My grandmother, affectionately called Miss Dorothy, lived in a beautiful white frame house on the corner of a shady street. The Memphis Transit bus stopped a few feet from her front door and she knew everybody who got on or off the bus. Consequently, there was a lot of “Good morning!” “Good evening!” and hat tipping as neighbors came and went.
Inside her house, polished wood floors shone. Multi-tiered chandeliers sparkled, and a cherrywood dining room table, surrounded by jewel toned upholstered chairs, graced the Persian carpet. On many nights, gas fireplaces lit her rooms because my grandmother liked that. Hers was one of a few homes that also had several window air conditioners.
Because my “Mama Dorothy” was a busy woman, she hired folks to clean her home. Table-top doilies, freshly starched and ironed, nestled antique lamps and assorted knickknacks. These impressions never left me.
I spent many an afternoon and evening on her wrap-around front porch, gliding back and forth on the outdoor love seat, envisioning myself as the mistress of my grandmother’s house and the owner of her life. Even then I could spin good fiction!
Mama Dorothy was a dry cleaner and her business was located on the corner of a nearby neighborhood street. The neighbors knew and respected her as a seasoned saint, an active participant of the local church, and the matriarch of our family.
Dignitaries from the church and the community called on her for advice, and I spent many evenings eating her hastily prepared dinners or take out from Kentucky Fried Chicken. The restaurant was a godsend to me because my grandmother talked on the phone for hours about church or community business.
Her doorbell rang constantly, from friends dropping by to say, “hi”. Relatives and neighbors came by to ask for a loan, but she didn’t always say yes. And whether she said yes or no, there would follow a lecture on responsibility and a specific timeframe for returning her money. One of her favorite expressions was, “And I really mean it.”
Mama Dorothy drove a big black Buick that she and I called Black Beauty, but she also had a light blue and white station wagon for business. She was married to my grandfather who worked on the Mississippi River and was well respected also, but that is a story for another day when I describe how unconditional love feels.
Theirs was a modern, contemporary relationship for the 1960’s, and to me, they set the bar for how life should be lived. Every summer vacation, I experienced a slice of life that I didn’t see at home where my parents had financial struggles, babies, and there was never enough to eat.
There was plenty of love and fun at home, and naturally I wanted that, but there was nothing physical that I aspired to be or have. So, I was blessed to have my grandparents as role models and I chose their lifestyle as my ultimate goal.
Looking back I realize that every move I made in my younger life was with that goal in mind. Staying in school was hard, but the lifestyle of a dry cleaner was hot, heavy work. After each advanced degree, I swore I’d never go back, but then I’d think about the cleaners and accept that I needed college to get me to where I desired to be.
I married along the way and had two babies, but those things just spurred me to work harder. My husband became my partner in the vision and together we forged ahead. We discovered thrift shops and discount stores where we selected quality items that, while slightly damaged or gently used, gave us the illusion of living the good life.
A philosopher once said that we (humans) have enough time on earth. It just doesn’t seem like it because we waste so much of it wishing we were someone else or could be something else or could have someone else’s talent, family, money, hair.
Instead of spending your time on earth wishing, use it to aspire to something tangible that is also attainable. It’s okay to want what someone else has as long as it is possible to achieve.