My Mother’s Closet
When I was a child, my father’s business took him and my mother away on a trip every year to somewhere like Las Vegas, somewhere glitzy and glamorous. A place where they could enjoy sitting poolside or playing golf in the afternoons, then dress up like movie stars and go out on the town in the evenings. Many of the same people attended the convention from year to year, eventually becoming good friends, relishing each others’ company in the absence of their combined millions of children.
I know my mom looked forward to that one week a year more than most inmates look forward to getting out of prison. And it’s no wonder; after all, she spent every day of her life listening to the constant squabbles and complaints of her seven children. All she ever did was referee, clean, cook, do laundry, and buy groceries; until the annual week of the convention, that is.
For that blessed week, she got to be herself, Jackie. A person without a child growing on her hip, without a mountain of laundry stinking up the basement, without an enormous evening meal to cook, serve, and clean up after.
On the trip, she got to be the one cooked for, served to, and cleaned up after. It was not only heavenly, it was at times, all that kept her going; the knowledge that she would be getting some time off. I know this to be true, because she told me so.
There was something mysterious about Mother when she came home from the convention. She wore an air of worldliness, as though she’d actually spent a year in Europe rather than a week in Vegas. It seemed to take her a day or two to fall off the cloud, as if she thought the vacation could be prolonged by refusing to let go of it in her head.
Yet, she looked rested, and that was something we didn’t see in our mother very often. She also looked tan and maybe a little less skinny. She was naturally a skinny little thing, even after having seven babies. I guess saying she looked “healthy” sums it up pretty good.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t take long for that healthy look to disappear and be replaced by her normal look. The normal look worn by my mother was that of exhaustion, both physical and mental. It took no more than two or three days for that rested healthy looking mom to be replaced by the worn out exhausted looking mom, the mom with the never ending list of chores and the never ending headaches.
I was always excited for Mother to be going on the trip even though I hated being left because we never had a babysitter that could handle us. Seven children to take charge of is far too large a household for most anyone, especially when they’re strangers. My parents simply got on the phone and called up the babysitting agency and they would look up some old lady with a bad temper and no tolerance for kids and send her right on over to our house. She would introduce herself to my folks while wearing a big smile that wouldn’t be seen again until she left a week later, running out the door, check in hand.
Mom would introduce us kids, all in a line like the juvenile delinquents we were, show the sitter around the kitchen and where she would sleep, leave a phone number to be used only in case of a life threatening emergency, grab her suitcase and jump in the car with my dad. Off to the airport they’d go with hardly a backwards glance, leaving us in the hands of God only knew who. We were certain of only two things: the sitter unquestionably hated kids, yet, if we could just hold on for one torturous week, our parents would come back and we could resume our normal lives.
A few weeks before leaving, Dad would come home with the conventions special schedule of events and Mother would start to plan what clothes she’d need to buy. I’d watch as she stood in the opened doors of her built-in wardrobe closet, mumbling things like “oh, I think I wore that last year,” or “no, that won’t work.”
The interior of Mother’s closet held secrets to a glamorous world we rarely witnessed yet was a treasured part of her life once a year. There were fabrics cascading from hangers in there that shimmered and simmered and were mesmerizing to a little girl’s eyes and imagination. I loved the world inside Mother’s closet, yet no matter how captivating the content, the upcoming trip would spur the need for a couple of new “Cocktail Dresses,” and those were what I was interested in.
“Cocktail Dress.” The mere sound of it was exotic. I’d ask, “Mother, is this a… (pause and take a breath) Cocktail Dress?” I just wanted to use the words, hear my voice saying it, feel the way it sprang from my mouth. So sassy, so glamorous, so much to look forward to when I grew up.
Then of course, there were the shoes needed to go with the Cocktail Dress. They were as glamorous as the dresses; high heels, clickety-click on the floor as she walked. Her legs would grow longer right before our very eyes and her hips would sway as she did a practice walk around the kitchen. The transformation was just like Cinderella and I would look at my mother and wonder, who is this woman?
Suddenly, my mother belonged anywhere but in the kitchen where she stood surrounded by the chaos of life raising seven kids.
My all time favorite dress, the one that made my mouth water, was a hot pink satin, above-the-knee length, sleeveless number, with a huge diamond sparkle buckle at the waist. It was to die for.
I couldn’t get my eyes off that fabric, running my fingers over the slippery shinny satin, tilting the buckle so the window light caught the diamonds and sprinkled the room with rainbows. The color intensified with the angle of the light, enhancing the shimmering affect of the fabric. The shoes pared with it were sparkly too. I remember them as being silver with pointy toes and tall skinny heals. The combined effect was absolutely hypnotic.
The second favorite ever was a gold lame belted pant suit. The pant legs were wide and flow-y and shimmered when she walked and the top was styled like a long men’s dress shirt with a braided gold belt. To me, it was the trendiest, most drop-dead glamorous movie star number I’d ever seen and I could just envision her wearing it at the convention.
There she would be, standing proud, all sparkle and shimmer and slender with a cigarette in one hand and a highball in the other. She’d throw back her head and laugh while chatting with the other ladies, who were most certainly envious, and my father looked on with admiration. Just give that woman half a chance and she’d be turning heads left and right. My mother not only knew how to have fun, she knew how to play dress up with the best of them, and celebrate the good times better than most. Underneath the piles of dirty laundry stood Jackie, and Jackie was an original good time girl.
To Be Continued Next Tuesday