I can feel her eye roll all the way from heaven as I sit in the hotel breakfast lounge. Not for me, of course. She would never have allowed me to go out into a public area dressed like that. She led by example. Hair, make-up, clothes — even when at their most casual — impeccable. And I wanted to be just like her.
When I was old enough, she got me my own starter kit for make-up. Most likely they were the free gifts from her purchases. She wanted me to learn with my own products. And not to mess up hers. This was clear from my earliest of memories. If I wanted to dunk my cookie, she gave me my own cup of coffee. And so it was with make-up. With clothes. I could admire her shoes, but never walk around in them. Because these things were special. They meant something. She took pride in herself. To be tall in stature was good, to be tall in self-worth was priceless.
And so we dressed for the occasion. Each day was just that. Whether we were toasting, or just going to the lobby for toast. I finished my morning coffee, not in judgement, but in thanks. I stand tall. Every day. My mother still sees to that.
I was watching a German creator who recently moved to Los Angeles, California. She was lonesome. Missing her friends. She walked around the streets and picked up odd objects. From the ground. Abandoned buildings. Seemingly useless stuff, but she could see something beautiful. She made a light that turned on by an automatic switch, notifying her of the German time between 9am and 9pm — the time she could safely call up a friend in Germany. Her best friend. To hear the sound of her voice. I love this idea. This simple reminder. A light to stay connected.
Because that’s everything, isn’t it? Just to be connected to the ones you love.
I search the house. Photographs and spare parts. Metal. Wood. Scraps. I know I can make anything. My heart smiles and tells my brain, “I’ve got this.” The flame that lights my mother’s memory is shining brightly. There’s only one thing I need to know — what time is it in heaven?
There were no smartphones to capture the moment. Only real film. Real cameras. No google to tag the time and place. We relied on the story. Packaged it deeply into our hearts and brains. Told it again and again to keep it alive.
I came across the photo of my mother on her hands and knees, in her bra and short pants, all smiles, ironing her blouse on the carpeted condo floor. That’s Hilton Head, South Carolina. I can’t see out any window. There are no discernable markers. But I know the story.
It was my first real vacation from my first real job. We packed our non-rolling suitcases and put them in my GPS-less car. We drove from the Minnesota winter to the beaches of South Carolina.
Having only real film to document our journey, decisions had to be made. It wasn’t like it is today with digital. No, there was a real cost to each photo, so I had to be frugal with my image choices. With all the beauty that surrounded us, the sand and sun, blues skies and flowers, you may be surprised that I used precious film to capture the moment of my mother ironing her blouse on the condo floor. But this WAS the story. The one I wanted to remember. Because I knew the landscape could and would change through the years, but it was our relationship, this was the most important thing of all.
I can still feel the heaving of laughter in my belly. Struggling so to keep the camera still, and focus on the image. It wasn’t really “funny,” — it was just the release of so much joy. This freedom to be ourselves, to be our best selves. So much joy, all we could do was laugh.
I know I took some pictures on the beach. I’ve misplaced them through the years. They weren’t that valuable. I saved what was important.
You won’t find ironed blouses in the Hilton Head brochures, but in my heart, the laughter, the joy, the real story lives on and on.
They say that paper has a memory. Meaning, if you fold it, the crease remains. Perhaps the same is true of the heart.
The limb I found myself wobbling upon yesterday was a bit more unstable than usual, so I gathered in my heart and took it to the paper. It always welcomes me. And even with all of its security, it still challenges me. Dares me to create. To learn. To grow. To find the beauty even in this moment of uncertainty.
I didn’t plan the portrait, I just started to paint. As she came to life, I knew what she needed to wear. My mother would have loved this ruffled blouse. How it gently gathered around the neck and framed the face. She was the queen of white ruffles, my mother. Such a delicate beauty.
And there it was — found — the uncertain beauty of the moment.
My heart is not broken. But it will be forever creased. Remembering and saving all the love. And it is here, in the beautiful folds, that I have the courage to move from limb to limb. To dare the lift of love, ruffle my feathers from heart to face, and let myself fly.