Category Archives: love

NEVER EVER AGAIN

By Marguerite Quantaine 5.16.17

When I was five, we lived in a drafty, 1860’s, two story, white clapboard farmhouse insulated with wads of newsprint dating from the Civil War. It had a coal furnace to heat the water pumped into cast iron radiators for warming in winter and bathing year round, wafer thin linoleum covered floors, and a narrow pine brown painted staircase just inside the front door vestibule with nine stark steps heading straight up before snaking left for three more and leveling off to a thirteenth step at the top.

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Facing directly ahead was the bedroom I shared with my two sisters. To the left, at the end of a hall papered in remnant rolls of Depression era patterns, was a bedroom for my three brothers. And at the right, flushed with the wall, was the entry to a closet containing a second, much smaller door leading to an exposed beams, no floorboards attic.

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“Never, ever, under any circumstance open the door inside the closet at the top of the stairs,” my mom instructed us, “because, if you do, you’ll fall through the ceiling.”  To be clear, she never added the words “and die” to the edict. So, I opened the door.

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It wasn’t that I was a bad little girl, or even an overtly rebellious one. I simply had a ferocious curiosity which challenged every easy, accepted, purported, and fabricated reason given to blindly follow orders. And, anyhow, it was all Alice’s fault — she being Alice In Wonderland from the animated Disney film that Mom had taken us to see when it came to our town in 1951. Our subsequent incessant playing of the film’s score from a set of eight, six inch, 78 RPM Little Golden Records ensured I knew every word and melody, making it Alice who implanted the lyrics to Very Good Advice in my mind as a mantra, and Alice who told me to open the door and search for a lavender and white striped Cheshire cat in a garden of talking flowers.

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But unlike Alice, I needed no key to unlock the door, nor mushroom to shrink myself for passing through, since even though the inner closet portal was half the size of a standard door, it wasn’t nearly as small as me.

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I might have opened it to a virtual sea of history if only I could read the papers packed in layers there. But since I couldn’t, my focus was on the solitary object sitting in the slanted roof room — a flat top, oak slatted, seasoned pine steamer trunk wrapped in one inch black lacquered tin ribbons, Moiré Metalique corner plates, and latches on each side of the lollipop-looking lock hanging open.

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My feet were smaller than my age and fearless. I scurried along the beams like a ballerina on a tightrope, reaching the trunk with ease. Opening it proved somewhat of a struggle, but the anticipation of releasing a fat lavender cat far outweighed the weight of the lid. I pushed it up and it plopped backwards as I fell forwards, landing on a black jacket with brass buttons the color of dirty mustard. Standing and stepping back out, I took care to balance on the beams as I reached in and pulled the jacket after me, dragging it across the crumpled insulation, out the Alice door, through the hallway door, and into my bedroom.

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The jacket was found fortune from a treasure chest. I marveled at the buttons, their background bumpy to the touch, with a spread winged bird standing atop a broken cross in it’s claws. I had heard the word ‘war’ without knowing what war was, could not conceive of what war did, and wouldn’t comprehend what the swastika signified for many years to come, so these beautiful buttons appeared as gold to me. I’d found gold!

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Certain my mom would feel as thrilled as I about my find, I put the jacket on and, with the sleeves dangling down long over my hands and the bottom of the jacket threatening to trip me as I shuffled along, I scooted down the stairs on my butt, one step at a time, shambling through the dining room and into the kitchen where my mother was standing at the long, white porcelain, wall hung cast iron sink washing breakfast dishes.

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She stopped, turned towards me, and stared as if stunned before asking, “Where did you get that?”

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“Through Alice’s door,” I beamed. “Inna trunk!”

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“Upstairs? In the attic?”

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I nodded, vigorously.

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After a moment she reached for my grandma’s black handled sewing scissors and approached me. Kneeling, she gently removed the jacket from my shoulders before sitting back on her bent legs and slippered feet, systematically cutting off each bird button. Upon finishing, she checked the pockets and found a folded scarlet band with the broken black cross imprinted inside a white ball. She scissors-shredded that, too, before doing something she’d also told us never, ever, under any circumstances to do.

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She descended the basement stairs, opened the heavy iron fire door on the coal furnace, and tossed in the buttons, the jacket, and the remnants of the band.

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The knob of her nose was red and her eyes were wet when she returned to the kitchen. “Go play now, honey,” she urged.

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I often wonder if a daughter remembers the first time she made her mother cry.

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Mine is of then and of there.

 

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.

