In one of my favorite family pictures, I am standing in a semicircle of women — my mother, my aunts and my cousins — all of us barefoot on the grass, dressed in white terry cloth robes. We are about to take a memorial skinny-dip. It’s a year after my grandmother died, and this is the best way we know to honor her.
My grandmother spent her summers at a family lake house in northern Wisconsin. Every morning, she’d rise at dawn, put on her robe, and trek barefoot down the dirt path to the lake. Sometimes I’d go with her. We’d walk the cold metal dock to the end, where she’d pause to scan the lake for any fishermen before shaking off her robe and jumping into the water. “Chilly beans!” she always sang out, at the water’s touch. “Chilly beans!”
“No repression in your family!” a friend of mine recently said after looking at that photo. I privately disagreed, thinking of some of the behaviors that were repressed. Coed skinny-dipping was never done, for example, even with your own spouse. Sex was a mysterious activity, rarely alluded to, which shaded it with shame in my mind, though I now think the collective silence had more to do with respecting privacy. Still, my friend’s comment got me thinking about those mornings again, and what a gift my grandmother gave me by stripping naked in the wide-open dawn.
My grandmother majored in phys ed in college, and while she spent most of her life as a homemaker, mother of five and community volunteer, she was always moving. She played tennis, gardened, swam, sailed, water-skied — even slalom — and, for a while in the ’80s, practiced aerobics. She hung her laundry on a clothesline, letting it flap dry in the fresh air. She took me berry-picking and canoeing, and didn’t think twice about driving home from the river with the canoe sticking halfway out the back of the car (and an open bottle of beer between her thighs, more evidence of her devil-may-care attitude). She took pleasure in her body by using it, constantly and fearlessly.
Source: New York Times
Original publication 16 September, 2016
Posted on NatCorn 13th August 2020
Reference to an article does not infer endorsement of any views expressed.