Tag Archives: Grandmama Eunice

My Life As a Drab Queen: Thoughts on Makeup

I sat in my car a few minutes before 11 a.m. this morning and watched one of those wonderfully Athens scenes: on one side of Hancock Street, tidy white families hurried up the hill to the Methodist church service while on the other side of Hancock, two glamorous drag queens welcomed guests to brunch at The National. Jacqueline Daniels and Yasmine Alexander serve on the board of the Boybutante AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $800,000 for AIDS services in Northeast Georgia. My kind of people, plus brunch.

Yasmine Alexander and Jacqueline Daniels. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Yasmine Alexander and Jacqueline Daniels. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Even though I spent all day in bed with a stomach ache yesterday, I wasn’t about to miss brunch with Bryn and Jill. So I slapped on some stretchy clothes and put my hair in a pony tail…as usual. But as I sat there in the car, knowing that these queens had been painting up for HOURS to get ready for the show, I figured I could at least put in a teensy effort to look festive.

I reached in my purse and unzipped the makeup pocket. I’m surprised there weren’t cobwebs blocking the zipper. I haven’t worn makeup for months. I put on a little bit in the car on the way to Daddy’s memorial service, and when I turned around to speak to the kids, Carlos grinned in wonder and asked, “Mama, what you do to your face?”

I drew a narrow black line across my upper lids then skooshed the corners a bit with the tip of my finger. I considered the “Wine With Everything” lipstick but thought that might be a bit too steep of a leap, so I dug around in the bottom of the bag to find a Burt’s Bees with a little bordeaux tint to it. Two lines across my eyes and a swipe across the lips and I made my way down the sidewalk. There are drag queens…and then there are drab queens, like me.

Most of my rebellion against makeup is that I think it’s ridiculous that I have to draw lines above my eyes or color my lips to be considered “finished” or “dressed” in this world. In the words of writer Erin McKean:

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you.

But some of my disuse of makeup has come from seeking out invisibility. I’ve been depressed lately and my therapist has pointed out before that I recede into black clothes, pony tails, and blank face when I want to disappear. That’s my Drab Queen attire.

I don’t know if it was hanging out with drag queens, or with my friends, or the mimosas, but I got in a really good place this morning. Jill and I talked about writing, Bryn smooched everyone in the house. I clutched my pearls while Lacie Bruce proved that she’s got all the right junk in all the right places:

Lacie Bruce gettin' all about that bass. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Lacie Bruce gettin’ all about that bass. Photo by Josh Payne for Boybutante AIDS Foundation.

Looking around that room, I realized that nobody there gave a shit about whether I painted my face or didn’t paint my face. Not my old friends, not the strangers, not the artists who had been painting for hours. Nobody cared whether I had more junk in the trunk than I did twenty years ago. People were there to enjoy themselves–having some fun for a great cause while Peter Dale served brunch. And all I had to do to participate was….participate.

After the show, we hung around on the sidewalk so the restaurant crew could prepare for the afternoon seating. We talked about 80s hair and Aqua Net. We talked about the vagaries of boobs and gravity. That led to talking about our grandmothers. The delightful Lori Divine told how her grandmother could roll a Virginia Slim’s 120 from one side of her mouth to the other as she painted on her blood red lipstick. Then Jacqueline said, “One thing I love about drag is the Coty powder. It reminds me of my grandmother.”

Oh. My. Goodness.

Just the other day, I was thinking about Grandmama Eunice and that little round cardboard box of Coty powder that she kept on the edge of the mantle in the dining room, right next to the makeup mirror and the good light from the tall window. She wouldn’t have left the house without her lipstick on straight and a little dusting of powder. I wanted to smell that powder again because that’s what she smelled like when I hugged her.

That moment on the sidewalk was beautiful, because of the makeup. I love how if you talk to anyone and tell stories long enough, there’s always that moment of connection. Where your story and my story cross paths and we learn that we have something in common, even if it’s the smell of our grandmothers’ face powder.

I might just draw two lines across my eyelids tomorrow in homage to these queens. I might be ready for the world to look at me again.

Yasmine, Bryn, Lori, me, Jacqueline, and Jill. Just gals hanging out and talking about makeup.

Yasmine, Bryn, Lori, me, Jacqueline, and Jill. Just gals hanging out and talking about makeup.