Never Ever Again © 9.29.17

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IMOGENE’S ELOISE : Inspired by a true story by Marguerite Quantaine

is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

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MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK by Marguerite Quantaine

is due for release in October 2017 on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

 

An Inconvenient Pink

Mom again in dress

My Mom ~ September 20, 2006 ~ August 18, 2006

IF I KEPT A BOOK OF REGRETS, my first entry would be that I failed to appreciate the wedding dress my mom made for herself.

She took such pride in it.

She loved it, so.

My mom looked and acted younger than 92 when her eyes took a sudden drift towards blindness and a fall the year earlier demanded she could no longer live alone in the town of her birth and lifelong residency. It broke her heart to leave her home, her two elder cats, and all of her possessions behind during her acquiescence to my sister Sue’s Texas ranch those last months of her life.

 

Among the few possessions she wrapped and packed with care was the dress she bought in 1969 to be buried in, and her wedding dress of 1938. Both of them, pink.

I couldn’t say if Mom intended for Sue, me, or our kid sister, Kate, to someday wear her gown, but I do know Kate and I had already declared by age eight that neither of us intended to marry. And, it must have been embarrassing (if not disheartening) for Mom when all three of her daughters so disdained Home Economics in school that none of us finished hemming even one dish towel to the satisfaction of Miss Merriman, the same teacher who’d first taught Mom to sew in 1926.

Nevertheless, I felt honored (and a tad smug) to be both Mom’s namesake, and heir to her love for the color pink, a pigment that looked best on her, and always brings out the best in me. I seldom wear any other color. I feel less poised when I do.

Mom wasn’t as obsessed with the color as am I, she being more of a fashionista whenever she left the house. But her outfits always included a splash of pink ,at very least, as an ornament in her hair, a bangle on her wrist, beads around her neck, a porcelain broach, or a cloth flower pinned near her heart.

Years ago, as I sat with sister Kate discussing Mom’s passing of a decade earlier, she brought out the wedding gown and conferred it to me for safer keeping.

“It is exquisite,” I marveled, after tenderly unwrapping the tissue.

Unlike modern gowns that average fifteen hundred dollars in apparel stores and run as high as ten thousand in bridal boutiques, Mom’s dress was an innocent, ultra sheer Heberlein organdy acclaimed for a crispness, yet light like gossamer.

The pastel pink fabric, embroidered with rows of one inch white flowers separated by rows of half inch white petals and stems, was perfectly cut as a single piece floor length gown, it’s mirrored left fold creased and sewn in matching pink thread up the right side with tiny hidden snaps under the arm, a flounce encircling the knee above the A-flared skirt, and puffy sleeves framing a single notch neckline.

“I’m ashamed to say I spent six years as a production control manager in New York City’s garment industry purchasing piece goods, and dealing with jobbers, cutters, designers, and sewers daily — yet never once, Kate, did I think to appreciate this dress by Mom.”

“Yeah. Well. That’s true. But it is a wedding gown after all. Why would we?”

“I know. Still. The pure, perfect intricacy of it blows me away. And that she chose pink! How audacious.”

“I don’t follow.”

“You know, it being 1938 and all. Her going against the catwalk code of wearing white.”

“That would be you, not her.”

“I get it from her.”

“But it’s not why she wore pink.”

I gazed up from the gown, puzzled. “No? Why then?”

“She’d been married before.”

Her answer stunned me. “Mom was married before Dad?”

“Uh-huh. We all knew.”

“All being…?”

“The rest of the family.”

“Have you known for long?”

“No.” She stopped to think. “Only about forty years. Maybe fifty.”

I sat, locked in a blank stare, feeling flabbergasted. “How come no one ever told me?”

Kate shrugged. “You’ve always seen Mom through rose-colored glasses. I wasn’t about to cloud them. Besides, it’s not as if we ever talked about it once we knew.”

Within weeks I’d found his name, his date of birth and death, his military record, a copy of their marriage license, the divorce decree with the listed grounds, his burial place, and a picture of his tombstone.

I’m still searching for his face, convinced that every writer’s DNA includes a need-to- know-the-ending of a story.

But wasn’t she brave? To marry and divorce and demand the court restore the legitimacy of her maiden name during a period of time when valiant women were demonized and divorcées were treated as pariahs?

My mom.

I took such pride in her.

I loved her, so.

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by Marguerite Quantaine © 9.20.2017
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IMOGENE’S ELOISE: Inspired by a true story, by Marguerite Quantaine is on Amazon in paperback and kindle.

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MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK, by Marguerite Quantaine is due for release on Amazon, October, 2017.