Monday, December 20, 2010

My Mother's Sweaters


I wear my mother’s sweaters. A nice, big, cable knit, olive green, from Land’s End. It’s the kind of sweater you wear when you’re eating soup or getting firewood. She never got wood. She thought this life on the farm was, “A hop in the ass.” Those are her words. She also said, “This is for the birds.” She shook her head and said, “You’ve really got to love this…” when she watched me going out to feed the horses, putting on the rubber boots, camouflage sweatpants and ski mask that makes me look like a burglar, twice a day. I took that as a compliment. She saw my passion.

I can’t wait to look in the mirror when I put on one of her sweaters. With a face like mine, that looks so much like hers, and then in one of her sweaters, I can trick myself. If I stare into my eyes in the mirror, and look really hard, she looks back. I get a fleeting glimpse.

Sometimes I think about dying my hair red to see how much I will look like her. She was a natural blonde like me but she dyed her hair red for so long that I don’t remember her as a blonde. I always used to joke around that I was going to do it to see what kind of trouble I could catch her in, when people mistook me for her. With a name like Cookie, and red hair, she was bound to be in trouble. But I never got around to it. Now I’d like to do it to see if I could channel her, like I do in the bathroom. But I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed when I find out it’s really not her.

When I was in the beauty parlor last week, they took my coat. It was my mother’s coat. I wanted to say, “Be careful with that coat! It’s my mother’s coat and she just died in April!” My father let me take whatever clothes of hers I wanted. I left my sister the Elk’s jacket even though I wanted it myself because it was all covered with her pins and buttons, a real piece of her. But Sharon is an Elk. That’s what they had together. I think about that jacket a lot but I’m proud of myself for giving it up. Especially since no one asked. No one would have even known, there were so many clothes and shoes and pocketbooks to sort through and I was all alone, taking what I wanted. That’s what my mother would have wanted. For me to be good. She could count on me for that.

I worry about what’s going to happen as things wear out. Should I conserve the sweaters and wear the coats only on special occasions? Some things that she gave me long before she died are already wearing out. Hand-me-down sweatpants and sweatshirts, flannel pajamas, things she knew I could always use on the farm because I’m hard on them or because they would keep me warm. The sweatshirts have dark cuffs from dirt that won’t come out, bleach splatters and paint stains, red like the barn and grey like the porch. The neckband on the sweatshirt from Wildwood is loose and hangs like a necklace. What happens when one of these is to the point of no return? Do I throw them away? How can I throw an item of my mother’s clothing in the garbage? I don’t care how messed up it is.

The silence in this house is loud when I think about the loss of her. You really notice it when you’re alone and you stop for a minute. The finality of it. I will never have another chance to tell her how I appreciate the hand-me-down pajamas with the pictures of the monkeys on them. I can’t believe it myself how much I didn’t appreciate these things enough when they were coming on a regular basis. How I took it for granted that they would always come, worn ones replaced with new ones, another kind she rustled up just because I mentioned liking the ones with elasticized ankles. She had a pair! “Here, see if these fit you,” she would say, coming out of her bedroom where she had been digging around.

I want to say to my daughters, “Appreciate me.” Not for my sake. For theirs. I want to warn them to pay attention, to slow down, to savor whatever I do to show them how much I love them. But they won’t listen. They can’t imagine. Just like I couldn’t imagine. I thought I knew what it was going to be like, losing my mother. I worried about it my whole life, in fact. Pictured screaming and crying. And I have screamed and cried. But I never imagined I would feel so powerless, that this would be so final, that I would never have another chance, no matter what I did, and all I can do to comfort myself is wear her sweaters and hope I feel a little bit better by the time they’re all worn out.

17 comments:

Rural Rambler said...

Debi I love seeing a picture of your Mom! Cookie. It fits. You do look like her, you both have that sense of wicked fun and mischief about you! How wonderful to be able to wrap yourself up in one of her sweaters. Some will last. I have a winter scarf my Mom, Dottie, knitted for me the winter before she died. I just threw it around my neck over the weekend, it's 29 years old! I have her favorite apron too. No surprise to you, but I am going to say it-I love this post and can relate to soooo much of it. Your Mom, so cute :) Thanks for the smile in my heart this morning Debi!

tommymhs said...

Yea the best part of holding on to my moms clothes is that when i want to be close to her I can still take them out and although I wouldn't look right wearing her stuff I can still press them agains my face and smell her scent. It allows me to feel she is still here with me which I know she is. I cant believe its gonna be fourteen years in june it still feels like yesterday. I know we will be together again soon and I cant wait for her to hold me in her arms and tell me she has missed me as much as I have missed her. You are so right cuz, when i look at your picture I see my favorite aunt in your eyes. Love you Debi.

Sweetflutterbys3 said...

What a beautiful daughter you are. I can only hope that someday my daughters will think of me in the same way you think of your mom. I never had a relationship like that with my mother and never will. But I love hearing about your mom. She sounds like one special lady.

Cynda said...

I know it's real hard hon but she is with you every time you wear those sweaters and all the time. You're always going to miss her but you have to concentrate on all the good times. I can see even in that hospital bed you were having good times because you love each other so much. You'll always miss her but it will get better.

Beth said...

I love the picture of you and your Mom, Debi. I can understand your feelings about her clothes---I feel the same way about the apron Mama gave me that both she and my Grandma wore. I feel their presence so strongly when I wear it. You know, one thing some people do with their loved ones' clothes is to have a quilt made from them. Then you can snuggle under all those warm memories on a cold winter's night and think of them. I've always liked that idea.

