On the rare occasion I let our 1-year-old daughter peek inside my bedroom closet, she gets so excited. She shrieks with delight at my bras hanging from a carousel, and loves to take each of my shoes off the racks, one by one. She then climbs over the shoes to get to the purses and handbags that line the bottom of my closet like detritus in a forest.
Not only is Mommy’s closet an array of textures and shapes to explore, it’s an insight into Mommy herself. Who is this woman, really? What do her articles reveal about her persona? What about her organization style? Is all of this making impressions on my daughter?
Let’s jump back a generation. Oh, I wish I were in Chicago. I would take photos of my mother’s closets. They are enchanted, enchanting forests to explore.
I just happened to dig up one photo of my parents’ shared walk-in closet. Dad’s articles on the right (looks like a lot of dry cleaning), Mom’s articles on the left. What you can’t see are the many shoeboxes stacked neatly on the top shelf, and labeled with the designer, style, and—get this—the date. Anyone who has seen my mother’s closet would tell you this photo doesn’t do it justice. Remind me on my next home visit to record some images like a true documentarian.
Photo taken several years ago. Master walk-in closet of Chicago house we've lived in since 1974.
This isn’t the only closet she has organized. My parents built their house in 1973-74, and have been the only ones to live there since. I know there are times the grand staircase seems like an impossible obstacle as they get older, but it’s never been on the market. (My sisters and I even acquiesced to let it be sold a few years ago, then the market crashed, so we’ve gotten to keep our childhood home as ours for a few more precious years.) The point I’m getting to is that there are more.
In the basement closets can be found, neatly arranged and cataloged by style and date, my mother’s beautiful clothing she wore over the years. She’s no hoarder; more of a collector. I know she’s pared down her wardrobe time and again, but she’s saved these awesome ’70s outfits that include wigs, gloves, go-go boots, and even a chainmail top my sister and I have joint custody of now. (I finally let her have it after the baby was born. I’d been holding onto it since my club-hopping days in the ’90s. I’ll never look like that again.)
Mom at my cousin's wedding in the 70s, wearing the top.
My sister wearing the metal top, last April.
One thing I love and will always remember is the fragrance of my mothers’ finery. She wears a unique French perfume, but there is so much more in the scent’s composition: the wood of the basement; the plastic sheaths she’s packed the clothes in; the vinyl wardrobes where the clothes hang in groups, including our bat mitzvah dresses and prom dresses and costumes from plays.
I swear, her drawers smell sweet to me and remind me of every age I’ve been, since the mystique of Mom’s closet—and the mystique of Mom, herself—has always intrigued and enchanted me.
Can anyone understand?
The ultimate point I am coming to is how much of a treasure I regard my mom, even while she’s alive. I long for her and worry over her and sometimes dedicate an homage to her, like this one.