In the basement of my mother and stepfather’s house, I look through the closet where Mama’s coats hang. These are her extra coats, at least twenty of them. A black suede jacket by Anne Klein, a gold rain cape by Pierre Carden, an army-style blazer by Eileen Fisher. Size 12, size 14, large, large, large. I wish they fit me, but I swim in them. Except the cape.
It’s raining, and I didn’t bring a raincoat. I came to Toronto to see my father in hospital, where he lies with a fractured pelvis. I left Victoria in a hurry and packed lightly—just a small overnight bag with a few clothes and a box of KN95 masks. I try on Mama’s rain cape and my hands go to the pockets. Change, Kleenex, a shopping list, a Stim-U-Dent, “the most recommended piece of wood in dental history.”
I inherited my mother’s gum disease and her love of pockets. The best jackets and coats, dresses, and pants have pockets. Places to stash the things we might need. Mad money, my mother told me, was the money you took on a date in case the guy was a jerk and you needed the bus fare home. Pockets are secret places to slip your hands into when your fingers are cold or restless. Places to finger a hidden thing.
Wearing the long gold cape, light as tissue paper, I start to rifle through pockets of the other coats. The treasures I find, I pile on the floor. I take just a few sample items and make an arrangement: a toonie, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. Clean Kleenex, wads of it. Stim-U-Dents. A paper clip. The business card of a jeweller up on Bloor Street. Some scraps of paper with her handwriting.
Handwriting that opens a valve spreading warmth through me. Hey, Mama, it’s you! I’ve opened hundreds of envelopes and packages addressed in that warm energetic cursive. For years, there were frequent letters filling me in, encouraging me, describing events and ideas, asking me how are you? how are the boys? Handwritten cheques, recipe cards, Christmas and birthday packages and “just because” packages.
And lists—lists that summon an image of Mama getting ready to go out to do her daily errands.
She would tell me during our weekly calls, “I’m just like a European housewife, now. I shop every day.” I can see her in her sunglasses, her dark smooth hair in a classic bob. Pink lipstick. She is dressed all in black, and she tucks the list into her jacket pocket, slings a shopping bag over her arm. She calls for the cat Cicero, making sure he’s inside before she locks up and gets into her black Echo, buzzing up to Fiesta for the good Ace brand ciabatta. For the green net bag of bright oranges to halve and squeeze for juice every morning, using the old-fashioned cut-glass juicer. Mayo—a large jar of Hellman’s to be slathered on the sliced ciabatta and then layered with Asiago cheese and slices of the best-quality salami. A stop at the drug store for heart pills, for “dry shampoo.” I can see the funny little purple and white cannister of “Nuvola Dry Shampoo” on her vanity—that powder she sprinkled on her oily scalp to assuage some anguish she had about her hair.
I take off the rain cape—too dramatic. I worry it would draw attention to me as I walk along the street; I want to go by unnoticed. But I ask Petros if I can have her summer robe from the upstairs closet. It’s been 19 months now, but her clothes are all still here. I reach to the back of the closet and pull out the robe, still smelling of her.
What is 11 by 15?
Is it the size of a photograph
you wanted to frame?
Did you ask
Ma, Nung Uk
at Golden Jewellery
your ring smaller
so as to
I hope you don’t mind
that I took your robe.
The Calvin Klein
black jersey one
you wore in
I was careless:
forgot to check
the pockets and
when I pulled it
from the washer,
a fine white
the dark folds.
The day before I left
I asked him,
Could you ever
No, he said.
I would always
compare her to
Oh yes, deceased parents clothes. Just yesterday after 2 years of having 2 green garbage bags of my Dad’s clothes in the corner of our bedroom Barb nudged me to deal with them. Went through them and maybe kept a quarter of them. Just needed the time. My father was a big fan of Stim- u-dents. Hope your dad is doing OK.
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Thank you, John. The clothing thing is so bittersweet. Clothing and the everyday objects of our lives. What we leave behind. Sending love to you and Barb.
Sweet, poignant, penetrating. This is a beautiful love letter to your Mama. Thank you for touching me with it.
Sweet, poignant, penetrating. This is a beautiful love letter to your Mama. Thank you for opening my heart.
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Thank you, darling one.
I love it! The magic of finding all those daily items in your long gone mothers pocket. So moving
Madeline that was beautiful and recalled such happy memories of your wonderful mother, our Aunt Jeannie! I think the gold cape is one she wore on a trip to NYC in 2008 to celebrate my mother’s 87th birthday. She was very dramatic in that cape with her big sunglasses and black hat. Perfect for New York and on her! ❤️
Thank you Ger for your comment and for the detail about NYC in 2008–so lovely to have this information. I know she loved that trip to celebrate Auntie Fran’s birthday. She was dramatic, wasn’t she? Thanks for sharing memories. xoxo