Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


June 24, 2012

One of my leading ladies

- — My grandma always sat near the top of the bleachers during my high school basketball games. She liked the back support from the cold, white cinder blocks in the tiny Mercer Christian Academy gym. Grandma was easy to spot; she was the only person with a chair cushion from the kitchen table. The rest of the crowd had fancy stadium seats that matched their sweatshirts and T-shirts. She looked out of place in the gym. Her skirt, heels and necklaces didn’t exactly blend in with the sea of blue and white. Regardless of lack of team colors, she was a fan, a die-hard fan who went to every home game, seat cushion in tow. I am ashamed to admit I was embarrassed at times. I didn’t understand why she cared about basketball. I was certain she didn’t understand the rules. She wore heels; I wore high tops. It took a few years, a lot of growing up, until I finally realized it wasn’t the game of basketball that caught her attention. It was her granddaughter and she wanted to be a part of the game of life, not basketball.

I never saw my grandmother in anything but a skirt and heels. She still subscribed to the old rules of fashion. She didn't wear pants, always a skirt or a dress. A faithful Belk Department store shopper, if she liked a sweater or blouse, she bought one in every color. Her shoes weren’t off the runway. I am sure they didn’t meet the standards set by Hollywood fashion. Her heels were plain, black or navy blue. The heel low, almost square and the toe, rounded and plain. They were practical, but more importantly, ladylike. Grandma made up for her plain shoes with her jewelry. She had dozens of beaded strands in a rainbow of colors. Clip-on earrings in clusters of stones and beads matched the necklaces. She didn’t wear all of them, but  kept them in a drawer in her bedroom. The old-fashioned jewelry made playtime more like a fashion show. I would layer dozens of necklaces, admiring the way they looked in the mirror. The earrings — I didn’t have my ears pieced yet — pinched my ears until they were red. She never took her rings off. I am not sure if she could have even slid them off with lotion. Her husband, my grandpa Parsell, died before I was born. Sitting in church, I would run my fingers over the stones in her wedding rings, thinking about my grandpa, the man I didn’t get to meet.

When she started to sway on her feet, we packed up her heels, replacing them with ugly, white tennis shoes with Velcro straps. She didn’t like the new replacements. I didn’t either. It didn’t fit her style, nor her personality. Her feet looked big and safe in those shoes, not dainty. I had a change as well. After graduation, I switched basketball shoes for heels. And at her funeral in 2002, I made sure I wore my best open-toe four-inch heels. Today, her jewelry hangs on hooks in my bedroom. They are more decoration now, but every now and then, I wear one of her necklaces to work. My favorite is a long silver chain with a few pearls. In the middle of the work day, I will twist the necklace in my fingers, touching the pearls, just like I did with her rings. I love different types of jewelry — diamonds, sapphires, rubies and the fun costume jewelry sold at craft shows. But nothing compares to the smooth feel of pearls. I learned how to be a lady from my grandma. She had a certain walk in those heels. And those pearls are a daily reminder.

I am not a fashion queen, but knowing my grandmother’s passion for shopping, I know she would appreciate some of the new styles. My wild shopping sprees have slowed down a bit. However, my family is convinced I have her love of shopping (and books) running through my veins. I would describe my collection as a mix of practical shoes  and trendy heels for special occasion, like the four-inch stilettos. And of course, the running shoes. I have to wonder if she would have attended any of my recent races. If she did, it would have been easy to find her in the crowd. She would have been the one waiting at the finish line in a chair with a cushion.

— Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at  


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