My mother’s in a dementia facility. Yesterday was her birthday. Every time I stop by, she reads to me from a stack of notes, written in her flowery scrawl on pages torn from magazines. There are usually 10 to 20 notes that say, “What have you done with my fur coat?” or “Tell James to buy you a coat of your own! Don’t steal mine! Love Mother” Of course she doesn’t remember she gave me her old mink coat for safekeeping because she “didn’t trust the people in her apartment building.”
Mother’s always been a fashion plate. When she was young, she was a model and then a buyer at a large department store. I grew up hearing her talk about clothes and fabrics. “Look at the beautiful way they finished these seams,” she would say, or “If you buy one nice piece in the Fall, and one nice piece in the Spring, pretty soon you’ll have a great wardrobe.”
In my early 20s I took mother’s advice and went to a Calvin Klein trunk show, where I bought my first nice piece of clothing. I don’t remember how much it cost, but I do know I was out of my comfort zone and went down the escalator thinking, “What have you done?”
Recently someone at the dementia facility washed mother’s red Valentino jacket. The one with the black velvet collar and cuffs that turn back, just so, at her wrists. It’s her favorite. Before I got to her room, I could hear her screaming,
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? YOU WASHED MY VALENTINO! IF YOU EVER TOUCH MY THINGS, AGAIN, I’LL CALL THE POLICE.”
As I appeared in the open doorway of mother’s room, an aide hurried past me with a frightened look on her face. Mother held up her jacket for me to see. “I hired a girl to help me a couple of times a week, and look what she’s done to my Valentino!” It looked like something from Baby Gap, only more stylish. Something Rachel Zoe would buy for a little girl, if she had one.
When mother’s no longer with us, I’m thinking about making her brown mink coat into pillows for my 1920’s club chairs. I think they’d look great against the chocolate leather of the chairs and the brown suede seats.
Of course, Mother would be horrified! I can hear her now: “What have you done?”