In casting the Listen to Your Mother show 2014 for Kansas City. Sometimes even the most beautiful loving and well written pieces end up on the cutting room floor. My own piece for this year's show was no exception. I wanted to share it anyhow so here it is. If you are reading this and you did not make the show either. Trust me when I say, "I feel your pain." Trust me when I say that what you wrote was beautiful, touching, and IMPORTANT. Trust me when I say that sometimes it is just a matter of how the grand puzzle that is the show falls into place so neatly.
So here you go. A piece right of the cutting room floor.
Ila Marie Osborn
Everything about me today I owe to the great mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and aunts I have been so fortunate to have in my life. I stand here today a perfect mosaic of what all these beautiful strong ladies were and all that they taught me to be. I am thankful for them. All lived wonderfully full lives. All had beautiful healthy families. All grew old and died peacefully and happy. All that is but one and this is her story that I am about to tell you. Well, It’s more accurate to say that this is OUR story. She deserved a happy ending and I her writer granddaughter am here today to give it to her. To re-write her story.
When I was 16, my grandmother was murdered. BOOM there it is. Like a ton of bricks. Who does that even happen to? Certainly not little old ladies?
My grandmother (my mother’s mother), Ila Marie Osborn, was a mere 56 years old when this happened. Not really old at all and even younger at heart. She was one of those strange old ladies, very youthful and childlike in her ways. You all know them, the ones with like 30 stuffed animals piled in the rear windows of their cars. She actually had knitted throw pillows in the back seat of her Chrysler and a quilted blanket. She always wore very shiny clothes and almost always in a shade of lavender. Why does it seem that older ladies always wear lavender?
Costume jewelry drenched her ears, arms, fingers, and neck. I loved playing in her bathroom because she must have had 20 shades of the brightest lipstick one can imagine with names like “Burning Sunset”, “Russian Red”, and “Heat Wave.” The orange ones were her favorite. Open up her fridge and in lieu of butter or eggs on the door you would find 100 shades of nail polish that she stored there. Her nails were always perfectly manicured. Her dressing table was a little girls Mecca. Littered with baubles and bracelets, sleek bottles of sweet smelling perfumes, bedazzled with pearls and beads, filled with fluffy powder puffs and pretty pink things that I had no idea how to use. She always used big powder puffs. I have never known anyone since who has used them, but she always did.
She had this little clear glass bottle filled with shiny polished gem stones. I coveted that thing. I always wanted to spill them out and play with them, but she would never let me. It seemed to me that she kept them to remind her of something. I never knew what. It was the only thing I wanted from her house when she was gone. It meant nothing to anyone but me. Was worth nothing I’m sure, but I wanted it badly since it had always been off limits. I never found out what happened to it. It probably was thrown out with all the other piles of junk we got rid of after her death. I still think of it. I attribute that little bottle of jewels with my obsession for rhinestones, glitter, and all things shiny now!
She had wigs galore as well. They came in every color of the hair rainbow and in every style too. I always thought the Styrofoam heads they sat upon seemed creepy. She had a ton of dress up clothes. I distinctly remember a Scarlett O’Hara get up of sorts with a wide hoop contraption underneath and gingham skirts. I also remember a sleek black dress from Frederick’s of Hollywood. She was idyllic to me as a child. She was like me. She was like a little girl.
Oh and she was the BEST tea-party thrower. She had little outdoor furniture for us, chairs and a metal table with and umbrella. She had it outside on a patio surrounded by a lush garden bursting with flowers. Roses in every color, big cabbage like hydrangea, bleeding hearts, and sweet smelling hyacinth to be specific. These tea parties were a fairy tale to me as a young child. We’d dress up in all her frilly stuff and wigs and what not. Fake pearls galore. Orange lipstick prints would rim our teacups. This is the really great part: our “tea” was ALWAYS actually water with a handful of red-hot’s thrown in. you know the cinnamon drop candies. She’d put them in our cups to flavor and turn the water pink. Vanilla wafers and some times Madeleines, we would have with our “tea.” As a child, I adored going there. It was MAGIC.
