Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Outfit to be Tied.

My mother has a very tidy mind. I don't mean to say that she is a clear thinker, or a deep one. I mean that it is swept clear of distracting details, bits of ideas, or fragments of plans. She thinks in themes, in motifs, and in monochrome.

When I was a child, she never bought me clothes, she bought me outfits. Before I was old enough to protest, my outfits matched not just themselves, but hers. In a photograph I unearthed this week, I am fishing with my father while I am wearing a dress. With a fish appliqued to its front. Because she stayed behind at home, I don't for one moment believe she was wearing a fish dress herself. My mother believed in costuming.

In 1975 she bought beautiful lacquered Korean furniture from a young military wife who was tired of reminders of her old life and wanted new American furniture. So, my mother acquired enough furniture to fill our house. The new shiny black hutch held colorful bridal dolls from Seoul. Our intricately-inlaid dining table stood thirteen inches high, and we sat on satin pillows to eat. She did her makeup at an extravagantly lovely vanity piece that also needed a pillow on the floor.

I didn't mind this; I agreed it was exquisite. Then the accessorizing began. The carpets needed to be red or black. Throw pillows, blankets, plates, cookware - all had to pass chromatic muster. Because she knew of no Korean cat breeds, she brought in the meanest Siamese she could find, and hoped the thematic disruption wouldn't be noticeable. It's unclear how the Pomeranians and I escaped the western purge.

Once, she decided to decorate her bedroom in orange, and so any item - useful or not - was welcome as long as it was the right shade. The right shade was orange. Look at the fruit. Books, lamps, curtains, rugs, picture frames, perfume bottles, knick-knacks of any kind. A gift needn't be useful or fun in any way, it needed only to be orange. A still-life for her dresser? Oranges are the only fruit.

Photographic evidence suggests I carried on the tradition into my first marriage. My clothing continued to be outfits. Skirts in suits, trousers in pantsuits. My kitchen was done in strawberries. A well-meaning friend gave me an apple cookie jar - a tragic misinterpretation of the theme - and I proudly displayed it on my counter until she left.

Today, the pendulum has swung to the edge of its arc. I struggle to match shirts and pants in cases of dire necessity (weddings, funerals, job interviews). They don't pass as outfits, but, I hope, as tastefully coordinated separates, thrown together in an appealing, devil-may-care recklessness. Roxanne is always thinking about more important things than her clothing. Go on - ask her about Spinoza's God!

Neither can I be accused of having anything like a tidy mind. I'm no clearer a thinker than my mother, but I do harbor mental shelves full of bits, fragments and distracting details. I keep them around in case I can make them into an outfit.

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