Debra Swersky
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Opt-in for weekly journal, not blog, posts.

My Muse

This is my shiva. On Tuesday, July 26th, my grandmother passed away. On Wednesday she was buried in Perth, Australia. This is my shiva - this post, this entry - because I was unable to be there and unable to bury her with any sort of cathartic note (as I did with my grandfather in 2008). Being that she was also buried in Perth vs. Cape Town, participating in a family shiva wasn’t possible. And, being still fairly new to Dallas, sitting at home by myself isn’t exactly conducive to sharing my stories and memories with visitors. So, I write and share:

My grandmother, though always far away, was a phenomenal force in my life. She was, as noted in the papers and by those that loved her, generous, caring, tenacious, and completely engaged with the world. People said that we looked alike. It wasn’t until recently that I saw the striking resemblance in our faces… if only I could go gray as elegantly as she did and be as generous, caring, and fully engaged. (Tenacity doesn’t seem to be my problem.)

My grandmother was an unconventional educator. This is the lady who instead of carting me and my sisters around Cape Town and exclusively to the beaches, would take us to museums, craft markets, and art classes. And if we weren’t actively participating in these creative classrooms we were, more than likely, at her house learning how to knit or crochet on her sofa, sew using her sewing machine, or doing paper mache on her patio. Whatever creative medium struck her fancy that day. There was never a dull, or dark, moment with her. 

My grandmother loved color. And she had taste and a style like no one I have ever known. (Except for maybe my Aunt, her daughter.) Holy cow could my grandmother shop. She would find the most unique items and save them for us and/or send them to the US in these epic care packages. You could try to imagine the outfits that someone with this type of creative flare might wear, but you would be wrong. Very very wrong. My grandmother would wear the same skirt and the same shirt over and over again. What she did differently was add a little (read: big) detail to her outfit. Like jewelry. Or a scarf. In both of our older ages she gravitated towards jewelry-making of all types: stringing, designing, and soldering. She would buy strings of beads in her travels with plans to dismantle them for the elements that she liked the most. The lady knew what she liked. 

My grandmother rarely finished what she started. She was always working on something. And given her creative flare, there were often many unfinished projects... all beautiful in a unconscious competence kind of way. To that end, her paintings were by her estimation “never finished.” Many remained unsigned and on racks for years. Thankfully, on one of my last trips to visit Cape Town, I pleaded with her to sign her paintings and allow me the privilege of displaying them in my apartment. She would say “just take them” or attempt to tell me that many artists don’t sign their paintings or point out the flaws in the unfinished product. It was a battle. But, ultimately, I won. One of my favorite pictures is of her bent over a painting surrounded by all of her artwork, signing each one. I remember capturing that moment. It was brilliant.

My grandmother is my muse in the truest sense of the word: my creative inspiration. She’s the reason that I have an arts and crafts bin in my house, save/d interesting shopping bags, and wear the clothing and colors that I do. I will miss her dearly, and so will world. 

Debra Swersky