters in her eyes were starting to churn like angry waves before a storm. “Go in and change. I’m not taking you with me like that.” Period and end of the story were implied in her tone. Of course, I was young, and I needed to ask why: “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” At the time, I thought it was cool for a girl from the big city to wear overalls with a T-shirt and sneakers. My question triggered a lecture on the proper attire of lovely young ladies going into town. She didn’t want to hear what I did back home, so I went in and changed to a sundress, ladylike sandals and wore my long dark hair in a braid.
Fast forward to 2018, and I’m standing at the doorway with my car keys in hand, ready to go to the Town Center in workout shorts, a sleeveless t-shirt, sneakers without socks and my wild hair particularly unruly this morning. I was just going to run in and out but what if I saw someone I knew? Well, I don’t know many people in this town, I thought as I encouraged myself. Besides Hollywood A-listers do it all the time, I just won’t take off my sunglasses! That’s when it happened; I laughed at myself for giving so much thought to explain my options as if to my grandmother.
As it turned out, once I was at the Town Center, I remembered a couple of other things I needed and made another stop. I was not just in and out at either store. I chatted with the clerks and a woman behind me in line. No one asked me why I was wearing comfortable workout shorts and sneakers without socks to the trendy Town Center.
At another point in my life, I probably wouldn’t have gone out, or if I had to, I would have changed to something more “presentable.” I realize though that if anyone I know passes judgment about me because of the clothes I wear, then they don’t value me for the person I am. I am beyond the point where I feel the need to prove my worth. I am what I am, and it is what it is.
Since it’s my nature to ponder, I reflected on how often we judge others by their appearance. I often say that it seems like the experiences from our school years play out throughout our lives. We see the same behaviors at work or in social groups. Only the names and faces change. Naturally, whenever this topic crosses my mind, I am reminded of a young girl, a classmate from my middle and high school years, Grace Fore. I was an average kid. I managed to stay under the radar and out of trouble. I wasn’t popular but had friends from different groups that I had met through various activities like art electives, tutoring, orchestra, boosters, yearbook, and church.
Grace Fore was a loner. I didn’t know anything about her home life, but I knew she played the viola beautifully with such sentimentality. I remember that it was apparent that she was trying to fix her appearance. Kids teased her when she tried a new hairstyle and her hair still looked disheveled or when she wore a misshapen dress that she made herself in class. They called her Grace Forlorn. I didn’t verbally defend her, I usually just moved my friends along before it got worse. I always wished I had been braver.
A few years ago as the world turns, I received a Facebook friend request from Grace Fore with a simple question “Do you remember me?” “Of course,” I answered, “you played the viola beautifully. Do you still play?” She wrote to me about the difficult life she had growing up and how it turned out not much better as an adult. And then she broke my heart when she said: “but you were always nice to me, and it meant so much.” I really didn’t much. I was taught and always believed in the message:
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Wendy Mass, The Candymakers from Goodreads.
If she hadn’t reached out, I would have never known that one small kindness would mean so much after all these years. She unfriended me shortly after over differences in political ideology, but I’m glad we connected. It validated my core beliefs.
After driving home in this meditative state, I needed a drink before I tackled the yard. It was the middle of the day in Florida with temperatures in the triple digits. I poured a tall glass of iced tea, put my feet up and decided I would start fresh tomorrow. I shook my head, I snickered to myself.