Tag Archives: sisters

LAST RIGHTS

The last three words my sweetheart and I speak to each other before hanging up the phone are “I love you.” We say the same in public places whenever going our separate ways, when exiting the house either alone or together, and before falling asleep each night. Sometimes I even say them when leaving her to tidy up the kitchen as I head upstairs to write. The words are always heartfelt. Never flung. Never forgotten.
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I learned to say “I love you” from my mom who thought we should say it to our siblings whenever one of us walked out the door. We didn’t, although the words were a given between me and her, and similarly exchanged between my kid sister, Kate, and I.
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Otherwise, I’m reluctant to express them.
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I don’t recall my father ever saying “I love you” to me or my sisters except in a tickle poem he mostly used to torture Kate. He was a misogynist when it came to his daughters and a misogamist due to our unwanted births. For certain, I neither felt, nor uttered the sentiment to him.
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It’s no secret that my father wanted six sons, having cast himself as too virile to spawn females, so I can’t speak for my brother’s relationships with him. Besides, the three boys were all older, during a period when practicing sexism thrived. They’ve remained distant for most my life. Not as antagonists, mind you. There’s no ill will. Indeed, our communications are always engaging. But we’re more like friends with certain secrets kept than family with skeletal closets closed.
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In fact, I doubt they know, immediately after returning home from a forced 48 hour stay in the mental ward of Foote Memorial Hospital (tethered to a bed by brown leather straps with gray metal buckles), I tried to kill my father with a salad fork. Where I found a salad fork is baffling, since salads were never part of any meal plan when we were young, save for the Waldorf variety when Michigan Macintoshes were plentiful. Admittedly, patricide by salad fork seems tame by today’s road rage comparison, but in 1962 small town, midwest America, even the hint of such news would knock the kid washing his duck in the kitchen sink off the front page (or at least lower it below the fold).
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I was sixteen, five-foot-one, and weighing in at 75 pounds to his five-foot-eight at twice the weight. He quickly overcame me with a grip from behind, but I chomped down on his left hand until I reached the bone of his index finger. Tossed off and aside, I spit blood when warning him to never touch me or Kate again. He never did. We steered clear of each other after that.
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I’ve never cried for my father, nor regretted my actions, remaining reticent about the motive behind my foiled intent of fifty-five years ago. I cannot talk about the details even now.
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And, really, what would be the point? My brothers, who saw no need, nor made an effort to protect their sisters from him in the past might doubt me now, as then. They have their own cemented memories of my father. My older sister grapples with hers, still.
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But no one talks, unless you count my father whose callous and cunning correspondence to my brothers bemoaned his life, made excuses for his failures, alluded to addictions, transferred infidelities, and emulated martyrdom while praising his sons before claiming his redemption. Letters that were copied and given to my Kate as — what? Proof of his greater goodness and professed regret?
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She left me the copies with a not-so-cryptic note attached, written in her own hand, confident I’d understand how it felt to be lost in a world where forgiveness is sometimes the fad, and forgetting is always the fallacy.
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No, no. It hasn’t made me bitter.
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Just weary.
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My mom said my father was watching the Detroit Lions trounce the Cleveland Browns on television when his eyeglasses fell off. While reaching down to retrieve them he suffered a massive heart attack. Before the thud, she heard him curse.
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My father’s final words were, “God damn it!”
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My mom’s final words were, “I know you do.”
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Kate’s final words were, “I love you.”

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by Marguerite Quantaine Copyright @ 2017
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her novel,
IMOGENE’S ELOISE: Inspired by a true story
is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
Choose LOOK INSIDE for a free read prior to considering purchase.
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Marguerite Quantaine’s book of essays,
MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK
is due for publication in paperback and Kindle on Amazon
October 3, 2017.

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HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLATON

Essayist & Author
Marguerite Quantaine

My late sister, Kate, believed in truth. She thought she recognized it, practiced it, and that it would prevail. But I’m no longer sure truth ever was, or will be — nor am I certain of it’s prevalence in society today.

