She would pick me up at the Great Neck train station though she lived further east. It was a shorter trip and my mother wanted to make everything as easy for her daughters as possible.
On the way to Mecca––otherwise known as Loehmann’s, we would talk. Once when my father was on a business trip she had watched Tea & Sympathy the night before. And she told me the story—the entire story. If you know that movie you know it’s long.
When we arrived at Loehmann’s the saleswomen would see her and perk up. Once we were through looking at clothes and went into the huge communal dressing room she would take over their jobs. (The woman loved to talk to people and she loved to sell clothes.)
When we began the trips our family had a few stores; later I would say she was retired but there was always Loehmann’s. Usually we only looked for clothes for me, me and me.
But sometimes I would pick out clothes for her—and I have to admit they were stunning. I particularly remember the yellow jacketed suit with black piping and a black skirt. It was perfect for my petite dark haired short mother.
On that trip I saw a fuschia suit. The shoulder pads were huge but this was the 1980’s and everybody wanted to look like a linebacker. The jacket was made so that if you wore a shirt or tee under it you would look absurd. It was nipped in the waist and a few inches above the knee. My mother had her doubts about the suit but once I tried it on her eyes glowed. She looked at women staring at me (some blatantly; this was Long Island) and said: “this is my daughter.” ( No, I was some stranger! Loehmann’s was the Long Island mother/daughter reunion site.) “Isn’t she beautiful?” “Don’t you love her in the suit?” I bowed more than a bit embarrassed.
But that look in her eyes made me want to memorize the moment.
We tried on more clothes. I was the most impatient shopper in the world; she was the most patient. She had grown to respect my limits and as long as I let her buy me some clothes and would go out for pizza with her afterward she was happy.
I was job hunting that year and wore that suit on every second interview——the interview with the man who would be my direct boss. I was offered four out of five incredible jobs. Not because I was particularly qualified but such was the power of the suit. I thought about my mother and her great love for me each time I put the suit on.
There was a family Bar Mitzvah. In my family and I assume most families we would talk about what we would wear for weeks sometimes months before the event. But to this one there was little discussion; she would wear the yellow jacketed suit and I would wear my fuschia suit. And we both looked amazing.
My mother was beginning to get an eye disorder nobody had heard of before––wet macular degeneration. Though she and my father (later my sister and I) spent endless hours seeking help nobody could help her. Still she didn’t give up Loehmann’s for the longest time.
I always thought my father was my idol and he was. But my mother was my role model and the woman I wanted to emulate. Oh she didn’t have a high powered career. But she had something more——a grace and presence that made people confess their lives to her. She became blinder and blinder.
In one of those little ironies life loves to play yellow was the only color she could see fairly well. Fortunately she had kept the suit. After my father died and the house was too much for her she moved to a large apartment building——near the Lake Success Loehmann’s she could only go to infrequently. Life can be unfair like that.
Her building was a NORC (naturally occurring retirement community) and many of the aides would hang out in her apartment telling her their life stories and present problems that she would effortlessly solve.
When she died in October 2001 better minds than mine ignored her request for a graveside funeral. The funeral home was packed. The Rabbi said “I see that I’m going to have explain somethings as so many non-Jews are here.” I (being so me-centered thought: how does he know my friends aren’t Jewish?)
Then I looked around and tears began to almost-flow through my eyes as I realized that the aides had taken the morning off from work––and in the ultimate compliment brought their hard working husbands who also took the morning off.
I’m still not used to my mother being gone. I thought she would be here forever. I don’t like Loehmann’s and haven’t been in it for years but I always thought it would remain a bedrock of our lives. It’s bankrupt and the inventory is being liquidated.
Life goes on even when we want to stop the action for just a second.
I miss my mommy and all of a sudden memories of us in Loehmann’s are flooding through my brain. Good memories all.
Except that I feel as if there should be a funeral and you have no idea how many hours it took for the women in our family to dress for certain ones. (We weren’t vain, just….)
“Years from now, when you talk about this, and you will, be kind.” Always mother always.