Saturday, May 7, 2011

My Mother's Taffeta Dress

My mother was beautiful. Truly, flat out beautiful. Her senior picture is the stuff of which pre-war dreams were made. She was frequently compared to Catherine Hepburn (and my dad - after they two got together – was compared to Spencer Tracy which explains why we ‘uns look how we look- but that polluting of her genes is a rant for another day). She was also tall (nearly 5’9” in the 1940s- a tall woman) and willowy and just a little fragile (my dad used to say that she was a thoroughbred race horse and he a big ‘ol draft horse).

Yep, my mother was beautiful and kind and had a wicked sense of humor and we loved her. Plain and simple, good times and bad (no family can lay claim to only good times and we were no different- we weathered some pretty tough times for sure) we loved her and we knew she loved us.

My memories from childhood are filled with sensory memories of my mother and with snap shots- frozen in time images and sounds and fragrance.

Her voice, low and mellow (and her laugh which my cousin describes as “her wonderful, growly laugh”) as she lay stretched out across the double bed my younger brother and I shared (gimme a break- remember “baby boom”) with my even younger sister in a six year bed in the same room as she read from her own childhood books at bed time. She read us all of the Bobbsey Twins and every Honeybunch book a chapter at time hypnotizing us into sleep by her measured and comfortable voice.

My mom, hair tied up in a scarf wearing shorts and one of my dad’s shirts knotted at her waist, standing barefoot in the sun pegging wet laundry onto the clotheslines.

Me coming down to breakfast the picture of third grade misery, terrified to go to school coz I hadn’t done my math homework, collapsing in tears at the table and my mom: “I think you are just too blue to go to school today. You stay home with me.”

And my mother’s taffeta dress… Man! Just thinking about that dress fills me up with being five or six and remembering my mom splendid in red with little white polka dots. I couldn’t have told you at the time that it was taffeta but my grown up self knows that only taffeta makes the wonderful ‘SWISH-SWISH’ sound that dress made as she walked across the room to kiss us goodnight. I can still see it: full skirted and belted and so unimaginably beautiful it made my little kid heart flutter. She would lean down and the dress would swish and she would leave bright red lipstick on cheeks and faces and lips and as she turned to go we could still smell her perfume…Tailspin. (She wore Tailspin till I think they stopped making it or she stopped being able to afford it. I’m not sure if smelling Tailspin now would fill me up with joy or break my heart- probably both.)

I loved that taffeta dress and the way my mother looked and smelled and smiled in it. (On reflection I can guess the reason I have such firm memories of that dress was that it was the only “dressy-dress” she had coz I certainly don’t remember any other super beautiful, ultra-fantastic mom dress- but who knows I was a little kid.)

My mother died when I was twenty-eight. The years between the taffeta dress and her death were filled with joy and heartbreak, trials and triumphs, four more babies, eight teenagers, laughter, loss and love. We were a big ‘ol post-war family and we were filled up with life and all that it meant and my mom, she was the heart of that life and the image of her in her red taffeta dress, well, it’s one of the most joyous memories in my arsenal and it always makes me cry.


  1. Wow, those eyes, those piercing eyes! She certainly was a stunner wasn't she.

    She sounds like an amazing woman, and I swoon at the description of the dress.

    Wonderful piece :)


    ps - I think the name of your blog might be the best blog name ever.