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.

The Treasured Book of Words

This morning, I discovered a scrapbook containing snippets of poetry, phrases, and words.  My Grandmother, Alice’s little bespoke Book of Words. Wise words, words to ponder, words to inspire. Words that caught her eye.  I’m assuming that these words spoke to her.  From the poems depicting gardens of pansies, injured birds, rolling kittens, little boys, struggles and hardships, lowly rats, and the evidence of whimsy that I recall, I have been allowed a deeper, sliver glimpse into the reflective soul of the woman I called, Grandma.

Judging by the many clips, Parenting, was a topic that caused our Alice to pause and reflect.  I often wonder about the relationship that she had with her son, my father.  Judging from the poems scrapped carefully into the, Book of Words, Alice, as so many mothers before and after her, was filled with a spirit of hope and promise, at times disappointment, sadness, worry, and longing. Evidence of a dear and precious love was locked in her heart.

I’d like to share this poem from my grandmother’s Book of Words, with you and I wonder if Alice was feeling some regret over family words spoken that once set free, can not be taken back.  It reminds us to celebrate our children’s individuality and their successes, reminding us that success is personal and goals will and should differ. Unconditional love and meaningful praise feeds the soul and the heart.

Which Parent Are You?
I got two A’s, the small boy cried.
His voice was filled with glee.
His father very bluntly asked,
Why didn’t you get three?
Mom, I’ve got the dishes done,
The girl called from the door.
Her mother very calmly said,
Did you sweep the floor?
I’ve mowed the grass, the tall boy said,
And put the mower away.
His father asked him with a shrug,
Did you clean off the clay?
The children in the house next door
Seem happy and content.
The same things happen over there,
But this is how it went:
I got two A’s, the small boy cried.
His voice was filled with glee.
His father very proudly said, That’s great;
I’m glad you belong to me.
Mom, I’ve got the dishes done,
The girl called from the door.
Her mother smiled and softly said,
Each day I love you more.
I’ve mowed the grass, the tall boy said,
And put the mower away.
His father answered with much joy,
You’ve made my happy day.
Children deserve a little praise
For tasks they’re asked to do,
If they’re to lead a happy life,
So much depends on you.

~ Badger Legionne

(approximate date~1930)

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.

To Mother’s Everywhere

English: Mother's Day card
English: Mother’s Day card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Thank you for the sacrifices that you make on a daily basis.  The times that you are up all night cuddling an ill child, reassuring a small one that there really aren’t any monsters in the world.  The strength that you draw from within, when faced with adversity.  The resilience that you develop to survive the difficult times and remind others that “this too shall pass”. The gift of time that you share at the cost of your own quiet.  Always wearing a smile.  Offering a kind, encouraging word. Loving unconditionally.  That is a mother’s responsibility.  To all the mothers everywhere, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day!  Thank you for the sacrifices that you make on a daily basis.

 

xo