When I was 15 I bought a quarter-inch square of purple satin that claimed, from the card stock that it was mounted on, to be cut from Marilyn Monroe's bed sheet. When I saw it, the patchouli scented air in my favorite record shop seemed to stand absolutely still and I eagerly gave up three hours worth of hard earned babysitting money to own something that her gentle hand may have actually touched. I don't remember exactly, but surely I was at least a little bit skeptical. Purple satin does seem a bit cliche'.
I guess I wanted to prove that Marilyn could trust me to take good care of her scrap of shiny bed sheet and understand that I would look after this improbable, yet possible, possession with love and care. More than anything else, something unknown made me believe that some of this sweet lady's overlooked goodness could pass on to me if I were to touch something that she had touched. My heart was broken by her "Magdalene-ness" as well as her commonness long before the truths of this type of sisterhood were parts of my everyday life.
That was 30 years ago, and now I have outlived many of the people whose spirits I have admired and loved. I have walked back through hospital rooms and houses touching, very delicately, the possessions of family and friends whose exits from this life left me begging for one last touch. A wedding ring here and a baseball cap there. All intimate emblems of their having "been here." All, in some way, fulfilling that desperate fantasy of "if I just had one more minute, this is the tenderness with which I would hold you…"
It is in that spirit today that I will leave my home office to buy a body balm at Thistle Farms. Although I already have several, I need one from the stock that's on the shelves now. Yesterday, one of our dearest volunteers, Susie, better known as "Grammie" to all of us, died peacefully from an illness none of us even knew she had. Grammie was our chief body balm container cleaner. She lovingly prepared body balms for labeling and gave so freely of her compassion that I am positive that the goodness of her pretty trembling hands can actually still touch me back.
In my first conversation with Grammie she introduced herself very formally as Mary Sue. By the end of that conversation she was "Susie." When I met her a few days later in person she asked me to call her "Grammie." And that's how it happened. As the Volunteer Coordinator at Magdalene and Thistle Farms I love it when someone shows up a few times and we organically find their place in the circle together. Grammie seemed to know that we needed a Grammie before she even got here. Just knowing that was the first of her many gifts to us.
Please forgive an overzealous knowledge of pop culture, but Marilyn Monroe would have been 85 this year. I always think it's sort of funny when somebody's dad spends their life napping in a recliner only to find out that he is the same age as Mick Jagger. I guess our ages are all about what we make of them. Grammie's familiar youthful giggle and innate girlishness remind me that there is a right and a beautiful way to grow old.
Whether you are a celebrity or a volunteer, leaving those who loved you with a memory of the exact way your hand felt on theirs is an important gift. I take that memory with me today, along with my new body balm and the image of Grammie, always looking photo-ready and never once complaining in her blue OSHA-required manufacturing area cap.
by Stacye Wilson, Volunteer Coordinator