Because all truth stems from whatever is written as fact, and even the most inspired of wordsmiths are writers-at-soul choosing multiple elements of speech, edicts, merged thoughts, external influence, doubt in some entities rarely balanced by confidence in others, and a necessity for meticulous punctuation in order to advance beliefs, all the while knowing the end result will be subjected to individual interpretations using numerous mediums regardless of the author’s intent.

Enter our willingness to believe whatever we’re being told and — worse yet — our parroting of those narratives, as if each utterance was an original thought from which we’ll eventually justify any errors of our ways by citing a misdirected faith in the charisma of charlatans dressed in fleece.

Now, don’t get me wrong by taking me out of context.

I harbor no objection to people having  faith. It’s often a convenient, efficient, popular, time-honored tradition that’s easier to embrace than most are willing to admit, and necessary to the survival of even the unfittest.

What I question is our inclination to believe the worst in others, as if in doing so we’ll esteem ourselves in the presence of those whose alliance we crave.

What I find dubious is our rallying for the very rights we join school cliques, and group cliques, and office cliques, and organization cliques, and awards cliques to deny to those unwilling to join our cliques.

What I cannot fathom is the instant exclusion of those we’ve never met and never spoken to based solely on what we’ve heard from a friend, or associate about the stranger.

Think of how many times you’ve united against bullying in our schools over the past decade, assailing the abusiveness of name-callers as detriments to society.

And yet, nearly half of us voted for a name-caller to lead us and participated in the notion of locking up a person who has never been arrested, booked, tried, or convicted of a crime in her lifetime.

In a patriarchal society — which ours is — I can understand how misogyny can flourish among males.

But the implausibility of misogyny is such that I can’t understand how it thrives among females.

Except, maybe I do?

Perhaps it’s because every news anchor, commentator, journalist, politician, and figurehead over the past year failed to question (what I’m inclined to recognize as) the ecclesiastical elephant in the room.

I first felt the enormity of it’s presence forty years ago when I refused to attend the wedding of my brother.

At the time I’d been in love with my Elizabeth for seven years, a woman who’d not only been crucial to saving my life after a catastrophic car crash, but had eagerly, earnestly, and single-handedly tended to my long-term recovery for five of those seven years.

Nevertheless, the invitation to my brother’s nuptials didn’t list Elizabeth’s name, nor did it include her as a plus-one option.

As a result, I declined the invitation.

Now before you feel any politically correct indignation on my behalf, please don’t.

Remember, it was 1977. Homosexuality had only recently been declassified as a mental disease, while me and mine were still labelled by law as felons at risk of being arrested, indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced as such. We were social misfits. Deviants. A cause for embarrassment.

Even now there remains places in America where being homosexual is still regarded as a detainable offense, though not prosecutable; municipalities where dissident profiling can prevent police from responding to assaults, or delay ambulances from arriving in a timely manner; where medical treatment is subpar, and getting away with causing a death could go unnoticed, or be ignored altogether.

(It’s here you should take umbrage.)

But I digress.

My brother’s wedding was viewed as a big deal because, of six children (all of us in our 30s) only two were married, and the likelihood was that his union would mark the last chance for my mom to ever again be a mother-of the intended.

So, even though it was discreetly discussed and agreed that my Elizabeth should have been welcomed, I was demonized for my decision not to go.

That is, right up until the portion of the actual ceremony where the bride agreed to obey her husband. It caused my sisters and mother to storm through our front door several hours later echoing each other, “Thank God you weren’t at the wedding, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, oh my God, thank you for not coming! You would have caused an uproar. Even we nearly did!”

It’s true. They knew me well. I’ve never taken kindly to being submissive to, or even particularly respectful of male authority. At very least, the sacred pledge to obey would have made me gasp conspicuously, if not trigger a knee-jerk audible “No-o-o!”

Which returns us to those questions unwritten by journalists, unspoken by news anchors and commentators, unsought by pollsters, unaccounted for in election booths, unstatesmanlike in Congress, unaddressed by constituencies, unadulterated, unanticipated, unalterable, unapologetic, unassuaged, unappeasable, unsettlingly, unstudied, and (perhaps) unassailable, untouchable, untenable and even unrighteous in the final analysis. 

But not unaskable.

Does a woman’s pledge to obey her husband require being dutiful to his choice when casting her ballot?

