Trading Aprons for Mink Wraps

By Laurel Sparks-Sellers

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With the recruitment of the vanity's mirror, my mother sat removing the bobby pins from her hair. She took care not to smudge her hour-old painted fingernails that matched the red on my Western Flyer bike tucked away in the garage.

The bedroom was insulated with the fragrance of Heaven Sent perfume, Breck shampoo, and Lux soap. My sister Jeannie and I gazed at mother's wardrobe. It was a late nineteen fifties creation, put together with poise and modesty. This particular Saturday night, mother had traded her apron for the satin dress that fit in all the right places.

I had to wonder, would time ever rob me of this memory?

"Mother you look beautiful," I said. In my humble opinion, she would be the best-dressed woman at the dance.

"Thank you dear."

Shortly, mother slipped on her black patent leather spiked heels that copied the shade of the satin beaded purse she would carry that night. Each was as black as the song flute I had just taken up for fourth grade music class.

"Where are you going tonight?" my sister Jeannie asked.

"The VFW's dance," mother answered. Going out on Saturday night in the middle of the twentieth century was a treat for a married woman, a dressed up event indeed. During those days, a wife and mother's job was always in the home providing love, meals, housework, and companionship with all the benefits of matrimony. She would never think of being defiant, independent, bold, or being too lenient on her children.

The fifties were a time when I had little to worry about other than playing games like Chinese jump rope, hopscotch, hula hoops, marbles, and riding pogo sticks with friends and classmates.

And leisure time never happened unless homework was done first.

Next, mother sheltered her ear lobes with earrings coming close to the same color as the pink petticoat Jeannie wore under her grade school dress. Then she fluffed her hair one more time and checked her reflection in the mirror.

Muffled sounds from the black and white television set, two rooms over, scuttled its influence throughout the room's ambience, much like a spy maneuvering about who was willing to accept consequences. Soon enough, my sister and I would be nestled in front of the thirteen-inch screen, along with Mrs. Lawton, our babysitter, entertained by "The Jackie Gleason Show."

At this point, I was naive to the fact that security acted as a powerhouse and safety was a stepping stone to confidence.

And prosperity was always within reach.

To me, it was just an easy time to grow up.

"Can we stay up until you get home?" I pleaded.

"You know bedtime is nine o'clock," mother announced.

"Oh, mom. Please?" The question came from Jeannie, seven years old, who had a potent appetite for compromise. "Just this once, can't we stay up later?"

"No." Mother turned to face us. “When I say no once, I mean no."

We didn't pursue the issue any further.

Would I be able to commit to memory this era made for treasured picnics in the park, playing make-believe with mother's jewelry, waiting on the ice cream man to make his way to our corner, reciting the pledge of allegiance before class, and devoting Sundays to church and relatives? Before life piled up?

Will I cherish these lazy days filled with picking berries from bushes, skating down the street where we lived until we were called in for dinner, innocently reading a book in the backyard lounge chair while soaking in the early summer sun, and those winter days dad pulled us behind the car on our sleds through the snowy streets?

After age took over, would I remember these times forever and pray not to let my private memories fade?

Only the next generation held the answer.

Eventually mother donned silver baubles at her neck and left wrist. The jewelry shone as bright as the chrome on the soda fountain stools at Ansen's Drug Store downtown.

Later on in life, would I recall silver being ruthlessly polished and it was almost a sin if anything gold should ever tarnish? Would I wish things could return to being clean, spit-shine, simple? Unaware the vivid colors of the fifties were the backdrop of middle America?

As my long-term memory took shape, would I eventually share with my children and grandchildren tales of how frequently mother went to PTA meetings and women's neighborhood gatherings while dad worked his nine to five job without any thought of overtime? Or that one actually knew his neighbor and even socialized with them; and, in fact, the family doctor made house calls?

Mother placed white lace gloves, her final accessories, on her hands. The cloth was a bit whiter than Miss Palmer's chalk that scribbled lessons on my class blackboard. She stood and ironed down her dress with her palms, afterward slipping on her brown mink wrap.

The coat Dad had worked a second job to buy her for her thirtieth birthday.

The finished effect was priceless and would stay in my memory for years to come.

"I'll tell you details in the morning, girls." She took a deep breath as if she didn't want to leave anything to chance. "Now. . .kisses night." Mother bent over and allowed me and Jeannie to peck her rouged cheeks, using caution not to distort the artistic treatment she had just deposited on her lips.

Given the chance, will I recall Mom being cool one day, square the next? And Dad, mean and fun all at the same time? I suspect that in years to come, I'll reflect back on these reassuring moments like the first day of the school year being as pure as the morals I was taught.

In my maturity, will I long for the clear-cut, black and white lifestyle that all but vanished while the optimism of the glory years were compromised? Shall I look back upon these times when I was never allowed an opinion, or to disrespect an elder, or ask an unsuitable question, let alone be given permission to take a stance on a debate? And discover that this influential period of my life was not easily forgotten and, in turn, decidedly laid the foundation for my ideals and beliefs?

If only I could see into the future.

Within minutes, mother set off to join father. As I peered out the window, I saw my Cary Grant statured dad hold the car door open for his wife. Our 1958 Parisian blue Chrysler Imperial was as large as the booming era we lived in. It had wings, a high roof, arrogance, and tuck and roll upholstery . Riding in it was like cruising in a chariot.

I closed my eyes and dreamed of some prince charming that would come along someday and take me out for the evening.

Will my tomorrows be chock full of crooked roads, heartaches and disappointments from a quota of boyfriends? Or unguided jolts of reality force me to find my own voice and come to my own defense? Do I dare predict the times that loom ahead are on their way to intense change, because the world will soon become push button, plastic, and divided?

Simply put, what I know now will ultimately become an illusion.

As long as the vision of my mother's beauty this particular Saturday night is never far from my mind, I will make due with the rest of life.

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