I’m not sure what inspired my fascination with the idea of a full up dressing/lounging room instead of a regular closet – but it was most likely my maternal grandmother Sara Lee’s dressing area. She got ready for work at my grandfather’s restaurant every evening back there in her lovely cedar lined closet and vanity area complete with a lighted magnifying mirror and a luxurious velvet covered bench. The bathroom and oversized tub were all hers too while my grandfather was relegated to the much more masculine guest bathroom. And of course, that area was always immaculate and well organized – a place for everything and everything in its place.
Sara Lee had a sleek sense of style preferring black and white to just about every color in the rainbow. As a teenager I loved raiding Sara Lee’s shoe cabinet to borrow vintage high heeled, pointed toe pumps. But not only was Sara Lee always well put together, she was also always prepared for life’s little wardrobe malfunctions. My grandmother was that lady who carried a safety pin or square of tulle that she would use to replace a snap or brush off pesky dust that found itself on your black pants.
When Sara Lee exited her bedroom, she was poised to embrace the world. That island of well ordered tranquility was the setting for a daily transformation that freed her up from worrying about her appearance and allowed her to focus on everyone else. Most of the time that focus was for customers both friends and strangers. Really Sara Lee never met a stranger – she could summarize someone’s life story within 30 minutes of meeting them. And people seemed to take comfort in talking with her given that she was such a great listener. Sometimes her focus was a little more alarming – it seemed like she could instantly spot an extra ounce on my derrier not to mention unruly hair or an unflattering ensemble. Looking back, I believe her heart was always in the right place – she wanted me to feel confident and she wanted me and my mother Jackie (who has always been a beautiful woman inside and out) to get the attention and respect she felt we deserved. Really she felt that way about everyone in our family. Maybe everyone in general.
Sara Lee’s attention was not restricted to how we looked – it also encompassed our environment. When our living space was out of order, she knew that our inner space was likely to be discombobulated too. A messy room or even car was deemed “filthy nasty dirty” by my grandmother with a pained look on her face. People were at their best when they were fit and well groomed while their homes served them best when clean and tidy. A sharp appearance and orderly home prepared you to contribute to your family and your community.
Honestly I didn’t give much credence to my grandmother’s obsession with maintaining a tidy home and appearance when I was young. But, I’ve come to appreciate the method to her madness as an adult. There are so many times I wish I could ask her questions that I wasn’t savvy enough to know to ask as a kid. But sometimes, I can hear her voice in my head saying “that’s a good looking pair of heels!” in the Nordstrom shoe department or “don’t those pillows look nice on your bed?” when I walk in my room at night. And every once in a while when I’m contemplating a wardrobe choice, I feel her spirit guiding me toward the elegant and figure conscious black dress instead of the less flattering, but trendy one. No doubt I’ll continue to feel that influence for the rest of my life… I hope so anyway.