I remember my mother bent over her sewing machine, hair in curlers tightly wound to her scalp. In earlier years, she made dresses for her daughters and curtains for the various rooms in our little house. Closer to the end of her life, she had two basic patterns which she used over and over with varying weights of fabric. One produced a plethora of all-season wrap-around skirts. The other yielded a shoulder bag with a single flap and no closure.
She made the skirt in denim, floral prints, and corduroy. She made the pocketbook in light-weight or heavy, depending on the season. With the skirt she wore a host of t-shirts. She pulled the thick strap of the current bag over her shoulder and held it close to her body.
As I did my laundry this weekend, I discovered that I have four dresses of the same type but in different colors. In a basket under my little sofa, I keep twenty pairs of leggings, winter weight at one side, summer at the other. On a hook in the storage cupboard, I hang four cardigans for summer. The heavier ones live in another basket, pushed to the back for now. Every day I wear one of the dresses, a pair of leggings, and Mary Janes with thin cotton socks.
Thusly attired, my shape and size disappear. The effortless swing of fabric falls from the shoulders and skims the cloth of the leggings. Short sleeves truncate my arms and hide that slight flab which comes with middle-age. I sling a crossbody across my chest before I leave each morning. On cooler days, I tie one of a dozen scarves around my neck.
A photo of my mother hangs on the stairway to the loft of my tiny house. She wears one of her famous skirt-and-T combos. She’s dancing, a light skip down the sidewalk of our home. I took this photo in May of 1977. I had come home from Boston to walk with my graduating class at St. Louis University, and to see my brother Frank graduate from the U-High. I study the picture as I drink my coffee in the morning. She seems so happy. I think that must be an illusion, a trick of the soft sepia tones in which the film was developed.
Summer settles onto the island, the warm days buffered by the sweep of evening winds. I think of my mother. I wonder what she would make of the life into which I have stumbled. She would enjoy the land here. She would walk along the levee and study the ripple of the passing river. She would call to the birds in the meadow. I can almost hear her voice. I close my eyes and strain to feel the comfort of the melody, a lullaby tendered in her low, deep croon. Then it fades, and I am left with a picture on the wall and a tiny closet full of uniforms.
It’s the sixteenth day of the seventy-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.