I was about seven years old and wearing her pheasant-feathered pillbox hat with a beaded necklace and matching brooch pinned to my t-shirt. I had selected her “rose luster” lipstick and drawn it on mostly within the confines of my lips.
Completing my ensemble was her stole, made not just from the hides of a couple of hapless minks, but from their pelts intact, replete with tiny mink feet, claws, and a head with beady black eyes and a mouth that was converted to a clamp so it could bite its own tail and hold itself in place.
As you can see my grandma had flair. All her Sunday dresses boasted matching shoes and handbags. She kept her waist-length red hair braided just so and curled around her head forming a crown befitting her status in the family.
She appreciated the finer things. She would have been among the first to avail herself of the newest advances in the field of funeral science. And the last to be lowered into the ground without her face on.
Grandma never settled for the mundane; she served every meal on her best dishes. Franciscan. Dogwood pattern.
I’m pretty sure she ironed her sheets, so it follows that her dainties must have been wrinkle-free too, though I never saw them. I can assure you they were not exposed to public viewing on the clothesline with my grandpa’s formidable sox and boxers.
If I caught her in the right mood, as I had on this day, she’d let me noodle through her closet at will. On this particular morning, she’d been preoccupied with papers and brochures at her desk, licking the tip of her pencil, erasing and rearranging items on a list.
I was just slipping into a pair of open-toed black suede platform pumps when she made her proclamation.
Even at seven, I knew it was weird. But she wasn’t going to leave such important details to discussion or debate. And no one else was there to hear it. She’d picked her dress, shoes, jewelry, even her nail polish.
Did I mention that my grandma wasn’t ill? Not disabled. No, she was bright and perfectly healthy, if a little odd-turned.
She had an excruciatingly screechy voice. But she loved the Lord and every Sunday she showed it by singing louder than anyone else in the congregation. So it was no surprise to me that she also picked the hymns to be played when she would inevitably be laid out for viewing.
(“Gladly the Cross I’d Bear” was first on her program. To her dismay, I said I’d never heard of a cross-eyed bear. With a harrumph she scratched it leaving only “Amazing Grace.”)
You can see why, when I read about the latest Swedish casket technology, the first person who popped into my mind was my Grandma, even if it came along too late for her to benefit: Stockholm music and video equipment store owner Fredrik Hjelmquist has designed a coffin withbuilt-in speakers linked to a music playlist that can be updated by the living. That’s right. Wi-Fi for the dead.
Grandma would have loved it. So I’m including it in my funeral plans. It’s not that I’m ready to tuck it in, you understand. I’m forward thinking, that’s all. Like Grandma, I don’t want anyone else planning my parties.
And, like her, I have some detailed last wishes. For one thing, don’t let just anyone do my hair. I’ve been with Mr. Paul for so many years now; no one else can cover the gray like he does. Light mascara. Clear polish and Chapstick only.
I wish I could still browse through Grandma’s closet. My wardrobe just doesn’t have her panache. Best to stick with the classics, navy blue skirt and sweater. Crisp white blouse. Perpetuity and all.
It’s the playlist that’s worrisome. Must have Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Perlman! I can listen to that for years. But eternity? No, I'll want some variety, please! I love my Lynyrd Skynyrd. Throw in some Stevie RayVaughn for goodness sake. Bonnie Raitt. Black Keys. Oh yeah. That’ll work
And yes, Grandma, of course - Amazing Grace.