Hair tangled in curlers,
Cigarette bobbing like she forgot it’s there.
Up and down and up,
With concentration as she peers
Into the mirror applying mascara.
One hand clutching the comb,
The other freely dangles
Off the end of her knee.
They’re big, long and strong.
“They use to make me play on the older boys’ team.
And I was better than most of them.”
Her hand still freely hanging.
She always wore the biggest
Brilliantly sparkling rings.
“What are we doing today?” I’d ask her.
“I can sell people things they didn’t know they need.”
She was larger than life. Always standing out from the crowd. Sure, she wore a fur coat, and had pink hair. Sparkling gems fought for attention that often adorned her ears, throat and fingers. You could see her, yes. But I knew she was there because of her presence. She knew who she was, and I never once saw her try to contain it; I’m not sure she was capable. Her laugh would fill the air, and reverberate in your chest. When she looked into your eyes and spoke, it was only you there, feeling like the periphery just melted away.
My grandmother taught me how to shoot a basketball, while telling me stories about playing on the boys baseball and basketball teams in her younger years. Later, I learned of other barriers she crossed, becoming the first female president of the Chamber of Commerce in Southern California. How progressive and innovative she was in business. Those lessons still impact me today, and maybe more profoundly.
Growing up, she would always support any dream or desire I had, telling me that I can do anything I put my mind to. And I believe her, still. She showed me I can.
I remember watching Larry King Live, Murder She Wrote, and 60 minutes with her as a boy. With the TV muted, during commercial breaks, she always made a point to talk to me about what was going on in the show, the country and world, or ask me what I thought. She had an independent mind, opinionated, and very much outspoken, and I’m so grateful for her encouraging and shaping that in me.
As a young man, now, in the middle of my pursuits in career, love, and life. I’m especially grateful for the lessons I gained from the strong independent woman my grandmother was.
My life hasn’t been an easy, straight path. There’s been diversions, vices, and existential life crisis. I’ve unintentionally hurt people, missing big life events with my family and friends. But she’s shown me that you can get back up, make amends, and work to be there for loved ones while being true to yourself.
The drive and determination she’s always encouraged is there, fervently burning inside me. Always urging me to keep moving forward. Honing and utilizing my skills, and gain new ones. And above all, to love my friends and family, and accept people as they are.
This past week I came across the poem at the beginning of the article, which I wrote a few years ago in a writing workshop. A flood of memories and emotions came pouring in. Particularly, the appreciation my grandmother gave me of strong independent women, like my mom, sister, and significant other, whom I am so fortunate to have in my life today. Like her, they are pillars of strength, wisdom, and love in my life. Though she is no longer with us, her spirit is ever present, and I am so fortunate to have had such a unique, passionate, encouraging woman, my grandmother, help shape who I am. I love you, grandma.
Photo: Getty Images