My grandmother was one of the greatest forces and influences in my life. I cherished any moment I was with her, which were always full of an abundance of love and acceptance.
She was always radically present with us, giving us her full attention. Her eyes bright with joy to hear any single thing we had to share with her.
She was extremely wise, and even though it wasn't a mainstream term at the time, she was mindful. Her life was built upon the attributes of mindfulness and her mind was open.
As I get older and I more deeply devoted to my mindfulness practice, I often reflect on the patterns and beliefs that I have inherited. And the more curious I get about my inherited patterns, thoughts and habits, the more compassionate I get about the stories and lives of those who came before me.
That's part of it friends, one of the greatest gifts of a mindfulness practice is realizing that there are many layers, many stories, and many generations that have shaped us. Honoring that with kindness and compassion is a great place to start.
With that, today, on her birthday, I'd like to honor the life of a woman who shaped me.
Please enjoy this exquisite essay my mother wrote about my grandmother:
How did a stylish good-looking young woman end up as the Dragon Lady in a lumberyard?
You would never guess that she sang on the radio, danced like Ginger Rodgers and dreamed of owning a lady’s boutique. To top things off, she looked like a young Bette Davis, large eyed with just the right amount of moxie.
The lumberyard, Modern Lumber, was my father’s dream. He was Joseph and a master
carpenter. As an Italian male, he worked hard to give his family a better life. Her name was
Mary, an obedient Catholic Italian wife and a fast learner. Women hitched their lives to their
husband’s, accepting that a woman’s dream didn’t mattered much. As part of the post WW2
generation, they were eager to create a family, create a business and create a place in the tight knit Italian community.
True to her character, she learned every part of the lumber business. For 48 years they worked side by side. Or more accurately, she was inside the office and he was outside with the stacks of lumber. She knew her stuff in this male dominated business. I think it was the surprise on the customer’s face that delighted her so. The men just didn’t expect a woman to be able to read a blueprint, figure out the roof load for rafters or estimate how many bags of cement was needed for their sidewalk. And they certainly never expected such a classy woman behind the desk. She always wore a smile and a fashionable outfit. The closest she came to male lumberyard attire was wearing a shirtwaist dress, impeccably pressed and sporting a brooch. Did I mention her legs? They were thin and shapely, perfect for skirts and dresses, always breaking just below the knee. She went to the beauty parlor once a week to have her blond hair styled. It was her one indulgence and she never apologized for it. She felt she deserved a little treat for working six days a week. She greeted each customer by name and they in turn called her Modern Mary. But to her suppliers, she was the Dragon Lady. She savored wrestling the best price out of them. She used her abundant charm when it was needed. Mom was born a negotiator, who loved to bargain. Her favorite expressions were, “Is that the best you can do?” or “What’s my price?”
She lived and breathed the business; she had to in that era. After all, they were doing it so the family could have the best life possible. She never really talked about the boutique, but we girls, knew she cradled it deep within. We could sense it when she fingered a garment, admired the bias cut of a skirt and was able to talk with you about the vamp of a shoe. By the way, a low cut vamp makes the leg look longer, every woman should know this.
Shopping was her medicine when she needed to clear her mind. No matter how exhausting the day, she came alive at Macy’s. She had her regular stops, first the handbag department,
followed by jewelry, then two-piece suits and the last stop was always shoes.
One of her biggest delight was when her grandson, Matthew, visited from New York City.
They were kindred spirits, Aquarians, who shared the same birthday. They were also cut from the same cloth, as she would like to say since Matthew was in fashion. He designed for a very big name and would bring her pieces each season. He called her Contessa and she fit the bill exactly. She remained a fashionista right up to her dying day at 92. Mom was your classic timeless beauty with a dash of drama thrown in for good measure. She died with all of her teeth, which were white and straight, except for one that had the slightest tilt. It seemed to give her character, that and the way she would lift her right eyebrow when she was sure you weren’t being honest with her.
She delighted in having people guess her age and they were always off by at least ten years. She knew what she wanted to be buried in, the robin’s egg blue beaded dress she wore at her 50th wedding anniversary party. When she did wear it again, 20 years later, it was still stylish and fit her perfectly. And of course there were her pearls. She had them in every length. The 18inch strand was chosen for the blue dress. Pat did her hair one last time. She had made him promise that he would do it the usual way. She teased him that she didn’t want to look like somebody else. We carefully chose the perfect coral lipstick.
Looking back at Mom’s life, you had to conclude that she had grit. At first glance, you might
just see a well-appointed older woman. But look beyond the pearls and discover that she was a woman who challenged her fate and came out the winner. She modeled tenacity and her dedicated work ethic was softened only by her love for family. She taught us girls, her three daughters, that you can have it all. But it takes work and sacrifice and always, always style.