We’d always celebrated my Mother’s birthday on January 3, until she informed us one day that she learned upon getting a copy of her birth certificate, that her birthday was really January 2! We all shook our heads in disbelief, but there it was in black and white, Jan 2. These days, since she is no longer living, I tend to think of either or both days as her birthday. This time of year triggers memories of Bess.
I easily remember her coming into my bedroom before she went to sleep , to kiss me goodnight. I always pretended to be sleeping, but waited patiently most nights for her sweet kiss. What a nice game. I never did ask her if she realized, I’d been awake, all those times.
I loved to watch her get dressed to go out with my Dad. Her bedroom, next to the bathroom, a little misty from the shower she’d just taken. The door to her closet which held the only full length mirror in the house, would be ajar as she checked her progress. Those were the years when a woman’s undergarments set the foundation for a well dressed woman. For a young girl watching the armor applied to tame the mature feminine body, it was nothing less than fascinating.
My mother never ever got dressed without pulling on her girdle first. When I questioned her about the procedure, she told me in no uncertain terms that she felt undressed with out it. I took her word for it and stopped inquiring.
Following her lead, when I became an adolescent, I decided I needed a girdle as well before going out on a date. As a dancer, at this time of my life, I was very slender. My Mom tried to tell me I didn’t need it, but I would have none of her reassurances. The purchase of a girdle was a right of passage and I was hell bent on wearing one.
I got a stomachache midway through the date evening, excused myself, went to the bathroom and quickly pulled off the now loathsome girdle placing it in the trashcan, before returning to my date. Liberated!
Mom’s summer cologne in those years was usually Mary Chess, white lilac. My love of the scent of lilacs equaled or surpassed hers and I too wore Mary Chess until it stopped being produced in the early ’60’s.
The choice of shoes completed her outfit and preparation. She had about a dozen options, neatly displayed on her closet floor. Years later, her oldest toddling granddaughter was attracted to that closet as if by a magnet. She’d chose her (Mom’s)shoes to wear by some mysterious process and proceed to wear them around the second floor of my Mom’s house for several hours. Mom never objected.
Today, I wonder how my Mom’s life might have been different if she’d been born a decade or two later. She was one of the few working women I knew. All of my friend’s moms were stay at home.
Mom put a lot of energy into making her home attractive and vibrant. She boldly painted her kitchen ceiling red. She did not hesitate to go all white in her living room, reupholstering and recarpeting as needed. The only caveat was it was not a room for children, only for company. If kids tried to skirt the rule she’d quickly ask them to leave. She cleverly converted New England antiques into working partners in achieving the look she sought.
She always needed and wanted a broader life, but my Dad insisted that if she was to work, it could only be for him, as a cashier in his grocery store. I know she had bigger dreams, but never went after them. She adored my father and stayed by his side, seldom complaining except when he spent most of Sunday golfing. All through my childhood, she repeated to me, “Get out of Holyoke!”
I got the message along with the Mary Chess.