There is no doubt my grandmother is a vain woman. I'm sure in her teens and twenties she was a fireball, in spite of being just 4-foot-9. She loves the story of her being rebellious and wearing bright red lipstick as a young woman. Her hair has faded from a deep, dark, brown to a cotton white, which suits her nicely. She's worked in a factory, been a supervisor and a year after she retired, she went back to work for Walmart in the Girl's Apparel Department.
Grandma and I have been best friends for a decade or two. She will be 90 years old this year. We both loved my Grandpa Jack. We have chased shoplifters, raised children, and encouraged the other to make choices outside our comfort zone.
My earliest memories are of her canning pickles. Growing up I sat around her kitchen table, eating her homemade bread with globs of butter.
Now in her 80s, I recognize her life hasn't been an easy one. Her skin is paper thin and seems to barely cover the purple and blue veins. Still, she is jovial and can contort her mouth in a way that has had each of my children begging her to "do it again!"
Charlotte the Great, as my children call her, loves to read and is proud that she keeps up with current events.
One day over coffee, I asked her, ""Grandma, do you know who Lady Gaga is?"
"I think I have probably heard of her."
"I have an idea! Let's dress you up like Lady Gaga and take pictures!"
"Let's do it!" she was enthusiastic.
"I think we should start with her infamous meat costume!"
My grandma's chocolate pudding eyes stared at me, double their standard size. Her cup of Joe rose slowly to her mouth.
"You don't know how Lady Gaga dresses do you, Grandma?"
"Nothing comes to mind." She finally admitted.
So, we pulled up Google and I zoomed in on Lady Gaga in her "meat" costume.
My grandma said nothing, so we kept looking. Grandma studied each picture.
After a VERY long silence, my grandma scolded, "What the heck have you gotten me into?"
I ignored her, as I usually do when I am about to lose my way, "I know! Isn't this going to be great fun!"
She gulped her coffee hard, "I don't know about that."
I called her a few days later to let her know the costumes had arrived and we did not get the "meat" costume. I knew Charlotte the Great was excited when she showed up after work, tired, but ready for her photo shoot.
We layered on the makeup. It was a time of girl bonding. I learned, as I attached false eyelashes to my grandma's eyes, this was the first time she had worn them. It made her giddy, like a young school girl. She wanted to see them flutter in the mirror as she flirted with herself.
It took both of us to get her into the costumes.
She complained the entire time.
Then the lights came on and Charlotte the Great became a woman I didn't know in front of the camera. She was filled with energy and exuberance.
She forgot the signs of her aging were visible. Her weary posture became what she believed to be smoldering.
She danced and asked me to help her pull her leg this way and her shoulders that way, to be a two-inch shorter version of Lady Gaga.
Lady Gaga has built a brand of glamor, fashion, and appeal. It isn't a brand that typically appeals to women Grandma's age.
On the other hand, in this moment, Grandma didn't have to know the music of Lady Gaga, she seemed to hear the message that she is empowered. She is not defeated by her age.
Watching this woman, four decades older than me, forget about being labeled "old", or that her skin sags and looks like crepe paper, made me realize that there is beauty in the actual experience of aging.
While my grandma is not the superstar of Lady Gaga proportions, she is my very own rock star!