Going through my mam's clothes cupboards and dressers during this past week, and sorting through the items which mark the life that was my mother's, I had my own 'love, loss and what she wore' moments.
My mam was an elegant and stylish woman who always wore good quality clothing which she kept in immaculate condition. In each bedroom of her home, as I opened the cupboard, I looked at the sum total of its contents before touching anything. With a heavy heart I began the ritual of carefully taking out each piece of clothing, looking it over, folding it up, setting it aside, and remembering.
Some of the oldest clothes are imbued with the scent of Chanel No. 5, the fragrance my mother always wore when I was a child. Standing inside the small cupboard of the bedroom which she once shared with my father, I found myself drawing the dresses, jackets and sweaters close up to my face. With eyes closed, I breathed in the fragrance of Mother, and remembered the small moments: Mam touching the stopper of the tiny Chanel bottle to the pulse points on her wrists; Mam dabbing a touch of perfume just beneath the lobe of each ear.
|Mam with Dad looking stylish in Casablanca, Morocco|
In later years my mother developed a love for solid perfume, and I would buy one for her every Christmas. In the pocket of a couple of her jackets I found some of the solid perfume compacts. The perfume had long ago been used up, but the compacts are still there, small and lovely, with just the slightest hint of fragrance remaining. I picked up each one, ran my fingers over their smooth covers, and held them close to draw in the sweet scent. The soft click as I closed each one evoked memories of the joy I felt in choosing them just for her, and the smile that came over her face when she opened them each Christmas.
There are the soft pastel coloured sweaters in cable knit, the finely embroidered blouses in silk, the tweed suits and wool dress jackets. There are the tops and t-shirts from her world travels. There are the simple cotton shirts and trousers which were used only for gardening. Every piece brings me to a place of memory.
At the back of her closet there is the black suit Mam wore to my dad's funeral. I recall the deep quiet of the shopping trip to choose that suit. There was no joy; it was a task of utility. Mam never again donned that black suit.
In the cupboard of my old bedroom hangs the lovely black and white dress I persuaded her to buy for a dinner/dance. Mam didn't want to try it on because it has short sleeves. As she aged, my mam disliked the way her arms looked in short sleeves, but I talked her into buying the dress because she looked wonderful in it. I recall my father's eyes wrinkling with laughter on the evening of the dance, as he watched her in that dress move down the stairs toward him.
In a dresser drawer, layers of silk slips lie silent, in shades of muted pink and ecru. In another, a sea of beautifully tinted silk scarves sit square at attention, waiting for her to draw one out and gently wrap it around her throat.
In the lapels of dress jackets there are small jewelled pins just waiting for Mam to come unpin them, and return them to their place in her lingerie drawer. Instead that task has fallen to me. I gently unclip each pin and draw it from the lapel, carefully smoothing the fabric so it looks as though no pin had ever pierced it.
Soon all the clothing Mam had will be gone from her home, given to charity, passed on to others, but locked within each piece is a memory. The wearer may not know that it is there, but still it will remain, as another woman creates her own memories in the clothes once worn by Mam.