My mother scrunched up her face when anyone said she was beautiful.
“Oh, no, I’ve always been plain.”
She spent a lot of time curling her hair. She didn’t like straight hair.
Isn’t she lovely in this picture?
Her looks were variable. When she was happy, she was pretty; when not, plain. She conducted many arcane staring rituals in the mirror. She did her hair at the mirror on the chest of drawers. In the living room she glanced at herself in the mirror above the fireplace. She took the hand mirror to the picture window so she could see what her face looked like in natural light.
Some of these rituals are now familiar to me. I comb my hair in front of the mirror on the medicine cabinet and then dash into the living room with a compact to “do” my makeup, which takes 5 seconds. Yes, I’m an out-of-the-shower-into-the-streets person.
If only I looked like my mother!
There is no resemblance.
She was a housewife, much more fastidious about her house than I. She cleaned every bit of the house every day. She loved shopping, loved TV, saw her mother every day, never took walks or exercised, took me to every movie that came to town (except “Darling,” much to my disappointment), read women’s magazines, made sure I read Little Women, and spent hours on the phone (which was a problem when I was an adolescent and we competed for the phone).
She disliked talking about the past.
“I like the present,” she told me over and over.
After I left my hometown, I seldom saw her.
I was busy. I taught, I wrote, I worked for abortion rights, I bicycled, I gave parties, I chatted, and I cooked vegetables.
I began to know her better in the last 10 years.
She was a little odd, an old woman from Dickens. So many knickknacks in her house. Everywhere you looked. She said she liked to eat food kids liked: hamburgers, fried shrimp, chicken patties…and she still lived to be a thousand or something.
Time together often seemed very long. We would go to the mall and she would buy me a bewildering number of garments on sale: a black-and-white-checkered sweater, a polyester Liz Claiborne vest, a Peruvian sweater at Ben Franklin…I haven’t worn most of these, I confess.
I would gamely put on lipstick in front of the mirror with her and pretend to be girls-all-together, but I wasn’t really like that.
My life has been about reading; hers about shopping and being a housewife.
She never remarried after her divorce. What I hope most for her–but I don’t really believe in the afterlife–is that she finds a good husband in “Heaven.”
I know it’s not supposed to happen in the afterlife, but…
Think of all the Meg Ryan movies and Sandra Bullock movies she used to love.
Isn’t it time for her to have what she would most have liked?
I hope no theologists are reading this!
But it was very sad that she had to be alone.
I miss you, Mom! And I hope you’re not scandalized by this.