Saturday, July 23, 2011
Love, Money, and Mink
I recently took my mother back to the apartment where she used to live with her sister until health problems forced them both to move a couple of years ago. Because the place is in the basement of my cousin's house a lot of their things are still there, time-capsuled as if they might someday return and resume where they left off.
"Do you suppose this gin is still good?" my aunt might ask as she leans down from her wheelchair and peers into the cabinet.
"Of course it's good," my mother would respond, opening the fridge. "But I don't know about these olives." They'd discuss the pros and cons of a martini without olives then, but they'd make the drinks anyway and sit at their table, a cumulous cloud of smoke forming under the low ceiling. They'd sip. And talk about how good it was to be back.
Could happen. But probably not. My aunt lives in a nursing home now, both legs lost and her memory chasing after them.
What did happen was that my mother opened every drawer and each of her little wooden boxes (many of which most likely came from thrift store or trash picking treasure hunts.) She looked through her closet and her jewelry box and stood in front of her bookshelves . "Take this," she'd say when I exclaimed over something. "It needs fixing, but..." We found earrings that have been in her jewelry box ever since I can remember. She still had the little golden expandable chignon-style hair clasps that I used to set on top of my head as crowns when I played dress up, her father's watch chain, and the crystal rosary in the pouch personalized with her name in gold across the white leather that her mother presented to her as a wedding gift.
I thought I was familiar with each and every one of my mother's treasures, but there was a surprise. "Is that mink?" I asked. The fur was soft as a kitten's, not marred at all by time, although the satin rose was maybe a bit faded with a hint of fray.
"Your father gave that to me for Christmas the year I asked for a mink coat," she said.
My parents never had any money. The way I remember it, the only thing they ever fought about was money, and that was because there wasn't any. I was touched by the story because my father heard what his young, poor-all-her-life wife wanted, and with, I imagine, a rather stylish sense of humor, he delivered mink.
And now the mink and satin rose is with my mother at my brother's house where she lives with him and his girlfriend. My father has been dead for almost thirty years, and my mother looks back almost as much as she looks forward. Tucked-away treasures bring the past and the present together. I like that.