Monday, December 27, 2010

Remembering Mamaw

Since my wonderful husband set this website up for me, I now have an outlet for all my random ramblings. I doubt there will be a consistent theme with my posts, hopefully just things that interest me and maybe entertain others. Maybe. I feel very fortunate to be so loved and encouraged to express myself through writing. Thank you Evan. 
Below is a little something I started a few years ago to try and cope with what was happening to my gradma and decided today was the day to finish it up and send it on its way. 
A Lifetime of Style
My grandmother got Alzheimer’s while I was in high school. I hadn’t had the all-important time of self-discovery at the ripe age of seventeen, so my interests and curiosity wasn’t peaked by my grandparents... I was much more concerned with boys, cheerleading and grades. Usually in that order.  
Ruth Vierling. Her first husband was killed during the war and she was left a single mother. I’ll never forget the story of her throwing away the Purple Heart award they gave her in honor of Hale. From the United States government straight to the trash. “How ridiculous to get a medal when you lost a husband!” was her very feisty reasoning. She met and married my Papaw a few years later and had my dad. 
Mamaw was always a mystery to me. Very predictable on the outside with the all manners, and the opinions, and the little house on the golf course in Florida; but one step inside her house and you knew that she was an original.  
My personal style was still evolving when Mamaw stopped remembering me. Back then I was more cheerleading skirts and face glitter than anything else. I wish my style and personal identity had progressed faster-- a little less time between my letter jacket and my pashminas. I wish her mind would have lasted a little longer, a little more clarity and memory before the total confusion. But now I am left with her mementos. Paraphernalia from my Mamaw’s life. 
Can you get to know someone by her style? The objects they surround themselves with, the little stashes of jewelry, and the rows of silky nightgowns—can they tell the story of someone’s life? 
Now that I’m older, wiser and far more sophisticated...I know that I have bonded with my grandmother in a special way from raiding her closets. Discovering her treasures. I think we have a lot in common. Granted she used that fantastic graphic print fabric for a blouse, and I can’t wait to cover a canvas with it, but we see the world through the same artistic lens. 
I wish these bonding moments included a deep conversation between the two of us, with her reminiscing about when she wore that mother of pearl ring and why she fell in love with the Japanese black lacquer furniture, but that never happened. It’s just me, sitting in the floor of a closet, piecing together her life from pictures and rolls of fabric. 
I’ve uncovered elbow length black satin gloves, so I know she was glamorous, and I scored a bolt of leopard print gauze, so I’m positive she had a funky side too. Our conversations have been one-sided, spanning many years and many treasures. 
I can vaguely remember when our bonding was in person. The stories of her making her own prom dress--blue with white polka dots. Her teaching me how to sew clothes for my ultra-fashionable Barbies. Receiving her numerous gifts of silk flower arrangements and watching my mom try to find a place for them. That is the grandmother I remember from my childhood.
I never got to meet the glitzy ball attendee or the creatively eccentric home decorator. That is the woman I would have been best friends with, the one person in my family who probably would have understood my artsy musings. We would have connected on more than just Barbie clothes if we had been given the time. I have no doubt. 
Alzheimer’s may have cut our time short, but I feel like her jewelry boxes, art collections and hordes of fabric allow her personality to stay alive longer... long enough for me to imagine what kind of woman she really was.
So, for my sake, I will keep introducing myself to her as we sit in the hallway of the nursing home. I will continue to love when she tells me that my name is beautiful, since she cannot remember meeting me ever before.  And I will keep getting to know her by sitting in the floor of her many closets. 

**Ruth Vierling passed away in October 2009. My grandpa, Hugh,  recently visited our house and said, “My wife would have loved this house.”


  1. This is beautiful. You are so gifted. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of Mamaw.

  2. Sarah, this is a beautiful story! I'm so glad you are blogging again!!! Miss you dear friend!