I love to accessorize. I have more shoes than I can count from peep toe to pump to kitten heel to knee-high boots. My pocketbook collection accommodates every occasion, as well as season. To top it all off, I am the Imelda Marcos of costume jewelry.
My style ranges on a daily basis. Whatever I’m feeling, I go with. Some days I’m more conservative with a small, delicate pearl necklace. Other days I’m living out loud with pearls Wilma Flintstone would be envious of.
While my sweet mother continuously questions if I’m really her daughter, this October my family celebrated the birthday of the woman who I DO owe these obsessions to: my grandmother, Margaret (Peg) Parsons.
Born and raised in Holyoke, MA, she and my grandfather raised eight children between the 50’s and the 80’s. She worked tirelessly to ensure that the house was always clean, the kids were well taken care of and that my grandfather was happy. This was on top of working third shift at Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield.
As my own mother’s 60th birthday approaches (sorry Mom!) I pulled out old photographs of my mother as a child and focused on the woman in the background – my grandmother.
There is a picture of my mother as a toddler in a snowsuit with fur around the hood. She’s in my grandmother’s arms and they are both standing next to my grandfather. To anyone else looking at this picture, it’s clear that Betty Rubble married Orville Redenbacher and this was their child.
To me, I saw a nineteen year old girl standing next to her twenty year old husband holding their second child out of the eight they would eventually have. I saw a huge smile on the face of this girl – a smile of the happiness of being in love and raising a young family and smile of what was yet to come. I also see perfectly placed lipstick, coiffed hair and a very stylish winter coat.
Throughout the pictures of birthdays, vacations, holidays, etc. my grandmother always appeared very well put together. Through the chaos of Christmas wrapping, family dinners, packing up the station wagon bound for the Cape or at the beach with sand flying every which way – there she was smiling, laughing, and bringing her A game with style.
As a child I would get excited for sleepovers at my grandparent’s home, which by then was in Shelburne Falls, MA. I would be excited to watch my grandmother get ready for the day. Vials of perfume on her dresser were surrounded by every shade of lipstick known to man. Personally, I think she single-handedly kept Avon in business.
I wanted nothing more than to try on the bright fuchsia lipstick that she applied effortlessly. With my little eyes just able to peer over the top of the dresser I would watch her open her jewelry box and pull out a necklace, bracelet and matching earrings. She would snap them into place and turn in my direction. And there she was – my beautiful grandmother ready to take on the day, no matter what came her way. Maybe one of her children would have an issue that needed solving. Maybe she would be making me a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. Maybe the laundry needed folding. Maybe my grandfather needed help finding something (seriously why can’t men ever remember where anything is?). Whatever it was Peg Parsons was ready for it – fuchsia lipstick and all.
Throughout the years as my style developed, my grandmother always noticed. She would compliment a piece of jewelry or a new pair of shoes. Nowadays she laughs and says “I wish I could wear those shoes!” and then proceeds to tell me I’m going to ruin my feet someday. I know Gram, I know. She then smiles because she knows that she too was told the same thing and didn’t care – because these shoes are just too much fun to not be worn…and you only live once.
A couple of months ago we gathered to help get her house ready for Fall and to celebrate her birthday. I walked down the hallway into the bedroom where the coats were. I gave her a hug and a kiss and smelled that wonderful, familiar Grandmother smell. She pulled away and eyes bright asked me, “Oh! I just went shopping. Do you want to see what I got?” I smile immediately and answer “Of course!” For the next ten minutes we reviewed her sweaters, shoes and, of course, pocketbook that she added to her collection. In the excitement and laughter there was that nineteen year old girl shining through. A moment later I hear my aunt call “Mom! What do you want me to do with this garlic bread?” and off goes my grandmother to tend to her kitchen, her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. I smile as I watch her walk away, her jewelry catching the light.
We lost my grandfather a couple of years ago. The patriarch of our family he is dearly missed each and every day. I’ve watched my grandmother at family functions since and although I don’t say it to her enough, she amazes me. She is still the strong-willed woman I know. She is still laughing and smiling. She has lunch with her friends, volunteers at the museum and has her standing Friday hair appointments. She never forgets a birthday. She never forgets a holiday. Through it all, she is still putting on her lipstick and accessorizing her outfits, ready for the day. She hasn’t stopped, forging ahead….whether she feels like it or not. My beautiful grandmother, ready for the day.
So Gram, this month is for you because yeah, YOU did. Thank you for all that you have done – for the traditions you’ve instilled in me, for the strength you’ve passed on and most of all for my fashion sense. 😉 I love you.
Article originally appeared in January 2012 Lioness