I didn’t really know many things about my mother. We were not close. Oh, I knew she loved to flirt with everyone, even my boy friends, that she seemed annoyed a lot of the time, that she hated me to touch her hair, that she was a pretty popular substitute teacher at my grammar school, and that she was once president of the women’s organization at our local reform Temple. I also knew that she and her brother were not on speaking terms the whole of my growing up, even though in a rare moment of reminiscing in her very old age she told me she once stepped in front of him to stop the slap that my grandfather was about to offer. “He hadn’t done anything wrong,” she said, her eyes ablaze at the ancient memory. In general, though, my mother was a private person and didn’t like to talk about the past, hers or anyone else’s.
She had a lot of energy. She rarely sat down it seemed; when I was a child she was always running about, where to I have no idea and never thought to ask. It surprised me that she became a lifelong knitter and then a crocheter. I never actually saw her doing her handiwork but I knew she did it – I saw the results. This hobby must have made her feel less agitated because it probably took hours for her to make as many things as she turned out. She made pot holders, but mostly she covered wooden or plastic hangers with intricate patterns of colored yarn. They looked as if they were covered with delicate speckled lace. Because she rarely read books, I’m sure she never realized that she was part of a craft that began in America sometime in the early 1800s, or that her hobby once kept many an Irish family afloat during the potato famine later in the century.
She made dozens of hangers – in solid colors of yellow, orange, green, lavender, and black, or with wide rainbow stripes. Often she tied a sheer color-coordinated ribbon around the hook at the top of each hanger
For years they poured from her hands into the mostly unwelcoming arms of friends and family members. She gave out hangers instead of hugs.
I silently groaned at each new one handed to me, and put them in my closet and used them only when I ran out of my favorite plain white wooden ones. My mother’s handiwork stood out like shivering children in flimsy Halloween costumes. My collection grew and grew until one day I couldn’t take them anymore and I stored them in a seldom-used downstairs closet.
The tension caused by my mother and uncle’s peculiar relationship often went unnoticed when we had family get-togethers. My uncle and aunt lived just three blocks from us at one point during my childhood. My aunt, of whom my mother was fiercely jealous (the seed of the estrangement I am sure) was for me a welcoming and appealing woman who provided a kind of acceptance and love I never received from my mother.
Life is strange.
So is death. After my aunt died (my mother had been certain she was exaggerating her illness) she began visiting her now widowed brother in his seashore assisted living apartment, and when he died several years later she began to speak lovingly of him. What about all those cold, cold years? Forgotten, I imagined, because in the end she had him all to herself again. I helped my cousin clear out the seaside apartment, secretly curious to see if any of my mother’s hangers would appear. None did.