Eric Marcus

Shopping with Grandma & Sarah

Filed By Eric Marcus | October 26, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: Macy's, Sarah Palin

As you may know from an earlier post, Sarah Palin has brought me closer to my late grandmother (who died three years ago at 102). The inspiration for the last post was Sarah Palin's decision to schlep her infant around at all hours of the night as a campaign prop. Grandma would definitely not have approved.

Now comes word that Sarah Palin's campaign wardrobe cost $150,000 (leaving aside the obscene hair and makeup expenses). Since the news broke, I haven't just heard Grandma whispering in my ear. She's been shouting from wherever her spirit resides: "What, is she crazy?"

Grandma was a very practical and frugal person, but that didn't keep her from dressing well and making certain her husband and two boys were always well turned out (which drove my jeans-loving dad up the wall). And she did it on my grandfather's working class salary, right through the Great Depression and beyond.

From an early age, I accompanied Grandma on many shopping trips, including the time she bought me my first navy blazer at Barneys, which was then a reasonably priced men's store on 7th Avenue and 17th Street in NYC.

We went on our last great shopping adventure in 2002 in search of an outfit that she could wear to her granddaughter's wedding. By then Grandma was already in her late 90s and quite forgetful. But don't think she ever forgot "Grandma May's Golden Rules of Shopping."

1. Look at Saks; shop at Macy's
2. Don't buy the first thing you see
3. Never pay full price
4. Spend within your means

On this last great shopping adventure, after two hours of trying on a rack of carefully selected outfits in various understated shades of browns and beiges--no easy thing for a woman who had limited mobility and a blonde bouffant--we settled on a gorgeous jacket (with metal bead appliqué) and chocolate brown slacks.

The problems started when I headed for the checkout counter. "You can't buy the first thing you see!" she protested, forgetting that the jacket and slacks were somewhere around items 19 and 20. And we were at Saks (the one that's actually on 5th Avenue), which was a problem to start with. And we were paying full price. And while I wouldn't tell Grandma how much the jacket and slacks cost, she knew they were way more expensive than anything she would buy for herself and she didn't like her grandsons (she called my partner her "grandson," too) spending that kind of money on something she expected to wear once. But she was too frail to put up much of a fight and she really did want to look her best when her last grandchild got married.

Turns out that Grandma didn't wear the Saks outfit just once. When it was time to celebrate her 100th birthday, I asked her if she wanted to go shopping for something new. She looked at me like I was crazy and didn't need to say another word.

When we gave away all of Grandma's clothes I couldn't bring myself to part with the gorgeous jacket (with metal bead appliqué) and chocolate brown slacks. They hang in my closet, a reminder to me of a woman with extraordinary good sense, who earned the right to pass judgment on a vice presidential candidate who spent $150,000 on clothes she'll wear once while real working people wonder how they'll keep their shirts on their backs.


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When we gave away all of Grandma's clothes I couldn't bring myself to part with the gorgeous jacket (with metal bead appliqué) and chocolate brown slacks.

I don't know that Palin is only going to wear the clothes once. LOL She's been rocking that red jacket for weeks now. :) Besides, the total included stuff like her daughter's Louis Vuitton handbag. Wouldn't it be nice to spend someone else's money to buy your teenage daughter an expensive purse?

Hopefully, the Louis Vuitton handbag will have a secret compartment with a box of condoms in it ...

Boy Eric, you've hit so many of issues and history. I mean, just because we both grew up Jewish, queer, New Yorkers, and came of age in the seventies...

You might remember that my mother was quite the fashion plate. She was full of hints and tips and advice for her gender dysphoric daughter who HATED shopping, and couldn't care less about clothing. Well, women's clothing. It pained her that all of it was lost on me. And it was torturous on me.

Her shopping philosophy (gee, that sounds silly) was different from your grandmother's, but the underlying principle was the same - value. She bought the best, but she would keep it forever, and treated her clothes and accessories like they were treasures.

When she died, it was left to me to make a lot of the decisions about the arrangements because my father was too broken up. That included picking out what she would wear to be buried.

She cared so much about her appearance, and I was such a basket case, it seemed overwhelming. Her wardrobe was vast, and I didn't know what was the best, or her favorite, or if something was too good in terms of value and/or history to be buried and therefore lost for all time. The irony of me dressing my mother for eternity, wasn't the funny kind.

In a flash of inspiration/desperation, I decided to bury her in the dress she wore to my brother's wedding. I figured that the happiness associated with the occasion would trump any of the other esthetic considerations. And it was the last time I saw her before the end.

I felt good about that decision, especially since it was waaay out of my comfort zone. But I felt it was my job to look out for her when she couldn't. Yes, it was completely irrational. She was dead. It didn't really matter how she looked. Hell, it wasn't even really her anymore.

But her dyke-cum-FTM daughter made sure she looked stylish for her own funeral. So I guess some of those lessons sunk in.

that's great.

Yeah, there's no reason she had to spend like that, other than the fact that it was someone else's money.

Yes, Rory, we have more in common than we might have imagined. I, too, got to choose the clothes. When my grandmother was 95 we had a hilarious (yes, hilarious) conversation about her funeral plans. She couldn't believe that I was asking her, but I wanted to know. Grandma was someone with very strong opinions and, as I explained to her, I didn't want to be standing in front of her closet trying to figure out with my uncle what Grandma would have wanted to wear to her own funeral.
But she protested and said I would know what to choose. So I ventured a guess, "Your black pants suit?" "You wouldn't do that to me!" she said indignantly. I explained to her that that was why I asked her in the first place. "Okay," she said, "something beige and one of my silk scarves." Beige left me with a lot of options.
I get teary now just thinking about laying out her clothes on the night it was clear she was going to die. I did her nails, too, before I left her in her bed for what was her last night's sleep. And in case you're wondering, she wore pearl nail polish. It goes with everything.

"I get teary now just thinking about laying out her clothes on the night it was clear she was going to die. I did her nails, too, before I left her in her bed for what was her last night's sleep. And in case you're wondering, she wore pearl nail polish. It goes with everything."

You're a good grandson, Eric. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to pull that off.

OTOH, I don't what it's like to be part of what sounds like as an ideal end as one might hope for, however oxymoronic that is. I marvel at her 102 years.