I have kept the lace jacket for almost 50 years now. It was made by my mother’s hand, to go with the peau de soie wedding dress she also made for me.
I knew she was doing it partly to save money, but when I see it now, it triggers the memory of her unconditional love. I believe it was her way of expressing the love that was otherwise unspoken in our family culture. No one ever said “I love you” the way we do with our children. The word ‘love’ seemed as embarrassing as “breast” or “menstruation” (we called them ‘chest’ and ‘monthlies’).
Dad once said to me, his voice dripping with disgust, “Do you have to talk about feelings all the time!?” Once my father did say “I love you all”. That was the best he could do, and it was only because he had drunk enough alcohol to throw up. It was always clear that feelings were meant to be hidden.
I had the good luck to learn this had not always been my mother’s way. During the last few days before my wedding, one day I brought my boss, Ed, in to meet them when he drove me home. He would be coming to the wedding too. To my shock, Mom and Ed flew into each other’s arms hugging, with Mom squealing “Ed!” and Ed shouting “Edie!?”. Mom’s sister Mabel was there, and they went through the same affectionate greetings. It turned out he was a long-lost friend from their growing-up years in Saskatchewan, and when he learned that some of Mom’s other siblings would also be there soon, he was thrilled. Throughout the evening, one after another arrived – to attend the wedding of their sister’s first-child – and all were greeted with hugs, tears of joy, and laughter.
It was the completely spontaneous affection that was so startling. At 22, I had never seen this in my home. I was fascinated by it, if not comfortable. And now, as I finger the lace jacket, all that affection comes back and I feel the wonder all over again.
In the months leading up to the wedding, Mom and I shopped for a pattern, chose materials and then she set to work. I merely showed up from time to time, to inspect or ‘try-on’. Because she was a modest, self-sacrificing person, and because I was self-centered, I didn’t realize how hard she was working — organizing the details of my wedding, making the dress. She even made a traditional 3-tiered wedding cake, which took months because, like a Christmas cake, it had to be ‘aged’ before it was decorated.
She developed painful eczema on her hands and still she sewed on. My wedding anxieties caused me to lose enough weight that she even had to alter the dress. By the wedding day I was down to 112 pounds – which both concerned and exasperated her. But she soldiered on, organizing out-of-town guests, accommodating everyone involved.
After the wedding, I got to leave it all behind for a honeymoon in Florida, while she was left in its wake, cleaning up after the storm. I breezed back into town with husband in tow, full of my trip, still not thinking about her tremendous feat, still taking it for granted.
Two years later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And about four years after that, she was gone.
As I moved through life – out of that marriage, from home to home, into another marriage, and then into another city, I carried that wedding outfit with me, regardless of the space it took, regardless of how damaged it became. And I think it gradually raised my awareness over the years, each time I came across it. The longer I lived with it, the more I understood the work – and love – that had gone into it, and into so much of my life.
It has changed the way I think and feel about much in life: about self-sacrifice, about unconditional love, about ways we communicate, and about how I may be impacting my daughters’ lives, which is more than you can say about most clothing.
The peau de soie is yellowed and stained with age and is no use to anyone but me now. The delicate lace jacket can be rolled into a very small ball and no doubt will always be with me. I have only to touch them, to feel wrapped in her love all over again.