One year my mother made nurse’s costumes for my sister and I. They were white aprons and caps, Florence Nightingale style, with red crosses drawn on the center of the chest in red Sharpie marker. Coincidentally, also around that time, I was told that Grandma Rose worked at the hospital. Somehow the two converged and every time I thought of Grandma Rose going to work, I would visualize her in a crisp white apron and cap. Over time, the mental picture grew and I would imagine her getting ready for work, looking in the mirror, carefully aligning the nurse’s cap, just so. I could see her smoothing out her apron with the red cross on it and putting on white sneakers with the thick soles to cushion her already sore feet. I pictured her checking the refrigerator before she left to make sure there were left-overs ready for Grandpa’s dinner and then pausing next to the amber-colored cut-crystal bowl to grab a hard candy to keep in her pocket in case her blood sugar got low on the job. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out she wasn’t actually a nurse.
We often stayed in the spare room when we would visit. The bed wasn’t much with its hard springs digging into your back, but the closet in that room held all of the square dancing dresses that seemed to defy what I knew about her. I knew her as maternal and strong; tough and a little nervous. She worked hard harvesting crops, feeding animals and babies and grandchildren. But these dresses…they were extravagant and colorful with low necklines and excellent, full skirts. They epitomized a side of her that I rarely saw – they were about her as a woman, not as a grandma. When I rubbed their material between my fingers, I conjured up images of her being swung around to the rhythm of the music, graceful, a small smile on her face, her skirt hardly moving and so big it was parallel to the ground. My grandma was a ballerina.