"You are the sunshine of my life,
That's why I'll always stay around,
You are the apple of my eye,
Forever you'll stay in my heart
You must have known that I was lonely,
Because you came to my rescue,
And I know that this must be heaven,
How could so much love be inside of you?"
- Stevie Wonder
My grandmother used to tell me that I was, as Stevie Wonder sings, "the apple of my eye" to her. I can't remember when it started, but it always made me feel special. And in a family of eight children, feeling special was...special.
I remember a birthday card I received from her the year I turned ten, it was a big red apple with some kind of fuzzy red flocking, a green stem, little green leaves, and a worm sitting on the top holding a sign that said "Happy Birthday" and inside it said, "to the apple of my eye." And, "Love, Dee Dee." My mom found it among some special cards and letters she had been saving all these years and gave it to me last year. For a moment, I was ten again, and felt...special.
She was never Grandma, Grandmother, Granny, Nana, or Oma...she was DeeDee. She had bright red hair, wore stilettos at 70, and her lipstick always matched her nails. She couldn't have been any more unlike my mother if she'd had purple skin...and that fascinated me.
My mother was the quintessential "earth mother." She was warm, cozy, funny, childlike, and loved the outdoors. My grandmother was sharp, smart, crisp, intellectual, and European. Along with the apple-themed birthday card that year, she sent me a leather poodle, with mink ear and tail puffs, and a small bottle of Chanel No. 5 between his paws. I was smitten with her, and the sheer impracticality of that gift. Like the pointy toes on her 3-1/2 inch red patent leather pumps, it made no sense. To anyone...except the two of us. She somehow knew that I needed to feel grown up and extravagant that year. And I did.
No, she was not very grandmotherly in a traditional way, but she was my grandmother. She would send me Margaret Tsuda art reviews she'd clipped from the Home Forum section of The Christian Science Monitor, long after I'd decided my spiritual journey was going to take a few side trips through other religious practices and spiritual philosophies...and I read them. There was something about receiving them from her that made me feel connected to something wonderful and magical (our mutual love for art, history, and NYC). And I somehow knew it made her happy to think of me reading them. It never occurred to me...at the time...that by sending those clippings, she was building bridges that connected me to something that was just as critical to my sense of who I was, and where I came from. By sending those articles, she'd found a way to keep those words, "Christian Science" in my vocabulary, not in a religious way (since she knew I was exploring many different faiths and philosophies at the time), but in a way that was more comfortable for me to engage with, and appreciate on. And to be honest, one that I was proud to be associated with. It's reputation for journalistic excellence was unparalleled...and I knew it.
When those thickly stuffed envelopes would arrive with her very uniquely vertical handwriting on the front, I would save each packet...sometimes just sitting propped up on my desk at school all day...until I had a moment to savor the beauty of what I knew would be inside. An article about a beautiful painting, drawing, sculpture, or photograph written by someone she knew I admired and felt a connection to.
Tsuda had hosted my cousins and I one autumn afternoon for tea at her apartment, and then given us a guided tour of the Guggenheim at my grandmother's request. I was 15 years old and I can still remember how grown up and sophisticated I felt in my pleated skirt and Bass loafers with navy blue knee socks, as we felt our way along the spiraled walls to the sound of Margaret's hushed guidance and snippets of history about each piece of art we were experiencing.
Today I realize what a gift that day was to me. It honored my life-long love for art and gave my grandmother and I a point of reference for a special connection that would endure over the ensuing three decades. It was a thread that extended from her heart to mine and it never let me get too far from who she knew me to be...a young woman who loved beauty, history, and being treated as a vigorous spiritual thinker.
Those hand-clipped art reviews from the Home Forum page always seemed to include the nearby "Monitor Religious article" and today I can admit to having read everyone of them. Articles about what it meant to be spiritual and how to make that spirituality practical in our lives.
Although she often spoke of her love for God, my grandmother never mentioned religion, or that daily religious article, in her accompanying note. But as a Christian Science practitioner herself, I have no doubt that she sent it with the hopes that if, perchance, I was ever hungry for an inspiring spiritual idea...one that would be familiar and healing in a dark hour...I would have something at hand.
In this way she and my mother (her daughter) were very, very much alike. They were both practical and loving in ways that really mattered. My mother always made sure I knew how close she was if, and when, I ever needed her...even when she lived thousands of miles away and had six other children to care for. And my grandmother never let me forget that the most important things in the world were already within me.
I once asked my grandmother why she called me the apple of her eye, and although I thought her answer was pretty "hokey" at the time, I never forgot it. She said, "because you ripen into something more beautiful and sweet each time time I see you." I knew she meant it.
My mother and my grandmother were like the angels Gabriel and Michael on either side of me. My grandmother fought the war for holiness in my life. My mother was the constant, gentle presence of ministering love. Together, one on each side, they held my hands as I navigated my spiritual journey from sense to soul. I needed both of them in order to become the woman I am today. Their example helped me remember what really matters...modesty, beauty, family, generosity, honesty, faith, temperance, and hope...lots of hope.
They still do. My mother's example reminds me that it is good to be soft, that nothing could deprive me of my right to be generous and charitable, that it is important to take time and play with my children, that a woman is most beautiful when she laughs hard, and to forgive myself, and others quickly...and to love God with my whole heart. My grandmother's voice..singing through my heart...never, ever, lets me forget that I can do anything through Christ, that intelligence is truly beautiful, and that Love is not just a good feeling, but a law to rest one's case on.
With women like this on my side...either side...I have been supported, blessed, and loved into womanhood.
I am so thankful to be the apple of one's eye, and the other's first (of many) cherished baby, beloved child, precious girl, adored daughter.
Kate Robertson, CS
[photo credit: Hollister Thomas 2009]