Tag Archives: grandmother

Of Love and Leather (Relationship Role Models, Happiness Loops, and my Gapaw)

My grandfather, whom I called Gapaw, was a leather worker in his spare time. When new rolls of leather would come in, he would spread whole skins wide on the living room floor and let me roll and play all over them to flatten them out since they had been rolled for shipping. I would lie on my back for ages, wiggling happily, soaking in the smell of fresh leather that in the skillful and weathered hands of my grandfather would turn into keychains, belts, and Bible covers. I wouldn’t be content until I’d rubbed my cheeks on every inch of that sweet, pale brown smoothness. I traced the silky edges against the rough carpet, which was so pristine after its regular steam cleanings that my grandmother wouldn’t let me have apple juice in a Care Bear glass in the living room.

The leather seemed like something magical. It was potential made tangible, the stuff my grandfather’s dreams were made of.  Knowing that I was helping in some small way by working the leather after its long journey to my grandparents’ house, knowing that I played a teeny part of his beautiful works, made me happy. Having the opportunity to be silly and loved and important all at once made me happy.

Of all the gifs I've looked at, this moment from Hey Arnold! captures this cycle of happiness best.
Of all the gifs I’ve looked at, this moment from Hey Arnold! captures this cycle of happiness best.

Gapaw just sat there watching in his maroon velour recliner, crossword puzzle in hand, a smile on his face which was so worn with age that it was as soft as leather. He let me be happy, equally thrilled that I was so happy. It was a simple moment. Yet, even now, I can remember how important that happiness felt. It wasn’t that this moment was supposed to bring us joy. There was nothing contrived about it. There’s no script or prescribed plan for such a moment. It simply made us happy, and that made it so earnest and true. Even at age 6, I felt how special this happiness was right down to my core.

Rare are the people whose happiness brings you a joy surpassing even their own. Rarer still are the people with whom you can share a happiness feedback loop, with your elation sparking the other’s happiness, which then increases your own in turn.

The friendships I have that grew from such a loop never fail to leave my heart radiating joy. However, I have yet to find this in a romantic setting. I hear it exists, but I suppose it’s not something one can seek out. I can be on the lookout, but if I hunt, I’m convinced it just won’t happen right. Someday I will find someone who will be happy at my joy at being silly and loved and important, and whose happiness will make me every bit as happy.

I used to look to other people’s romantic relationships to find models of what I wanted out of love. As time passes, I realize increasingly that I don’t want what other people have, even when it seems pretty great. For one thing, understanding other people’s romances feels a bit like trying to explain how something really delicious tastes. You can get the gist of it, but the nuance and the magic are lost in translation.

Instead, I know what tastes good to me, or rather I know what are the flavors I most crave, what’s important to me from my own relationships with my friends and family. You taught me the wonders and nuances of integrity, compassion, earnestness, enthusiasm, and joy. More than that, you have taught me what to expect and request from others, what I do and don’t want, how I like to be treated. You showed me how to value myself, and in turn, what I want others to value in me. You have raised the bar for me again and again.

As I navigate the world of dating and love, I’m grateful for such little moments that have taught me what I want. Someday maybe I’ll find a romantic love that will reflect some of the things that you’ve made so dear to me. Maybe that will be on Tinder. Goodness only knows.

But whether love comes my way or not, the smell of leather takes me right back to that moment of love, joy, and pure happiness, and for now, that’s pretty great.

Happy belated Fathers’ Day, Gapaw. I miss you heaps.


The Hogwarts-Cosmo Factor (common ground and the gift of being actively present)

Sometimes you meet someone and the connection is immediate. There’s instant chemistry. You have heaps of things in common, and you don’t want to stop talking to each other. Everything about them enchants you. You’re drawn to each other. It’s electrifying (10,000 life points if you heard John Travolta as Danny Zuko’s voice in your head when you read that).

This was not one of those dates.

Let’s call this gentleman Catfish, not in the sense of the internet dating phenomenon of “catfishing” which inspired the vaguely tedious MTV show, but in the sense of the impetus for this date was a quest to find the best catfish in Memphis.

Fake optimism for the win. Sometimes you gotta fake it til you make it. Also, sometimes you just have to acknowledge the awkwardness.
All hail Seth Cohen, king of sarcastic optimism.

At first it felt like we were oil and water. He’s into sciences; I’m into humanities. He’s into athletics; I’m into art. He likes to party; I like to drink vodka in my pajamas. We live on completely opposite sides of Memphis. I was intimidated. There was a brief awkward silence in which I inwardly panicked.

Then my Southern took over, and I started asking questions. They breed charm and poise into us young. Thanks grandma for the Cotillion lessons and infinite manners books!

I forget that sometimes it’s important to talk to someone completely different from you. As I asked about the nuances of pharmacy work and learned about the roles pharmacists play, about the culture of his graduate school, about his family, I found myself absolutely fascinated to learn about a world and a life so different from my own.

And then, at long last, we stumbled upon the common ground: Harry Potter and Cosmopolitan.

Let's consider this gif a flag boldly staked in the midst of the newly discovered Common Ground.
Let’s consider this gif a flag boldly staked in the midst of the newly discovered Common Ground.

We compared favorite Harry Potter books and which Hogwarts houses we’d be sorted into (me: Prisoner of Azkaban and Gryffindor or Hufflepuff, Catfish: Goblet of Fire and Slytherin or Ravenclaw). Plus, it turns out we both spent our undergrad years indulgently laughing at the weird sex positions and stories of strange lady woes in Cosmo. We had, at least in my opinion, a really nice time. He’s a terrific guy, and it was a pleasure to spend an evening in his company.

