I was thinking about my mother today and the secret things I loved about her. For example, I loved her smell, which was a combination of Oleg Cassini perfume, vo5 hair conditioner, and CoverGirl face powder. Also, I loved her “look.” She always wore slacks, a top, and a jacket no matter if it were winter or summer. The only difference was the kind of fabric and the color. I especially liked her red and green jackets since they were bright and cheery. I never saw my mother in shorts or a swimsuit. I saw her in skirts with a dressy jacket on a few formal occasions and I think I remember seeing her in a dress once or twice when I was little.
My mother’s closet was one of my favorite spots as a little kid. I loved to crawl to the back of it and just sit. My mother’s scent permeated that small space and I found it comforting. I would sit against the back wall in the semi-darkness with the door slightly cracked and feel very safe. That closet was a welcome respite from my bustling home with five other siblings. I liked knowing that I could hide in that closet and not be discovered at least for a little while.
I also loved my mother’s books. She had books on Psychology, Sociology, Religion, and Philosophy. She also had biographies, stock market guides, and a whole range of fiction. She loved C.S. Lewis and had all of his books, nonfiction and fiction. She was a reader and I can’t remember a time when she didn’t have at least two books going at the same time. One by her chair in the living room and another on her bedside table. She might also have a third in the bathroom. Noticeably absent from my mother’s book collection were cookbooks. She was not a cook or a craftsperson or an artist, though I do remember some art books scattered among her things.
My favorite thing about my mother was that I could sit and talk with her about just about anything and feel as if I had been heard. I remember one day when I was in my mid-twenties and I went out to visit her at the college where she taught. I pointed to a stand of bare trees (it was winter) and noted how the limbs created a beautiful filigree pattern against the pale blue sky. “You’re going to be a great writer one of these days because you love the beauty of language.” That counts as one of the nicest compliments I have ever received in my life.
I also loved my mother’s hands. They were soft and warm and had age spots, much like my own. In fact, when I especially miss her, I look down at my own hands for a moment. As strange as it may sound, I can see my mother’s hands when I look at my own. It is one of the few physical characteristics I have of her – I favor the Leatherwood side of the family much more – but this similarity has brought me comfort on more than a few occasions.
My mother had a calmness of spirit that I appreciated. Not as much when she was younger, but certainly as she aged. She had lots of passions that kept her engaged in life and she was not a needy person. She always seemed happy to see me, but I didn’t worry that she would be wasting away from loneliness if I weren’t around. That was a gift to me as a dutiful daughter. Had I sensed she needed more of my time and energy I would have given it to her. However, she didn’t need any sacrifice for her sake. She maintained an independent spirit all of her life. She had hopes, dreams and aspiration up to the last year of her life.
I wish Mom were around to enjoy her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She would have liked being a part of all of their lives. Alas, that was not to be. Still, I keep her memory alive in my mind and hope my children, husband, brother, cousins, nieces and nephews do, too.
As Leonard Cohen so aptly wrote:
My love goes with you as your love stays with me.
It’s just a kind of changing, like the shoreline and the sea.
I am aware that I am lucky to have such sweet memories. My mother was far from perfect, but she was honest, smart, kind and active in the world. That is more than I could have ever asked for.