You might be like me, motherless on Mother’s Day. My mother was a smoker who quit her Raleigh cigarettes too late. It’s been 16 years since I last heard her voice and laughter, was warmed by her smile, or saw her face light up when I came for a visit. My memories of her are fading, and I fear they’ll continue to do so.
I don’t have many photos of Mom and none of us together since she hated to have her picture taken. How can I feel her presence again? The answer comes when a friend asks, “Do you have any fabric scraps?” I tell her I do. I find the large tub on a top shelf in the basement storage room. Since I don’t sew anymore, maybe I can sort through and downsize. Maybe I can get rid of the whole thing.
I rummage through, setting aside fabric for my friend, but remember I’d also used the tub to store pieces of old clothing that had sentimental value.
The first fabric that caught my eye was a red calico print that my mother and I had picked out together when I was 12 years old. I’d gotten a sewing machine for Christmas that year and Mom had helped a friend and me make skirts. My friend had chosen the same pattern in blue. Seeing that cheery print instantly transported me back to my mother happily watching two giggly pre-adolescent girls twirling and dancing around in their matching skirts.
My mother loved to dance herself, and the bright fabric sends me back to a family wedding. Mom wore lipstick and a twirly dress. When the polka music began, she reached for my hand. We twirled around, yee-hawing with unleashed joy. i remember it well.
I spot a fabric that evokes another memory of dance and music. It’s a swirl of blues, pinks, and creams, a remnant of the prom dress I’d designed and sewn. Mom had helped in the tough spots, but she’d encouraged me to do most of it on my own. I soak in the colors.
A few years after this prom, Mom suggested I move into my grandmother’s vacant apartment so I’d have a chance to live on my own. She often talked about the importance of women having time to be carefree and independent. I didn’t realize the wisdom of her words at the time, but I now understand she knew I’d soon marry and would face the commitments of starting a family.
I happen upon a swatch of fabric from my mother’s wedding dress next and remember her telling me a startling story. She’d gotten angry at my father and had cut the dress up for curtains. We were interrupted before I could get details and I foolishly never thought to bring it up again. Learning about the past and seeking her advice are among the things I miss most.
When I uncover the small tutu that belonged to my youngest daughter, I get a pleasant flash of those hectic but precious days of my own motherhood: running kids to dance lessons, hockey, horseback riding, basketball, and guiding them as my mother had guided me. I visualize what their grandma would say and do if she could be a part of her grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s’ lives.
I’m suddenly back to Mom’s last days when I covered her fragile hand with my own. She looked up at me with moistened eyes and said, “The best thing I did with my life was to have you kids.”
I can clearly see her face filled with both sadness and acceptance at her fate. I can hear her voice, choked up but filled with love.
With a full heart, I gently fold and tuck the memory fabrics back into the tub. They brought back precious remnants of my mother that even time couldn’t unravel. I’m about to return the tub to the high shelf when I choose, instead, to place it on a lower one, where I can keep it close.