As we said goodnight in the parking lot, still having not touched each other, I found myself feeling grateful. It’s so easy to go through life and not practice the art of conversation with strangers. It’s easy to write someone off as too different from us, as having nothing in common with us. We put up walls before we even look for where there might be windows.

Since when does having relatively little in common mean you can’t genuinely enjoy some time with someone? Since when does not having an immediate spark on a date mean you can’t have a lovely time?

Just being present with someone is a gift. Being in the moment, being focused on them, caring about their stories and their experiences, and really hearing what someone has to say is a wonderful thing, and frankly a very rare thing. Having someone voluntarily devote their evening to you is an act of faith, of generosity, of confidence that you’re someone who is worthy of their time and energy, and perhaps most preciously, of their stories and thoughts. Yet we’re willing to do this on a first date with virtual strangers, even if we won’t with the people we care about most?

That I can manage to be so genuinely attentive to people I’ve just met in person but that I so often can’t manage to put down my phone when spending time with dear friends embarrasses me. I’m calling myself out. I owe it to the people in my life to be as actively present with them as I am on first dates, if not more so. Yes, there’s something to be said for the comfort factor in that we’re not trying to impress our friends and that we can respect each other’s penchants for texting and social media as means of keeping other friendships going so that we can afford some glances at our phones and some distracted Facebook fiddling. However, I want to be focused enough on you as individuals to absorb your stories, your adventures, your wonders, your fears. I want to listen without thinking about what I’m going to say next, which is actually a piece of sage wisdom passed on to me by Jesus, who tries to live this way.

After all, what if we treated everyone in our lives with the respect with which we treat a first date? What if we brought that attentiveness, the willingness to listen, the sense that this could be something wonderful to each conversation?  What if we treated each other as if each person could profoundly change our lives for the better? What if we kept talking until we found the common ground, the laughter, the Hogwarts-Cosmo factor? Would our relationships become more intimate, more genuine, more powerful?

I like to think so.

When foodies romance

I’m a total foodie. I read Saveur every month like it’s a new book of the Bible (and I grew up Methodist, so we take that kind of thing seriously). I can wander the farmers market, Trader Joe’s, or Whole Foods for hours in bliss. I grew up stirring up biscuits and cornbread with my mom and grandmother and concocting strange and beautiful things with my dad, and now I’m teaching my siblings the art of sugar cookie baking and perfect mac-and-cheese making. So when I meet a guy who is also a foodie and has spent his life in kitchens, and he says my “adorkable-ness” inspires him, sometimes this happens:

Guy: You make me want to bake a poundcake.

Literally physically moved. Boom.
Literally physically moved. Boom.

WHAT. YES. YES. GREAT COMPLIMENT. This is romance at its finest people. ROMANCE. BE STILL MY HEART. I actually fell over sitting on my bed. This compliment literally bowled me over. And I was an English major, so I know how to use the word “literally.”

This man has a way with words. And hopefully poundcake.

Jesus is a really good kisser.

I have a second date with Jesus tomorrow. I haven’t had butterflies on this level for a second date in a really long time. I’m less nervous though and more absolutely elated at the prospect of being in his presence.

The loaves and the fishes don’t hurt anything either.

Someecards knows where it's at. Standards matter, y'all.
Someecards knows where it’s at. Standards matter, y’all.

Conveniently, he’s an amazing kisser, which is great because we have a weird family policy that we don’t train bad kissers. You just throw ’em back. We’re all strangely obsessed with this rule, which is part running joke, part a way to remind ourselves both that life is too short to settle and that you can’t change people. My grandmother instituted this, and I recently began to pass on this family tradition to my brother.

It’s one of the few continuities you can find between generations regarding our love lives, which is particularly weird given that my grandma liked bad boys and military men, my mother liked nice Jewish boys, and I like well-read musicians. But everyone we go out with multiple times you can damn well be sure can send shivers up your spine when you kiss them.

Hallelujah, glory be, and thank you Grandma!

Beyond the kissing, Jesus is thus far pretty fantastic in every regard. Tonight we talked about the importance of autonomous spaces for minorities and the complexities of being a good ally. And cookies. And how he thinks I’m amazing.

Standing in my kitchen frantically mixing Shirley Temples for 9 10-year-old girls for my little sister’s birthday party, I blushed the same color of the grenadine I was holding.

Here’s hoping I don’t do the same thing tomorrow when I see him. Sometimes even I like to pretend to be suave.

When Tinder conversation gets WEIRD fast (Blue chicks are hawt)

This was one of the weirder conversations I’ve ever had on Tinder. The logic is just all over the place. I’m still very confused about his comment about his grandmother. And the abrupt (though correct) assumption that I must not like Busch when I didn’t respond quickly enough for his taste still leaves me reeling. Also the “Mmmmm” cracks me up every time.

For context, this is one of my Tinder photos, an awesome undertaking by my talented best friend Austin. Rawr. I'm so scary.
For context, this is one of my Tinder photos, an awesome undertaking by my talented best friend Austin. Rawr. I’m so scary.

Guy (9:40): Southern cooking…

Me (9:41): Makes you good looking

Guy (9:41): Mmmmm

Guy (9:42): I find it fascinating that you put on makeup every day in order to cover your blue face and purple eyes

Me (9:43) : It’s a hard life, but what’s a zombie girl to do?

Guy (9:44): Flaunt whatchya got

Guy (9:44): Blue chicks are hawt

Me (9:44): That post-Avatar life

Guy (9:46): My grandmother was a navi. Believe me I know how it goes

Guy (9:48): U drink whiskey?

Me (9:48): I do

Guy (9:49): Nice I’m great at being bad at drinking whiskey

Guy (9:49): Busch cans for life

Guy (9:56): Damn I guess you don’t like Busch

…damn, I guess I don’t.