Each morning Granny Steph, Step-Granny-Steph, would put her face ‘on’. When she kissed me it was like smudging against a powder puff and talc traces would get left on my skin. Her silken silver hair was bobbed in careful hair-roller curls. She wore angora, alpaca, pure wool and silk, buttery and snageable but un-snagged, all in pastel hues. Her low-heeled shoes were a tiny size 3 UK and the never-too-much-floral perfume she wore lived on for years after she did in the heavy draped curtains and woollen pea green carpet of her large home. Her tuned-in un-pierced ears were clasped with large pearls or lacquered shell earrings. She also collected strings of pearls in soft pinks, greys, blues and cream – cranked from their shell beds, formed by a ceaseless grating of grit.
We didn’t visit Granny Steph and Grandpa too often. But there were occasional cocktail parties where I would carry around large snack platters, weaving between their well-heeled friends who would peer down at the offering of whipped eggs and devil on horsebacks that Tilly had prepared in the orange and olive green kitchen. Tilly who worked and lived with them for 30 years and upon granny’s insistence, addressed them only as Madam and Master. Granny was from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, though she only ever referred to it by its former name, ‘Rhodesia’. She also called the gardener “Boy” – on one of the only times I was brave enough to challenge her, I told her that David was almost as old as she and that we (white people) don’t use that term any more. She chuckled, small- smiling at my lame challenge.
There were birthday parties too when Grandpa would play the baby grand piano (until Granny told him to stop). Or Christmas when we stayed the longest to feast at the white linen table, drink flat coke, open presents under the shiny plastic Christmas tree (her gifts to us always recycled or unopened gifts she had received like old bars of lavender soaps that all smelt like the same nothingness). We would play tennis on the cracked court and swim in the kidney shaped pool until it was time to bugger off back to our slightly less privileged lives and the house that we rented from Granny Steph.
On these visits when Granny Steph met me at the door her grey blue eyes would sweep me in, an unmasked appraisal; Granny-Steph-Sums-you-up. Each time I knew I would be found wanting and throughout my time spent with her it was there, a soft quiet ceaseless grating, that became part of my anthem of ‘you-are-not-enough’.
This and her careful curation of the time and occasions when we were invited into the circle of her and grandpa’s lives spoke of her perception of our value and, on a broader level, the value of us as family. Her judgement, maintained separateness, inability to see us or acknowledge our worth had for me a resounding impact. Creating, I think, an inherited pattern of being, perhaps passed from generation to generation.
At times Not Good Enough-ness can be traced to lineage but it exists, of course, not only because of this. I make a lot of space for my Should Haves, Could Haves and Not Enoughs. I know, so many of us do. And we’re supported by a culture of scarcity, of more of more and of endless comparison (these days powerfully reinforced via social media).
Our Should Haves, Could Haves and Not Enoughs take up space at our tables, in our beds, on our desks, resting in the quiet corners of our homes. They hold our hand in between ours and our child’s. They sit on the table at family dinners. They stand on either side of us while we look in the mirror. They steal away our paint brushes, our pens, our guitars, our mixing spoons and our keyboards. Simply put; they are the fear that gets between us and our loving.
But I’m on to them and their seepage of not enough-ness. I want to campaign for their end in my lifetime as part of my work with myself. When I open the door to myself, my child and to you, I want my face to light up.* I want Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, to be written into the creases about my eyes;
“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees. For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
Because I am not the soft hard smooth agitated pearl.
I am the Grit.
I am the Grit, Should Haves, Could Haves.
I am the Grit, Granny Steph.
And I am coming for you.
I am Enough.
* Toni Morrison asks, “When a kid walks into a room, your child, or anybody else’s child, does your face light up?” You can watch an excerpt from her interview with Oprah Winfrey by clicking on the link. (In this clip I was delighted to see that Toni Morrison is wearing pearls and clip on earrings just like Granny Steph’s.)
Although this is about Granny Steph’s long reaching shadow I want to take this opportunity (because I may not create another) to recognise the times when she called me ‘Lambie’ and I felt the warmth in it or when she pretended not to notice that I had again raided Grandpa’s bedside chocolate stash. To give thanks for the feasts that she presented that were vast and delicious – I can still taste the caramel sweetness of crisped bacon wrapped around a soft prune as my lips and teeth pulled it off the toothpick. In some ways she was our benefactor and this made our relationship more complicated; would I have been able to grow up in a beautiful mountainside home without her as our landlord? I’m not sure. There was an intended warmth in the powdered grace with which she presented herself and in the delicious feel of her luxurious textiles. Perhaps a compensation for what I think was an inability to know how to to be generous or soft or kind. And when she died we found ourselves, after clearing and shifting a lot of shit, blessed and no longer in a rented house. Life is grey, not black and white, except maybe two things, there is fear and there is love and therein the choice.