Have you noticed how the image of Grandma has changed? Lesley Stahl is doing her best to remind you. Gone are the days when Marlene Dietrich was a singular amazement as she morphed the image of the sweet lady on the rocker, slinking on stage in a cloud of beads and furs to the throaty tones of “Falling in Love Again.”
The move from “come sit with me on the front porch” to “meet me at the gym” is pretty much an epidemic as cozy gives place to chic. A dynamic woman with whom I rode the M103 last week was a case in point. Having had both knees replaced in the not too distant past, she declared that she simply wouldn’t allow her grandchildren to feel they needed to take care of her. So, off they went to China. Where, she reported, travelling with children provides perfect assurance that the citizens of your host country will engage you in conversation.
GlamourGram Judy Loeb (bottom, far right) with Aunt Erica (right)
If I needed any reminder of the new world of Granny, it came when ordering brunch at a neighborhood restaurant one recent weekend. Noting our shared taste for french toast, the woman’s husband remarked that for his wife it was a bon voyage as she prepared to set off on a long-planned trip to Paris.
The plan began 12 years before when Judy Loeb became the grandmother of twin girls. Their mother’s name suggested French roots, and so triggered the idea that became a promise: that she would take the girls to Paris one day in the future. The future arrived when a quartet of adventurers were greeted by the owner of the apartment they had selected on the Ile St. Louis.
So when GlamourGram, the twins, and their Aunt Erica, who acccompanied them on the first leg of their journey from California, had enjoyed the very French breakfast their landlady had provided before she set off, their first sight and sounds of Paris happened at the nearby Notre Dame. The beauty of the Cathedral, the stories told in its legendary stained glass and the voices of a visiting choir created an impact that guaranteed that the girls were already in touch with the atmosphere that had moved their Grandmother to happy tears. They “got it.”
The Twins in front of Monet’s Water Lilies at L’Orangerie
Louis Vuitton. For some visitors to Paris it means shopping. For them it meant the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne with its signature structure by Frank Gehry. The day they visited, the futuristic structure was itself transformed into a geometry of red and green by the artist who overlaid its panels in those colors. Within, there was an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art. But taste was not confined to the visual alone. Before they left the Bois the twins met Angelina, Paris’ legendary cathedral of chocolate, which established an outpost there allowing the visiting Americans to propose a toast to their amazing day with similarly amazing hot chocolate.
At the nearby Jardin d’Acclamation, the twins were introduced to the 19th century origins of the landmark/sometime zoo established in 1860. The trampolines they found there gave them the chance to express exhilaration. But the literal high point of discovery came when they spied the Jardin’s contemporary roller coaster. Having paid the 12-year old’s entry charge and preparing to wave them off on their ride, GlamourGram and Aunt Erica were urged by the attendant to ride along, at no cost. The scary moment of truth could not be avoided. With audible gulps the entire foursome was buckled in. The screams of the adults were equaled only by the giggles of the preteens. Being the foursome they were, you can guess which pair was most grateful to embrace the return to solid ground.
Meals delivered french classics unencumbered by the hauteur of the 5-star premises. They regularly elevated the stature of state of the art french bread and cheese, moutarde and gherkins shared in the “plein air” of the Luxembourg Garden.
Judy Loeb didn’t have to wait for grandmotherhood to become a poster-person for surprising innovation. As the daughter of a respected maker of men’s shirts she created a new blend, putting her college study of design into a successful turn as designer of a fashion-forward line of women’s shirts. This evolved into a career in fashion design.
Marriage and pregnancy brought her a fresh focus. She became a trend setter by creating a fashion T-shirt that featured the word “Baby” in large letters and with an arrow pointing to the evidence that this was a design born of reality. When requests and demands for her bold design increased, not just the baby was born, but also an innovative maternity-wear label called Sweet Mama.
After a brief sojourn in California, Judy returned to her native New York and a career in candidate advocacy with Emily’s List.
The day may come when GlamourGram’s twin girls take it for granted that their father’s mother is the accurate and expected definition of grandmother. But in their hearts, and in their memories of spring 2016 they will probably know better. And I hesitate to guess what surprising memories they will hatch for future children of the later 21st century.
One day soon, I will rush back to the neighborhood restaurant where Skip’s humorous observation about french toast set me on a delightful voyage of discovery. If you have any bright ideas of what I should order, be sure to let me know.
Photo credit: Judy Loeb. Of the opening photo, Loeb says, “Came upon this bakery just at the right moment. Bought pastries and bread here for our picnic in the Jardin Luxembourg.”
Annette Cunningham’s Street Seens appears every Sunday