I can tell you that you'll never stop missing her. Even now, 25 years after my mama passed, I still have moments of grief when I see or hear something that reminds me of her. I wish she could have met my children, who remind me so much of her. I'm glad your girls got to know their grandmother---I know they'll always remember her.

Claudia Condiff said...

I'm calling my Mom again tomorrow..
not that she'll remember...you see I lost my Mom..gee, I don't know when exactly..Altzheimers is a slow theif an it's been stealing her by bits through the years...but she is still 'here' physically and sometimes there's that moment of clarity that is amazing, and for a second I have a Mom again...then its gone...
Don't grieve too much, she'd hate that you were sad...never met the lady, but bet she was a real cookie! Merry Christmas Debi, enjoy your own life for her.

Grey Horse Matters said...

This is an especially hard time of the year for all of us who've lost a mom. But know she is always with you and watching over you. Wearing her clothes will bring back great memories shared.

CountryDew said...

Lovely picture of you and your mom. Such losses are hard and you never really get over them, you simply adjust. I am glad that you have some things to remember her by here at the holidays. Best wishes to you for the upcoming year; I hope it is a better one.

Giulia said...

Oh yeah, the clothes. It took me many a year but I finally gave away the clothes that didn't fit me. I still have far too many that aren't really my taste and would only wear for an audition or something. But some of those warm, snuggly, body loving pieces of the one you love are impossible to relinquish. The quilt idea is fabulous. I still emotionally need some of her clothes though, 'cause it's as close as we can get now physically. A pocketbook ain't exactly the same thing. It won't wrap it's arms around you like a sweater or sweat shirt, or jacket. (Though a hat comes close, for it held that beautiful head.) In a way it's like putting on her skin. Getting inside her once again. Like a baby inside her womb.

But the older I become, the more I realize not only can you not take it with you, but the material emblems of that person are not what we should be clinging to. If somehow we could raise our paltry spirits beyond that to the - what? loving energy knowledge of Forever, then we would not rue the day the nightgown was so
threadbare it was a mere whisp of itself and her presence and no longer wearable.

You'll know when it's time to let those things go. It's when it no longer pains you, or - perhaps is only a twinge. I'll tell you this, Debi, those things I've finally let go of that were hers - there is not one that I am sorry I did so. Soul time will tell when it's right. And you were magnificent in giving up the Elk Jacket. It's not gone, remember, you can still visit it. And I'll bet, if you asked her, your sister might lend it to you for a year - and you could lend a sweater.....back and forth. That's what Love is all about, after all. Happy New Year to you. AND STOP FRIGGIN' SMOKING WILL YA!!! Jeez.. Doesn't matter. You'll get there when you need to.

Christina said...

I smell things. I can imagine after all these years that sometimes certain items smell like my Dad. I didnt keep a lot when my brother died. I have all of his treasured music though and I can still imagine that I can smell him. My dad's smell I cant describe, I just know it. My brother's smell always has a scent of pipe tobacco.

Keep wearing those sweaters.

Sloan said...

Even though that is a sad story it is still a beautiful story because you are holding your mother close to your heart and whether or not you are wearing her sweaters, she is always in that place.

Tanya said...

ohhhh what a beautiful post and i love the photo of you and your mom. i lol'd at the saying "hop in the ass" ha, never heard that before but my mom would be one that says "this is for the birds"....yeah, i wouldn't be able to throw anything away either....hugs to you

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Rural, Dottie is such a great name too. It's a happy name.

Tommy, I can't believe it either that it's been 14 years since we lost your mom! No, you wouldn't look right wearing her sweaters!

Sweetflutterbys3, just the fact that you hope your daughters think of you like I think of my mom, means they will. Good moms want that.

Beth, I'm sorry your kids didn't meet your mom. In the literal way. Because I know that she lives in your heart and they know her that way.

Claudia, I know, Alzheimers is very hard. It's almost like little deaths every day. You are a good daughter. I know how well you take care of her.

Guilia, I like what you said about how we should raise our paltry spirits to beyond and we should not worry about clinging to material things. I've done a couple of good deeds lately and it made me feel close to my mother because that's what she would have done. (We tried to quit smoking AGAIN on New Year's and made it three freakin' days. Still not giving up!)

Christina, I know what you mean about smells. I have an empty perfume bottle that was my Nana's. It's Intimate. You can still smell it and sometimes I open it just to take a whiff.

Well, thanks everyone for all the kind words. It made me feel better.

Maryann Miller said...

What a lovely story. I could relate in many ways. My father died this past April and I took some of his shirts. My sisters thought I was nuts wanting his plaid flannel shirts and and the red-checked one that he wore so often the last years of his life. But that is what I wanted.

This grieving business is hard, and we do what we have to to get through it. Thanks for helping me today.

Guess what the security word is for posting the comment--- Mourn -- is that serendipity or what.

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Maryann, wow, that is funny that the security word was "mourn!" What are the chances of that?

I'm so sorry you lost your dad too in April. You know what I'm talking about with the shirts.

colleen said...

I feel for you and I'm bracing myself. My mother's health is so frail. I lost my dad and that was hard but your mother is something else. I know I will feel like an orphan. But it's something we all face, isn't it?

Greener Pastures--A City Girl Goes Country said...

Colleen, I braced myself my whole life. It was something I always worried about. Yes, losing your mother is something else. I keep thinking, how can I not have my mother?! The worst part is I keep on picturing how she suffered. You'd like her tombstone. It's a big green shamrock.

Spend every minute that you can with your mom and make it good.