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Julia Holloway at her Charm School in Norfolk, VA

Julia Holloway at Charm Associates, circa late 1950s

Gray chilly days make me nostalgic (who am I kidding, most anything will make me wax poetic about something in my past), and I just came across this picture of my grandmother in her Charm School circa late 1950s.

Yes, I wrote “Charm School.” My mother’s mother, Julia but “Gam” to us, was the owner and chief charm-educator of Norfolk, VA’s top breeding ground for amateur models and young girls striving to become proper ladies. This was her job all through my mother’s childhood, and I like that she grew up with a working mother; however, my mother’s young days sound akin to the white children in The Help… raised by their black housekeepers with mommies making brief appearances on their way out the door to some benefit. Still, Gam’s job fascinated me at a young age, and I remember going to the Charm School and struggling mightily to walk with a big book atop my mousy brown head.

Even when she divorced my grandfather and moved to the Main Line outside Philly, Gam remained charming in my eyes. She was a true hostess, and there were many parties and gatherings at her rambling stone house perched on a hill. She always called me her little hostess, as I followed her around offering greetings and hors d’oeuvres to everyone. As I grew up and went to college and into the workplace, I continually brought my friends back for the weekend as Gam was always the life of the party. How many 20-year-olds do you know who like to party with their grandmothers?

Gam had a stroke on Dec. 28, 1999, the day she left our house after spending a last Christmas with family. I was six months pregnant with my son at the time, and I remember her pressing her wrinkly, blue-veined hand against my swollen belly feeling one of his karate-chop kicks. Instead of celebrating the new millennium, our family spent New Year’s Eve at her now cold, empty home in PA, preparing for her funeral and longing for the charm and cheer of the past.

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