I’m writing this for the Weekly Writing Challenge: Characters. Check it out and give it a try.
Her scent often announced her presence, long after she’d come and gone. Shalimar and cigarette smoked lingered in any room where she’d been, and I could smell it for hours after she’d visited. Other times, I’d hear her growl in our kitchen, as she held the wall phone crooked between neck and shoulder, clutching her coffee in one hand and her Marlboro in the other. She was the consummate multi-tasker, long before our generation coined a phrase for it. Her voice, gravelly from years of smoking, left little doubt who was in charge. “Go out to the car and get me another pack of cigarettes,” she’d say, and I didn’t dare answer, “when I’m finished eating.”
Her “honey ash,” hair was always meticulously coiffed— each hair ratted and sprayed into place during her bi-weekly hair appointments. She didn’t wash her own hair for twenty years, and woe to the fool who splashed her in the pool, in summer. “Don’t get my hair wet!” We learned that phrase early, and no matter how hot it was, no one risked swimming too close.
Out of the pool, that thick head of hair was her calling card. Her naturally curly hair, was colored, teased straight and then glued into place every week with a cloud of hairspray. Everyone in town, knew that head when it walked into a restaurant or shop. The hair had its own personality atop her slim yet towering 5 foot- four inch frame. Coupled with her indomitable energy and self-confidence, the effect was stunning. Whether dressed in Lilly Pulitizer capris, one of the many cashmere sweaters she owned, or the tailored suits she wore to work each day, she owned a room, any room she entered. Her impeccable wardrobe and that hair, marked her as woman to be reckoned with, and people took notice.
She was intelligent and tough, a woman ahead of her time in so many ways. She taught me to shake hands firmly, “especially with men,” and never mumble. “Speak up; look someone in the eye, and stand up straight;” she told me. Her advice was given freely, and we were expected to take it gratefully. The fact that she was the top real estate broker in the state for sixteen years, at a time when many women were still at home, was something she wore like a beauty contestant’s sash. She wasn’t afraid to let you know that she was “that good,” and she fought fiercely to hold her position.
Long before it was fair, when she was still relatively young and vibrant, Huntington’s Disease took her credibility and her swagger, and left her unemployed and broken. She no longer had the balance to walk on the elegant heels she’d always worn. She slurred her speech; suggestions of a drinking problem raced among her friends and family. She was bitter and starved, without the respect and admiration she’d dined on for so many years. She maintained the hair, and her perfect wardrobe, but the sparkle dimmed, as the disease took hold.
I remember watching her in her wheelchair, just weeks before she would die suddenly of a broken heart attack, and wondering what was left inside, of the woman I’d always looked up to. “Are you in there?” I asked this on one of those last days together, hoping for just a glimpse, something tiny to hold onto. I stood before her, hand shading my eyes and stared at her beautiful blue eyes, that looked so vacant by then. “Yes,” she paused, her words garbled and tangled in her mouth, “it’s me.” I hugged her and cried. I love you Grandma. “I love you too, honey.”