A Lady and A Crown

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Sometimes it’s the small things that hold the most meaning in our lives. They show up as everyday actions, expressed through the simplest gestures and the gentlest of comments. Yet make no mistake, this is what love looks like.

This Mother’s Day my mother wants only an ice cream cone. She says, “that will be enough.”

Mom opens the passenger door and slides onto the empty seat. She smiles from under her new straw hat. “Do you like it?” Her words sound timid.

My fingers reach to adjust the brim of woven straw. “It’s jaunty, Mom. Wear it lower on the forehead.” She pulls back. In that moment I catch my tone.

A memory returns. It is of a different mother.

This mother waited in the car or stood on the street. This mother adjusted and rolled the brims of her sweet babies’ hats, made certain they were safe.

This mother’s children scampered down the steps from school or daycare, their small heads bobbing, their hats askew. Her fingers reached forth to roll and adjust. She was the mother who smoothed the cloth, caressed a cheek.

Voices warbled as chubby little hands rifled through backpacks to produce a rumpled painting or a sample of schoolwork. “Do you like it, Mom?”

I always did.

There is something achingly similar in the whispered words of young and elderly. The shy questioning notes that search for reassurance and approval. The eyes wide, searching.

My mother’s voice calls me back to the present.

“Do you like it?”

I nod. “It has flare, Mom.” I smile and tug it closer to her ears.

A truth snags hold. Some days, I am mothering her.

While I steer, Mom shares a happy story. She speaks of a friend. “I was just about to sit down to eat when the phone rang. It was Francie.” Breathless words continue, “ She tells me there’s a new park bench across the street and insists we go and sit on it. Christen it.”

At first she resisted this adventure. There were excuses. The dinner, the six o’clock news- Francie persisted.

My mother sighs. “I told her, dinner could wait.”

I nod. “Good choice, Mom. Sometimes we need to lose the plan.”

My mother’s world is small. She plans each day around breakfast, lunch and dinner. She eagerly awaits the Friday paper, the daily news and me.

She explains how they ambled to the nearby park and sat on the wooden bench. “Two old girls,” she laughs. “Francie told me I needed a straw hat. When I told her I didn’t own one, she pulled a floral pop up umbrella from her bag.”

Mom acted the part, raised her hand above her head, lifted her hat and shook loose her fine grey hair. In that moment she was twenty-five. I glimpsed the shimmer in her eyes and felt the swish of hair.

She is beautiful.

My hands flutter and smooth the top of her head. She eases the hat into place. “Francie held the umbrella over my head,” she says. “I felt like royalty.” She pauses and raises one hand. Fingers lower the car’s visor.

“I’m looking for a mirror.”

I lift the cover to reveal one.

She gazes at her reflection. “Do you like it?”

“You look pretty, Mom.”

Sunlight streams through glass. She looks in the distance. Swiftly her fingers reach. She shuts the cover over the mirror and lifts the visor.

“We’ll do something for Mother’s Day,” I say.

“Nothing fancy, just take me for ice cream. That’s enough.”

Silence fills every bit of space. A silence so vast it reminds us of all we never said. A veil of crepe settled over memories, the years spent tip- toeing around the shards that filled up spaces. Somehow we managed to hold to one another. I told her, “You are worth so much more.” I vowed that she would never break again.

The car pulls to the curb and I watch as she walks the short path to the front door, see her turn the key in the lock and notice that she looks back to wave good- bye. This is her signature.

It is the hug I will not receive, the kiss on the cheek that is missing and the spoken words I will never hear.

I imagine my mother walking through the lobby and checking her mailbox. She stops at the elevator and pushes the button. As the door opens, she smiles.

Her finger touches the second floor light. She stands and absorbs the familiar creaks and groans of the pulleys that lift her higher.

At the second floor the elevator stops and the door clunks open. My mother exits and begins the short climb up the three stairs to her suite. Her veined hand grips the rail as she slowly places one foot ahead of the other. She hears the familiar sound of voices chattering down the hall. Laughter rings, a television booms. She inhales the spiciness of turmeric and smoke that seeps from beneath a door. On her head is perched the new straw hat. She smiles.

 

If I wait long enough my mother will appear in the apartment’s window and look down upon the street.

Our eyes meet and I see her, a beautiful woman wearing a straw crown.

A Tribute to a Lady

My Mother A beautiful lady. I've always felt my Mom resembles the actress and playwright, Isabella Rossellini.
My Mother
A beautiful lady. I’ve always felt my Mom resembles the actress and playwright, Isabella Rossellini.

