In preparation for my trip to Nebraska/Iowa, which we will embark on this Wednesday, I finished a project that I began in 2004.
My Great Aunt Edith (my dad’s aunt) is a lady that I met for the first time as a pre-teen. I was a late bloomer, so being a pre-teen was an awkward stage for me. It wasn’t helped any by the teasing of other girls my age, as I was shy when I changed for P.E. class, changing in the bathroom stall instead of out with the other girls. One girl decided to see what the fuss was about and stood on the toilet in the stall next to me, peering over. She made the amused comment, announcing to the other girls regarding my pre-pubescent breasts of, “Hey, look at those little raisins!” While I do take some consolation now in the fact that my figure is fairly decent and I no longer have “little raisins”, (and who knows what she looks like now) that memory still makes me shake my head at the idiocy and cruelty of that girl.
When I met my Great Aunt Edith, I remember that she made me feel intelligent, accepted, embraced and encouraged. I remember looking at her and thinking she was the most beautiful lady in the whole world. I was amazed at the beautiful color of her hair and even asked her how it was that she kept it so pretty. Her response was, “I give it lots of loving care.” Which makes me giggle to myself now, because Loving Care is a Clairol hair coloring product and I had no idea. I really thought she gave it lots of loving care. Every pre-teenage girl should have an Aunt Edith in their life to help them through that awkward stage of budding womanhood.
Anyway, in 2004, I borrowed my Edith’s pictures from my Aunt Marj who had been keeping them since Edith’s death in 1994. It has been a somewhat overwhelming task that I took on, scanning pictures that someone had collected throughout their life and I hardly think this is all of them. It’s interesting going through her pictures, knowing that I am related to her. She was obviously a loving person, a strong person and took great joy from her brother’s family and his children & grandchildren. Indeed, many of her pictures are of them gathered around the dinner table, laughing. Yet, despite having had three husbands, as far as I know, she never had children of her own.
In her youth, she was the epitome of “beautiful”, and the pictures taken of her reflect her knowledge of that. It would be hard to not know your own beauty. As she grew older, the contents in the pictures changed. Oh, sure, there were still photographs of her, even candid ones and she was still beautiful. But I wonder if you were to look at them, would you see her beauty or would you see an aged woman? Or perhaps both?
What I noticed most about the pictures taken of her as the Edith I knew, the elderly Edith, is that those around her were enveloped in … her. Who she was. She surrounded those around her in her love, her arms, her laughter. Authentic smiles, not posed, are what the camera captured. They captured a woman who was comfortable in her own skin, a woman who accepted herself, imperfections and all. For if one accepts themselves as they are each moment of the day, does that kind of acceptance also not reach out to those in your life?
Do we learn to smile with our eyes when we realize that beauty comes, not from paper thin skin and the way it sets upon our bones, but rather from within and the way our self-acceptance settles in our heart, and projects who we are? Physical beauty is fleeting, a mere blink of an eye. True beauty comes from how we treat others and what legacy we will leave behind.
Do you ever wonder what legacy you will leave? I do.