Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"But It's Vera"

Clothing from my Nana was a hit-or-miss affair. You could always swear by the quality of whatever she gave you, but that didn't mean the quality was always, well, wearable.

To be fair, she gave me some beautiful clothes. Just before I became a teenager, she bought me a lush navy blue coat for church that hung down to my knees. Of course, when she found the price tag still on it a year later, she (rightly) lost her mind about it. For some reason, probably to test her patience, God decided to give her tomboyish granddaughters, and she was constantly frustrated by my sister and I's early distaste for skirts.

It wasn't always lovely stuff I turned down. I felt perfectly justified in refusing that highlighter-orange trench coat she tried to force on me when I was 18.

But the last piece of clothing she tried to give me was particularly memorable.

Her last Thanksgiving with us was in 2009, and we ate dinner at hers and my grandfather's home that year. We sat at the Boyer family table and spent the evening playing cards together. And then, when it was time to go home, there was the usual shuffle of gathering coats and purses.

As I walked past the stairs toward the coat closet, I noticed two figures down in the den together. I could see my Nana's white sweater, and I could hear my sister quietly say, "No, thank you. I really don't think I would wear it."

Moments later, Nana was pulling at the railing of the den staircase, walking upstairs with what looked like a dead rabbit clutched in her left hand. She scanned the room, and her large blue eyes landed on me.

"Would you wear this, Heather?" She proffered the dead rabbit thing.

"What is it?"

"It's Vera Wang, darling," and she held it up with two hands. Now I could see the cut of the shoulders, and the holes for arms...

It was a vest.

A gray faux fur vest.

I didn't even need to try it on.

"I'm sorry, Nana, I wouldn't wear that," I said.

"But it's Vera Wang," she insisted.

No designer label can save a faux fur vest.

"It doesn't matter, I still wouldn't wear it," I said, and shrugged my shoulders.

Strike two. She sighed, exasperated. "Does anyone want this?" she called out to the room, holding it above her head. The vest dangled in her grip like a hunting prize. All the other untried women were averting their eyes.

"Can I look at it, mom?"

It was my uncle. Scott walked across the room and took the vest from her, pretending to examine it seriously.

"Vera Wang, you say?"

She smiled, "Yes." She seemed relieved by the interest.

He looked up at her and grinned. And then, pursing his lips, he shrugged it on, and began to strut, hands on his hips as he fluttered his eyelashes.

"How do I look, mom?"

Her mouth puckered. All the kids giggled. I pulled out my camera, and he started posing for pictures like a runway model. The giggles turned into a room rumbling with laughter as each pose became more outrageous. "It looks good on you, Scott!" his brother called out. We all laughed harder in response, and Nana was finally starting to smile.

By the time he took it off and gave it back, Nana was laughing, too, and playfully chiding, "Oh, Scott!" And she laid it on the back of the couch, forgetting it completely as she doled out goodbyes.

And that was the last piece of clothing my Nana tried to give to me.

K Loaf


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