Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ways I Miss My Mom and What She Taught Me

Periodically, I get lonesome for my mom and I start to miss her.  She died in 1992.  Don't worry, I'm not going to get all maudlin, tear-in-my-beer on you.  It's just that my mom taught me everything I know about home organization, closet organization, clothing care and how a garment should be constructed.  Her cooking lessons, on the other hand, never really caught on, and I learned that from a wonderful Sicilian lady, Sadie, who was my roommate when I was a young college student.  That's why this Norwegian-American can cook you a nice lasagna, but wouldn't know the first thing about how to make you some Scandinavian meatballs.  They're round, right?  Just kidding.  My Irish sister-in-law makes wonderful Swedish meatballs.  


But when I look back at the way my mom organized her house, and believe me, she really organized her house, she did almost everything according to the seasons.  My dad, too, had his schedule of chores that he carried out around the house according to the time of year, like cleaning the furnace, making sure the heating system was properly tuned and running right for the winter, and making sure the hose was in good shape for the summertime.  


My mom was really into sewing.  She sewed practically everything in the house:  drapes, slipcovers, she upholstered furniture, she sewed my sister's wedding dress, my bridesmaid's dress, my high school graduation dress, my confirmation dress ... she would even sew dresses I designed.  I would draw it up on paper, and indicate in detailed drawings what I wanted, and with some good communication, she would sew it up.  I still have one of them - a green silk crepe-de-chine sheath dress with ruching at the shoulders, cap sleeves, and a skinny self-belt.  I also have a suit she made for me from a Vogue pattern (shoot, does anyone sew by Vogue patterns anymore?  Please tell me yes!  Vogue Pattern was my life when I was a kid!) that has a unique cut.  It's a short white wool flannel jacket and a white wool flannel skirt with pleats on the front.  Hey, I was young and skinny then; I could pull it off!  I still have my confirmation dress, too.  That's put away in the cedar hope chest.  


She made a gorgeous purple, black and white afghan quilt for me, too.  That's in the cedar chest.  


But anyway, my mom had a very precise timetable of how things should be run in her house, and she did her best to get us all onboard.  Being a clueless type, I didn't always grasp the importance of "the schedule," but I loved having new clothes, so that was the carrot she stuck in front of my nose.  


The year went something like this:
Mid-Late July: She'd start asking me for my ideas about my back-to-school wardrobe.  What colors did I want to wear?  What outfit did I want to wear for my first day back?  Would I please be so kind as to take a look at some patterns and choose one?  


After that was done, would come the fittings.  Ack!  The fittings!  This is why, unlike most little girls, I had no desire to be a model.  Because I knew that if all they did was stand around all day having pins and needles stuck into them and having patterns measured on them, and having fabric stuck to them, well, that was not for me!  I lacked the patience and calm to be a good fit model.  


Once that was over, my mom would lay the material with the pattern on it on the dining room table and outline the pattern with chalk.  Then the cutting of the fabric to fit the measurements on the pattern would begin.  This would fascinate me, because my mother used these GIGANTIC scissors - I still have them - to cut out the fabric.  Of course, since this appeared to be inherently dangerous, it was the most exciting part of the process.  


Then I'd have to try the garment on for size, while all the seams were pinned together.  Adjustments would be made as was necessary.  


Then the sewing began.  This, to me, was a most mysterious process.  I never really learned to sew on a machine, except to make basic repairs.  But my mom could produce anything from her old Singer.  It was amazing to watch.  It was like watching a sculptor at work, producing a thing of function and beauty from a pile of fabric.  It was, as the Norwegians say, fantastisk!  Fantastic!  


My mom was well-known for her abilities as a seamstress.  At the beginning of the school year, I was regularly called upon to model my outfit, while the teachers pointed out with wonder, "Her mother made it!"  Being a shy kid, this was a little nerve-wracking for me.  But I was proud of my mom.  


I didn't have many "store-bought" clothes when I was growing up, because there were five kids in my family, most of them still living at home.  I wore hand-me-downs for play clothes, and my mom made a lot of my clothes, including nightgowns and pajamas.  Getting something from the store (besides socks and underwear, LOL) was a special occasion.  I also remember I had to wear gloves and a hat when going out for dress-up occasions.  A lady was not a lady unless she had: a purse, gloves and a hat to complete her outfit.  There's this scene in Alfred Hitchcock's film, Marnie, in which she buys an entire wardrobe and stores it in a suitcase.  The wardrobe has in it everything a 1960's woman would need:  hosiery from Albert's, intimate apparel, and blouses, etc.  Tippi Hedren is wearing a suit, heels, a hat and gloves and carrying a purse.  


Well, it was a good run while it lasted.  The psychedelic era came and blew all that away.  Next thing you know, we're all running around braless, with love beads, bell bottoms, peasant blouses and bare feet.  Heck, even I was wearing psychedelic prints!  


But I digress.  As I got older and got my own room, it became my task to clean out my closet twice a year - once before fall and back-to-school, and again for spring cleaning.  Of course, my whole room had to be cleaned, too.  I certainly lack that timetable now, boy.  I'm just happy when I remember to do the laundry and swish-and-swipe.  The kitchen, however, I am proud to say, is ALWAYS CLEAN.  


But yeah, at least twice a year I would go through my closet and pick out what I wasn't wearing, what didn't fit anymore, what needed to be repaired, taken to the cleaners or hand-washed.  We'd send the cast-offs to Salvation Army, my mom would take care of the repairs and the dry cleaning, and I would take care of my hand-wash.  


Well, I need to get back into these habits again.  I've been inspired by a couple of people:  MissusSmartyPants and Peter Walsh, my sister, my brother ("You have too much SHIT!!!"  he's been heard to say to me while helping me move) and Storage Magazine has been helpful, as well.  


That said, I have some things on the agenda that I need to accomplish.  I worked on my goals this morning, and some of them are coming along, some of them need help.  But I figured this was a good time to pause and reflect on my "roots"; to get back in touch with the good habits I was raised with.  Maybe this will give some of you time to pause and reflect on the habits you were raised with, good or bad, and how they impact you at this point in your life, whether it's something as mundane as closet organization and wardrobe maintenance, or something more meaningful, like spiritual sustenance and how you nurture relationships.