For my sister, who is suffering from a bad back...
My sister is beautiful.
You can imagine how this has gotten on my nerves over the years.
Not that I’m not attractive as well, but Karen has never had an awkward phase, has never been overweight, required glasses, or split her pants in public.
Naturally, I’m against this.
I mean, her beauty doesn’t make me love her less, but it does make me wish she’d get a pimple or two, if only for the weekend.
We’ve not let this unfortunate case of being pigeon-holed by our parents as The Pretty One (her) and The Smart One (me) get in the way of our relationship, however. I’ve had some very good times with my sister, including drunken arm wrestling and anonymously mailing her coupons for gas-reduction products addressed to Bloated and Musical Occupants.
I was thinking about her the other day, thinking about beauty and what it means, and I remembered a little Vietnamese restaurant that opened in our town when Karen and I were teenagers.
Minnesota, in the late 70s/early 80s, welcomed to its chilly bosom a large amount of immigrants from Viet Nam, primarily Hmong. One minute there were no Hmong, and the next there were plenty.
Who are Hmongs? Oh, just a mountain-dwelling people who were the United States’ allies in the Viet Nam War.
If you’ve seen the movie Gran Torino, those are Hmongs, there with Clint Eastwood.
And yes, the Lutherans sponsored them.
The new Asian place was pretty decent, especially considering that Asian restaurants in most parts of Minnesota in the early 80s tended to be run by people whose last name was Larson, included entrees heavily laden with celery, and came with horrible packets of dark-brown liquid purported to be soy sauce.
And so it was that we were in this restaurant one afternoon, no doubt picking up and dropping our food with the chopsticks we were determined to master, when a woman about four foot nothing approached our table.
“You,” she says, looking at Karen, “You muddah mus’ be beh-yee boodeefo!”
Karen looks at me with “What?!” in her eyes.
“I’m sorry?” Karen says to the woman.
“You muddah mus’ be beh-yee boodeefo!”
Karen smiles. “Thank you.”
And with no further conversation, the woman turns around and goes back into the kitchen.
Karen leans over the table and whispers, “What did she say?”
“She said your mother must be very beautiful.”
And then we sat there, quietly, both of us reflecting on this most interesting of compliments. She saw, not the physical beauty in Karen, but the beauty that must have come before her.
And then we laughed. Our physical attributes were passed to us. Sure, we choose to wash our hair and wear lipstick, but the rest is purely luck.
We are who we are. Sometimes it is chosen for us, sometimes it is as a result of our own efforts, and sometimes we have a leg-up by way of parentage.
Either way, I’ll bet your mother was very beautiful.