If You Tell A Town A Story…

mouseHave you ever read the book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?” It’s all about cause and effect and how one thing leads to another. If you give a mouse a cookie, then he’ll want some milk…and so on. That’s how Wednesday unfolded for me, all because I told that story about spending summers watching Grandmama Eunice write the “News In Gay.”

If you tell a town a story…you wake up to a message from DeeAnn saying that her mama found some of your grandmama’s old columns and has already passed them along to your mama (who calls later to say that she has them set aside and will visit soon–they’re too fragile to mail). Because our mamas have been friends since the late 1940s and our grandmamas were friends too. Miss Ruby and Mr. Hoke lived right down the road from Grandmama Eunice and DeeAnn said she used to HATE it when her Mimi got on the phone with Miss Eunice because it meant they were going to talk for a WHILE and DeeAnn was going to have to cool her jets.

If you tell a town a story…the boy you had a crush on since before you could remember–yes, Jeffrey from last summer’s story about peaches–who also happens to be DeeAnn’s baby  brother, has sent you an email to say that he remembers the exact sound that old metal drink box at Jack Findley’s made. He says he’ll pass the article along to the Findleys’ daughter, Alice, so she can read it too. And then your friend, Lynn, from back in elementary school writes to say that she is all teary with sweet memories because Jack was her Daddy’s brother and that was her Uncle Jack and Aunt Bessie and she loved them so. And I tell her how it was at Jack Findley’s store that I first learned how to whistle, sitting there on the upturned apple crate at the end of the counter while Miss Bessie talked to Grandmama and Grandmama enjoyed an Eskimo Pie from the freezer chest. Then Joe Nash, whose mama taught me at Vacation Bible School for many summers, says he remembers going to Jack’s to buy Chef Boyardee. Joe just opened The Fat Chihuahua restaurant in that little town and it sure ain’t Chef Boyardee!

If you tell a town a story….Lori Lee calls her mama from Florida to tell her about the story about Miss Eunice and before Miss Susie has even had time to finish her breakfast, the two of them are crying and laughing over the good times that Lori Lee had with her Nannie on those summer days long ago. How Lori Lee ate great big bowls of fresh peas right after swimming lessons and before the soaps. Before she hangs up, Lori Lee tells Miss Susie how she understands that it’s important for her own Max and Morgan to get time with their grandmama.

If you tell a town a story…Miss Susie shares that story on Facebook and one of her friends, Carol, says how she remembers my grandparents so fondly because she spent a lot of time at that very house while she and “Sammy” were dating. And I squawk, “You’re THE LEGENDARY CAROL?” The one Daddy still mentions now and then as he clutches at his heart while Big Gay rolls her eyes. And then Carol subscribes to Baddest Mother Ever and now I’m Facebook friends with my Daddy’s prom date.

letter-447577_1280If you tell a town a story….Sonya, who just last year married the boy that SHE had had a crush on since the 1970s, reports that she was going through some old papers at the bank and remembers seeing some of Grandmama Eunice’s columns. She promises to take another look and let me know what she finds. In the meantime, Stephanie, a Wesleyan sister, sends me a tip about a project via the UGA library where they’ve preserved small town newspapers on microfilm and I might want to check it out, seeing as that’s about two miles from my house.

If you tell a town a story…you find out that your VP at work knows that town because her husband was roommates with Willis, a boy from right up the road. Instead of talking about work, you end up talking about shelling purple hull peas and how to make that sweet tomato relish and how it was good to be the girl baby in the family because it meant your grandaddy let you stay in the air-conditioned office at the packing shed while your brothers had to pick peaches. Even the SharePoint developer who was there to talk about site design and governance starts hankering for a big bowl of peas and a glass of tea.

If you tell a town a story…you hear from Mrs. Love, the wife of your elementary school principal and she says she read the story to him and he says hello. My cousin, Greta, who was one of two guests at my first birthday party, says it brought back so many memories of Aunt Eunice’s house. My cousin, Annette, who’s 92 (but you didn’t hear that from me) and still the life of any party, remembers how kind Aunt Eunice was to her after her parents died when she was still a teenager.

If you tell a town a story…you get more stories in return and your heart opens up and you learn things you never knew about people you’ve known all your life.

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The News In Gay: My Best Summer Internship EVER

There’s been talk this week about giving your kids a 1970s summer. It got me thinking about those days of playing outside, drinking from the hose, watching reruns and soaps on TV, heating up a can of Spaghettios on the stove for lunch, then maybe wandering across the pasture to the creek and playing until Mom honked the horn on the Ford LTD when she got home from work. HEAVEN, right?

