By Pamela Stone
As a child, I loved sneaking up to our attic. While tip-toeing up the stairs, I smelled the scent of my mother. It was everywhere. Exploring the attic made me long to walk in my mother’s world. My mother’s clothes tempted me with their softness and femininity. They filled me with envy. Touching the hem of her peignoir set, I longed to look like she did. Part princess, part sultry temptress. In the attic, there were numerous garment bags bursting with mother’s clothes. At the age of eight, I thought each bag contained a little bit of magic.
Cautiously, I unzipped each garment bag, poking my nose inside. Suddenly, the musty smell of the clothes swept me away. Away to Cinderella parties, where I wore ballerina-length gowns covered with tiny rhinestones with velvet trim — and a handsome man waltzed me around the room.
Another bag was filled with my mother’s winter clothes. Tailored suits, cashmere sweaters, fox furs and wool knit slacks. All these clothes looked new. My mother took impeccable care of them, wearing only a few each season. One of my favorite bags, though, contained her bathing suits. Not one suit, but dozens. There were one-piece suits with flirty skirts, a two-piece, which I rarely saw her wear, also a pale blue suit with tiny pearls sewn on the collar. Each suit had a matching bathing cap with plastic flowers.
Gently touching the bathing suits, I pictured mother swimming across the blue water at our country club pool. There was nothing ladylike about my mother in the water. An athlete, her strokes were sure and strong. She moved swiftly and silently, like a fish.
The last bag was filled with mother’s squaw skirts that she purchased in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each skirt had a matching peasant blouse, which slipped off her shoulders — just slightly. I also found a leather purse and turquoise necklace my father bought for her from Native Americans on the square.
Hidden at the back of the bag was my mother’s bright pink squaw skirt. It had a story of its own.
One hot day at our country club, Mother wore her squaw skirt. She sat sunning herself in a canvas chair, while watching my brothers swim in the deep pool. I was restricted to the shallow end, because I was learning to swim. Hoping to tan, mother gently pulled up her skirt, exposing her calves. She wore sunglasses and was reading a novel. Inside the deep pool, there was lots of squealing and laughter, and I longed to join my brothers.
As I played in the shallow end, I heard a splash, a big splash. Looking up, I saw my mother jump into the deep end. Her skirt was filled with water, billowing across the pool. In an instant, she swam up to a young girl, putting her into a lifesaving headlock. While doing the sidestroke, she guided her back to the edge. After tending to the frightened girl, my mother climbed up the pool ladder. Her blouse stuck to her ribs and bust. And the full skirt wrapped around her legs like a blanket.
I was astounded. “What did you do that for?” I exclaimed.
“Well, that lifeguard wasn’t watching. He was surrounded by teenage girls, and he didn’t see that little girl gasping for air. She was calling out — but she kept sinking. I had to do something,” she said.
With that, my mother added, “Let’s leave. I have to go home and change.”
That was the end of that. No one clapped. Everyone just stared. Unconcerned, my mother didn’t even notice their eyes on her.
* * * * * * * * *
You see, it wasn’t easy having a bold, beautiful mother.
Mothers are supposed to be warm and loving with laps like dumplings. Not mine. My mother was warm, but she was headstrong and demanding. Was she a good mother? I thought so. She was a good listener, always giving sage advice. But she was not a doer. Unlike most mothers, she often sat in a chair and pointed. (That was her idea of doing.)
Although she had outside help, we were expected to assume our share of household duties. Maybe that’s why she had so many children.
Our father also contributed. He was always on the go. He rushed off to work, dragging his overfilled briefcase. Before going to the office, he drove carpool, taking us kids to school. My mother spent most mornings in front of her dressing table mirror. Here, she conducted court while putting on her makeup. One by one, we four children filed in, lying across her bed. Here, we shared stories about teachers, coaches, or friends who failed to sit with us at lunch. Shaking a bottle of Revlon’s Creamy Ivory makeup, she carefully applied it and listened to us. While doing this, she studied our faces by watching our reflection in the mirror. She planned our day, scheduling pick-up times, meetings with our teachers, and more. She rarely left her bedroom until after 9:30 a.m.
Reflecting back on those days when I explored our attic, I remember how I responded to the sudden sound of footsteps and voices from the lower floor. I quickly closed the garment bag, sealing in the memory of my mother. My present-day mother was downstairs, giving orders. My fanciful mother was enclosed in this secret room. The attic was my refuge from my large, chaotic family, providing a place where I could dream about the woman I would someday become.
A woman just like my mother.
(More information and the remainder of this article can be obtained by contacting Pamela Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org).