Dorothy Lee Dismukes McInnis Mecca the Third

She’s not really a Third, but the title doesn’t accurately reflect Queen Grandma’s importance without it. This is my grandmother: deeply southern, big-sunglass wearing, Pritchard Alabama born and politician father raised, eye-batting, order barking, Give me some suga’ saying, Grams. I used to be her favorite, but then my younger brothers got married. Marriage is valued over firstborn granddaughters in the south, so if you are an oldest child and approaching 24, move over. Your younger married siblings will take your birthright.

I was married at 29- a quick 10 months from spinster, per the southern family. These days, all conversations start like this: Brookie? Is Jeff taking care of you? No, wait. I got that mixed up. Brookie? Are you taking care of Jeff? Are you being sweet? I hope you’re treating him real good. You better keep that man. Let me talk to Jeff. Hey Dahlin’! Is my granddaughter taking good care of you? Is she cooking for you? Tell me what you’re eating…

Last month, the family gathered, covered in dots, to celebrate Grandma Dot’s 75th birthday. My job was to pick up the cake, and because it wasn’t ready on time, I spent an unexpected hour in the lobby of Classic Cakes. Browsing the clearance selection, I had this present-time flashback (because it still occurs) to all the clearance cakes my grandma had purchased from Classic Cakes through the years, stockpiled in her freezer, and forced upon us at birthdays or overdue birthdays, or hostess gifts, or a friend-of-a-friend’s birthday, or just because it was on sale. She can throw a grad party in under an hour because she’s owns 3 floor-to-ceiling cabinets full of party favors, tablecloths, hats, napkins, forks, candles, plates and noise-makers for every occasion. All that, and this was her conversation to my mom several years ago for my brothers’ high school graduation:

“Trisha? Honey, I’m here at this paper place… oohh, yes, is this one on sale too? and…hello? You there? I’m at this paper place and for $26 we can have the napkins…let me describe them…they have a confetti-like in the corner…well, a triangle shape in one direction, its real festive looking, and they have a special where you can get 100 napkins with their names imprinted. Well, the one I’m looking at has four girls names, because they all had their party together, but, I mean, we could print Ben-uh-Bry-uh Benjamin and Brandon’s names on—this one? No, no, I mean this one— Trisha? And they can put their school and the date…now did you say their school colors are burgundy and white?”

She bought the napkins.

She could decorate every house in China with Christmas Villages from her own attic.

In that little cake shop, I thought to myself: I love this cake lady. I love how every fall from the time I can remember though college, she took me school clothes shopping to “freshen up” my wardrobe. We only bought things that looked “smart”. I love how she bought me the Clinique three-step system from 8th grade on, and still asks me today if I’m using my Clinique when she looks closely at my face. I love how one of my earliest memories is going to Clowes Hall or Beef & Boards or the LS Ayers Tearoom in matching black velvet jackets. I love remembering those long summer days at her big house on the tiny lake, which, at the time, seemed like the ocean. I love that she once offered to pay me $100 to grow out my nails and/or memorize the Gospel of John. I love how she blames the way I eat a salad on the fact that I climbed trees with all those boys instead of enrolling in ballet. I love that she won’t let me out of the house if my nail polish is chipping until she’s removed it. I love that she offered us a 50-inch TV for my birthday, a mattress for our wedding, and a sliding glass door last summer and the only thing I’ve actually walked away with is a juicer from 1991. I love that at work, when someone asks: where did you get that unique hot pink and brown animal printed tunic with sequins around the neckline? Or that sharp black and white swirly ribboned tunic thing with the white linen capris, I can say: my Grams. She gave me a Wedding Trousseau. I had never heard of a trousseau until I got engaged. It’s a collection of clothing and linens that a bride assembles for her marriage so she’s all prepared for the first year, or as my Grams put it: so Jeff won’t have to buy me anything.

Here is a quote that accurately reflects a) how trousseaus were a symbol of wealth and social standing and b) what I’m sure my Grams thought we were doing at Steinmart:

“The society woman must have one or two velvet dresses which cannot cost less than $500 each. She must possess thousands of dollars worth of laces, in the shape of flounces, to loop up over the skirts of dresses… Walking dresses cost from $50 to $300; ball dresses are frequently imported from Paris at a cost of from $500 to $1,000… There must be traveling dresses in black silk, in pongee, in pique, that range in price from $75 to $175… Evening robes in Swiss muslin, robes in linen for the garden and croquet, dresses for horse races and yacht races, dresses for breakfast and for dinner, dresses for receptions and parties…” from “Lights and Shadows of New York” by James McCabe, 1872.

In 2010, you’ll need a work outfit, a dress outfit, a lounge outfit, pajamas, unders, and bras, per Grams and the state of Alabama.

I love how when I was spending my first Thanksgiving holiday with Jeff and meeting his family, she insisted we go to the outlets to buy a pinstripe pajamas set and coordinated sweat suits for lounging. T-shirt and Nike shorts were not appropriate PJs in Dallas when meeting J’s parents.

On the PJ buying trip, Jeff met Grandma (and all the southern Aunties) for the first time. As a side note, they made us sleep on two separate queen-sized air mattresses next to each other on the porch, with the curtains open and the lights on. We were 29 and 36. We were just getting ready to leave the GAP outlet that day after trying on way too many matching pajamas and sweat suit coordinates. Just before the credit card was swiped, Grams turned sharply to her left, zeroed in on a blue-and-white-striped sweater and yelled with conviction: STOP! She threw her arm out to the left, blocking anyone from passing her or moving ahead. Somebody in my family has to have that shirt. Somebody has to have it. Brookie, go get that shirt. It looks so smart. So fresh. We have to have that. We just have to have it.