I am the baby of my family, so there were a couple of summers right around 1979-1980 when I was the only kid who still needed to be watched when school let out for the summer. My brother, Joe, spent all day with Daddy going on veterinary calls and my sister, Gay, sold peaches at a roadside stand. We didn’t have summer camps and all those ACTIVITIES back then. Maybe a week at Vacation Bible School–maybe two if you had cousins who went to another church. There might be some swimming lessons at the community pool, but that was it.

So I lucked out and got to spend weekdays every summer with Grandmama Eunice. Grandmama Eunice lived in an old white farmhouse about halfway between Gay and Greenville, right up the road from Jack Findley’s store. Mom dropped me off on her way to work at the DFCS office in Greenville. The screen door smacked behind me as I stepped into the wonderland that was Grandmama’s house.

It was HOT. Even though she had a big airy bedroom with purple velvet curtains and a vanity table, Grandmama slept in the dining room during the summer. It was the easiest room to cool with one window unit air conditioner, so she had a little cot in the corner next to the kitchen wall. She had her TV on a rolling cart, her big black telephone perched on the corner of the dining table, her makeup mirror on the corner of the mantle.

I sat on the scratchy carpet and turned the TV on while she made me a hot breakfast the likes of which you normally only saw on Christmas morning. Biscuits, grits, scrambled eggs, sausages. She’d scrape up that sausage grease and put it in a coffee can on the back of the stove. That TV was tricky. The sound came through right away, but some days it took a while for the picture tube to warm up. Price Is Right came on at 10, so I turned the TV on before 8 a.m. when I got there, in hopes that we’d be able to watch Bob Barker. It was OK to listen to the news with no picture, and the Rozelle show out of Columbus was OK, but we needed to SEE the Price Is Right to make our guesses.

phoneMid-morning, Grandmama’s phone would start to ring. She had the COOLEST little job ever and I observed the mystery of it like a novice nun. Grandmama Eunice wrote a weekly column in the little county paper, the Meriwether Vindicator. Her column was called “News In Gay” and it ran every week under her by-line and a picture of her with perfectly coiffed black curls and Sunday best lipstick. She kept a yellow legal pad and an “ink pen” next to that heavy black rotary phone on the corner of the dining room table. When people called with a bit of news, she would jot down some notes as they talked. The “News In Gay” covered everything from who put the flowers in the First Baptist vestibule that week, who was in the hospital and who was recovering at home, who had driven over to Newnan to have dinner at Red Lobster with their daughter and her new husband, a dentist. Who had extra tomatoes for sale, who hosted the Methodist Women’s Union, who was having a milestone birthday. My grandmother decided whose name GOT IN THE
PAPER. That was a huge deal from where I sat, right there on the carpet waiting for Bob Barker.

In the afternoons, we would get in Grandmama Eunice’s baby blue Mercury Cougar and toodle around doing errands. She’d stop at Jack Findley’s and let me get a cold drink from the metal cooler with the sliding door on top. We’d drive over to Woodbury and pay the gas bill, or maybe go to visit a shut-in. Everywhere we went, people told her their stories for the paper. It was mostly good news, things they wanted to share.

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As best I recall, the Vindicator came out on Fridays, so on Thursday mornings, Grandmama would sit down at the table and turn her notes into her column for the week. In her beautiful Palmer script, she wrote out each tidbit longhand, with a blank line between each story. I wish I had some of those old columns. I searched on-line and the Vindicator only has digital archives back to 2002. Her language turned those ordinary events into NEWS. “The patriotic red, white and blue flowers on the altar at First Baptist Church were given by Mr. and Mrs. Lee Nash in memory of his great uncle, Mr. Hiram Nash.” “Please pray for Miss Willie Fish, who is recuperating at home after surgery.” “Vacation Bible School will be held June 3 – 7 from 8 a.m. – 12 noon each day at First Methodist Church in Greenville. All school-age children are welcome to participate.”

She used words to build community. I think I fell in love with writing on those hot summer days, traveling beside her as she gathered the news. Watching her turn everyday life into something special.

Don’t Knock It


doorbellA quick story about Grandmama Eunice…

Grandmama was a woman of profound faith.  If the church door cracked open, she was there.  If we spent Saturday night at her house, we got up on Sunday and went to Sunday School at the Baptist church.  Then services at 11 a.m., usually at the Baptists, but if the Methodists were meeting we’d walk across the shared gravel parking lot and go to their service.  They only had services every other week.  Some days, we’d do the triple pray:  Sunday School at the Baptist church, 11 o’clock service at the Methodists, then late service at the Primitive Baptists.  On those days, she’d take along an afghan so I could take a nap on the hard wood pews.

