I doubt if a sweeter woman ever lived than my Grandmother, Rose. She was the mother of my Dad and she was one of the most elegant women I have ever known. Grandma was the daughter of a Baptist Preacher and she was named after her own Mother, Rosa Carden Grubb. She was born in Sweet Water, TN and educated in private schools in and around Knoxville. She spoke with a polished elegance, always using proper English and perfect manners. When my Grandmother attended a formal occasion such as a wedding, she always managed to look beautiful and appropriate. She only ever used face powder and lipstick, but it was all she ever needed. She always managed to look better than women twenty years younger than herself. She had dark brown hair and hazel eyes. As she aged, her skin seemed to have forgotten that it was supposed to follow suit and age as well. It was as youthful in appearance as her own daughter’s skin was. My Grandmother passed along her secrets for keeping wrinkles away and caring for skin to me:
“Always wash your face with warm water and then rinse it with cold water several times a day. Cosmetic creams and not very helpful if you do not follow a healthy diet and for goodness sake, stay out of the sun! If you must be in the sun, always wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your skin and hair. You will need a moisturizer occasionally and when you do, use Nivea lotion…”
My Grandmother always used Nivea lotion and I use it as well. She wore pearls very often and sometimes she would wear a single strand or triple strands, it depended on the occasion. I vividly recall us preparing for my cousin’s wedding one summer. I walked with her to see her beautician that lived only a couple of houses down from her. I would sit and watch as the beautician styled her hair and it always amazed me how when she pulled it all together- the hair, the skin care and the pearls, even in her seventies my Grandma was absolutely stunning. We walked back to her house that day and she helped me dress for the wedding. I was not excited about wearing a dress, but it could have been worse. The dress could have been ugly, but it was sky blue- my favorite color. It was what she called “tea length” and it was very appropriate for a fourteen year old girl like me. My Grandmother combed my long hair and said into the mirror ” Aren’t you a beautiful girl, let’s find some pearls for you.” When my Grandma called me “beautiful” I knew that I could believe her. I doubt if she had ever told a lie in her life. I also knew from that day on that every little girl deserved a Grandmother like her and they deserved to be called “beautiful.” It is the foundation for self-esteem and she understood that and never failed to instill it in me. I was a teenager that played with frogs, climbed trees and rode skateboards down steep inclines without fear. A tomboy became a lady that day. When we were finished dressing for the wedding, I looked into my Grandmother’s full- length mirror and I saw a stranger. There I was wearing a blue chiffon dress, white pumps, a double strand of pearls and carrying one of my Grandmother’s white clutch bags that contained a lucky penny that I found and a tube of clear lip gloss that she thought was “appropriate” for a young lady to wear. I was amazed, but she wasn’t finished with me yet. She took out a box and unwrapped the tissue inside of it. It contained a pair of satin and lace white gloves.
“Now, you put these on and remember, you wear short gloves with a short dress and long gloves with a long dress. The gloves should always match the length of the dress,” she said with a smile.
The gloves came to just past my wrists and they were elegant. I had to get used to wearing them, but they looked great in all of the pictures that were taken of me that day. My Grandmother and I beamed standing side by side in most of the pictures. It was a day that I knew that I would never forget. As I followed two steps behind her, I learned the etiquette of introduction. You always introduce a younger person to an older person and not the other way around. It is how you express respect for the elder person’s wisdom. My Grandmother would always say ” How do you do?” when someone was introduced to her and I picked up that habit from her. You never sit unless invited to do so in the home of another person and you always say “Please” and “Thank you” when someone does something for you or offers you the wisdom of their advice. You never slouch, cross your arms or put your hand around your mouth when you speak to someone and a young lady always crosses her legs at the ankles. Children do not speak in the presence of their elders at the Sunday table unless they are invited to do so. Talking with food in your mouth would earn you a stern reprimand and an exile from the adult table until you learned how to “mind your manners.”
Southern etiquette was not easy for me to learn, but when I finally mastered it, my Grandmother would smile at me with a sense of pride. It wasn’t long before some of her friends began to compliment her for my manners and my Grandmother always graciously accepted those compliments. She taught me table manners and that included the painful lessons of etiquette that involve counting fork tines. It was the toughest lesson that I ever had to learn, but as Grandma predicted, those skills would come into use later in my life. I had a few occasions to lunch at the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh and needless to say, I handled it well thanks to my Grandmother. I used the correct fork without fail through a five-course meal. I could almost hear the voice of my Grandmother guiding me through it. The Governor’s mansion would have been an even more intimidating place without her.
“If someone invites you to their home, always send them a letter of” thank you,” Grandma told me. It is another habit that she instilled in me. I am a prolific letter and card writer to this day- just as my Grandmother was. I even sent a card to the Governor’s mansion thanking the staff for caring for me and for a wonderful day. I was invited back within three months, but this time it was for a ball as well.
There is so much about the woman that I am today that can be attributed to my Grandmother. The manners, the grace and style that she taught me are invaluable and completely lost on a newer generation. My Grandmother taught me about faith and Jesus Christ and her influence in that regard was the strongest of anyone else in my life. I have never forgotten her answers to some of life’s more difficult questions or how she maintained her poise during what must have been very heart wrenching times in her own life. It was a cast- iron dignity that sustained her along with the knowledge that all was well with her soul. I never once heard my Grandmother speak ill of anyone. It was below her and she never had much tolerance for getting into the mud. She was much more interested in what the sun was doing and how she could make the day of someone else even better. My Grandmother was foremost a lady and everything that she did was done with class. People were drawn to her when their lives hit rough patches and her advice was always solid.
My Grandmother supported and encouraged me at a very impressionable time in my life. I will never forget her and I am sure that she is an angel by now.
In Loving Memory of my Grandmother, Rosa Grubb Baker. Thank you for your inspiration.