The Special Days
My mother saved her best things for "special days" that never came. What makes an ordinary day meaningful and momentous?
I’ve been thinking about how people spend their time, about what every single person does between the tick and tock each day, musing about the things we remember and the things we forget.
What makes a day indelibly momentous and meaningful? How do we know what matters?
When my 16 year old grandson, Luke, got his license the other day, I reminded him there would be about ten or twenty days in his entire life, some good some bad, that he would never forget and this was likely one of them.
I, too, have acquired a lifelong list of special days but in recollecting those days now, it is often the more ordinary days that headline that queue. One of them is what it was like on Sunday afternoons in my mother’s bedroom when she asked if my sister and I would like to “go through her drawers.”
On top of her dresser, a mirrored, brass filigree vanity tray held her beloved statue of Saint Jude, several ornate glass perfume bottles and a silver hairbrush and bobby pins. But beneath that perpetual display, magic imbued those disorganized, bulging bureau drawers, mysterious, intriguing, fascinating, things awaited inside.
In the smaller drawers, mink collars with faux faces and frightening claw-foot fasteners bracketed sweet scented sachets, sassy tiaras, tins filled with foreign coins and countless keys that opened nothing.
Others held layers of hand embroidered lacy white handkerchiefs, colorful Irish Sweepstakes tickets, embroidered silk Chinese slippers, delicate accordion hand fans, and assorted unrecognizable broken things.
The larger drawers cloistered slender boxes of oil paint tubes she applied with cotton swabs when coloring black and white photographs by hand, long before color photography was readily available.
Gobs of stretched out elastic girdles and black seamed stockings, S & H Green Stamps catalogs, boxes of elaborate bejeweled brooches, and my mother’s modeling portfolios were stuffed in all the remaining spaces.
My sister, 8, and I, almost 11, would slouch on her chenille ivory bedspread and wait while slowly she pulled things out carefully and laid something on the bed.
I was mesmerized when she took out her slips. Most were white, some pastel, all stored in their original tiny, narrow white boxes embossed with gold insignia to reflect the name of the store where they were purchased: A&S, Arnold Constable, Gimbels or Gertz.
Some were simple half slips in basic colors, but others were elaborately adorned, or bordered with lace, or lavishly trimmed with ribbons, ruffles, or pleated satin. They were all beautiful, much too beautiful to be worn.
And so we often just took them out of the box and looked at them. I can still feel the softness of those silky fabrics as I slowly slid my hand down the length of each slip, slick materials like taffeta, rayon, nylon, polyester or polished cotton.
After staring at them silently, and gently stroking them, we would lay them down again on the bed, carefully fold them in thirds lengthwise, and placing the edge of our hand crosswise, we would fold them once and then again and into the box they would go.
Just before our mother’s birthday or Christmas, my sister and I would pool our money and painstakingly pick out an elegant, expensive new slip to give her and each time she would admire it attentively.
“Oh! It’s so beautiful!” she would gush. “It’s too pretty to wear! I’ll save it for a special day!” Then she placed it back in the tiny box and put it in her drawer on top of all the others.
She never wore any of the slips we gave her only the dowdy, scroungy, inexpensive ones she purchased for herself at E. J. Korvette’s, Lerner’s or Grant’s.
I often wondered if my mother ever had a special day. If she did it probably occurred on an ordinary Tuesday and she was likely clad in her flowery buttoned up housecoat with oversized pockets and not a fancy half slip.
There have been dozens of special days throughout my lifetime, good and bad, but the ones I most often recall now are the ordinary days. And I've learned that exquisite happiness lives in those spaces in between, those moments when an ordinary moment takes our breath away and time and space stand still.
Now the best days of all occur when my son or daughter say something clever that makes me laugh out loud or as I watch my cap napping in my lap or as I witness the dance of shadow and light while the sun filters through my windows and cajoles patterns to dance on my wall with wild abandon.
The most ordinary days are the best days of all: the "stick walks" around the neighborhood with my grandkids, the days of porch cleaning at Nanny's house as Luke and Skyler squirt the porch and each other, playing charades with the family when no one scores a single point but we laugh all night or as we gather here to decorate gingerbread houses with gobs of sweet icing and prizes for all.
Personal and family milestones, requisite birthdays and death-days, outstanding personal accomplishments, bucket-list items: there is some serious competition for my Top Ten list of special days.
But it is the never ending cascade of those countless ordinary, unremarkable moments that occupy the smaller spaces in between those special days that are pure bliss. A day just like today. A Tuesday. This is a perfect moment; perfect in every way.