No, that is not my mother in the photo. It is Loretta Young from her TV show, The Loretta Young Show. The image isn’t too far off from Mom though. My mother never owned “casual clothes” until late in life and then “casual” was a pair of fully lined wool slacks, phoufy blouse with either ruffles or a tie bow, and matching or coordinated wool blazer. Mom owned work clothes and “dressing gowns.” After the dishes were cleared and washed she would disappear long enough to get her Loretta Young persona going and “float” into the living room much like Loretta Young’s appearance through the French doors at the beginning of her show.
I attended a dinner party last weekend to celebrate: an 80th birthday, a 70th birthday, a happy retirement and a welcome back from your winter home. I wound up in a “girls” conversation with several friends two of whom have lost their mothers (and 2nd parent) within the last 6 months. The conversation turned to the difficulty in going through “stuff” those mothers had accumulated in the course of long and productive lives. What started as an uncomfortable and difficult conversation eventually left us with tears running down our faces in laughter.
One friend discussed her unwillingness to part with an ironing board because it so reminded her of her mother, that there were so many memories and comfort feelings embedded in that ironing board and the struggle to let go. I chimed in with the fact that an ironing board would have been the first in the dumpster for me. I do, however, have a wooden rolling pin in my kitchen that looks like it’s been through a few wars. It probably has enough bacteria absorbed into that wood that I dare not actually roll out a pie crust with it. My mother taught me to cook using that rolling pin. As long as I am alive it will be with me. Along with that my nieces and myself have spent hours around the kitchen table going through Mom-Mom’s (Mom to me) recipe box filled with brown edged pieces of paper and index cards with food stains and grease spots savoring memories of the foods that meant comfort to each of us, especially those recipes that were connected to the BIG holiday celebrations.
Women are the ones who are most likely to go through every item, handle it, smell it and ponder it’s origin. We construct stories from those items in an attempt to make sense of our own lives. Men, for the most part, are better at filling the dumpster faster without reliving the significance of every item.
Stories are the other “Mom Things” we hold onto whether our mothers have passed on or are sitting across from us at the dining table this Sunday. My favorite “Mom Story” goes back to a particular Thanksgiving dinner. As you can probably guess, my mother had a need to be perceived as a “Hallmark Mother.” She dressed as a lady, she spoke with ladylike language, her nails were always perfectly manicured, her hair was always perfect (even if, as in later life, it “slept” on a Styrofoam head behind the shower curtain in the bathtub), she didn’t chew gum, she never put a bottle on the dining table (even a bottle of ketchup). You get the drift… And to answer the question you are now pondering, yes I was a major disappointment as I protested all of these “rules.”
Mom was redecorating the dining room. One of the dining room walls had been paneled when that was the “in” thing in decorating. Those years had long passed; however, the paneled wall had been redone with several different colors of paint. Mom decided she wanted that wall wallpapered. To remove the paneling would have caused a lot of damage to the wall. What to do?
My brother was working at a home supply store. He suggested she put one layer of wallpaper horizontally, then the paper she wanted vertically. He showed up with rolls of wallpaper that had not sold in the store and were going to be discarded. The two layers of wallpaper were applied and the strategy appeared to work.
I did say this was about Thanksgiving. We were sitting around the dining room table with the linen tablecloth and napkins, good china, crystal and silver in place. Our plates were far too full and our bellies were getting far too full. The conversation was loud bouncing across three generations of family. There was an odd sound creating a background din to the conversations. We all jumped in our seats as the conversations were drowned out by the sound of paper rolling like a window shade. The beautiful colonial mini-floral design that had been so carefully selected by my mother to complete her “Williamsburg” dining room rolled off the wall to reveal reclining nudes. We could have served hot dogs and beans that Thanksgiving and no one would have noticed. We managed to forget the food as we laughed for hours that day… and continue to chuckle every time something reminds us of that day. It was so anti-Mom I will carry that story with me forever!
Take a few minutes this weekend to remember your Mom-stories that touch a warm spot in your heart for whatever reason. Think about the connections represented by the symbolism of simple household objects. Remember the images and stories that brought you joy and laughter. Give Mom a hug and an “I Love You” even if it can only be felt and spoken in your heart.
What stories and objects are in your treasure box?