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Old Dresses

It's in the family. As of this writing, my mother has been gone forty-two years. There are, by now, fewer of her personal items than there were a year ago, but a shoe box shows up and there are her driver's license, credit cards without magnetic strips and a few other small things.

Not knowing what to do with these, they go back into the box. The driver's license, without a photograph, and gas credit cards will go to the Douglas County Museum.

I kept one of her dresses.

There have been times when I gathered that dress hanging in the closet and buried my face into it, drawing deeply of the air around it. It was comforting.

For a few years there was the unmistakable smell of my mother, her perfume, the cocktail of scents she carried that identified her. The dress smelled like her purse that was full of crumpled up tissue, lipstick, a compact. She traveled light.

By now the molecules that carried her scent have thinned out to nothing but air: Or maybe the diminution of my olfactory cells leaves me unable to find comfort in that simple old dress.

There was a flat box my mother kept in her “hope chest.”

The chest is now a catch-all and is loaded with clothes that need mending or a button.

In that small flat box my mother kept keepsakes from her mother, my grandmother.

There is a simple house-dress made on the treadle sewing machine she kept in the bedroom.

Another dress was packed with tissue; it was her high school graduation dress. I identified it with a picture of her graduating class of Chattooga Academy in LaFayette, GA, and also an individual photo.

Impossibly small, thin, gauzy, it seems too small for a girl recently graduated from high school, although at that time high school was two years long. Very soon Mary Elizabeth McClure began a career as a school teacher then married in 1913 at age twentyfive.

My grandmother favored her mother, Millie Keown, born in 1858, in many ways including her voice, walk, mannerism, laugh, small-boned, slight in frame; the “look” of Keown women.

I think a song can take us back to a time and relationship and give comfort or relief. That might be why we hang on to music of our youth.

There is, I believe, no stronger emotion generator than a familiar smell, a whiff that takes us back.

For me it is gardenia, country sausage, a perfume or two.

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