Grandma Shepherd always had two things on her front porch. Cacti and geraniums. How is that for opposition? The cacti, much like her, were armed with sharp needles for protection, but were so resilient that they could withstand months without nourishment. Grandma was a woman with so much pain, she had to put out sharp barbs for her own preservation, but she was so tough that she could survive the long months without grandpa to give her emotional nourishment. Grandpa Shepherd worked the railroad and was so rarely home that she pretty much lived the life of a single mother.
One of her cacti was this monstrous creation with huge spines that she kept out in the middle of her front yard. Why she placed this cactus in the middle of the area where all her children and grandchildren and eventually great-grandchildren played remains a mystery to me today. I guess maybe I don’t want to think why she might have put it there. But, predictably, there occasionally were large spines pulled out of painful knees.
Then there were the geraniums. Geraniums are so pleasing to the eye, with their gloriously colorful blossoms. Hers were always bright red. But geraniums, for all their gaudy showiness, are extremely delicate and frail. The petals bruise easily and wilt when touched. I think that perhaps these represented the person that she dreamed of being. Stunningly beautiful, bright and cheery, admired by all who looked upon her, but requiring constant care and attention.
I remember most fondly those lovely geraniums with their bright scarlet petals. We would pick up the ones that had dropped and squeeze them until they finally relinquished a lovely red “lipstick” which we applied generously to our young lips. Grandma would tease us about being painted ladies. But in our blossoming minds, we were glam queens just waiting for the opportunity to attract prospective kings.
I guess if the truth be told, we are all part cactus and part geranium. We try to use our beauty to attract and please people. But all the while we arm ourselves with spines to prevent emotional injury inflicted by them. Finding the balance between our beauty and our barbs is one of our greatest challenges.
I know I’m not alone in the fact that I struggle in a world where beauty is paramount and I esteem myself as grossly unqualified. I get heartsick when I hear of children literally dying to look like the images they see in the media. Maybe its time to let go of the prickles and re-define beauty.
Someone I was chatting with online asked me if I was sexy. I hit him with an onslaught, much like one of my favorite heroines from TV sitcomdom, Dixie Carter of Designing Women. She had the ability to formulate rebuttals in realtime. In contrast, I generally formulate the most eloquent and heartfelt rebuttals approximately 45 minutes after I should be sleeping, but instead, lying awake kicking myself for not being able to spew meaningful soliloquies on demand. This time was different. I was given the gift of immediate eloquence. Anyway, my reply was, “I am a single mother and grandmother. I work a full-time job and several part-time jobs to support them as they complete their schooling. I cook our meals from scratch. I spend time with them. I laugh with them. I struggle to pay the bills, but am not bitter about it. I spend most Saturday nights alone. I am spiritual, chaste and striving for purity. I uphold the commandments of God as diligently as I can. I am a kind of sexy which you may never understand.” It was no surprise that I had no future communications with this shallow penpal.
Somehow, we have to get past superficial and see real beauty. Until we are able to do so, we will continue to put out the barbs. So, to all those who struggle between being a cactus and a geranium, here’s to us. May we help the world to redefine beauty!