Today I went down to the basement and brought up a series of boxes I keep down there under the stairs. With the boy safely playing in his playpen, I went through them once again.
These boxes contain what is left of the clothes that once belonged to my mother.
When I first started this process, almost 13 years ago, my mother's clothes overwhelmed me. She was a legendary shopper and as her weight sometimes went up and down, she had lots of clothes. She wasn't a fan of getting rid of things; she was, after all, born to parents who had been young during the depression and she herself was born during WWII. You just didn't throw out what you might use again. Even if it had shoulder pads.
There were closets full of clothes when my mom died. I didn't know what to do with them all, but I had to clean them out when my dad remarried. I called in the cavalry. My mom's sister came first on her own. She and I went through the closets and she tried on so many things. I still remember her standing in front of the mirror and worrying about taking things. I encouraged her and she took home armloads of clothes. Looking back, I wonder if my aunt felt as if she was borrowing clothes from her little sister and if it just didn't seem right.
Then, the other friends came: Pat, Beth, Susan, Wendy. They all stood in front of her closets with me, pulling out pieces of her wardrobe, remembering what she had worn and when. Fighting tears as they looked at favourite sweaters, and maybe fighting each other a little bit over pieces they all loved. They all took something home to incorporate into their own wardrobes. A sweater, a dress, a cardigan. Her scarves I kept all to myself. I wear them occasionally, and they usually garner compliments from those who notice such things.
As we went through the clothes, my mom's friends reminded me to keep things for myself. Things to help me remember. Her wedding dress that was so incredibly small. The dress she wore to my high school graduation. The trendy palazzo pants she had bought after losing weight and then wore on a cruise. Her signature turtlenecks, always Parkhurst. (Oddly enough, I now own a half dozen or more turtlenecks.) A few of her white blouses, just to remember how she loved a crisp white blouse. There were things I kept that they didn't know about. The hat she wore when her hair fell out after the chemo. The last nightgown I brought home from the hospital to be washed.
And so it was that even after they took so many boxes away, filled so many back seats with her things, that I was left with about six boxes full of clothes. I piled them into the moving van when Mr. Happy and I were married and moved to Nova Scotia.
I carried those boxes to the basement of my in-laws house where we lived for three years while they were overseas. The boxes were a shrine. They were magical. It was only a year and a few months since she was gone at that point. I could still open the lid of any of those boxes and bury my nose in memories. In those early days, I would pull out a sweater and wear it, wrapped around me like one of her hugs, feeling her with me, needing her to be near.
Over the years, I've gone through those boxes time and again. And every time I do, I'm able to let more go. They don't hold that same magic over me any more. I've kept the important things. The things I mentioned and a few more things. But more and more I have donated.
Those six boxes have been reduced to one as of tonight. One box of clothes. I'm done now. I won't look through that box again for a long time. I suspect I won't have a lot of time to do so anyway.
I think about my mom a lot. I always have. She was a wonderful person. I know you would have loved her. She had a great sense of fun and a great laugh. I can't remember it as well as I would like, but I can remember her smile. I see it sometimes in my own and now I see it in my son. I can look at my hands and see not just her rings on my fingers, but I can see now my hands are starting to look like hers.
I hear her voice in mine when I talk to my son. When I make up silly names for him, when I kiss the nape of his neck like she kissed mine. I wish that he could have known her, but I'll do my best to make sure he does in his own way.
Someday, we'll pull out that one box and we'll go through it together. And I'll show him how many memories are contained inside, but also, how so much of her story couldn't be kept in something so small.