love, relationships and men's shoes

About 2 weeks ago I was asked to write an post for BlogHer about love and relationships.  As I was outlining what I wanted to say, I found myself thinking of my grandmother. Yesterday I received a call from my dad in Trinidad, and learned that my grandmother has rather suddenly fallen quite ill. She's almost 103, so from a certain perspective, it's really not all that surprising; still, I find myself very preoccupied.

So in lieu of a new post today, the following is the article I wrote that day two weeks ago, reprinted in its entirety.  It seems fitting to share it with you here, since right now my grandmother is so very much in my thoughts.

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Almost exactly 7 years ago, I announced my engagement to my now-husband, Marcus. Soon after that day, while in Trinidad visiting family, my grandmother (who was 96 at the time) pulled me aside.

"Karen," she said in her soft voice, "you realize that as a good wife, you should always make sure that your husband looks good: iron his clothes, lay them out for him every day. Make sure you make him a good breakfast every morning. But there's one thing you must never forget," she said, leaning towards me conspiratorially.

"You must never shine a man's shoes."

I always smile with bemused affection whenever I think of that day. My grandmother (who, at almost 103 years old, is still full of great advice) has always, for as long as I remember, talked to me about love and relationships. And even though much of what she has to say seems a bit outmoded (in seven years, I don't believe I've ever ironed my husband's clothes), I've always found a kernel of wisdom in everything she's ever told me.

Make sure your husband feels loved and cared for. But this doesn't mean you should let him think you are his servant, or are in any way beneath him.

I'm very close to my grandmother, and actually lived with her for a couple of years when I was a teenager. I cherish those quiet moments I had with her growing up -- those times when she would tell me what it was like to date my grandfather, or what sorts of little rituals she routinely did to make her husband and children feel above all, loved and cared for. I remember watching when she would pay the man who would help her take of her garden, and then invite him to help himself to as many of the large mangoes or avocados on her trees as he could carry, to take home and share with his family. I love thinking about those days when she would invite me to sit with her and enjoy some guava cheese (her weakness), as we talked about my future, and how much more important happiness, good family and good friendships were than money. If there is one woman in the world who really and truly went out of her way to make sure I understood what love should be, that woman would be my grandmother.

Now that I'm a mother myself, I do my best to recreate those moments with my own daughter. She's only 5, but even now, while we snuggle in bed in the mornings (as we do every morning), I talk to her about how her friends should treat her, and how she should treat her friends. I talk to her about what I hope for her when she grows up, and decides to have her own family. I tell her stories about how her father and I met, and how much we love each other today. I tell her about how I felt the first time I saw her tiny little face in the hospital. And when we're out and about, I often try to do something nice for a stranger -- something simple like smile and hold the door open, or even pay for the coffee for the person behind me in line -- just so she sees that love, indeed, can be all around.

And one day? I even might just tell her about a man's shoes.

(The above photograph of my grandmother, Carmen Alexis, was taken on her birthday, June 22, 2005, at my parents' home in Trinidad.  She was 99.  Would that I look that good at 99!)

Song: Grandmother by Rebecca Pidgeon