July 29, 2020
I recently had an early morning dream about my mother. I was running through my apartment, entering rooms and opening windows to let out the smoke from my recently finished cigarette. I must have been younger—haven’t had a cigarette since 1987. As I entered one of the rooms, there was my mother, Barbara. She was slipping on her high-healed shoes and was dressed to the nines in a stylish black and white party dress, her red hair recently and beautifully coiffed, with two strings of pearls accenting her long, elegant neck . Oh, and of course, ruby red lipstick and nails. She was in her late 40’s I’d guess.
I asked her, “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to a party at Ashford. I’m being honored for thirty years of service.”
And with that, she kissed me and walked out the door.
She looked like a million bucks.
I’ve never heard of Ashford and, as far as I know, my mom never worked for a company with that name. It doesn’t matter. It was a very nice dream.
And it reminded me of an article Jeff Schwartz (Why I Believe in Angels and Miracles) sent me four years ago written by Alexandra Rosas. It’s been tucked away in my “To Share” file. I guess the dream was a gentle kick in the pants to do it. Here’s the link.
This opening paragraph-the entire article-resonated so deeply with me and reminded me so much of my mom.
My mother used to embarrass me when she’d pick me up from school. I was in the second grade and at 3:30 every day, my heart would pound out of my chest because I knew she’d be walking across the playground any minute. She was impossible to miss, rocking a velvet black turban, golden earrings, her hair combed in two deliberate black swirls of curls plotted on her high cheekbones, and cinema-red lipstick blotted to matte on her lips. I just wanted her to look like the other mothers who stood together waiting for their kids.
Like Barb, Leonor was widowed at a young age and remained so. She was 40, my mother was 49 when their husbands died. Leonor had six kids to raise, they didn’t have a lot of money but, as her daughter wrote “her appearance was her daily tonic and the source of the strength she needed to keep her going.”
As a young boy I too would sometimes look at my mom and wonder ‘Who does she think she is calling attention to herself? The other moms don’t dress-up like that.’
Although I’m sure she had some, I don’t ever remember seeing my mother in casual clothes. About as far as she’d dress down for gardening or doing other household chores would be a pant suit or a Levi skirt, flats from Saks Fifth Avenue and her hair held back with a designer scarf. She’d wear nice gloves to protect her nails.
I wrote this piece for a writing class I took several years ago.
This is the opening paragraph.
My mother stands in the doorway of my room, the ubiquitous unfiltered Chesterfield King caressed between her long fingers accented by the ruby tipped nails meticulously attended to by weekly visits to her manicurist. Her ‘only-her- hairdresser- knows- for- sure’ red hair is professionally coiffed, the crimson lipstick a carefully selected accessory. Her hand tailored pant suit is elegantly draped upon her five-foot ten model-envy frame. The apron seems oddly out of place.
As I grew older, I came to realize, like Alexandra did, that my mother’s appearance was vitally important to her and a significant part of her identity. Barb wasn’t showing off or trying to make others look inferior. She was a proud woman—she was a strong woman—and how she looked was symbolic of that pride and strength. This wasn’t something she gravitated to in her thirties or forties. She always looked good. Even in uniform.
She took after her mother, Henrietta, and father, Vern, in this regard. When her parents were younger and Vern was trying to get established in business, they didn’t have a lot of money, but they always had a nice suit of clothes and a dress so when they went out, they looked good.
As a child growing up in Willits, California, Vern was embarrassed of the hand-me down clothes and worn out shoes from his older brothers he had to wear to school. That is why when he did start to make some money in the construction business he only wore tailor-made suits and dress shirts—he had over 75—and every spring he would take the children of the men and women who worked in the office to Saks Fifth Avenue and buy them outfits they could wear on Easter.
Vern’s mantra was “Everyone should have a nice suit of clothes, dress and shoes so they are never embarrassed by how they look.”
You see, my mother’s ubiquitous attention to her appearance until they day she transitioned was wired in her DNA.
Like Ms. Rosas I, too, am very proud that My Mother Always Looked Like A Million Bucks.
She still does.
I love you Mom. Happy Birthday!