My maternal grandmother’s nickname was Gana. Not sure what it stood for, where it came from, but we called her that as long as I can remember. My other grandmother was Grandma in Florida, because, yes, she lived in Florida. We continued using that name even after Florida became North Carolina, then Massachusetts. When she began having great grand children LC the name changed to Gigi, the initials GG spelled out. You guessed it, that stood for great grandma.
I have so many grandmother memories, but today I want to share one specific memory of Gana. At the age of ten, my folks decided she should no longer live alone due to some dizzy spells she had been complaining of. Doctors called it Ménière’s disease, my dad called it asking for attention. She was a highly independent woman. Her mother died when she was in her later teens, her father slipped into alcoholism, she raised her younger sister, putting her through college instead of attending herself. She married and go pregnant, only to have her new husband decide he wasn’t coming home from the war, he’d met a foreign woman. My mother never met her birth father. She remarried when my mother was twelve. By then she had developed a hardened shell after being a single, working mother in a predominately male world. He left after my mother graduated from high school, but kept in touch with my mother, and many years later, I was blessed to meet the man for a meal when he passed through the area. He died soon after.
I was an impressionable pre-teen when she moved in with us. She was always impeccably groomed. She visited a salon once a week to have her hair “done”, which meant curled and styled. Pantsuits were her clothing of choice, pants, a coordinating shirt, matching jacket and shoes, and of course her earrings. She had a huge jewelry box that she let me look through every time I used to visit. I now have it, with all her old jewelry in it. My children played with it, my grand daughters have played with it, and hopefully, the next few generations of girls will also play with it.
Every Friday, she would sit at the kitchen table and do her nails. Old nail polish was removed first, they were shaped with an emery board, then she would soak her fingers to soften the cuticles. An orange stick would push them back. After drying them, new polish was applied. She had two favorite colors, a gentle coral and a gentle mauve, both had a not glitter, but that metallic type luster to them. During the summers, I would often sit and watch the process, and we would talk. She would tell me that I had such beautiful fingers, and that I really should stop biting my nails. She would encourage me to work on my posture by saying that I had a beautiful swans neck and that I really should sit up straighter.
As she aged, and her sight worsened, she had someone at the salon she visited weekly do her nails for her. A few years after becoming a grandma myself, I found myself desiring to do my nails also. Maybe I was feeling old, maybe I was wanting to treat myself, and maybe, it was a way to stay connected to her memory, or all of the above. My grandmother was able to keep her polish nice for a week, why couldn’t I? Oh! Because I garden, clean and do other stuff my grandmother didn’t do. I tied gels a few times for special occasions, only to have to spend the next six months nursing my nails back to health. Recently, a friend introduced me to Red Aspen nail dashes. They are glue ons that look fairly natural. Since we leave tomorrow for a 20 year anniversary weekend trip, I thought it would be fun to have pretty nails. I bought and I applied.
So here’s the rub. I love the way the nails look and feel. They make me feel feminine, which I often don’t feel when I have been on a construction site all day. But, I also feel… fake? Kinda like I am putting on airs. When I see another woman with her nails done, I don’t think she is fake, or haughty, I just love seeing her nails and all the fun things people can do to them these days. And as I am writing this, the answer is already there. My grandmother did it to present herself in a certain way. She felt the need to look professional, confident and strong, even after she retired. It was part of her persona. Women today do it because they love feeling feminine, treating themselves because they deserve something nice too. And so, I am caught battling between two mindsets.
I am going to enjoy the nails for the weekend, but I am not sure if I will wear them regularly. Maybe just for those special occasions when I want that extra feminine touch. Just as my Gana had to be true to herself, I need to be true to myself. I am not my grandmother. I am me, I am Grammi.
May you see something beautiful and strong about yourself today, and embrace it instead of excusing it.
My Gana’s jewelry box.