Fresno, California

The year before my grandmother drowned she got a face-lift. She was a good-looking woman—my mother would say beautiful, but that’s just love talking. My mother is the only true beauty among us, so it’s easy for her to be generous. Like me, my grandmother—Thelma Lucille Ferguson—had to work at being pretty. Born in the 1920s and raised in the Oklahoma dust bowl, she had the broad shoulders and D-cup bust line of a Jane Russell or Joan Crawford. And she had great legs, gorgeous, even by the time she was my grandmother.

My mother didn’t approve of the face-lift, although she never said so directly. Instead, she told me how a neighbor thought my grandmother’s postsurgery bruises were signs of abuse and almost called the cops. It was clear that if my mother could have called some authority to make things right she would have. “She doesn’t look like herself anymore,” she said.

But of what value was looking like yourself when you could look like your better self? I was in college by then and filed face-lift away like a get-out-of-jail-free card.

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