Sunday, May 8, 2016

My Mother's Closet

I spoke with a friend last Christmas who had lost her mother about three years ago and we commiserated on the hardships of being motherless. When her mother died she spent the week after packing up all her things, clearing out her mother's closets and otherwise creating closure through cleanliness. I told her we still hadn't cleaned out my mother's  closet yet.

It's May now, and that's still true. And I'm kind of glad because I stayed over at my childhood home the day before Mother's Day and I was able to walk among her things and touch the fabrics that once graced her body. While any woman might wish to be a size 4, I wish that because I like my mother's clothes, but they wouldn't fit, even if I got to my wedding weight, because I was still a size 8 then! (Yeah, I'll say it proud I'm a size 12, now. Look back to this old link, if you want to read a poem about it.)
My mother got a strong sense of fashion from her mother. Victoria Hillebrand, for such humble beginnings, was a complete fashionista, for almost all 102 years of her life. As a seamstress, Victoria really loved fabric and fine textures and Harriet Hillebrand was no different. I have really vivid memories of shopping with my mother and grandmother whenever my grandmother was visiting from California. They would drag me along to this little boutique in the Penn Fruit shopping center called "Florelle's". We would walk in there and they'd ask "What's the latest, Florelle?" And the proprietress would come back with an armful of blouses and skirts and dresses. I liked Florelle's a lot better than this other location we always went to. I don't remember the name of the place "Hanover's" or something, but that place was more like a warehouse and there were racks and racks of clothing. And then this giant open dressing room where women were just disrobing all over the place. It was so bizarre. I remember really being frightened by that place, so many bras and girdles. And all of them looked the same. You could easily sidle up to the wrong mom.

Shoes were also a passion for both Victoria and Harriet. My grandmother's obsession was akin to that of Imelda Marcos. She had racks and racks of shoes in her tiny two bedroom apartment. Shoes and purses. My mom was definitely not that zealous. But she always had two long shoe bags' worth of shoes, with several in boxes at the floor of her closet. They made for fun dress up times. Not the left side of the closet, that's where all the flats and sandals were. No, the pumps and fancy shoes were over on the right. That's where you could find some silver or gold three inch heels!

 It's hard to describe my mother's style. My grandmother was definitely of the same fashion ilk as Nancy Reagan. Tasteful, tailored, the occasional shoulder pads. But my mom was quite eclectic. Sometimes she did the petite power suit, but more often than not, she had a kind of Liz Claiborne casualness but classy to her. My favorite style she had was the tunic or "ethnic" print and flowing skirts. I find myself gravitating to those textures and styles all the time.

There are a few items in the closet that somehow feel so iconic to me. There is something about the lines and colors of this sweater that always made me love it. Maybe because it looked like the Partridge Family bus, Or maybe because the blue/green was almost exactly like the wallpaper I had in my room when I was a child. I don't know, but what I do know is it's not going to be easy to clean out my mother's closet because I will want to keep everything since it remains a link, a recognition of her presence perhaps living on.

My mother's last birthday gift from me was a purple zip up sweater that still was in her closet with the tags on. Perhaps she didn't really like it. But she hung it up. I saw it in the closet, and, well, it made me sad. Not because she didn't ever wear it, but because it reminded me of that glorious surprise birthday when we were all together, even my younger sister Christie. That was only one month from the time she passed away.

Another clothing gift I gave my mom, probably back in 1992 was this "hanten", a Japanese house coat that keeps one incredibly warm, especially on rainy nights. That, I know she wore. She felt cold a lot and it was very toasty.

Momma, it's Mother's Day today, and I miss you. But I'm glad we had the luxury to keep your closet relatively untouched for a while. Because it allowed me to feel the textures, see the patterns,  revel in the colors and shapes of all that was you, even a year later.