During my freshman year of college, I lived with my grandparents. Every Sunday morning we'd go to church, and on the way home, we'd stop to visit my Great-Grandma at the nursing home where she lived. When I was little, my Great-Grandma had lived next door, and as the oldest great-grandchild, I'd occasionally run over to visit her, and have a lesson or two in crocheting or dominoes or painting ceramics.
But in my freshman year of college, she was in a nursing home, and every week my grandparents and I would visit her. She would be sitting out in the common room with 4 or 5 other elderly ladies, all in their wheelchairs. My great-grandma couldn't speak very clearly after her stroke, but she made a point of introducing me to all of the other women in the room, telling them about my family in Malaysia and about the college I was attending.
I knew my great-grandma always looked forward to our visits, but I soon realized that her friends did, too. Ya'll know the way I am. If I have the slightest excuse, I like to dress up. I usually wore dresses to church, and afterwards, in the nursing home, I'd be subjected to endless comments and compliments. From my great-grandma, "You are so beautiful. Beautiful." to the comments of the other ladies.
"When I was your age I had a dress in just that color, I wore it to my Senior dance."
"I wish my granddaughters would dress up the way you do. All they want to wear is jeans."
"Be grateful for that figure while it lasts; I used to be just as slim as you!"
Their comments always made me smile. Sometimes they had stories to tell of dresses from their past, other times they had a commentary on modern-day fashion.
One day, we came in, and no sooner had I hugged my great-grandma than a lady piped up, "I was just telling Bertha over here that I couldn't wait to see what Margaret's granddaughter would be wearing today!"
Lots of people at my church wear jeans and sweaters. There's nothing wrong with that in my book. But you can bet, after I heard that comment, I put a little more time into dressing up each week. There was no way I'd disappoint the nursing home ladies by coming over for a visit wearing jeans. Sometimes I would switch things up by wearing a Malaysian traditional outfit, which definitely created an uproar.
I dress up because I like to. But also because I learned, over a period of visiting a nursing home every week for 6 months, that dressing up nice can bring other people a little joy, too. I was a 17 year old scrawny college student. These were grandmothers and great-grandmothers, who had lived in a century I could barely remember, now confined to wheelchairs after accomplishing plenty of living. But a pretty dress was a common language. My Sunday clothes turned into conversation starters. Those pieces of fabric jogged memories.
My great-grandma passed away toward the end of my freshman year of college, and I didn't go back to the nursing home after that. But those memories remain. Once upon a time, a little group of women looked forward to talking about what I wore each Sunday, and I gave them something to talk about. Pretty good reason to get dressed, if you ask me.