One of the literary options available to a Writer is the “Memoir”. Why do we write memoirs? Well, party to more fully understand and process personal life events of deep meaning or confusion, partly to share with others so that they may recognize parts of their own stories in ours and find comfort, healing, celebration, affirmation and connection… and most significantly, to follow the most important virtue of writing, which is to tell the truth as we remember or experience it at any one time. The Greening Spirit is about life and the cycles of the seasons as well as the cycles of the many seasons we live through emotionally, spiritually or physically. This is one memoir of a season of letting go, of remembering and honoring when things have been difficult.
My Mother’s Hat
When the box arrived from my brother a number of months after Mom’s death, I knew it was going to contain her “furs”. He really wanted to send them on, saying they were part of my “inheritance” but I really did not want them for a variety of reasons, both simple and complicated.
One, I don’t wear furs (who does these days?) and secondly, I would have to find a place to put the large box in my already-cluttered tiny house while I figured out what to do with the contents and where to dispose of them. (Donate to the theater department at the University? Take them to a consignment shop? Give them to Goodwill?)
Those are the simple reasons. The complicated ones have to do with emotions and unresolved wounds from our very unfortunate, if not tragic, contentious and dysfunctional relationship filled with disconnected-ness, hostility, punishment, disappointment and pain. My mother was a very complex person. The fact was, I simply did not want anything that belonged to Mom at this time. There was no one treasure or keepsake that I longed for as a reminder of our relationship, no one item that I longed for as a memory of a close, caring or supportive mother/daughter relationship, because really, it had not been.
When I opened the box, there they were, neatly folded and flattened: a tiny golden mink coat that had been my Nana’s (my mother’s mother) and passed on to Mom when Nana died. Were they both so TINY? The coat looked like it would fit on a 12 year old child. Next, a grey stole, soft and classy, of the kind worn covering the shoulders in the 40’s through the 60’s before animal rights activists cursed such apparel, this item of clothing replacing a coat or cape in glamorous style. Underneath that, a fluffy white rabbit fur jacket that I remember her receiving one Christmas. From Dad, I think. (How did he know? I’d think she bought it for herself, “from him”). A golden mink hat to go with the mink, all items that I would not wear for sure, although the grey fur stole with satin lining would be kind of stylish “retro” if I were going to a party. I sat looking at these items with a *sigh*. What was I going to do with these things?
There was a canvas bag with zipper which I opened, filled with gloves…tiny ones for such a tiny pair of hands. Really, I never remember noticing how small my mother’s hands were. I do remember them being deformed at the knuckles from degenerative arthritis and I remember the operations on her knuckles to try to correct them and the ruby ring on her finger that she inherited from her sister Gina who died in Europe. None of these gloves would fit my larger hands, but I knew that these gloves..smooth leather, or felt… had kept her hands warm as a necessity in the brutally cold winters of upstate New York. I also remember that there was a time when gloves were a part of dressing up appropriately for important appearances like church on Easter Sunday when I was very little. Not now. We only wear gloves in cold weather, and mine are stretchy woven things purchased at Job Lot. Warm. Inexpensive, easily replaced when inevitably I would lose one of the pair.. But not classy. No, the gloves would have to go, along with the coats.
Then…then…a small pile of many colored fur hats. Except for the hat of golden mink that apparently matched the fur coat, they were of several varieties of more contemporary and politically correct faux fur. These I lifted out of the box, taking myself and them to the mirror in the bathroom. One by one, I tried them on…each decorated with a flirty little pin on the side. I remembered how in both the dresses, and the pins on the hats, and the “tilt” of the hat on the head, there was always a sassy slant of decoration or position…a kind of stylish flair that expressed the drama, the theatrical, the “Glamour” of the maternal Family women: the “actress, the attitude, the “posturing” of glamour. Sometimes it embarrassed me greatly when in the presence of my friends, seemingly false, untrue or melodramatic. But now, far away from those times and Mom’s actual presence, and after looking through the albums and pictures of the her family of origin way before I was born, I can kind of smile about this, appreciating both the valid expressions of high style in the manner of show people and entertainers, and the longing to incorporate beauty, color and drama into the Personas and presentations to the world. No “hausfraus” in smocks in this side of the family.
So back to the hats. Three of the four..all faux fur of different colors…were a little small and tight for my head size. But one of them, a mix of brown and grey fur, with a silver pin attached by Mom for “upping the ante, style-wise” or as she would say “you know, for a little ‘décor’”…fit quite nicely. I turned it this way and that to see where the pin might look best, and I guess true to the genes and lineage, tilted it to the right at an angle..a little off-kilter stylish sass…yes, a touch of glamour. And that’s where it looked best. And…I liked it.
This was new for me. I don’t usually wear hats. And I was uncertain and more than a bit uncomfortable wearing a piece of Mom’s personal clothing. It felt a little spooky, it brought up memories that made me quite sad. But somehow I needed to wear that hat, which I did for two days whenever I went out. It really seemed to be perfect on my head, looked good, and kept thoughts about Mom…always thoughts of confusion and emotional complexity… in my awareness re things between us that have slowly mellowed from anger into sadness so far. Things that simply were and best let go of, and things that “could have been” but never were. But wearing the hat seemed to have a certain connection that was gently opening a feeling of appropriate grief, acknowledged in its own time. Which apparently is now.
Yet there was something about this hat, or wearing this hat that was not comfortable. A subtle scent of it when held in the hand, or when I wore it…a faint combination of someone else’s natural fragrance, a hint of cigarette smoke and a remembrance of a light cologne. I never ever could bear the smell of cigarette smoke or the ashes, and my eyes always stung and watered when around Mom and her habit, I constantly moving out of the range of the drifting smoke from the cigarette. And Mom, in her self-centered ways, would become angry with me for this, asserting her right to smoke when she pleased whether or not it was hurtful to others in her presence .We did not have the right to breathe fresh air and not have stinging eyes, but it WAS her right to smoke without interference, and for us to ask for it not to be was taken as direct and unfair criticism by her, resisted with hostility.
What to do? The scent though subtle, barely detectable and elusive was nonetheless real, and the feelings and memories associated with it, would not allow me to accept this hat as a fitting keepsake. But I did want it, for in truth we all need a mother….
Not knowing if it would shrink the hat, I took the risk to wash it. I washed it in an organic dish soap (Mrs. Meyer’s) that is very pleasing to me, with the scent of rose geranium. I let it soak for a bit in cold water, squeezing gently for the water, soap and scent to thoroughly cleanse away what was not mine and should be let go of. (Maybe a cleansing of memories as well..?) I hoped that the hat would not shrink, and handled it gently and with care, rinsing away the old and absorbing the delicate and loving scent of rose geranium. Gently squeezing out the moisture, shaking and fluffing it, it was then hung over the shower head to dry, and on the third day, hung outside on the brambles of the wild rose bush that crawls over my deck, for the cold and fresh air to add a new aliveness.
The hat still has Mom’s energy in it because she wore it, in and out of the car on her short and busy trips here and there, and on her head in those fierce winters going in and out of the house to scrape and brush ice and snow off of the car, or shovel a path to it. I’m thinking of her when I see this hat on the shelf her or if I place it on my head, with the silver pin tilted stylishly to the side. It smells of fresh air and rose geranium..an herb of love and beauty and healing of the heart. I think this is a “Remembrance and forgiving in its own time, after a death with un-resolved loose ends”. It feels gentle.
And that is the story about my mother’s hat. Now mine. Or rather, “Ours”.