Welcome back to Member Monday. Today we feature an essay by Alicia McCauley. Alicia is a teacher, a writer and the President of Vigilante Kindness. Her essay, Grandmother’s Skirt, was recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas. Welcome, Alicia.
by Alicia McCauley
A tiny crack splintered through my heart when I hung my grandmother’s skirt up in my closet this Christmas. It’s a red and green plaid skirt that sits perfectly on my hips and floats at my knees, a traveling pants sort of miracle being that I’m six feet tall and my grandmother was five feet tall on her tallest days.
The skirt is one of two items I took from her closet when she passed away. The other was a bland oatmeal sweater that smelled like her. I kept that sweater on for days after she died, breathing in her smell even as I laid in bed nights, listening to the sounds that felt all wrong in her house.
But the skirt went unworn.
The first Christmas season after she died, I couldn’t put it on without crying and so it hung at the back of my closet, its red and green merriment lost in a dark corner. The second Christmas season after she died, I was able to wear the skirt with only the slightest quiver in my bottom lip when I looked in the mirror.
I paired my grandmother’s skirt with a black jacket zigzagged with zippers and tall, black boots with the skinniest of heels. For good measure I added my favorite leather studded bracelet. I remembered my grandmother wearing the skirt, so proper in her heels and pantyhose and a red sweater on top. She would’ve laughed and shaken her head at her modest skirt paired with my hints of edginess.
A thousand times I wanted to send her a photo. I wanted our pictures to stand next to each other, each of us wearing this magical skirt, her red lipsticked mouth smiling next to my own pale grin.
Every single time I took her skirt out for a spin, I was showered with compliments. I’m not fashionable or trendy in any sense of those words. I’m gangly and awkward and when I can find pants that don’t look like I’m readying for a flood, that’s a fashion win in my book.
When I stepped out in my grandmother’s skirt, it was a whole new experience. Compliments were showered upon me.
“I love that skirt.”
“That is a fantastic skirt!”
“You look radiant in that skirt. It really brings out the color in your cheeks.”
Needless to say, I felt great in that skirt, so great that I carefully put it in my clothing rotation as often as possible. I took the skirt to see ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. I wore it to three Christmas parties. I wore it to the Christmas sing-a-long on the last day of school. Finally I donned it for our Christmas morning church service.
As we read the Communion passage, I held the plastic Communion cup, complete with wafer sealed on top, and swirled the grape juice so that it coated the sides of the cup in red. I thought about how Christ’s sacrifice covers my sins. I savored the wafer on my tongue and washed it down with the bittersweet juice, running red down my throat.
After church and after all the gifts were opened, a knot caught in my throat when I hung my grandmother’s skirt up that Christmas afternoon. I ran my hand over the wool and slipped the skirt back into the recesses of my closet.
Later that day I strapped on my helmet and pedaled out for a Christmas bike ride. Under a blindingly blue sky and with the taste of Communion still on my lips, I thought of all the gifts I’ve received this past year, both tangible and not.
I smiled because somehow in spite of her passing, my grandmother still manages to give incredible gifts.
In her skirt I felt vibrant.
I felt confident.
I felt beautiful.
And the most magical gift of my grandmother’s skirt is that when I took it off and placed it back in the closet, all of those feelings still remained.
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