And, if so, does that mean America has become a Silent Theocracy?

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her novel, IMOGENE’S ELOISE : Inspired by a true-love story
is available on AMAZON, in paperback , and on Kindle.
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Note: Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest and add your thoughts by selecting Leave A Message here. I’m all eyes and heart. 
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MY LIFE OF CRIME & PUNISHMENT

Marguerite Quantaine


The first thing I ever did to indicate the direction I was heading resulted from letting my kid sister, Kate, annoy me. I was 3.3 at the time and tiny for my age; she was a martinet of 2 and already bigger and brighter than me.
     We lived in a drafty 19th century farmhouse on the brick street of a south side neighborhood in a small midwestern town back then, where her crib sat in my parents bedroom, being used one night to corral us while company visited.
     It was late. We were lying back-to-back. I was weary and wanting to sleep. She was incessantly demanding that I “Get out! Get out! Get out! Get out!” of her bed until I got fed up and gave her a reason to bellyache.
     I peed on her.
     That was my crime.
As punishment, every person Kate introduced me to from that night onward included the preamble, “This is my sister, Margie. When we were kids she peed on me,” invariably prompting the retelling of our toddler turf war.
     The last time she introduced me was to her late shift hospice nurse in May of 2015. It’s allowed her to maintain the upper hand on my heart, forevermore.

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When I was not quite five I crossed a busy street in the middle of the block after being warned never to do so.
     That was my crime.
     As punishment I was, first, hit by a taxicab, and then vilified by my kindergarten teacher, Miss Beech, for losing the school’s celebrated green-and-white stick figure safety flag awarded to the most accident-free district. I spent all of kindergarten, first, and much of second grade shunned.
     The alienation ended when we moved from our neighborhood into the school district that was presented the prestigious safety flag after my mishap.

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In junior high school my best friend was Beverly Brown. During the summer of 1959 we’d frequent the Bloomfield Elementary School playground where all the neighborhood kids hung out.
     One day I discovered the basement door to the school was left open. Upon further exploration, I found I could easily walk through the door of the humongous furnace, and crawl through the boiler tunnels leading to classrooms located on the first and second floors.
     Inspired, I became an entrepreneur as The Bloomfield Boiler Guide charging a quarter per tour, commencing with a Cokes & Chips Party in the furnace chamber while whistling to Mitch Miller’s The River Kwai blaring repetitively on Bev’s Stromburg Carlson portable record player. 
     That was my crime.
     At the end of the first tour we were, one-by-one, greeted by police officers as we gaily emerged from the furnace and transported by patrol cars, sirens screaming all the way to the joint where we were sentenced to sit on hard benches behind bars until parents arrived to spring us.
That was my punishment.
     Bev’s were there within minutes. Mine never came.
     After six hours, a change in shift occurred and I was released to walk home feeling my claim to chain gang fame crumble.
    
