Vol 12, Num 2 :: 2013.01.18 — 2013.01.31
My sisters and I surrounded my mother’s bed, examining piles of her clothes that filled its surface and spilled on the floor. We fingered the blouses, slips, scarves and pajamas and remembered…the suit she wore for the family Christmas photo, the silky nightgown that helped her to slide and turn more easily in her sleep, the pink jacket and dress I made for her first and only cruise. Each fabric and color evoked a memory like a yellow linen road leading to surprising happiness and fear. None of us relished the thought of delving into and dispersing this ocean of clothing.
Our eyes roamed over some t-shirts: a white one from Mom’s second-home, Bible Fellowship Baptist; a hot pink number from the Calabash Mini-golf where she earned occasional pocket money; and a sky blue favorite from Windjammer Village, the retirement community where she and dad lived. These shirts composed Mom’s much-loved, relaxed, daily attire. Never a slave to fashion, mom always opted for comfort.
Her Sunday clothes, many of which were hand-me-downs, lay limp and lifeless, despite their colorful, frilly appearance beside the t-shirts. Without the faux diamond pin and glitzy bracelet, inherited from her mother (who always chose flash over comfort), or the numerous strands of beads, Mom’s dress-up clothes lacked luster, a luster usually sparked by her powerful personality and character. The down-home touch of glamor she saved for church and special occasions transformed her everyday t-shirt look into a flashy, although dated, style. Now, they gave up a ghost of earlier joys.
Mom’s slacks, with elasticized waists to suit her growing middle girth, which my sisters and I had inherited, didn’t meet our blue jean requirements, and, besides, we would never admit to our need for elasticized waists.
The bed pile loomed ominously. Mom’s clothes…Mom. The clothing and adornments by which we knew her. The last physical shred of our connection with her. They held her smell, her hair, her very presence. Shipping them off to the Salvation Army seemed brutal, unthinkable. And yet, what would we do with them?
Nothing in the pile moved us to say, “I want the blue blouse!”…“I’d love to wear those khakis”…“Oh, the red mid-calf is just my style!”…“Now there’s a coat I have to have.” Truthfully, my sisters and I would probably never wear any of it.
For a while, we would bury Mom’s clothes in plastic bags under the bed, like our grief, until we could face the final good bye of pushing them down the drop box chute in the parking lot of the charity.
Eventually, even Dad grew tired of the plastic bags of clothing under the bed. They hampered the vacuum, he said, and flowed out like an obstacle course on his bedroom floor. Healing had begun. We had reached a critical decision point, a point of final separation from Mom’s physical presence. The clothes had to go.
One last time, I sorted through them. Which pieces of clothing could I live without ever seeing again? Which would be a reminder of Mom, even if I never wore them? My heap of things to save began to grow: I would cut the logos off her t-shirts and put them together in some kind of display. Perhaps a quilt? Knowing my penchant for procrastination, a quilt might never materialize, but at least I would have those bits of her t-shirts. You never know…I might change.
I could wear Mom’s lamb’s wool coat in the dead of winter, and I wouldn’t look dated. I’d look…vintage, like my friend Leslee who always wore vintage, and it defined her persona. Yes, I could wear some of Mom.
In her sweaters, a gray, oversized blazer-type with wooden buttons and a collar said my name. Mom wore it almost every day. Its age made me wonder if she might have inherited it from Great-aunt Sarah who bought quality clothing, clothing that would have lasted these thirty years. I knew Mom hadn’t bought the sweater; it was too fine a piece, and Mom’s frugality prevented her from spending money on anything pricey for herself. The sweater had stood the test of time without a hole, run or pill to hamper its appearance. Mom had used it as her going-out, around-the-house, all-purpose garment. Even multiple washings wouldn’t shake the presence of Mom from its fiber. This was the piece of Mom’s clothing I wanted.
Today, the old gray sweater has become a basic part of my household wardrobe. I don it each morning as its warmth and comfort suit me better than a bathrobe. I wear it when I’m sick, enjoying the nearness of Mom as if she were nursing me back to health. I wear it to cozy up on cold winter days. Mom never moves far from my heart. In fact, her love wraps and envelops me like an old gray sweater.
When I wear the old gray, she is there, not in any otherworldly or morose sense. The essence of who she was pervades my spirit. Mom clothed herself beautifully in self-sacrifice for her family, in kindness to those who might have mistreated her, in gentle remembrance of everything that had to do with her children, in a driving motivation to please God through service to her family, her church, and her community, in unflagging love for her husband and daughters no matter what the uglinesses of personality or relationship. These were the clothes of my mother I longed to inherit.
I never wear the old gray sweater beyond my back door, but I long to wear her legacy everywhere. And this is her legacy to me: the example of a godly and precious woman who stood faithfully beside me in her baggy t’s, elasticized pants and worn Sunday dresses and pointed me closer to the haute couture of heaven’s wardrobe.
This is my inheritance, contained humbly in…one, old gray sweater.