I have a good memory. I’m often on the receiving end of phone calls, emails or texts from friends and family members that start with “what was the name of that guy from college from that class” or “where was that place we used to go for dinner around the corner from that bar?” Or the more challenging ones like “you know the girl from the movie who’s married to the guy from that show.” And the thing is, I can usually pull it together on demand for these requests. It’s all in the memory.
I rely on said memory to relive happy moments from my past, and when I want to, or perhaps need to, I call up those memories to the instant replay of my mind’s eye. One such memory is from a cold November day in New York City. It was 2003. I had a brand new baby, who I left at home with a brand new babysitter, so that I could spend the day with my mother shopping for a dress for my brother’s upcoming wedding. It would turn out to be my mother’s last November and her last day shopping in New York. I didn’t know that then, or maybe I did, and chose not to know it.
My mother and I were on a mission to find me an appropriate sister of the groom dress for my post partum body, but as I’ve come to realize, we were really on a mission to spend the day together — to have time which would become a memory and to make it a happy one. We could have looked for a dress closer to home, or I could have gone shopping without her but we didn’t. I didn’t.
My mother fought through the nausea and fatigue, both side effects from her targeted cancer treatments, as she rode the train with me to Penn station on that cold November day. I insisted we take a cab up to Saks Fifth Avenue in lieu of our usual subway ride blaming it on the cold temperatures and crowded city, knowing full well that she couldn’t handle the steps up and down to the subway tracks.
We were successful at Saks finding a black lace Monique Lhuillier dress with a pink satin ribbon around the waist for me. Back then Monique Lhuillier was an up and coming designer we had never heard of her. I think my mother would have gotten a kick out of knowing how well known she later became. We would have laughed with each other insisting that we discovered the now famous and very talented dress designer just like how we claimed to discover the strapless wedding dress at Vera Wang, the cupcake cake at The Cupcake Café and Mark Ruffalo the actor at an off Broadway play many years prior to then.
We could have gone home that cold day in New York City right after discovering our new favorite dress designer, but we didn’t. My mother insisted on having lunch together at Saks and then on walking around “just a few more blocks” to see if we could find anything else. I can still feel her tiny, soft, well-manicured hand in mine as we crossed 57th street to head into the Burberry flagship store. She held my hand tighter that day much like I did when I was a child, and we would cross that very same street together. I felt very much her protector on that day — shielding her from the cold, the traffic and from what I knew deep down but didn’t want to believe was the inevitable.
We walked into Burberry and my mother went right over to the cashmere scarf counter. She asked to see the happy scarf in light pink similar to the one she wore that day, only hers was hot pink. It’s actually called the happy scarf. I swear. She wrapped it around my neck placing it just so as the fringe fell right below my chin. I smiled, she smiled back, and then she asked the sales clerk to remove the tags so I could wear the new scarf out of the store.
My mother knew I loved her happy scarf and she wanted me to have one of my own. It was a bit unusual for her to make such a generous purchase out of nowhere and not for any particular occasion. I thanked her and didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t want to know why she was feeling so generous or why she insisted on shopping more for me when she was so tired and weak.
Of course I get it now. She wanted me to have the scarf. She wanted me to have the dress. She wanted me to have the day, to have the memory. And now I do. I remember almost every moment of that day. I remember how nervous I was helping her in and out of the cabs, how pleased she looked when she saw me in the dress, how she pushed around the food on her plate hoping I wouldn’t notice how little of an appetite she had, how focused she was on finding me the happy scarf and how happy she was when I told her how much I loved it.
I still love the scarf, and I still wear it now some 17 plus years later. It still makes me happy even though I didn’t think it would. I thought I would never wear it again when she died just a few months after she bought it for me. I thought it would make me sad. I thought everything about her would. That is so not the case. When I wear the scarf, I think of her and the happy times we shared together — not just on that day but on countless days. Of course I wish I had more days with her, but I am so happy I had the ones I did.
I have this running joke with a few close friends when they complain to me about their own alive mothers.
“Well I’m so lucky I don’t have to deal with that,” I say quite obviously sarcastic. There is some truth in there though. Yes I am envious of my friends when I see them with their mothers. How could I not be? But the real truth is that I wouldn’t want any of their mothers for myself. I had my mother. I have my memories of my mother. So many of them were happy, and they still make me happy all these years later.
I am so glad she bought me the happy scarf. I am so happy it still makes me happy when I wear it. I think it would make her happy too.