May 20, 2011

The Divine Miss "N"

My Grandmother was a tough woman to love. She made being a participant in her life complicated, often maddening, and difficult… I don’t think she would have had it any other way.

Nita, (no one was allowed to call her “Grandmother”), came from another world and another time. Hers was a life of exquisite couture clothing, glamour, and hats. As a testament to that fact, I have two hand-drawn and signed birthday cards, depicting my Grandmother in said exquisite clothing, from none other than Yves Saint Laurent himself. Glamour indeed.

When I was a child, she taught me things that little girls growing up in America in the 1980’s, simply didn't learn. Things like: how to set a table properly, how to write a letter, how to walk properly, (there were teacups and books involved), how to answer the phone, how to speak to one’s elders. In essence, she put me through finishing school. I didn’t get it at the time. And while I didn’t dislike it, I longed for a different kind of Grandmother back then. Where was my cookie-making, story book reading, cuddly Grandmother? All my other friends had one?

It wasn’t until I was in High School that I got it. No, she didn't bake or cuddle, but Nita taught me things that I keep with me to this day. I look around me and see slouched shoulders and shudder. Anytime a cup of hot water arrives with the tea bag on the side, I send it back. Hot water goes over tea, not the other way around. I know where the oyster fork goes, how many people can say that?

Regal is a state of mind. I learned that from Nita. There wasn’t a royal bone in her body but you wouldn’t have known. She held herself like a queen. She ruled her kingdom with a fierce adherence to manners, decorum, and political prowess. Her court was visited by the powerful, beautiful, and popular. With a cold vodka in one hand, a monogrammed handkerchief in the other, no one could deny that she was, in fact, more divine than the Queen Mum could ever hope to be.

Today is Nita’s birthday. She left us for the big dinner party in the sky four years ago at the age of 100. Three beautiful, stylish, and talented women - my mother, auntie “rabbit,” and auntie “Mame” - will be toasting Nita with vodka and caviar tonight; glamour indeed. Sip gracefully ladies, she’ll be watching.

Happy Birthday Nita, wherever you may be, you taught me to be a Duchess and I’ll always love you for that. 


  1. I love your ode to the beautiful (and a bit terrifying) woman your grandmother was!

  2. Elisabeth,

    What an exquisite and beautifully portrayed portrait of your grandmother. All the details made her come alive. I've always said that you and your mother have so much material for MEMOIR! Love, Brenda

  3. Elisabeth,

    You captured Nita perfectly. What a lovely tribute. It brought tears not only to my eyes, but also to Pa's (and as you know, he doesn't get teary-eyed easily).

    Thank you!
    Love, Mom

  4. This is gorgeous, Duchess. :-) You've written so beautifully and put me in awe of this difficult but amazing woman. :-)

  5. What a touching introduction to your--dare I say-- grandmother. I met her only once when she was 90+ and sensed that in another time or place she was easily capable of dominating an empire. She had to settle that night for ruling the dinner table and that she did with the elegance you speak of.