I went to spend most of July with my grandmother when I was ten, which was great because this big fancy new mall (much bigger and fancier than the one in Asheville) had recently opened and They. Had. Everything there .
Nana took me out there a few days after July 4, and we spent almost the whole day shopping. I scored a small wardrobe a of layered peach and white summer outfits (totally on trend but made me look exactly like a fat Dreamsicle). Nana went to an expensive boutique, where they sold mostly bedazzled, heavily shoulder-padded silk bomber jackets and sweater coats and I think she bought five. Afterwards we went to this black and chrome salon down by the multiplex (itself still a novelty) and had our hair done. Nana let me get a real perm which was A DREAM. On the way out of the mall, Nana and I both put on our sunglasses—her big round Jackie Os, my small dime-store knockoffs–and I thought we both looked very cool, so we had dinner just us girls at a new place with mozzarella sticks and spinach dip so you just knew it was sophisticated.
We drove home during the violet hour, the downtown lights starting to flicker on one side of the expressway and that giant neon star glowing at the top of Mill Mountain like a psychedelic fascinator. Nana hardly ever let me open the car window, because she didn’t like the wind and worried it might upset the cautious way she ashed her cigarettes into a crystal ashtray and not out the window, like a tacky person. That night, though, she permitted it. And I pressed the button and let the warm summer air unsettle my new curls, as I checked out my sunglass-ed reflection in the rearview. Nana turned on the stereo, which was only ever Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits in those days unless it was Pavarotti, and it was right at my favorite song on the tape, the duet with Donna Summer.
“I find this song very aggressive,” said Nana, finger poised to fast forward to “Evergreen”
“I love it it. It reminds me of New York,” I said, even though I hadn’t yet been to New York.
She let it play. I pretended we were headed to a night club, the sort of place where women wore chiffon dresses and shiny silver sandals, the sort of place that, by 1986, didn’t really exist anymore. A shimmer of pink went up on the hill, someone’s leftover fireworks, and the air smelled like jasmine and roses and Virginia Slims, but that was probably just Nana.
I remember telling Nana that it was my favorite time of day– that last purple gasp before nighttime and all of its promise of secret thrills. Nana wasn’t entirely convinced; she was more of a morning person. But it strikes me I always liked that time of day because it reminded me of being with her, one of my very first memories, in fact, of wandering through the shimmery, carnival wonderland of the old Myrtle Beach Pavilion on summer nights, her elegant ringed fingers knitted tightly through mine as I stared up in wonder at the gilded swings, the carousel, hotel towers like columns of stars on the very edge of the world before the great endless gray blue sea and all its endless possibilities, as if to keep me in check, for now.
She’d smile down at me, winking, a conspirator. Don’t we always have the best time together?
I’d nod. Yes.
When we got back to the house, it was fully nighttime. We came in and found Poppy reading in his chair. He told us we looked beautiful. He brought in every single one of our many shopping bags without complaint.
He asked if we’d had a good time.
She winked at me
Of course we did.
We always do.
Postscript(s): Nana’s under the weather on this particular shimmery, hot July evening, so she’s on the mind.
I should note that Nana is indirectly responsible for me getting to meet Donna Summer in person. She was everything, by the way. Almost as much of a goddess as Nana herself.