Monday, June 11, 2012

Love, loss, and what she wore

When 'Love, Loss, and What I Wore' played the Westside Theatre in New York City in November of 2009, I felt drawn to go see it. Written by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron, and based on the book by Ilene Beckermann, the female-centred play relates the life stories of the characters to the clothes they wore on various landmark occasions in their lives, such as a wedding, the birth of a child, the taking of a lover, the end of a divorce, the loss of a family member.

Going through my mom'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 mom 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 closet, 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 closet 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: Mom touching the stopper of the tiny Chanel bottle to the pulse points on her wrists; Mom dabbing a touch of perfume just beneath the lobe of each ear.

Mom 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 Mom 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. Mom 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. Mom didn't want to try it on because it has short sleeves. As she aged, my mom 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 Mom 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 Mom 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 Mom.

8 comments:

  1. Beautiful memoir. It's a tough task to do. So glad you wrote it down.

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  2. Thank you Marian. It is a tough task, but also in a way a very rewarding one.

    Cheers to you,
    Jennifer

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  3. A poignant retelling of a task we all face. Your mom must have been a lovely woman. You are blessed to hold all these memories.

    Jennifer, I noticed you are mentioned in the FamilyTree Magazine Top Forty. A place well deserved. Congratulations!

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    1. Thank you Jacqi. Mom was a lovely woman, and I cherish every memory I have of time with her. Thanks for the congratulations too. I really appreciate it.

      Cheers to you,
      Jennifer

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  4. Thank you for sharing so eloquently your experience - one many of us have shared. What lovely memories you were able to touch while putting away her things. Warm thoughts to you and your family.

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    1. Thank you Celia. It's comforting to think of a large community of us out there the whole world over, daughters who have gone through the clothes and possessions of lost mothers.

      Cheers to you,
      Jennifer

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  5. Sad as this experience would have been I love that you were able to remember so much of the happy experiences your mother enjoyed. She obviously relished all her special items, giving you equally special memories. As always, an evocative story told with love.

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    1. Thank you Pauleen. I think it is these memories which will help me get through. I really appreciate your comments.

      Cheers to you,
      Jennifer

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Cheers, Jennifer

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