 

It used to drive me crazy as a teen.

“Tell me what you think, Mom. What should I do?”

Mom would set aside her paint brush, focus her dark eyes upon mine and shrug.

Her comment was always,

“It doesn’t matter what I think; it’s what you think that counts. Think for yourself.”
Brush strokes filled a canvas.

Think for yourself. Three words that held power. Wielding clout to the choices I made.

It was my responsibility to stand at the crossroad and choose the right path. Successes and failures were mine alone to shoulder.

Mother insisted I decide my fate. There were moments in life when I begged her~ tell me, guide me, shield me, and help me. Anything, as I stood alone at the intersection called Life, and clutched an empty suitcase.

“Buck up,” she’d say, “Life’s not a party and it sure as hell isn’t fair.”

Her words, sage lyrics spoken from the heart of a beautiful, brave woman. A lady who learned late the skill set necessary to navigate through the unpredictable forests of life. She understood I was ill prepared, too fearful to fly. So she pushed me.

When lost, my mother’s words take the helm and whisper, Think for yourself. I promise you, the answer is within. Automatically my compass resets.

The Universe sets us down, gives us what we need to deal, in a lifetime. A talisman of courage when we cower, a nudge to stand tall when another breaks us down, the sparkle of beauty amidst ruins and light to shine through darkness.

This Mother’s Day I honour you, Mom. I learned to fly.

Cashmere

Cashmere

Cashmere, the mention alone, beautiful to speech.  Cashmere, pronouncing it, the syllables, smooth, clear, luxurious, as the unit of spoken language rolls off the tongue. Cashmere.  Cashmere. Cashmere. Say it; repeat it for surely, you will fall captive under its spoken spell. A fine textured fiber, light, strong, and soft, shorn goat’s hair.  A garment made from cashmere is certain to provide excellent insulation and instant appeal.

It was at a Nordstrom’s sale that I spotted the cashmere wrap, my fingers gently caressing the soft fibers, wondering if, perhaps? Walking away, uncomfortable as the sales clerk loomed too close.  After all, I am not really the confident cashmere type of woman or am I? A woman who elevates jeans and basic tees with faux pearls. Sipping a latte, imagining myself wrapped in the luxurious cashmere, dreaming, perhaps.

It was the allure.  The light, soft touch of the fibers that drew me back, the seductive charm of the soft weaves.  Choosing the wrap with the diagonal, cable knit pattern, as it must look different, unexpected.  An ordinary, predictable cashmere wrap would never do. Choosing the shade of grayed, west coast, wintery clouds, wrapping myself in bespoke luxury, I could not resist the self-indulgent purchase of cashmere.  For I was buying an emotion if one can even do that, capturing a sentiment.

Wearing it felt divine.  Suddenly, no longer just another woman in a crowd. “Who is that woman wearing the cashmere?”  It is simple, casual.  When tossed about the shoulders, the weave gives the wearer an elevated look of effortless elegant glamour.  I can attest to the warmth.

My mother is opening her gift, delighting in the patterns on the delicate tissue papers that envelope it.  “Oh my goodness,” she exclaims.  There is a pause of silence.  Do you like it, Mom?  Don’t worry, mom.  If it needs dry cleaning, I’ll take care of it for you. My mother whispers, “ I’ve had two cashmere sweaters in my life. Your father bought me one.  I was about seventeen and he bought me a cashmere sweater for my birthday.  It was very beautiful.  Smart looking.  A dark navy with a small collar.”  My mother gestures to her neck.  “So lovely. We went skiing and I wore it.”  For a moment, my mother, a vision of youth in all its splendour, her petite frame, classical good looks, widow’s peak of raven hair, coiffed and flipped, one so beautiful in navy cashmere set against the winter white wonderland.  “We went skiing and I got soaked.  We hiked to his cabin and your father lit a fire, hanging the cashmere sweater over the stovepipe to dry.  The heat from the pipe burned through the back of the cashmere.  That was the end of it.  This is beautiful, Grace.   Dark navy.  I’m so grateful.”  It’s black Mom, you deserve it. “No, it’s dark navy, it’s the colour of the sweater your father bought me so many years ago.  Thank you, you’re too good to me.”  Capturing a sentiment.