What I’m saying is, she LOVED her some church.

One peaceful Sunday afternoon, some missionary types knocked on her front door.  Grandmama Eunice opened the door and greeted them through the screen.  They said, “Afternoon, ma’am.  We’d like to talk to you about Jesus.”

She said, “What would you like to know?”

 

A Moment in the Sun

My friend Jo said she wanted to hear a story about my grandmother, so I’m going to share a little jewel of a story from my childhood that is so precious, I wish I could remember it myself.  My dad tells it to me about once a year and I am glad that he never thinks I tire of hearing it.  I don’t.

I was the youngest child of the youngest child, so at Grandmama Eunice’s house, I was The Baby.  She lived right off the highway about halfway between Gay and Greenville in a rambling white house that burned in 1985.  We had already said goodbye to the house a few years earlier, when she had sold the farm and moved into an apartment near Daddy.  There’s nothing atop that hill now, but I still pull into what’s left of the driveway whenever I drive by.  It’s a strange emptiness for a place that held so many memories.  The emptiness of the now compared to the fullness of then.

If I start from the driveway and that patch of front yard where my parents left the car, I can walk my memory up the cement steps, painted barn red and faced in stone.  It’s probably only two steps across the flat expanse of the cement front porch to the screen door but it seemed like such a way to go back then.  In summer, the door would be flanked by begonias or ferns set on upended fruit crates.  Metal patio chairs in yellow or green waited for the cool hours after sundown when the grownups went out there for a breeze and some story telling.  If my tiny then self walks over to the left edge of the porch–no railing–and looks down, I see deep purple morning glories.  Purple was my Grandmama Eunice’s favorite color.

The flap and creak of the screen door then the rattle of the wide thin glass that took up the top half of her front door.  I step into the warmth of the living room with just one fan moving summer air near the green chenille sofa.  To my right would be a delicate plant stand with last Christmas’ cactus blooming in the light from the window.  A framed picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, his robe the same deep purple as the morning glories.

The hall tree with its beveled mirrors and thick laquer, turned black with years, covered in a pile of my aunts’ purses.  A spindly modern coffee table that held a giant book of Currier and Ives prints and two glass paper weights–one a photo of my father as a curly-headed toddler and one a quiet photo of his father in a Stetson hat, the grandfather none of us had the privilege of knowing.  A brown platform rocker, a basket of Guideposts  and Readers Digests, some bamboo furniture covered in hibiscus fabric left over from the days in Florida.

My memory goes around the room, touching each place, smelling the warm dust in the air. I can’t remember the specific color of the walls–maybe pale blue. But just by writing that, I am overwhelmed by the memory of the light fixture, something I haven’t thought of in years.  It hung on a brown cord from the high ceiling.  There was no switch.  Someone tall had to reach up and over the milky glass globe and pull the chain to turn the bulb on.  Then after they let it go, the light on its long cord would swing back and forth, casting shadows along the length of the room, until enough seconds passed and the pendulum came to rest.

That corner of the living room–the path from the front door to the dining room and kitchen beyond it–that was the high traffic spot in Grandmama Eunice’s house.  To and fro, back and forth, coming and going.  One summer afternoon, we were all at the house for Sunday dinner.  It was a crowd of folks, so maybe my Uncle Charles and Uncle Kenneth had brought their families up from Florida.  That seemed to happen most summers and I loved it.  They were glamorous people with tans and big sedans and they almost always arrived with giant lollipops from Stuckeys.

In the afternoon, the grownups headed for the porch with their bellies full of fried chicken, green beans, sliced tomatoes, sweet tea and started swapping stories as blue Marlboro smoke hung above their heads in the still air.  I remember the way my Aunt Betty’s sandal would tap tap tap against the concrete as she rocked in her chair.  While the other kids were off running and playing, I preferred to sit just inside the screen door, where I could listen to the adults talk.

And that’s the story that Daddy tells.  I was about four.  In the midst of that busy, loud afternoon, I was sitting there cross-legged on the dusky brown carpet, under the watchful eye of a Jesus with plenty on his mind already.  I had found the perfect spot:  a square of sunshine from the screen door, within earshot of the talkers but in front of the fan.

