On the top shelf of my mother’s closet was a brown cardboard box, the size of a wine box, felted with wear. Inside were the clothes of a woman I wished I’d met. I would secretly pull the box down when she was out and gently unwrap the layers of tissue, dreaming of the life of the woman who wore these clothes. Who was this woman who wore fringed suede and tassles?
I can still see the clothes that slipped out from the tissue into my hands: a fringed suede mini-skirt, a pink baby-doll mini-dress, a black sequinned and tasseled wool shell top, and a matching one in silver, a red and blue plaid maxi-dress with a line of fabric covered buttons, a pink cheong sam with a thigh-high slit.
Each piece was beautifully constructed and perfectly preserved, showing a tiny but curvy figure. My 10-year old self had a hard time equating the woman who wore these clothes with my mother, who was…well…just Mum. I swore to myself that when I could, I would wear clothes like this all my life – I wouldn’t lose my identity to children or, God forbid, a husband!
I realise now that I am older now than my mother was when I pawed steathily through her treasured clothes. I realise now that my mother gripped on to her identity, despite working full time with three young children and having a singer as a husband so there was little money to go around.
She was still stylish in an 80’s kind of way, wearing primary colours and shoulder pads (in sweaters!). She had a passion for redecorating the house – think the 70’s glory of shag pile carpet, cork tiles and the coolest white pedestal table. She performed – one of my earliest memories is of my brother and I sitting in a darkened theatre, busy colouring in, as my mother rehearsed her role as Anita in West Side Story in the background or cringing as only children can do as my mother rehearsed acting drunk in a cabaret show she was in. She continued being in shows all through my childhood – in the theatre she wasn’t a mum or a wife or a teacher, she was Andrea.
She might not have continued to wear suede mini-skirts and dresses with thigh-high slits, but she held on to her sense of self. Now I understand what it is like to become immersed in work, relationships and children, I look back at how she held onto her identity with wonder and pride. I understand why she seldom let me borrow those clothes, keeping that piece of herself for herself.
I still covet the box though – and still dream about meeting the woman who wore those clothes.
I love you Mum. Happy 70th Birthday. xxx
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