jan-jannigje1

Louise

I’m sorry to be a copycat this week, but Lisa’s photo of her Polish grandmother sent me to the family photo album, which looks like a World War II archive, to find this photo of my maternal grandparents standing in front of their house in Breukelen, Holland on the day they left for America.  This was 1949 and all their children had left for Salt Lake City or “Zion” as they liked to call it.  My grandmother, Opoe (who is sixty years old in this picture) joined the Mormon Church in 1931 and all of her nine children came with her.  My grandfather, Opa, never joined.  The house in the background is where they lived and where I spent a great deal of time the last year we lived in Holland. I was five.  Opa was born in that house, and I have heard  since that he, not she, cried like a baby when they left it. Sometimes, when I am annoyed with church, I channel him.

Can you tell that both are missing all of their teeth?  He had false teeth but kept them wrapped in wax paper in a small cardboard box. They were uncomfortable, he said, and he seemed to be able to gum his food adequately without them.

I didn’t learn Opoe’s story until I was well into my forties, when my aunt wrote a history of her life. She was reluctant to give to me. “There are things that the grandchildren might not understand,” she said.

“Like what?” I asked.

She opened to the pages about Opoe and her teeth:  she had needed false teeth by the time she was thirty and so she got some, which must have been a huge expense for a turf farmer in a small Dutch village. When she saw herself in them, she was beautiful.  Too beautiful, she decided.  The teeth made her vain, and vanity was a sin, so she burned them in the wood burning stove and lived the rest of her life without teeth.

Even now, writing this down takes my breath away.  That I could be the granddaughter of a woman who worried about her salvation because she admired herself with a full set of teeth is inconceivable.  I am the one who can’t leave the house without lip gloss and blush.  I am the one who has been able to entertain herself in front of a mirror all her life.  I am the one who took a day to un-decorate the Christmas tree, because I dressed in the ornaments in front of the hall mirror and sang, “New York, New York; if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.”  I am the one who paid big money to have veneers put on my teeth so I wouldn’t look old.  I am the one who gripes that Barbara Streisand is the same age I am, but she has money so she gets to look young.  Opoe, are we even related?

I think so.  With teeth, I’m quite a beauty myself.

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