“I’ve already told your sister,” begins my 88 year-old mother, Nancy, who’s not laughing, “My wedding dress is in the attic in a trunk. The only one it will fit is your …
“I’ve already told your sister,” begins my 88 year-old mother, Nancy, who’s not laughing, “My wedding dress is in the attic in a trunk. The only one it will fit is your daughter.” She’s referring to my 27 year-old unmarried daughter.
“Also,” she continues, “I saw her picture on Facebook. What’s that she’s wearing?”
“It’s a yoga outfit,” I say.
“Her midriff is exposed!” (My mother was not part of the 1953 rebellion ushered in by Marlon Brando in the movie The Wild One).
“Yes, that’s what they’re doing in yoga these days, exposing their midriffs. It’s a style.” There’s a palpable silence and then she asks, “And what about the new boyfriend? Where does he live?”
I dare not tell her that they live together so I skirt around the issue.
“Anyway, the dress is in the attic,” she continues, “And it’s made of…I forget the word.”
“Tulle?” I say because I know. I’ve seen the dress in photos that have hung on her second floor home since she got married in ’53 at age 19.
My mother keeps many things in the attic. An old collapsible typewriter, various games and toys from our childhood, clothes dating back to the 50’s and 60’s, and two long platinum braids cut from her head when she was 14. The braids are carefully wrapped in parchment paper. They are at once beautiful and sad. I think about the decision around chopping off those beautiful locks in one fell swoop. Was she pressured into it? I’ve never asked.
My mother’s wedding day was possibly the biggest highlight in her life next to the birth of each of her five children. In her time, marrying and having a family was the dream of most young girls. In my time, it was just the opposite. Careers were at the forefront. I pursued art and music, not really a career.
Still unmarried at 35, my mother one day offered to buy me the house next door to my brother in Toms River, NJ. In her mind, I was a spinster even though I was happily single and living in Manhattan. I guess she thought that my older brother would be my life partner though she never discussed it with either of us. I tried convincing her to finance an apartment in Harlem. That didn’t work. I eventually married at 37, unintentionally throwing everyone for a loop. To top it off, I married a rock singer, had a baby at 38 and moved to the country, another series of wacky choices in the eyes of family.
I suppose, partly because of me, my mother’s life did not go as planned. However, we both ended up mothers; different in some ways and the same in others. For example, I also still have my wedding dress. It’s from the 1920’s; older than my mother’s dress. She purchased her gown from a fancy department store, I bought mine used at an outdoor flea market on Columbus Avenue. It’s made of beaded silk, probably a flapper’s dress, and it’s disintegrated over the years to the point of no return. Mother keeps hers in a trunk; I keep mine in a jar. Pretty soon all the silk will be dust and only the beads will be left. I don’t expect anyone to wear it. I shudder to think of the sadness my mother might experience if she ever opens that attic trunk and the tulle is stiff, discolored or degraded in any way and she realizes that it cannot be worn ever again, and that it’s no longer like the photograph, promising a future that could never be certain.
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