Growing up, everything I knew about beauty I learned from Grandma. She was my source of information on becoming a woman, wife and mother. Because my mother was deceased, I had no one to teach me the basics except Grandma and sometimes my dad, which as you might expect, was not always on point.
Grandma was raised on a dirt farm in Kansas. They were so poor that her parents sent the last two siblings to live with another family because they could not feed them all. She was only able to complete the 3rd grade because everyone was needed on the farm. Grandma told me once that she did not remember laughing as a child. “There was nothing to laugh about,” she said. “We worked from sunup to sun down.” And so my grandma, Martha Margaretha, was a serious, no nonsense kind of gal most of the time, but there was a little girl inside who longed to have fun and feel carefree.
Grandma was a wonderfully accomplished seamstress and made all of her clothes, even slips, bathrobes and nightgowns. She also made all of my clothes until I was old enough to sew for myself. She made my Barbies the most fabulous ensembles! I distinctly remember Barbie having a dress out of the same fabric as Grandmas, and even a fully lined coat, complete with bound buttonholes. Barbie never lacked for functional yet stylish outfits and neither did I. Grandma had an eye for pattern, texture, design and she could easily visualize how our dresses would turn out, while working tirelessly to make it come together.
Martha had two main rules on beauty: Always wear lipstick and always wear earbobs or ear screws, as she called them. In Grandma’s bedroom, on her dresser, was a tray that held her cherished personal items. There was a comb, brush and mirror set that I always remember her using. She wore Lady Esther loose face powder, and kept the box front and center. If I close my eyes I can smell the sweet fragrance and remember the way Grandma’s face felt so soft when I hugged and kissed her. She always smelled of this face powder and I think to this day I would know it, if I were lucky enough to breathe in that precious scent. The fluffy, round puff sat on top of this all important powder and next to it was her lipstick.
The dresser top was balanced with a simple jewelry box. The kind that opened up and the top folded back revealing a bottom section. Grandma had a large collection of earbobs, necklaces and brooches, most of which came from us, for Christmas or birthdays. She also had a small little cameo that she pinned on for special occasions. I would always ask to look through her jewelry box and try on these simple, yet glamorous pieces. Grandma truly believed in accessories, and although coming from humble beginnings, she wanted to look her best. It was very important to her.
With her beautiful silver gray hair, smart clothing, ear screws and lipstick, Martha always looked ‘put together’. No matter how poor you are, you can be clean and neat...a Martha mantra for sure. Everywhere she went, she would be complimented on her neat appearance, even winning Valentine Queen at her nursing home. Grandma lived well into her 101st year on this earth. I remember once, while visiting her in ‘the home’, one of the caregivers gave her a compliment, which made her proud, yet shy. After the worker left, Grandma turned to me and said, “It’s almost a curse to be so beautiful”, then she laughed and patted my hand.
My dad made sure she was always taken care of and able to live comfortably, and so the former Valentine Queen was content and loved. I know even now, as she sits playing Canasta in heaven, she’s looking all done up…lipstick, ear screws and that wonderful face powder. We would expect nothing less from Martha Margaretha.
As CoCo Chanel once said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”
I think Grandma knew that too.