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At age 14, I forged my parents signatures to wangle a coveted 40 hour a week job working 5 hour weeknights and 15 hour Saturdays as the record department sales and inventory control clerk at Hopkins, the most popular electronics store in town.
     The Hopkins family consisted of the Magooish father, Robert, Sr., who was obsessed with soybeans, and two feuding brothers, Motorola Bob and Prince John, the latter being a local disc jockey who depended on me to choose the best of the latest released demo records arriving daily in the mail for playing on his prime time show. All three men were members of the Kiwanis Club which placed a freestanding, glass globe, stainless steel Ford Gumball machine at the entrance to my music department.
     Ford gumballs came in pristine white, cadmium yellow, royal blue, Pepto pink, and verdant green, each with a fiend thirsty flavor cementing a brisk business as the best penny chews of the 50s and 60s.
     Back then, 45 RPM records were a buck plus one cent tax the dollar, so Magoo kept plenty of pennies on the top of the cash register to pay the tax for any customer short of change.
     As it so happened, I was addicted to Ford gumballs.
     That was my crime.
     I used the freebie pennies and a few from the till to treat my multi-record buying customers to a free gumball without thinking to inform the trio.
     Many miles and decades later I learned the missing cents — sometimes as many as 20 a day — were wreaking havoc each evening when Motorola cashed out the register and came up short against the receipts. He swore Prince was stealing change to keep the books from ever balancing. The discourse turned so beastly between accusations and denials that one day Prince packed up and moved his family to Texas.
     My punishment was in learning I was the trigger, much too late.
     Not that Motorola would have admitted any error, and not that Prince would have accepted any apology, and not that Magoo cared beyond the ticker tape apparatus (next to the gumball machine) operating 24/7/365 tracking the soy bean market.
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As a corporate executive in New York City for the designer line of the largest provider of leisurewear in the nation, I’d occasionally gift a sample pair of pajamas, ‘borrowed’ from the showroom for delivery to a very wealthy friend who pestered me for a freebie each time she planned a new paramour sleepover.
     That was my crime.
     One day I was served with a subpoena to appear in court to testify as “the other women” in a high profile NYC divorce proceeding.
     It seems the wife of my friend’s lover had discovered her husband’s affair and promised not to divorce him as long as he told her the name of his mistress. Unbeknownst to me, my friend suggested her lover give the wife my name instead of hers, thereby allowing them to continue the affair without consequence.
     Hubby complied, never suspecting his wife would use the confession as proof of his infidelity, backfiring on all three of them once I was deposed.
     That wasn’t my punishment.
     That was my cure.
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Life is a silver lining for those of us willing to scrape the surface of adversity.
     At five, I may not have grasped the words, but I already knew how oppression is forged from the indignation of adults. Being alienated taught me to observe more, listen closely, talk less, read well, recognize the treachery of language, and understand that bullying won’t be curtailed from the child up until it’s eradicated from the parent, down. Oh, and by the way, it doesn’t take getting hit in the head by a taxi cab to learn that.
     As for those in uniform, it’s true, I still challenge authority. But I never again broke into another school (unless you count the times I didn’t get caught), and I make every effort to shake the hand of all police officers I encounter, thanking them for their service while trying not to whistle The River Kwai as I work the crowd.
     Meanwhile, the mere mention of gumballs requires I battle temptations to buy a vintage Ford machine on eBay as a tribute to Motorola, Prince and Magoo who taught me the invaluable skills that eventually landed me a job in Manhattan where I sang New York, New York with gusto after turning the head of Ol’ Blue Eyes when we passed as strangers in the night outside the 21 Club.    
     Which takes me to the brink of divorce court with one of the most interesting and exciting bad influences I ever had the endless pleasure of knowing — and leaves me within the aura of my sister, Kate, who remained my loyal partner in crime and laughter for the balance of her life.
     Sleep sweet my peep.

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Copyright Marguerite Quantaine © 2017
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her novel, Imogene’s Eloise : Inspired by a true-love story
is available on AMAZON, in paperback and Kindle. Please choose LOOK INSIDE
for a free read of several chapters before you consider buying.

HAPPY TRAILS TO YOU . . .

Kate b:w

“You’re always a happy camper,” my kid sister, Kate, says to me, frequently. “Even from back when. I’ve seldom seen a photograph where you weren’t. Whereas, the rest of us…”  She sighs as her claim tapers off; the ‘rest of us’ being our four older siblings.

     I’m in her Florida home, fifty-eight miles southeast of mine, enjoying faded photographs of her and me during childhood, a monochrome to Kodachrome procession of us aging over the years, corralled in silver and brass frames crowding the desktop in her den.
     “You’re smiling in them, too,” I insist. 

     “But even when you aren’t you’re happy.”

She’s right. In every print I stand guilty as charged, picture-proof that regardless of the rocks life hurled at me, I caught them as stones and skimmed them as pebbles across a body of blue. Setbacks, solutions, and silver linings have ruled my world in that way.

     Kate triumphs, too; but does it differently. Unlike me, be it a word, a look, or an action, she wounds easily and holds onto the hurt as lifeblood. She can recite the time, place and reason for every slight she’s perceived from others, intentional, or not. She suffers the “slings and arrows” of both fortune and misfortune. Her self-esteem rarely rides on an even keel.

     Most of that is reflected in Kate’s self-deprecating sense of humor where she casts herself as the ugly duckling and also-ran. 

