The first time I took my mother to New York, we both got to be models.
Go ahead and underestimate the amount of confidence I carried with me growing up in Alexandria, Minnesota. Now underestimate a little more, and you might reach my mother. Oh, we survived, and even had a little fun. We looked at catalogs (nothing was online then) and dreamed, even walked the malls each weekend, and dreamed a little more. We tried on outfits and gained a little more confidence. We went to Minneapolis and grabbed on to a little more. Then Chicago – look at us in Chicago! Our strides got a little longer, our backs a little straighter, and sometimes we even dared to say, “Hey, we look pretty good.” Which may sound vain – but no – that was pure joy!
Maybe you need to know a little backstory. My mom, one of nine farm kids, wasn’t nurtured in fashion. Practical, stained, sturdy, this was the norm. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s very functional. But function is not often what dreams are made of. And so this little girl dreamed. Alone. Her mother, forever aproned and cooking – nine children – still found time to sew. And my mom, forever washing dishes – eight siblings – became a fashion designer, in her heart.
Now, dreams really don’t amount to much without confidence. And that’s another hurdle. How my mother found it, was nothing short of fantastical, but she did. Shedding rumors and divorce and illness, she still managed to dress herself, every day, in something that made them think, “She’s from Alex?”
And she was. We were. And off we flew New York. I had just finished the book, “Slap on a little lipstick, you’ll be fine” — again, thanks to my mother — and Guideposts magazine was going to do a feature story on it. My mom accompanied me. They picked us up in a limo, drove us to the meat packing industry, to a giant loft of an acclaimed photographer. They plucked my eyebrows and did my makeup, slid red leather over black silk and I was delighted, transformed, giddy! My mom watched from the corner as they took photo after photo, smiling and smiling more – no direction needed! And then the photographer said, why don’t we take a few with your mother! Yes, yes! I said. Oh, I don’t… my mother hesitated. (It takes a while to build a confident soul.) You have to! You must! I want you to! And she came – into the shot. And we hugged and smiled and captured it forever! Look, Grandma! We’re models!
They put the pictures in the magazine – even my grandma!
This week, the young poet, Amanda Gorman, asked us to acknowledge the shoulders we’ve stood on, and what we stand for now. These are the women that have held me up.
My grandma’s photo sits next to my sewing machine. I once drew a picture of her hands, and wrote, “If she did worry, it never showed in her hands.” Perhaps that was the strength that allowed my mother to dream. Shoulders.
I painted a picture of a dress designer’s mannequin for my mom, and wrote, “Not all of her dreams came true, but she was never sorry she had them.” Shoulders.
These women gave me the strength to dream, to fall in love, to live. They are the reason I believe. These beauties of strength, survival, endurance, and joy — no one has ever worn it better!
Look, Grandma! Look, Mom! You’re models!!!!!