When it comes to my personal style and shopping preferences, a strange dichotomy exists within me. On one hand, I love a bargain, could draw a map to my local Goodwill with my eyes closed, and can imagine few better afternoons than one spent at an open-air flea market.
On the other hand (inner snob confession time), I deeply disapprove of the vast majority of “cheap” stores. I would rather get a tiny diamond from Tiffany & Co.—the one on 5th Avenue, thank you—than a big one from some sad mall somewhere.
A few months ago a bit of research took me to Austin’s Neiman Marcus, and after a lengthy chat with the world’s nicest salesperson and a brief trip to the world’s nicest bathroom, I exhaled in appreciation and said aloud to no one in particular: “This is what a store should be!”
How do these two extremes even manage to exist in one small person?
I blame my two grandmas.
My Grandma Irene—my father’s mother, born of Norwegian immigrants, one a farmer’s daughter and the other a door-to-door salesman—was a down-to-earth, gregarious woman, quick with a smile or laugh. She came of age in Minnesota during the depression, and she often told stories of receiving oranges and underwear for Christmas. Once when I was a toddler she and my grandfather cared for me while my parents went on vacation, and I came home saying “such a deal!”
When I got a little older, I visited her for several weeks each summer (I rode the Greyhound from Iowa to Minnesota by myself, can you imagine?), and she would take me to play cards at her friends’ houses. Then she would drive me and my piggy bank filled with the day’s winnings to a small shop filled with antiques and curios, where I would methodically count my pennies and determine how much I could get for my small haul.
My other grandma, my Grandma Alice—my mother’s mother, born of German immigrants—carried herself almost regally, even at the end of her life when she had only a few dollars to her name. Her father came to the United States with his business partners to start the Seneca Glass Factory, which made hand-blown lead glass crystal stemware and vases. (In future years the stemware—sold at Tiffany & Co.—would be used by LBJ when he was vice president.)
My Grandma Alice lived with my family for the last twenty years of her life, and she could make any outing seem classy. She took me to shop at our small town’s nicest department store (which was not nearly as nice as that Neiman Marcus, sadly for us) and to eat at a restaurant with white tablecloths (the only in town, I’m guessing). But even when we went to the Burger King, it seemed fancy. They had a salad bar! And an atrium with glass walls!
She had a vanity table in her bedroom covered with perfume bottles, and I used to sit there and marvel at their beauty. She drove an impeccable white Chevy Impala from the late 60s, and she loved it when the bag boys at the grocery store would admire it. She never left the house without her makeup, jewelry, perfume, and—when she got older and her hair grew wispy and thin—her silver-haired, perfectly coiffed wig.
My grandmothers did have a few significant details in common. They both married for love, in one case to the disapproval of their parents. Both sadly lost their husbands in their 60s. And both lived long and relatively healthy lives (my Grandma Irene lived to 94, Grandma Alice to 101). Even though Grandma Alice was 16 years older than Grandma Irene, they got along well and would chat and laugh whenever my Grandma Irene would come to visit.
I was close to my grandmothers and loved them both very much. I miss them and think of them often. I feel them both very much a part of me. Like the Alice Walker quote I wrote about recently, perhaps their lives are “still unfolding” in me, and after me, in my children. It’s a nice thought.
© Amy Daniewicz
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