I was a tomboy. I liked climbing trees, rough housing, getting dirty. My mother didn't mind. “You just do what you want, honey. There's no right way to be a girl.” But it drove my grandmother crazy.
I loved my grandmother and I didn't want to make her unhappy. But I didn't like dresses either and I was never one for playing with dolls. Anyway, I didn't look like those girls in the movies. So I didn't want to try to be like them. I didn't even try to be pretty.
My grandmother loved me too and she knew I wasn't about to change. Still, she'd shake her head when I came in all stained and scratched, a bump on my forehead or a bruise on my knee. I'd hug her and let her wash me off, clucking to herself, “Such a pretty girl, such a mess.”
Then she died, right after I turned thirteen. My mother bought me a dress for the funeral and I didn't say a word, I was too sad to protest, and anyway I understood, I had to be dressed up to say goodbye.
My mother helped me put it on and brushed my hair until it shone, tying it back with a black ribbon. She put just a little make-up on my face, because I'd been crying, she said. Then she left to get ready herself.
And so I stood there, looking at that stranger, all neat and properly pressed, and all at once I saw it. I saw myself with my grandmother's eyes, and I said softly, so softly that only I, and maybe she, could hear: “How pretty! What a beautiful, beautiful girl!”

Copyright 2015 James B. Chevallier

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