Beauty Secrets of my Grandmother

By Janet Fricke Combs

At the end of the night, I put my last dime on the painted square marked 7 – my age at the time. I was visiting my Grandma for a week during the summer, and she had taken me to one of those pop-up roadside carnivals. The carnival worker announced “All bets down!” and spun the wheel so fast the plywood table shook on its supporting horses. Click, click, click – the wheel slowed, passing seven; I sighed and turned away, sinking into my usual unlucky, all-glasses-and-buck-toothed self-image.

“Wait, wait!” the carnival worker shouted as the wheel laboriously and miraculously made its way around one more time, stopping securely on my age. I screamed; my Grandmother did, too. She walked me over to the prize booth where I picked out a 5-foot stuffed, pink poodle with a gemstone collar.

“Isn’t she grand?” my Grandmother said, lugging the poodle to the field where her car was parked.

I was stunned, having never won anything so remarkable. Grandma opened the trunk. I threw up in the grass beside her car.

Apparently, the entire ride home I treated my Grandmother to a stream-of-consciousness on the profound effect of this moment. Wasn’t this the best night? Did she ever imagine I’d win? What should we name it? It’s taller than me, right, Grandma? Right?

By the time we got home, I was so overwrought I had another celebratory upchuck on her front lawn, which is when my Grandma must have decided to give me a quarter of a sleeping pill – not so that I could eventually get some sleep, but so that she could.

In the morning, I woke refreshed in her big bed and joined in her usual routine of bicycling in the air on our backs, stretching our arms over our head, pulling our knees into our chests and twisting side to side. This was another fun thing about Grandma – her daily exercises – it never occurred to me that perhaps these were her necessary precursors to getting out of bed.

My point is, I had no idea that my Grandmother was “old.” I have no vivid memories of her wrinkles, of her age spots, of her possibly sagging bosom or flabby upper arms or un-toned belly. I don’t think she tried to log a certain number of miles walking per week, nor did she go to yoga class regularly. Neither was she bombarded by Facebook ads about retinol or liposuction, as the Grandmas in my generation are. She was entirely comfortable in her own skin.

Speaking of skin, Grandma also routinely took me skinny-dipping nightly in her neighborhood pool. I now realize she lived in an adult community and that rambunctious grandchildren doing cannon-balls next to freshly-coiffed seniors treading water was frowned upon by the homeowner’s association – so she found a clever way around it that simply added to her overall mystique.

This is the Grandma I want to be.

I had to remind myself of this last week when I saw a close-up photo of me about to plant a kiss on the cheek of a man retiring from my office – a photo I jokingly texted to my younger sister with the title “chicken lips.” It is unflattering but it is authentic.

Today’s marketing aimed at the 55-plus woman can feel like a fire hose of cosmetics and surgery to “help us look our best” and “rejuvenate” the body and face we see reflected in our mirrors. But my childhood relationship with my Grandmother taught me that my goals as I age shouldn’t focus on how I look.

Here are a few beauty secrets from my Grandma. Be genuinely interested in others and ask a lot of questions. Stay open to new developments rather than disparaging them and bringing up the past. Never talk about aches and pains – that’s boring. Be spontaneous. Smile frequently.

Grow to become memory-worthy.


About this writer

  • Janet Fricke Combs

    Janet Fricke Combs

    Janet Fricke Combs is a freelance writer living in Pawleys Island with her husband, Rich, and their dog, Moose. She writes the weekly column “Planet Janet” for the Georgetown Times and the South Strand News. Visit her website at

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3 Responses to “Beauty Secrets of my Grandmother”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Great advice for gals of a certain age. To me, my grandma was perpetually 50 years old. I hope my grands and greats feel the same way. I am young at heart, despite the wrinkles and crinkles.

  2. Joanne Craig says:

    Love this writer!! Let’s all strive to be our real, true authentic selves.

  3. Jackie Fricke says:

    A well titled column that made me laugh out loud, feel sentimental AND gain insightful advice.

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