     Until she turned 12, she shadowed me like a stray puppy inviting approval — but as a tall teen, she began rolling her shoulders forward and slumping down to avoid attention. She took a back seat in all her outings with friends. She never challenged authority. She catered to the wishes of others. She refused to go to her junior prom with a boy she had a crush on unless I agreed to find a date and go with her. (I did.) She always worked harder to strive higher because she felt, in doing so, maybe, just maybe, someone would love her.

I don’t think she’s ever accepted that everyone does love her — not because she played a great game of league softball for nine years, or bested those at any table where board games ruled, or succeeded at every task she undertook, or graduated from college summa cum laude, or even when she became an executive at Columbia Pictures in Hollywood, rubbing elbows with celebrities, daily — but because she is without guile. She’s soft spoken and generous. She’s never late for anything, ever. She’s decisive and dependable. She is the first to answer the call, to offer her time, and provide for others whether asked of, or needed, or not.  Her meek demeanor matches her downy curls and wise eyes the color of a Russian Blue.

She’s also a coincidental copycat. Although Kate lived 3,000 miles away for a decade, she’d somehow manage to buy the same label slacks, sweaters, and shoes that I wore, paint her rooms the same colors as mine, be partial to the same movies and songs, plant the same flowers, and even managed to select the identical holiday cards for my mom, with both hers and mine delivered in the same mail, on the same days for seven years running. 

     When she moved to Florida eleven years ago, she arrived in the make and model of car I drove. Eventually, she gave me that car, and added my name to the title of her next one so I could have it someday, without any fuss.

     It’s what I’ll be driving, soon — and what I’m driving at.

     Kate visits regularly, making the trip from Deland to spend the day with her gal pal, my Elizabeth. They leave within moments after she arrives to scan pawn shops and scour garage sales, saying when they’ll be back bearing gifts, and what they want to eat upon return. I’m chief cook, baker, bottle washer and decider of the games we’ll play into the night. 

     Sometimes she stays over, but more often, twelve hours of each others company is one hour shy of perfection. Before she leaves we belt out a chorus of,  “Happy trails to you, until we meet again” as we did while in our matching cowgirl outfits, sitting on the floor in front of the Sylvania set during the 1950s, joining Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in their signature song.  Then I wait by the phone until she gets home and calls to say she’s safe and sound.

     My dear, sweet sister, Kate.

     So, imagine my surprise when, after a splendid celebration for her 67th birthday on January 22nd, followed by wishes exchanged for Valentine’s Day, and plans made for Elizabeth’s birthday on February 24th, she called to say, “I’ll be there. I’m looking forward to it. But…”
K&M& Andy Car

     She’d felt nauseous with a sharp pain in her side so, assuming it was her gallbladder, she visited the clinic, which ordered the ultrasound, that revealed the liver cancer. The following week an MRI found pancreatic and bile duct cancer. A PET scan upped the ante to bone and spinal column cancer, after blood tests confirmed it was everywhere.

     No, this is not the kind of diagnosis that responds to clinical trials, chemotherapy, or radiation. Hers is the type that robs you of 25 pounds in 25 days and makes you hope for enough time to get your affairs in order.

     Nothing seems real now. We act on automatic, listening to orders we don’t want to hear and filling out forms we’re forced into finishing, as if any of it matters more than these last precious days spent together.

     When she asks me to translate the results of her latest tests I relay a bowdlerized truth, and she listens with an editors ear, both of us trying to alter the inevitable.

     If it were me, there would be levity. 

Instead, it’s Kate, who counts on me to be there for a final cowgirl singalong.

     Yes, I smiled when she asked it of me.

     But I am not a happy camper.

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Marguerite Quantaine © 2015

DRESS REHEARSAL : TAKE ONE

Mom & Me Kiss
A week after my father died in 1969, my mom bought her burial dress, a long-sleeved bevy of beige chiffon accordion pleats with contoured organdy hemlines and cuffs resembling parched petunias.

The collar was fashioned into a multilayered sash, cresting the shoulders and flowing down the back to veil the neck and screen the zipper. A peach taffeta sheath shimmered underneath.

“Everyone knows a wife dies seven years after her husband,” Mom declared.

