My grandma on my Dad’s side lived in San Francisco during my early childhood. For many years, she was a hairdresser at Emporium Capwell who enjoyed recreational shopping trips that were powered by a generous employee discount. She was a saver and a shopper and a collector of many things. I loved visiting her house in the city because it was a unique and visually interesting experience. She lived on the second floor flat of a 3 unit building on Duboce Street. It was filled with an eclectic and colorful archive of items that she proudly displayed. I distinctly remember a large piece of wall art that had two blue peacocks adorned in rhinestones standing face to face in front of some ornate building. It was funky and fuzzy and very fun to stare at. In the living room she had mannequin heads that wore wigs of various styles. I assumed that they served as references to her in-home haircut and styling appointments. No table was left without a cloth or doily, many of which were of the crochet and bright-colored nature. She had other things stacked and organized according to systems that only she could understand.
When I was about 11 years old, a little while after she officially retired from Emporium, she moved out of the city and moved in with my parents and me. She became an official member of suburbia. I was excited to welcome her into our home. She was warm, funny, and kind. I learned more about her quirky collecting nature and witnessed how she managed her belongings within a living space that was definitely more limiting than her place in San Francisco. She scaled back, but she still utilized various types of containers to store her many beloved treasures. She took the city bus around Vallejo so that she could bargain-hunt while everyone else in the house was at school or work. She tucked things away into the compact spaces in her little bedroom (formerly my childhood bedroom), and catalogued scraps of paper mementos into envelopes and perfume boxes.
Grandma was also a social butterfly in her close knit circle of friends within the Filipino community. She regularly attended many gatherings and events and I loved seeing her get dressed up for dances and celebrations. She owned traditional formal Filipino dresses, ternos with high butterfly sleeves, and Maria Clara gowns with beautiful coordinating skirts and shawls. She also had other endless outfit options for whatever the specific occasion called for, whether it was a big outdoor picnic luncheon at a park, or a formal holiday party fundraiser event.
The costume jewelry and accessories that went with all of her looks were truly something special too. She owned hundreds of necklaces and earrings. Bracelets and watches were endless. A couple years after Grandma passed away, my husband and I held a garage sale and we sold a good amount of her accessories (after I hand-picked and held on to my favorites). Yet, I’m STILL currently discovering MORE hidden collections today in and around my childhood home.
Uncovering the Great Grandma Collection has recharged my motivation and goals of buying less fast fashion or mass-produced clothing and accessories. It’s much more interesting to imagine the stories behind someone’s previously loved items. It’s also fun to know that I can sustain the life of that object for at least a little while longer and add another bit of history to it. If I could meet Grandma again, our shopping philosophies and ideas of home decor and organization wouldn’t match up. But I’m glad that I can enjoy the outcomes of some of her past shopping trips (at the most thrifty price; $Free.99). I’m thankful and honored that I can unlock a new layer of excitement for some of the items that sparked her interest and self-expression decades ago.
She was quirky. She was chic. She wanted to archive the small moments and big milestones of her life, so she labeled the envelopes of her mementos with short descriptions that were scrawled in grandma cursive. What better way to learn even more about her and honor her by incorporating some grandma flair into my own life, and document it the way that she would have wanted to? Thank you for shopping and saving, Grandma. Your style and your stories will come back again, and they will live beyond the collection of envelopes, bags, and containers that I love to rediscover.
■ Elementary Educator for Equity & Cultural Responsibility
■ Collector of Small Moments & Thrifty Finds
■ Wife & Mother
■ Bay Area, CA