Jeff now thinks it’s appropriate at Home Depot to halt in the middle of the aisle and yell: STOP! Somebody in my family has to have that mulch. Somebody has to have it.

I love how even now with limited mobility, medication reactions, and 75 years of accumulated opinions, I can drive the mile to her house at 10pm, and she’ll be up. She’ll rub my back or play with my hair or take off my nail polish and send me home with the bottle. She’ll scroll through 8 programs she’s saved on the DVR for over a year having to do with Belize or New Orleans in case I come over. I love that she offers us a Bloody Mary before my brothers come over.

Despite the silly scars I thought the previously mentioned things would leave—for example, that one Christmas when she called me a puppy, or the moment she looked at my engagement ring and said, Is it plastic? or how sometimes she glances my way and asks if I’m going to put on lipstick because I look dead—somehow in the cake shop that day, all these memories swirled into a uniquely hilarious and lovable Grandma. Soft skin and a soft lap to lay on. Stories we’ll pass around the table with the Classic Cake Grandma plans to will us in the future. The only remaining scar is a tiny little gash above my left eye acquired while running buck-wild around her coffee table on that big house on the tiny lake, back when I was the favorite.

**Submitted for Scribes as a Scar Story

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Week Twelve: SOS

I’m drowning in Fruit Loops and America’s Next Top Model.

It’s killing me, literally. I may have turned diabetic this week for lack of self-control and the abundance of Oreos and Milano cookies. I turned down lunch at the Indian buffet today, because yesterday I ate my weight in cheesy potatoes and didn’t think I could be trusted at a buffet.

Also, I spent 5 hours in the eye-shadow section at Ulta and tried to buy shampoo a few times with a 20% off coupon and finally settled on the Paul Mitchell Color Care line with a buy 2 get 1 free option, but gave up after not being able to pick the third product.

I guess you could say I am overwhelmed with the overabundance of food and hair product options.

After a complete meltdown on Sunday, it took a full 24 hours to figure out what was really going on.

Here it is: There are holes in my life that can’t be filled with Paul Mitchell Color Care Detangling Conditioner or cheesy potatoes, even though I am thankful for those things and love them with all my heart on a normal day.

I have come to the sad realization that we have everything backwards.

I was upset on Sunday because my family jumped through hoops to get to the right church (out of hundreds in the city) at the right time (out of 8 services) to meet my brother and sister-in-law, who didn’t even show up or call to tell us they weren’t coming.

In Santa Familia there is one church with one service, and your brother lives 5 houses down. Not everyone has cars. Most people just walk. And if Antonia doesn’t show up, Father Foley goes to her house for lunch—just to make sure everything is okay. Most people go to church if only to make sure Father Foley doesn’t show up for lunch.

As I settled in on Sunday afternoon with my bag of Oreos and the Disney Channel (don’t judge), I understood that no matter how many cereals I can choose from, or how many Salon Style conditioners I get to use, no matter how great it feels to drive around 8-lane highways in my shiny SUV, passing two malls and 15 Starbucks, I will never have the quality of life I had in the village for those short few months.

My entire family will never live on one street; I’ll never be within walking distance from everyone I’ve ever known; my best friends are not my cousins or my nieces or my back-door neighbors.

Kids there have 15 moms and 15 dads—aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends. It was so cute to watch David’s eight-year-old son curl up in Imanuel or Ricardo’s lap, and to watch Juliet be passed around the church from aunt to aunt to cousin to cousin (though it was sort of embarrassing when she woke up while I was holding her, took one look at me, and wailed like she had been abandoned at the local homeless shelter).

I’ll probably never speak 3 languages or enjoy a fresh orange or a chocolate-chip ice cream cone as meaningfully and effortlessly as I did with Inez and Frances— though my cherished single-dip cones on the curb of Ben & Jerry’s and Baskin Robbins with Bec and Sprinky rival.

But that’s my point. Happy, simple meaningful moments are rare and hard to come by here, which is why they are etched into my memory and logged as happy places for me. It was never about the ice cream (except that one year when they had Chocolate Oddessy 2001). It was 20 uninterrupted minutes on the curb with my good friends.

In the village, moments like that happened all the time. Nobody had anywhere to rush off to. My time there was a thousand simple, meaningful moments strung together into days and weeks. One of my favorite memories will always be that half-an-hour between dusk and total darkness when Inez and I would walk to the shop for an ice cream or a snickers or in search of hard-to-find flour. It was just nice to be with her, and to not have anything else to do but walk around together.

Now I have no choice but to settle for The GAP and America’s Next Top Model in lieu of everything my heart really wants—community, an entire Sunday afternoon with all my friends and family in one place (can you even imagine it—all your best friends and family together in one location, for LIFE?)

My friends and I used to joke about living in a commune.

In the village, they have that. They have community. Not as a concept or a small-group idea. But as their actual life.

We have water, Tyra Banks, paved roads, Fruit Loops and Paul Mitchell.

(And we think we’re the lucky ones.)

I agree: in some ways, we’re privileged. I feel blessed to live where I live with the opportunities that have been given to me. Even after village life, I don’t feel guilty for loving Target. Or TV. Or the mall. But more than privileged, I would argue that, mostly, we’re distracted. And I sort of feel sorry for us. I think we are distracted in order to not be depressed.

For example. On Sunday, when family plans fell through, I got my tall-nonfat-sugar-free-caramel-macchiato, sat down with a handful of Oreos and the Disney Channel (don’t judge), periodically checked my Macbook for emails, and when there were no emails, I downloaded new songs on iTunes.

So I enjoyed a day of first world conveniences. But only as a filler for what I really wanted, which was to hang out with my brother, or chat with friends, or, in the deepest part of my heart, be celebrating Easter with everyone in Santa Familia.

Moments:

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“Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.”

For Good
Steven Schwartz