As I began to grow though, it became less interesting for me. No matter how old I got she stayed the same. I remember one Christmas getting gifts from her. I was maybe 12 at the time and one of the gifts was one of those wooden puzzles with the really big pieces. The other was an outfit that was four sizes too small and looked as if it were designed for a six year old. No matter how old I was, it seemed that in her mind I’d always be a very little child. So going to her house became a less and less frequent event.
For my 15th birthday she took me to Red Lobster and shopping. I remember feeling a little embarrassed by the gaudy way she looked. Looking back now I feel awful about that. Teenagers are assholes and I was not the exception. I remember her water glass having the orange lipstick stains and feeling disgusted by that. I remember watching her eat. She had enormous boobs. All crumbs would fall into her cleavage and she would fish them out. I crouched in my seat with hot faced embarrassment. They say “what you mock you become” and look at me now- (motion to boobs) I think of her every time I fish a piece of lettuce out of my bra! We went that day, into some trendy store in the mall where I made a quick purchase of earrings and a shirt before anyone cool from my high school might walk in. She loved me. She wanted to spend the day with me and I was EMBARRASSED. What a jerk. I still have those earrings. I cherish them now even though they are a little bit 80’s.
The next year when my 16th birthday rolled around I was sure to be gone when she came to visit. God forbid I have to endure another embarrassing shopping trip. I was out with my newly acquired driver’s license being “COOL” as teenagers are apt to do. July 20th, 1988. She came to our house and left a gift with my mom. They had a nice chat and they hugged goodbye. My mom was one of the last people who ever saw her alive. I have no idea what that gift was for my 16th birthday. I can’t remember it at all. It was insignificant. All that happened after must have overshadowed that for me.
A day or so went by. The house that my grandmother lived in was the same one she’d lived in her whole life. She was so kind hearted and as the years had worn on, she had sort of become a care giver to all those around her. The elderly neighbors on either side in their upper 80’s relied on her. She would do small things like water their plants as she did her own. She was such a green thumb. She’d bring in their newspapers, help them walk their little dogs, sometimes pick up a thing or two at the grocery store for them but always checked on them each and everyday. That was the kind of person she was. Always giving of herself. When several days went by Mrs. Niccum who lived to her east called my mom to say she was worried. A search began. No car to be found, house locked tight. Police were called. Reports were filed.
She was eventually found down near the Missouri river by a poor, drunk old fisherman who had stopped to urinate. He didn’t see her at first, he smelled her. It was July in Kansas City. Hot July. So even after only few days you can imagine what her condition must have been. I will not go into great detail here about what happened. I will not talk about the man that did it, how he did it, what he did to her. Not about the lengthy investigation, the gory details of the killing, or the awful trial my family endured. This is not that kind of story. I will only say that she was killed by someone she trusted. Someone in all of her glorious naivety she had tried to help by giving him odd jobs for small pay around her home. Someone she knew and wanted to believe in. She as I said was childlike; she believed the good in all. She always did what was right and she was always kind. What he did was the greatest sin. Not just killing but killing someone so pure at heart. In the end he got away with maybe one hundred dollars and a bunch of her fake costume jewelry. She died for nothing.
So as I said, I am here today. I am a piece of her and she of me. She deserved a different story. She was so kind. She deserved a happy ending, she deserved a fairy tale. I know in my heart that my mothers in this life were not just the one who gave birth to me. My mother’s were the ones who taught me my greatest lessons.
Ila taught me so many. As I reflect on who I am today, I am reminded that some of the best of who I am came from her. Her lessons were as follows; be young, have fun ALWAYS, be who you are, LOVE who you are. There is bliss everywhere. She taught me that teenagers can be jerks, but hopefully by the time they are 40 they will realize the error of their ways. She taught me to be gracious and kind, help others, to give of myself. To keep finger nail polish in the fridge so it doesn’t get clumps, to always leave the house looking your best. To love life, love your family, to be a good friend. That it’s okay to be a girly girl and that big boobs can be useful for catching your lunch. Still I think red-hots are delicious, flower gardens are magic. I am a walking encyclopedia of flower varietals because of all she taught me. She taught me to love with ferocity, too never be the first to let go in a hug. And even though in the end her trust in fellow man is what led to her death, I think she would not change that. I think she’d always tell me help others and trust that there is good in them somewhere. The most important lesson of all though: sparkling jewels and orange lipstick can brighten any day even if it hardly washes off your tea cups.