My Grandma’s Life In Five Objects


Grandparents are intended

to help a child get into mischief

that she couldn’t have thought of on her own.

Gene Perret



September is the birthday month of my maternal grandmother to whom I owe much of my sense of style and expansive range of talents. She loomed large as family matriarch and when I think of home, I think of her busy, extended household full of aunts, uncles, cousins, house help and a revolving door of pets. The woman I’ve become and how I relate to the world are born from watching her be or not be, from marveling at her idiosyncrasies and ironies, from hearing my mom and aunts gauge their choices by “What would Mama think?”  We shared the love of constant learning, of evolving artistic expression from the sartorial to the mundane, as well as an affinity for collecting beautiful objects. She kept her best under lock and key, displayed behind glass panels as curiosities, while mine have to double duty as pretty and functional that must survive good, if not daily, use.  To this day, objects are how I remember people, places and events that have generously blessed me, given as gifts or as conjurors of memory, remembrances of who and what helped shape the person I’ve become.

Before I left for college, she couldn’t wait to tweeze my eyebrows and share her makeup palette, teaching me the art of making almond eyes appear wider with at least four shades of eye makeup that became my daily uniform. Who would recognize me now that motherhood had made me surrender the good fight?  My grandma loved red lipstick while her more conservative sisters wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing anything racier than pink.  With masks required at public venues these days, making lipsticks go wasted on covered lips, I wear my Very Prive Louboutin (above) as a pendant instead.


A Purse Gone Fishing

My absolute favorite from Grandma is this fish purse that was her souvenir from a trip to Japan before my own parents met. I can imagine the excitement that pulsed through her house as she and her husband planned their first major flight out of their home islands. I don’t know how I got to be the lucky keeper of this treasure considering I have a sister, aunts and a slew of girl cousins.  But I can’t think of anyone else who would have enjoyed it as much as I do. For better or worse–because plastic never dies–this purse looks as new today as it must have been when she first spied it at a shop window in Shibuya or Shinjuku.  As she wandered those streets, did she imagine that one day, her first granddaughter–who, at that time, was yet a mere twinkle in her eye–might birth her a greatgrandson in that country?  This fish purse perfectly melds our love of travel and irrepressible sense of humor, ever ready to share a clever anecdote or joke, usually with a poker face (as any sensible fish would.)



To Bed, To Bed

My fun fashion flair and insistence on dressing better when everyone else is wearing ripped jeans definitely comes from Grandma’s genes. Though there are limits to the heights I’d willingly suffer. Before COVID-19, I used to tease that women endure enough pain already without our toes needing to get pinched into stilettos, that 4-inch heels should only be worn to bed.  Now that dress up parties and gatherings are few, the bed has proven to be my Private Number Louboutin’s most dependable destination indeed.



All That Glitters For No Occasion

To whoever decreed “Don’t eat after 6:00 pm,” I have only one question: Why not?!  This may make sense for Early Birds, but someone must speak up for the night owls of this planet!  When my Empty Nest is quiet late at night, I think of those just-the-two-of-us moments with my grandma, rare in her full house, silent except for the crack and crunch of freshly carved watermelon, punctuated by the less than discreet spit of seeds in those long forgotten days before the needless invention of all things seedless. Other nights might be the season for mangoes and more exotic tropical fruits, cookies or a sandwich with the slurp of hot cocoa or milk coffee as our midnight snack. I have since been converted to the rituals of tea because there’s such an irresistible selection of adorable cups and teapots, satisfactions you just can’t get from a coffeemaker.  No good reason to save glittery things for special occasions that may never come either so I delight in feasting like royalty during the day or when I’m burning the midnight candle alone in pajamas. As Virginia Woolf put it: One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. And I always, always feed my eyes first.



One Pet, No Pets

Despite growing up with my grandmother’s ever changing menagerie of pets from goldfish, to turtles, parakeets to chicks that grew into chicken soup for lunch, dogs from chihuahuas to poodles, etc, I never felt the desire to own a pet myself. I was clear about wanting children though, and when they begged me for a pet, I assured them most confidently they can have all the dogs and cats they wanted when they got their own apartments. Somehow my daughter succeeded in persuading me to compromise with a rabbit when her brothers flew the nest, but very soon after, her attention drifted to boys and friends and the rabbit got relegated as her dad’s bestie. He’s great company for me now that she’s left home, tirelessly staring with adoring eyes much of the day and happy to cuddle at night.  You know I mean the rabbit, not the husband, right? 😉


Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share what makes you smile when you think about your grandmother(s).



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