Imperfect Beauty

Imperfect Beauty

It is important, this deep and personal need to create simple, beautiful spaces. Whether it is, cuttings gathered from nature, vignettes, gathered bits and pieces, sparkle and shine, or a simple lit candle shining brightly in the dark.  Our spaces comfort through their serenity, simplicity, and simple beauty. A book close at hand, a blanket to snug beneath, and a mug of hot tea or coffee to round off the bliss.  Why do we choose to nest the way we do, our individual styles often different?  Our homes tell our stories.  Look and listen.

It works like this.  The beauty and creativity that my mother possessed now passed along to me.  “Always look at an item with fresh eyes, see the beauty in the broken, repurpose a piece,” are her wise words.  Fill your spaces with only that which inspires you or tells a meaningful story.  Sometimes, our stories are sad.  For that reason, I choose to feather my nest with that which makes me smile, the pretty, the broken, the chipped, evidence of love and beauty. Imperfect is beautiful.

The hunt to discover an object of beauty is compelling and sourcing the area for an affordable price point is addicting, an alluring drug to the soul. No apologies, I seek beautiful store-bought and found items. Through writing, decorating, planting and doing, my heart heals. Comfort and joy await those who enter through the door.  Spaces are pretty, soft, unusual, old, and consciously created, staged for effect, purposely creating a careful lived in shabbiness of chic.

A promise to myself, many years ago, that when I became a mother or grandmother, I would be the best that I could be.  When they forgot, I remembered. My family would know love; there would never be a question or a doubt.  No one left, forgotten, dismissed, omitted.  Always, forgiven, always loved. I would have wished as much as a child and now as an adult, those wishing words sent forth on the chilly winter winds. Some can’t hear them, though. Perhaps, you will catch the whisperings in the silent spaces beneath the twinkling stars.

This holiday season I have left many of the Christmas decorations tucked away within the storage space. It will be a simple celebration.  There will be fewer family gathered round the table.  The children are grown and are beginning and continuing their own holiday traditions. In time they will appreciate that it isn’t about them, it is about others.  Love is always about others.

On display, there is a wooden Santa, a symbol of love and generosity.  A tinsel tree adorned with glass birds to sparkle in the winter’s light, a reminder that spring will surely come and there will be new beginnings.  The light will shine a little brighter.  Treats, decadent, rich and chocolate, sit in a glass bowl, delights for the soul.  Offerings.  Mini white lights fill the glass vases and miniature evergreen trees adorn a table.  A glittery box houses a miniature nativity, the Christmas Story. There is a boxwood wreath to grace the front door.  All is calm.

There is an undeniable presence of generosity, compassion, and kindness that gently fills the air.  If only the generous Christmas spirit could stay throughout the year. Note the hope that tenderly rises after the storm has passed. If only these heart-felt beats would live on and on. It is possible.  Love one another. We share this amazing world.  Stand for peace and harmony. Forget self, reach out and offer a hand.  Forgive.  Celebrate family and remember, love is always about others.

I wish you love and happiness.  Forgive another, start the journey to heal, reach out a hand in friendship, and surround your world with love and joy. Thank you for sharing your posts, stories, blogs, re blogs, tweets, “likes,” comments, and writing support.  All is bright!

Snow baby
Snow baby

 

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

x   ~ Grace

Layers

My mother slowly exits the car and pauses, looking back at me, through the open window.  I ask, “Would you do this mom, if you were me?”  There is a pause of seconds, although for a few brief moments, I am  sensing that she won’t approve.   I still need my mother’s approval.  As a child, craving approval.  Her approval. My mother’s eyes look toward the grey, clouded skies. Turning to face me she says, “I don’t know.  I am old now. I don’t have the energy.  I had to let it go.  Do it, though.  You have my blessing.” I note my mother’s blue eyes are layered, bluing, greying, mistier now.  Some days, I feel as if she is lost, far away, somewhere within their depth.

We all get lost, searching through a foggy veil, for pieces that we may not find.  What we discover is dirtier, shabbier, thinned out, for that’s what time does to its precious bits, forming discreet layers of love’s evidence.  The tears, dust, and deceit, tucked between the pieces of laughter and love.  Collect the tattered bits to preserve them, before we forget. Their structure, beautiful and raw. Evolving over time, the evidence of love.

My mother’s approval comforts me.  It is in part, for her, that I keep trying to right the wrong, validate, earnestly reminding her of the beauty that surrounds.  She is giving up, I sense that. Stay strong, I whisper to the wind. We will find our way, mom. Behold the beauty within the bits. 

