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.