Keepsakes

“Jessamine, I really don’t want you going through my bureau drawers.”

“Mom, would you rather the moving men do it tomorrow?”

“I’d rather just go on living here and maintain my privacy.”

“Of course. We’ve been through all this. Mrs. McGarry can’t come anymore. She’s no spring chicken herself, and she’s having a knee replacement.  What’s this in the underwear drawer?”

“That? A lavender sachet. Couldn’t we get someone else meantime?”

“Lavender? Here, you take a sniff!”

“I know, dear. Its fragrance has diminished. Attenuated, your father would have said. He loved words.”

“I’d call it ancient. Withered.”

“Careful, my darling daughter. You could be describing your own mother.”

“Touché, Mom. How old is it?”

“Mama gave it to me when I married your father. Slipped it into my honeymoon suitcase. She was sticking up for me. Why can’t we get someone until Mrs. McGarry’s knee is done?”

“So you would exude lavender in your wedding bed? Lovely idea. Because she wants to retire. She has her eye on a place just down the road from yours.”

“It’s not mine. It’s the one you’re sending me to. Why can’t she move in there? And don’t knock the sex appeal of lavender. You were conceived that night, or the next few, and he was off to the war.”

“Mom, she can’t afford it.”

“Well, suppose she earns her keep at the high-priced place by taking care of me?”

“Mom, she shudders every time she helps you take a shower. If you fell, she couldn’t get you up. So my father picked my name?”

“Sort of. He said when we had a daughter, we should name her Jasmine to remember our wedding night. He didn’t know one fragrance from another.”

“But I’m Jessamine.”

“He was long gone by the time you were born. I made it less obvious.”

“I never knew. What’s this on the top shelf of the closet? A muu-muu?”

“Exactly. He bought it for me. A souvenir of Hawaii.”

“That’s where you honeymooned? I can’t remember ever seeing you wear it.”

“When he flew off to duty in Korea, I packed it to bring home, but it seemed too gaudy for anyplace but Waikiki Beach.”

“I’m discovering I’ve never really known my own mother. Shall I pack the muu-muu for Harmony Acres?”

“What a flossy name for an old people’s barracks! Why not? A girl’s entitled to a few utterly useless mementos.”

“Mom, if it brings back happy memories, it’s not useless. And what about this lacy thing? It feels seductively smooth. Must be real silk.”

“I was an only child. Papa wanted his daughter to have the best trousseau that money could buy, or at least that he could afford. Made me feel guilty. But I wore that nightie in Hawaii, and kept it as a remembrance.”

“Along with that nightstand photo of you two, half-naked on some beach, like Deborah Kerr and what’s-his-name.”

“Burt Lancaster. ‘From Here to Eternity’.”

“Right. What a handsome man my father was. That photo must be Waikiki?”

“A passing tourist took it for us. It’s the only one of us both. People didn’t have camera-phones in those days, and we didn’t court very long. There was a war on.”

“You’ve never said where you met.”

“At the USO. Young women used to go to dances, giving well-chaperoned companionship to young GIs. Papa didn’t want me going there, but I was a little rebellious. Anyway, it was love at first sight. A week later we were on our way to Hawaii.”

“Your parents bought a fancy trousseau in a week?”

“Not exactly. Why can’t we find some younger Mrs. McGarry to take care of me here?”

“Mom, I tried. I put ads on Craig’s List.”

“Whose list?”

“It’s an Internet classified ad service. The fact is that any young women willing to do this kind of work nowadays want benefits.”

“What’s more beneficial than old ladies’ wisdom?”

“Cute, Mom. But retirement communities can afford health insurance and pensions. Individuals like us can’t. What do you mean, ‘not exactly’?”

“They’d already begun buying my trousseau. I never got to wear most of it. Three weeks after I got home from Hawaii I was a war widow. I soon learned I was a pregnant widow.”

“Mom, you’ve never told me any of this. Did you elope?”

“I guess you’d call it that. Papa was pretty angry. Mama understood: She packed for me, including that nightie. We were married by an Army chaplain in Oahu.  Good thing, that five-minute wedding: I had benefits, so when you came along I didn’t need to beg from Papa.”

“Mom, I get it. He’d picked someone else for you, hadn’t he?”

“A man everyone thought enormously promising, from a wealthy family. I’d have been a rich wife and you’d have been a spoiled brat with money-grubbing genes, nothing like your father’s child that you’ve been all these years. I’m glad.”

“I’m glad too, Mom. What’s in this shoe box under the bed?”

“Ballet slippers.”

“You studied dance?”

“A little. I wasn’t really very good; gave it up because my legs hurt. Those slippers are instruments of torture.”

“So why did you keep them?”

“I went to the USO to see if ballet had done me any good at ballroom dancing. When I met your father, I decided they were – what’s the word for a lucky charm?”

“A talisman?”

“Yes.”

“We’ll definitely take them. What’s this other box?”

“Never mind that. We’ll leave it here, or throw it away.”

“It’s a very fancy box.”

“No! Don’t open that, Jessamine!”

“Mom, all this lace and stuff! It’s your wedding dress!”

“No, dear, it’s my Papa’s wedding dress, that I never wore. I’ve kept it to remind myself, whenever the going was hard, that it could have been harder.”

“You mean married to a man you didn’t love.”

“Exactly. Rich but wretched.”

“What shall I do with it?”

“Throw it out, dear. I don’t need it any more. I have happy memories.”

-End-

 

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