Grandmama walked past me once and said, “Baby?  Don’t you want to go play?”

I shook my head.  She went on her way.

A few minutes later, she came through heading the other direction.  “You OK?”

I nodded.

She came by again, probably with a pitcher of tea.  She stopped in front of me and asked, “Ashley?  What are you DOING?”

I looked up at her and said, “I’m just sitting here being happy.”

And she let me be.

_____________________________

That place is gone.  My Grandmama died twenty years ago and I still think of her every day.  But while writing this and walking through that ghost of a living room, I remembered that I actually received those paper weights from her coffee table after she died.  I’ve had them carefully wrapped up in paper for all these years, waiting to have just the right safe place to put them.  Now I have my writing room and I took them out tonight and gave them a shady place of honor by my reading chair.  My father as a boy with Carlos’ hair, and my grandfather’s quiet eyes, keeping watch over me when I sit in the brown platform rocker from that living room and think my thoughts.

We don’t get to take everyone or every thing from our past, but we get enough.  Enough to be happy, just sitting here.

Samuel Fuller Garrett and Milton Joseph Garrett

Samuel Fuller Garrett and Milton Joseph Garrett

 

I wish I could find a better picture of Grandmama Eunice, but she sure did like purple!

I wish I could find a more dignified picture of Grandmama Eunice, but she sure did like purple!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf once wrote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Well, now I have one less excuse to write my Great American Novel.  Here is my room:

It's so CLEAN!!!!

It’s so CLEAN!!!!

This is a short list of  things that will not be allowed in my room:

  • Sticky fingers
  • Legos
  • Nick Jr
  • cymbals
  • whining
  • kvetching
  • malingering
  • moaning
  • farting
  • dirty dishes
  • Gogurt
  • any of those TV shows with Hitler or aliens or Hitler’s Aliens
  • Juice
  • Glitter (with exceptions made on a case by case basis for drag queens)
  • Glue
  • Glitter glue

Any stains on the carpet will be made by ME.  Any books left lying around will be left lying by ME.  If the window is left open, it was left open by ME.  The only person flopped out on the couch in front of an open window with a book…shall be ME.  I will NEVER walk into the room and find anyone else already in there because no one is allowed in this room except by express invitation from ME.  Seriously, I am going to put a sign on the door like a teenage girl.

My Grandmother Eunice's platform rocker.  I loved this chair when I was little because it was low enough to let even the shortest legs reach the ground and rock.

My Grandmother Eunice’s platform rocker. I loved this chair when I was little because it was low enough to let even the shortest legs reach the ground and rock.  Not that any short legs will be rocking in it anytime soon…

A short list of things that will be allowed in my room:

  • daydreaming
  • napping
  • lolling about
  • lollygagging
  • ruminating
  • vegetating
  • cogitating
  • staring
  • lounging
  • sprawling
  • contemplating
  • musing
  • pondering
  • mouth breathing

This morning, I snuck down there for five minutes to sit in Grandmama’s chair and look outside in peace.  Out one window, I could see three fat birds waiting in the sourwood tree for their turn at the feeder and the moon hanging white against the morning sky.  It was quiet enough in my room to hear the moon.

Once I get a couple more bookcases in there, I will officially have more bookshelves than books for the first time in my adult life.  I hesitated to put a TV in there–it’s a sanctuary, after all–then I thought about being able to watch a movie with cussing and/or kissing whenever I wanted to.  I’ve got a table that will be my writing desk and a futon for flopping.  An old traveling trunk that Richard found in a dumpster for my coffee table.  His grandmother’s floor lamp from the 1930’s to read by.  A painting of a mother and child that G gave me a few years ago.

That shelf?  That shelf is high enough that I can put precious things OUT OF REACH.  There’s the print of a sleeping puppy’s belly that I bought in an antique shop in Bath, England.  Tiny dachshunds I picked up in a model train store in Aachen, Germany or some at the Lakewood Flea Market.  Copies of Vermeer paintings I brought back from Amsterdam.  And a sampler I found in my Aunt Mary Fuller’s things after she died.  She was Grandmama Eunice’s younger sister and a real sweet lady.  It reads, “Give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you.”

Grandmama Eunice's baby sister, my Aunt Mary Fuller. left this sampler.  She was a sweet lady.

Grandmama Eunice’s baby sister, my Aunt Mary Fuller. left this sampler. She was a sweet lady.

Amen to that.  Now get out of my room.