By: Chrysa Smith
Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a trio of matriarchs in my family. All sisters by birth, they couldn’t have been more different.
First there was my grandmother—a quiet woman who liked to sew, brush my hair and make me Tom Collins’ and hot dogs with ketchup. She lived in a Brooklyn row house and, except for a few factory-type jobs, was a homemaker. Nonetheless, she always had on her heels and an apron. You never know who’d come calling, correct? Once I remember a gentleman from the neighborhood come over (my grandmother was a widow) with a liquor bottle stowed beneath his trench coat. With a broken Polish-English accent, he’d say ‘Dancing?’ What a smooth operator—maybe he could have scored a role on today’s Bachelor show.
Then there was Clare, who married, had three kids and worked her way out of Brooklyn to the luxurious suburbs of Queens. She bought a house, loved antiques and lilacs, and we always got Pussy Willows from her yard. She loved the color blue and wore jewelry, including pearls, and strong perfume–and of course, one of those God-awful fur stoles (complete with animal head) that were so popular some 50+ years ago. Also a widow, she did have a steady gentleman caller that we always called by his proper name: Mr. Dean. He was a bit more slick than my grandmother’s caller, and also a constant companion back before such things were proper. I’d say she was ahead of her time —a Renaissance thinker? Well, perhaps more of a gal who marched to the beat of her own drum
Finally, there was Pauline—the middle child. As you might guess, the loudest of the matriarchs and by sure, the funniest. ‘You gotta eat’ she’d say to anyone who visited. She’d give you a shot if you were of age, or celery soda and orange creamsicles for me. Maybe that’s where my love of sweets came from! She’d walk around with her hair pinned up and her stockings rolled down—in her slippers. A rosy, round woman, she’d always have something funny to say. When the family spoke about someone who they weren’t sure how he kept a gal, she simply said, “Maybe he’s good in bed.” And her psychological advice to most any life crisis? “Relax and have a piece of chocolate.”
And this brings me back to the beginning. To pearls. And the pearls that first came to mind were Pauline’s earrings. My mom recently told me she was looking for some and once had a nice pair. When I asked her what happened to them, she said they were on Pauline’s ears, six feet under and many years ago. (Hey, Pauline needed to look good, while laid out) But I think those pearls came to mean more to me as I reminisce. What great ladies. What pearls of wisdom they shared. With shopping bags in their hands, dozens of rubber bands wrapped around literally everything, loving music and life, what they gave me was priceless. Even above pearls.