“Is that the law?” I asked.

“It is,” she assured.

“And, if you don’t die, what then? Do they give you a ticket?”

Mom flashed me the look of admonishment that every parent keeps ready to actuate in times of insolence.

“It’s a glorious dress,” she said.

“Yes,” I conceded. “A veritable work of art.”

My mom was never as thin as she thought she was, or planned to be. After 56 years, six children and a passion for chocolate, she arrived at widowhood 20 pounds heavier than ideal for her 5-foot frame.

Still, she was striking. Her ivory-streaked ebony curls were invariably fastened atop her head like crown jewels. Her posture was precise. Her apparel was meticulous, with a penchant for pastels, fabric flowers and contemporary styles.

The exception being, that dress. Where other designs died on the rack and emerged in time as retro vogue, her burial dress remained permanently detained in 1969.

I don’t know why Mom never saw fit to keep the dress in a garment bag. Perhaps she just preferred the convenience of instant viewing. Regardless, she carted it, unprotected, through five dress sizes, three homes and 37 more years.

“She makes me put it on, you know,” my sister, Sue, disclosed one day.

“The burial dress?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Whatever for?” I wondered.

“So she can imagine how she’ll look in her coffin.”

I guffawed.

“She’s serious,” Sue cautioned. “Every visit, she makes me put that dress on and lie down. Eyes closed. Hands folded. Perfectly still. She makes Kate do it, too. Every holiday. But Kate lies with arms stretched wide, like wings.”

(Kate’s our kid sister. Both she and Sue are 5 feet 7ish.)

“Wings?”

“Yeah. When the sleeve pleats open, they look like angel wings.”

“Why hasn’t she asked me to try it on?” I almost pouted.

“Because you resemble a younger, thinner her,” Sue teased. “She characterizes you as her little dolly.” I scoffed at her remark, but took it as true.

“So? How do you look in it?”

“Puh-lease,” she chortled.

Maybe I spurned the dress because Mom acted ageless by never appearing seriously sick. Sure, her gallbladder dealt her a fit before she gave up doughnuts, and she wrestled seasonal colds. But her heart was strong. Her wit was quick. She was ever valiant and resourceful.

Nevertheless, I phoned her every day after my dad died. And gradually, what began as a daughter’s concern for her mother’s well-being turned us into cronies.

As we aged, I called more frequently. Mine was the first voice she heard most mornings and the last each night. In between, we’d chat over coffee, prepare meals via speakers, trade views of the news and laugh at English comedies before retiring. An entire day’s dialogue was condensed into less time than it takes most people to commute.

It was a fracture to her left leg that finally forced Mom to forfeit her independence for the security of Sue’s care in Texas. Plans for our move to there were delayed so she could visit Florida once again.

“I’ll be there on my birthday whether you like it or not,” she vowed.

“Only 21 more days until you arrive,” I grinned into the phone. “Are you feeling festive yet?”

“Actually,” she said, then paused. “The strangest thing is happening right now. I’m watching my brain leave my head.”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

“I’m not sure,” she said quietly. “It’s so odd. I don’t know where it’s going, or why. It just is.”

“Like you’re floating outside yourself, looking in?”

“No. I’m here. It’s my brain I’m seeing go.”

“Mom,” I said. “You know I love you very much, don’t you?”

“I . . . know . . . you . . . do,” she echoed. It was more of a blessing than a goodbye, those final four words of her life.

Three weeks later, on the morning of what should have been Mom’s 93rd birthday, a package arrived from Texas.

While we’d been engaged in a dance of denial that she’d ever die, Mom added “cremation in my birthday suit” as a codicil to her will. Afterward, she painstakingly wrapped and lovingly labeled one last gift to me.

The dust of 37 years has darkened the chiffon, but each pleat remains crisp.

The organdy binding still echoes the contours of petunias. The taffeta slip still shimmers like skin. The sleeves, now raised, still mirror angel wings.

I encased the dress in glass and placed it as a watchtower over my desk.

It’s treasured there as a testament to my mom, who always was what this dress truly is.

Glorious.

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This essay © by Marguerite Quantaine first appeared in St. Petersburg Times, on 11/5/2006.

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