Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Lettie On Beauty

Last Fall, we chatted with Lettie on what beauty means to her, feeling a sense of community, and a beautiful moment from her childhood.

“I guess it's vulnerability.  A friend of mine's mother passed away this morning, and she was old, but she was very beautiful too.  There was a lot of knowledge and there was this kind of stoic way of how she was.  Just knowing that she was carrying all those lessons and had been through a lot of things, that's an aspect of vulnerability: in older people how the experiences are on your face, all your scars: the ones you see and the ones you don't see, you know?  I guess that's vulnerability.

I guess because this just happened, my aunt called me and she was like, M's* grandmother passed away' and I remember the last thought I had about her:  I went to pick up my sister at her house, she lived with her daughter, and I remember looking at her and she had her oxygen tank and she's this older white South African woman and she had her bun in, and I remember thinking 'for how many years has she had her bun like that?'.  Her hands were really frail but there was a strength about them.  There was something beautiful about that moment itself:  My sister, Ayisha, was visiting Canada for the summer with me and there was a whole community in helping to take care of [M's Grandmother], because I was at work, my aunt works two jobs, and V, [M's mom], was really busy, she has two sons and she's a single mother and was living with her elderly mother and there was something about, you know 'Ok, [my sister] can come and hang out with us today'.  [My boyfriend] and I went to pick her up and just having all those women around and that community around and for my aunt to call me today and say she's passed on.

The context of us being South African was also beautiful because V is mixed, her mother is white and grew up in apartheid South Africa, I mean she had children with a black South African, and my aunt is black South African and [my boyfriend] is white and I'm South-African-Nigerian.  There's something about crossing these boundaries of what happened then and all that support and helping my sister come to us and showing her examples of different women, different kinds of women - it's not the shortest thing to explain - but that was beautiful.

Going back to that first thing that popped into my mind when you asked me this question a couple of nights ago ties more into the vulnerability thing because i was explaining to you before, it was a memory that's always been tied to this negative.  As a child you see your parents fight and you don't necessarily understand the context, but I think you're always like, 'as long as I can be somewhere else', and so this particular instance, the way that I remember it, and of course it could be completely different as it happened but I remember watching my mom crying in bed because she had a fight with my dad and all I could think was, 'yes, she's sad' but, there was something so compelling and so beautiful about the setting, the scene.  She was sitting in this really large - king size - bed, we all used to kind of sleep together with her and they had these, I think they must have been a wedding present, but they had these satin/silk sheets and it was like this really, it was like, red.  Not like a burgundy red, not necessarily a scarlet red, it was a kind of light red, like blood red.  The way the silk/ satin rippled over her and I always loved those sheets, the softness of them.  It seems like a trivial thing to focus on when obviously there's this conflict happening between them, but her being in that bed and being that sad, because I remember the sheets on their own but then together in that kind of situation was very, it was very beautiful and it's imprinted for one reason or another.  I think that goes back to the vulnerability not only of my mother, but of me as a child watching her and the beauty in that dynamic and choosing what to focus on. "

*Some names have been initialized to respect the family.

Lettie was photographed and interviewed September 2012 by Andrea Victory-LaCasse in Toronto. Originally posted on On Beauty.

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