Simple Acts of Kindness

Heart of Mud.
Heart of Mud. (Photo credit: anyjazz65)

There were several strong women in my mother’s life.  These women had to own strength, nursing children through illness, caring for large broods of children, struggling together during hard times.  They knew hardship and they knew the collective power of bonding together.  Their strong circle of support formed around another family in need.   This time it was my mother’s family.  These women made a pivotal and positive difference finding order from chaos.  It was their simple acts of kindness and commitment that pulled my mother through one of the darkest of memories.   My mother’s, mother passed on, when my mother was a mere nine years old.  These were difficult and sad times for all.  A distraught father, an infant in tow, created a perfect storm for chaos.  There was a need for order,  established routines, and a desperate ache for love and acts of kindness.  These women, laid aside their differences and lives to circle around a family in need.  They stepped in and offered up simple acts of kindness through gifts of time and love.

My great-grandmother was among the first to arrive.  Still grieving the loss of her daughter, great-grandmother filled the role of mothering her daughter’s child.  My mother fondly remembers her grandmother and their lovely visits together. This woman would read tea leaves and she read my mother’s with conviction and optimism, the sun will shine for you, dear.  Every evening when the sun set, great-grandmother would pick up her daughter’s silver-handled brush from the nightstand and brush my mother’s hair.  Great-grandmother would sing as she softly brushed away the sadness that clung in the little girl’s mind.  Tucking my mother under the covers, great-grandmother would recite a prayer.  My mother believes that this simple, repetitive act soothed and eased her pain.  My great grandmother’s loving touch, strong faith, and the simple action of methodically brushing hair comforted, instilling calm and hope into a little child’s broken heart. Their time together would be brief.

Another woman of strength was a childless, flamboyant Auntie who would pick my mother up from the city house and take her off for a weekend stay.  My mother, seated in a sidecar, would ride to the Auntie’s with Uncle Monty steering the wheel of his motor cycle.  Clamouring up the stairs, my mother would wait for Monty to enact the magical act of pulling a bed out of the wall.  With a flourish and a wave of  hand, Monty would drop the Murphy Bed. Auntie and Uncle Monty’s zest and zeal, their laughter and joy of life returned some of the enchantment, sparking the light that had dimmed in a nine-year old child’s world.

There were the cheerful Aunties that arrived with casseroles in hand.  Bustling through the kitchen, they could set and place a satisfying, home cooked meal on the table in next to no time.  There was warm food to eat, manners to model, grace and conversation shared, all served up, spiced with shakes of laughter.  The Aunties demonstrated that dining together was more than just the sharing of a meal at the table.  It was about the circle of family that surrounded, concerned for another.  This protective element returned a sense of family and love into a young child’s grayed life.

I share this story as a reminder to look about and discover how  a simple action can begin to heal, threading joy, order, and laughter back into someone else’s life.  When you share a small piece of your heart,  the simple actions set forth, rolling on throughout time, mending and patching and healing others.  Share a small piece of yourself with someone in need.  You won’t need to look too far to find that someone and you won’t need to spend much money to bring joy to another.

A Life Lesson

An example of Louis Slobodkin's artwork, the c...
An example of Louis Slobodkin’s artwork, the cover of The Hundred Dresses, written by Eleanor Estes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Life Lesson

“After a long, long time she reached an important conclusion. She was never going to stand by and say nothing again.”
― Eleanor EstesThe Hundred Dresses

[1]

There is a beautiful children’s story titled, The Hundred Dresses, written in 1944 by, Eleanor Estes. [2]  It is the tale of a poor Polish immigrant’s daughter and this young woman’s illustrations of the one hundred dresses she wished to own. It also depicts the cruelty of peers, and the optimistic spirit and strength of the young character. If you have never read this beautiful, humbling tale, you must.  With a few tweaks to the setting, Este’s story caught my heart and I remembered a story my mother shared.  This was the beginning of our personal Cold War period, we were drifting apart.  However, our wishes were similar.  We wanted to fit in with peers, we wanted to be accepted, and we both wanted a pretty dress.

