When I was little, I loved fancy things. I always wished my mom were more fancy. I wanted her to grow her fingernails long and paint them. I wanted her to wear more rings, higher heels, and dangly-er earrings. I also loved, (and still do,) accessories for the home and always wished we had more "stuff" to decorate with. Given these facts, it should come as no surprise that the JC Penney catalog was my favorite magazine in circulation because it had both a jewelry section and a housewares section. In the same periodical! I think it may have come quarterly and it was a heavy brick of a thing. When it came, I would ask my mom to look through it with me. When we got to the jewelry section, I insisted we each choose one thing on every page that we'd buy if we had all the money in the world. Let me take this opportunity to tell you that my mother wore two pieces of jewelry: her wedding ring and a thin gold bracelet that was a gift from her parents. She now wears three, as she inherited a diamond pendant after her mother's death. That is to say that if her interest in jewelry could have been assigned an integral value, it would probably have been negative. She didn't care about gobs of sapphires and amethysts heaped atop bands of swirled gold. She didn't want an onyx brooch or a cubic zirconia tennis bracelet. But she cared about me. And she wanted me to feel special and loved, so she looked through every page of every Penney's catalog and picked her "favorites" among the gaudy fare.
The fact is that we didn't have much money for jewelry or anything else fancy when I was little and sometimes I got a smidge jealous of my friends with more. I had one friend in particular, who seemed to have it all. Her name was Molly Carleton. She had her own room with her own papasan chair, her own phone, her own bunny named Bundis, and many, many of her own cute clothes from places like the Gap, and the Limited. I got most of my clothes from places like Burlington Coat Factory and the Goodwill, which, though sort of hipster chic now, was not cool in fifth grade. I became a little fixated on brand names. During this period of brand obsession, I also wanted a watch. True to her aware-of-our-wants form, one day my mom came home with a little surprise for me. I opened it up and there sat a "gold" faced watch with a brown "leather" band. It was the kind that had a moving face with a sun and clouds on one half and a moon and stars on the other, which would rotate around in correspondence with the hour of the day. I really liked it, but had to know...
"Where did you get it?" I asked.
"Sak's Fifth Avenue," she fudged, knowing that I would probably have turned my nose up at the disclosure of its origins. I stared in utterly disbelieving joy at the treasure on my wrist and the aristocratic locale from whence it came. I wore the watch with daily pride until I lost it a few years later. I'm now pretty sure that it actually came from Rite-Aid. Say what you will about the ethicality of the Sak's cover-up, but I will say that during that particularly juvenile stage in my life, it made me feel like the moon and stars that adorned the face of that watch were only a tiny representation of the fact that the real ones had been roped down from the sky and given to me by my own mother; her gift meant that much.
Another story from little-girl-hood, I remember one evening when my mom and I went shopping for a new outfit at Burlington Coat Factory. If I remember correctly, it was just me and her, which was a rare arrangement with a surgery-resident father and four younger siblings. I don't recall many of the details of the outing; I just remember that I went home that night with what I now know to be one of the most heinous outfits in all of textile history, which consisted of a brorange, (that's an ugly amalgam of brown and burnt orange,) mock turtle-shirt and some tragically patterned, elastic waist, olive drab pants, and, of course, a faux leather belt. (It was the late eighties.) My mom didn't say a thing about the hideous combo, other than a very encouraging, "If you like it, go ahead and get it, Em." Whereas I am always inclined to insist on everyone being stylish and matching, she was much more concerned with having us be happy and independent. I know now that hers is the higher, better way and I'm trying to remember that on Sunday mornings when Henry wants to wear his black cowboy boots to church again, even if he is wearing navy blue twill shorts.
I guess we all want and do silly things sometimes. Which reminds me of the time my mom and I decided to get away for a girls' weekend in Portland (about four hours north of our hometown in southern Oregon.) We got in the suburban and headed off for a weekend of shopping, treat eating, and mother-daughter bonding. We were so excited...until we got to Central Point (about six miles north of my hometown,) where I sheepishly told my mom that I just kind of wanted to stay home, because apparently I was feeling too homebody-ish to go away for the weekend with my own mother. Who does that, you ask? The kind of people who can't make it through the night at slumber parties and hate going away for any sort of camp or overnight adventure. People like me. Long story short, we ended up having our girl's get-away in the crumby (literally, filled with crumbs,) red velour fold-up seats of the White City movie theater at a late night showing of the ultimate in poorly done chic-flicks, "Message in a Bottle," and surprised my dad and siblings with our much-earlier-than-anticipated return that same evening.
I can scarcely think of you, mom, without one or all of these memories coming to my mind. To me, you are that brorange shirt and the unconditional acceptance behind the purchase. You are the willingness to do girls' get-away in Portland. Or, on second thought, the willingness to turn right back around and do it at the White City dollar cinema. No questions asked. And you and dad were the safe voices on the other end of the phone at every homesick sleepover that said sleepily, "I'm on my way. Watch for me." You are the elite feeling behind that "gold" Rite-Aid special and the willing indulgence on every page of the jewelry section in the Penney's catalog. I sit here and type with short, unpainted fingernails, on hands adorned only with a wedding ring, knowing that there's not a single pair of heels in my closet or earrings that dangle in my jewelry box. And I chuckle inside at the ironic fact that when I was little I wanted you to be different than what you were, and now that I'm a bit older and see life a bit more broadly, in many ways all I want is to be more like what you are.
I'm the luckiest.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom.