Monday, May 2, 2011

My First Styling Assignment

My grandmother passed away early Saturday morning. More than anything, we were relieved that her suffering is over. We had become the "Bless their Hearts" of the hospital, watching tearfully and patiently as her breathing slowed and faded away. It is something that I will never forget and that I hope will inspire both my family and all of you to get routinely tested for skin cancers.

I met my dad, stepmother, and uncle at the funeral home the next morning and we worked through the arrangements for the funeral. I am pretty sure that when I die, Matt will take my ashes in a Folger's can (a la The Big Lebowski) to Stinson Beach and let me fly and that will be it. But death for others in my tiny little Appalachian world is much more....ornate. In the middle of this, my dad managed to sign me up for writing the obituary ("You see, my daughter has an English degree. And I'm not sure what that means she can do, but I'm pretty sure that means she can write. So she'll do it.") and to buy a dress for my grandmother to wear to the hereafter.

So ya'll. I have now styled a dead person.

Now, my grandmother was feisty as a youth and just damned stubborn as an adult. She was picky about what she wore and liked things just so. As she damned well should have been, I say. So immediately, I felt this was a huge task--to find something that flattered her and made it so she wouldn't haunt my shit for the rest of forever. Because she would totally do that. And that's what I love about her. Add this to the fact that my grandmother had become a very large woman due to fluid retention and an inability to walk over the last three years. Oh, and the outfit had to have sleeves to hide spots left from her cancer. So basically, it was like coming to bat with an 0-2 count before I even left the dugout. For all you non-sports playing pansies out there, that means, IT SUCKED.

I was striking out all over the place at the mall. Plus size clothing options, especially in dresses, are few, and well, horrible. Basically everything I found was flowered like crazy and sleeveless. Is there an unwritten rule that larger ladies adore flowers? Was there a memo? I didn't get it. And there were a lot of these little short sleeved boleros to go along side that were pretty hideous. To all you plus sized ladies out there: I am so, so sorry. Let's all write hate letters and burn a size 4 slip dress in effigy.

Then, and I was getting really tired at this point, I went to the Dress Barn. Ya'll, I have made SOOO many bad jokes about the Dress Barn. Like for years now. Not a Christmas goes by that I don't tell Matt I am buying him a gift certificate from there. And we laugh, and I always say that in all of retaildom, there is not a worse named store than the Dress Barn. Seriously. The person who named that place deserves to be shamed. Publicly. Like in stocks. They should also be forced to watch E! for 24 straight hours and have Kris Kardashian's visage tatooed on their ankle. I have never been in there, but I imagined it to be full of those mid-length floral skirts with matching polyester jackets that I see people wear to church all the time. And that make me want to vomit.

But here I go into the Dress Barn. I am looking and I am thinking that I am going to strike out here as well. And then, I see it. A simple pink sheath. No adorning, no garish flowers. Just a lovely shade of pink, much like the rhododendrons that grow in front of my grandmother's living room window. I picked it up. And yes, it was sleeveless. So I go and find the manager and she blesses my heart a few times (this is the South, ya'll) and then helps me find a drapy, floaty three quarter length sleeve lacy/eyelet-y look white cardigan. I cried, she cried, and we put it all in a dress bag and I purchased it.

(And, I'll just cop to the fact that I bought a dress too--a black sheath with a small split neck detail and a skinny patent leather belt. So yes. I own a dress from the Dress Barn. But it was really, really cute, and I could wear it in a 6, and although I don't normally purchase things based on the size which yes, I know is inflated, I really needed that 6 that day, especially after a week where my BEST meals came from McDonald's. And if I can get my big honkin' boobs in anything fitted where I don't have to buy a larger size and then get it tailored at my waist, then I'm totally walking out with it, even if it came from Glenn Beck's Dresses and Tracts Emporium.)

So my grandmother is moving to the next life in a sheath dress and a cardigan. Thus, it is pretty obvious who did the styling, especially since I will be standing at the funeral tonight in a...sheath dress and a cardigan. I can just hear everyone now, "Oh, Joan looks good. But she would never wear that. Probably that weird girl done it. That one what went to school and wears the ugly shoes."

My grandmother was a feisty woman, a woman much too glamorous to ever have lived the life she lived in the place she lived it. There is a picture of her, standing in front of the house where she would live the rest of her life. She is wearing a pair of black capri pants and a silk shantung looking blouse with a huge collar. Her aunt had sent it to her from New York. That is how she got a lot of her clothes, I am told. She is standing with her hip cocked, and there is this look that says, "Bitch, please. You know I look good." I love it. That woman would have rocked a sheath.

And that woman lives, in my snarky tongue, in my laugh, in my son's bright blue eyes. My aunt told me a story yesterday that I have to share, a story that sums her up amazingly well. They were both sunning in the backyard one day, stretched out in lawn chairs (note: DO NOT DO THIS, LADIES. JERGEN'S SELF TANNER FTW). A man rolled down the road on a bicycle. My grandmother laughed loudly and turned to my aunt, who had only been married to my uncle for a short time and said, "Look at that fool. His shirt collar's starched stiffer than a groom's prick at a wedding."

I'll leave you with that. I wish I had been able to include things like this in her obituary, but I didn't because this is a churchgoing community, and well, you know. If you would like to read that (i.e., the more sanitized view of my grandmother), you can find it here.

Oh, one more bit of wisdom that she would want me to share with you: "If you are ever invited to a function, you better take more than a pone of cornbread, you jackass."


  1. This post totally made me tear up, so funny, so beautiful. She has to be so proud of you right now with what you did for her this weekend.

    I wrote my father in law's obituary and his memorial service script. It is no easy task, but such a beautiful way to share the gift of this woman with others, and make her a part of history.

  2. Thank you so much; that really means a lot. I hope that she is proud--if she didn't think she looked good, she would say, "I look like a varmint!" Here's hoping tonight is varmint free.