Sunday, March 21, 2010


I think if my mom had another life to live here, she could open a store, a store of lovely, vintage things. She has always lived a life of beauty: beautiful clothes and dishes and music and linens and literature. When you got an invitation from my mom, you knew there would be placecards and the best china and silver laid out. Maybe little quotations from her favorite classic novels or poems. You would not find paper goods or plastic salad dressing bottles on the table or anything like that. That's just the way she is.

Now that I've been with her these weekends, going through her things, I come home every week with more things from her "store."

[Any men reading this: I know I just posted a makeover of my bathroom, but I promise there's a point to this post. As Joseph Dougherty, one of the writers of thirtysomething, used to say sometimes, "Aha, plot-like substance in this episode."] But first, some pictures--just a fraction of some of the stuff.

Here's a hot chocolate set, you know, so I could have friends over for a hot chocolate party:

Here's a closeup of the bodice of Mom's wedding dress. She bought a piece of Swiss lace (she is 100% Swiss), and she and her sister copied a dress she had seen at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Here's one of my favorites--a Persian lamb coat, that I remember her wearing when I was about Elaine's age. I would sit beside her in church and pet the collar and cuffs.

Some hand-stitched dishtowels...

A handmade Asian-theme tablecloth and napkins (the stitching is all tiny cross-stitch)...

Some old-fashioned jewelry...

Several people have said to me, "Isn't it so hard to go through your mom's things with her? You must have so much strength. I don't think I could do that."

I don't think I have extraordinary reserves of strength really; it's just something that you do. One day we went up to Mom's dressing room and made piles of all her clothes: whether for a vintage consignment shop, for me to keep, for her sisters, etc. She told me that she needed to decide on something to be buried in; she's having a private burial, but she still needed to do that so my dad wouldn't have to. So then I would hold up outfits for her and say: "Resale?" "Your sisters?" "Possible burial contender?" until we fell about, laughing.

That's the part that seems easy.

It's other times, like last week when I went to the huge bi-annual used children's clothing sale that I always go to--this time alone--and I saw a woman maybe a few years younger than I am. She was holding a pair of toddler-sized shoes in her hand, and she called over to an older lady, "Mom! Mom! Look at these! Aren't they cute?" and my own sense of loss was so great that I started to cry right there in the checkout line.

The other day when I was over at my parents', my dad told me that a few nights ago, in the middle of the night, Mom had woken up, screaming in pain--the worst she had ever had--and couldn't breathe, so they had to call the hospice to come and give her some morphine and oxygen.

Then he said that a couple nights later she scared him half to death--at one o'clock in the morning, he woke up with a start because he heard singing. Mom was lying there, singing a hymn. He said, "She sang all the verses, every word, and then she went back to her sleep breathing. I didn't know if she was asleep or awake, if she was singing herself into heaven or what."

I think it might have been like Paul and Silas--singing their way through the pain, singing their way out of prison. I don't know. Whatever it was, it was vintage Mom.

I love the poetry of Mary Oliver. Sometimes I sit with a book of her poems and just drink them in, waiting in the carpool line or wherever I am. She sees so much beauty in the world; it's contagious--you can't help but visualize in your mind's eye exactly what she's talking about. She's got one called "A Summer Day" that has these lines in it:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I'm just trying to figure out my own wild and precious life and what I'm doing with it. It's an ugly world here, and it's hard. Lots of times I just have this quote from James MacDonald running through my head: "Do you want to know the secret of the Christian life? It's this: Hold on to Jesus Christ because one day the trumpet's gonna blow, and we'll get out of this dump!" If I am honest, I think I go through a lot of days just holding onto that one thing.

But I think too that there is a place for beauty here, for wearing a red coat, or inviting people over to serve them with your best china and table linens, or for reading poetry.

And honestly, maybe those two philosophies aren't that far apart. I hope they're not. I hope that through all the drudgery and the pain, that I can keep singing in this prison.

I hope.


Mae said...

Dear Alice, I'll keep singing with you and holding on to Jesus along with you also.

Melanie said...

Yes, so often this world is crummy but yet there are places for and of beauty. You are one of those places, Alice. And I think you are correct in your assumption about your mom's singing. For as long as I can remember I've sung/hummed melodies to myself in an effort to comfort myself and we've seen Sophie harmonizing in a similar way when she's in pain or discomfort. Keep singing, keep writing, and keep seeing the beauty in things wherever you can.

Kacie said...

On your mom's style: wow! I absolutely love that red/pink coat! What a classy lady.

Jamie said...

I am available for hot chocolate. I would even supply the marshmallows.

Shannon said...

Alice, this is so moving. I think you are SO right to relish the beauty and fine tastes of your sweet mom, because in the Age to Come, that's who she'll still be! God's the one who gave her the eyes to see the beauty in lace and and dishes and words. And those eyes will be opened even wider in heaven!

I could especially relate to your tears at the sale. I have often thought that there is no one else (including the other adult in our house) that I can turn to and say, "Doesn't he look handsome in that little vest?"

Bless you for sharing this. May your mom continue to sing.

Shannon said...

On a lighter note, I wanted you to be aware of the great honor of having the comment before mine bestowed upon your blog-- the one from our hot chocolate loving friend, Jamie. I'll have you know that while Jamie is one of my very best friends, my blog has yet to experience the privilege of her voice.

Maybe she can host a hot chocolate party for both of us, and I'll be able to let her off the hook. :)

Alice said...

Hi Shannon, thanks so much!

I had been talking to Jamie on the phone about how she never comments on blogs, and I told her it was encouraging to bloggers when people comment. So I pretty much guilted her into it. She said she was going over to comment on yours next, so we'll have to hold her to that...

Shannon said...

Alice, I won't hold my breath. :)

But Jamie just told me yesterday that she KNOWS you. I said, "You mean, like you've met her face to face??"

I had no idea that you lived near each other. Jamie was reminding me that I first was 'introduced' to you via Chris. I had forgotten that. (I check out blogs and forget where I came upon what...)

SO... maybe someday when I'm in IL, we CAN do a hot chocolate party. :) And if not here, in heaven. With your mom, too--looking her youngest and best. :)

Tim said...

These are rich memories of your amazing mom, Alice. You are able to make the reader feel deeply about your life with--and--without her. She gave you every reason to adore her, including wearing furry cuffs for her little girl to pet, hehe. I love the poem, too, and now I know why you've sent me this link. Your blog is now in my "favorites." Bless you, friend.