It was another episode of teen angst and a teen’s foolish desire to fit in.  I continued to needle away at my mother, pricking at her with my demands and words, “I don’t have any nice clothes!  I wear the same things all the time! Everybody else has nice clothes, I have nothing!”  Which was partly true.  I had hand made clothes, refurbished silks and damasks, cut and stitched.  My mother, an artistic, creative, inventive woman, could artfully combine textures, patterns, and colours of fabric.  My mother delighted in the process of combining satin and silks to form a Japanese inspired kimono complete with frog closures, Grace!  Mother found pleasure sewing beautiful dresses for me.  Always seeing with a brilliant, artistic eye, mother had undeniable flair and style.  Tops were colour blocked, shifts were embellished with rickrack or ribbon at the neckline and hem.  Christmas dresses were luxe velvet with Peter Pan collars. Money was tight so mother would source unusual and beautiful fabrics, remnants from the fabric stores along Dunbar Street.  On a whim, mom would pull the curtains down and remake them into outfits for the girls. My mother chose Vogue patterns for their clean, elegant lines.  There were several years of Christmases where my sister and I would choose our choice of coloured velvet, “I’d like green velvet.  Please, put a Peter Pan collar on the dress.”  Always, my mother would oblige and delight us with a stunning dress.  I recall one beautiful dress my mother made for me to attend my Grade Seven Graduation in.  It was the 60s and op art was the rage.  Mother found a green, yellow, lilac and turquoise blue, Pucci inspired print, which she fashioned into a sheath style dress. [3]  Next, she attached a sheer lilac fabric overlay.  It was haute couture for a rural Coquitlam elementary school graduation. Shoes, you need the right shoes, Grace.  We’d hop on the local bus and head to the Army and Navy Department Store, in downtown Vancouver, to source out lilac suede shoes.  I admit, my mother had a flair for design and she created gorgeous pieces of clothing for us to wear.  Suddenly, mom’s efforts weren’t good enough for me.  I wanted a store bought outfit and I was determined to berate and wear her down, eventually into submission.  I wanted a pretty dress!  Crying, slamming the door to my bedroom, flouncing around, quite certain that the world was going to end if I didn’t get a new store bought dress.  After awhile, my mother flung open the bedroom door and harshly reminded me to, “sit up and stop the damn nonsense!”  Never gentle in her approach when harried or cross, mom preferred to bark out words.  I knew to stop the nonsense.

My mother proceeded to share a personal experience.  The setting was a classmate’s birthday party my mother had been invited to attend. “ I owned two dresses, one for church and one for school.  I wore my school dress practically every day.  The old man didn’t care.  One day, a girl in my class invited me to her birthday party.  I was so excited to be invited to a party.  Arriving at the hostess’ house, gift in hand, I couldn’t wait to play with the other girls.  They were popular girls and they had more pretty dresses than I did.  I was flattered and surprised to be invited to the girl’s party.   Afterward, one of the girls told me I was invited because they wanted to see if I would wear the same old, school dress.  The girls were laughing at me.”  My mother had tears in her eyes.

I felt ashamed when mother left the room.  I recalled a time mother had a party to attend.  Up late, sewing until after midnight, mother spent hours reworking and fashioning a gilded empire waist number, with a bronze satin sash, only to toss it. I don’t like it; people asked if I was pregnant!

My mother’s words, the tremor in her voice, the shame, mirrored in her lowered eyes, as she retold the birthday party disaster, pacing back and forth in front of my bed, haunted me.  I vowed that I would behave better, demand less of her.  I felt sorry for her.  I decided that I would find a way to earn money; beginning to appreciate that money would be helpful if I wanted to independently shop. I also vowed that I would never see my mother ashamed again and it became my mission to find a way to please her.

Many years later, I was wandering the Children’s Section of a local bookstore for a book to give my daughter.  I discovered, Eleanor Este’s heart rendering story.  Turning the pages, my eyes skimming the print, I realized the book paralleled my mother’s story.  My mother is 84 and life has not always been kind to her.  Insecurity and anxiety resurface.  Frugal, my mother subsides on a government pension and savings; she exists in the subgroup, titled, below the poverty line.  Mom no longer sews, however her eyes light up when she receives gifts of pretty tops and the occasional colourful, Vera Bradley tote.  The designer, painter, and seamstress in her automatically comments on the pattern, the colour, and the workmanship.  Always, there is gratitude in my mother’s eyes, as, child like, she hastily opens the gift, I’ve always liked a damask print. My it’s a bit bright, Grace!  Purple and blue are per-r-fect colours. They chintz out on the button threads, don’t they?

I want my mother to feel pretty for her remaining moments in time and to know that I recognize the efforts she went to, designing and sewing my clothes, trying to please and protect me, hoping I would fit in, safe from the cruelty of taunts and comments.  I want my mother to realize that I caught her pain and observed her strength.  I want my mother to know that only now do I fully appreciate the life lesson she taught me, many years ago when I wanted a pretty dress.