Mom and miniature furniture… reflectionsPosted: March 7, 2012
When we were little, my mother frequently spoke to us in French. In the grocery store checkout line mostly. We children didn’t speak French and cried and whined, hoping to convince onlookers that we were in fact all Americans.
A large portrait of my mother in a blue ball gown hangs at the top of the stairs. It was painted in the eighties by Dad’s secretary, capturing mom’s beaming anticipation before she and Dad headed into New York City for a waltz evening. I used to stare at the painting, admiring the sparkling bracelet and deftly painted veins on the graceful hand. When not waltzing, Mom spent hundreds of hours sewing church dresses for her daughters, all from one Laura Ashley pattern. My favorite part was the tucks she sewed into the skirts. We could let them out as we got taller. One spring weekend, in preparation for my sister’s wedding reception, mom chose an unusually glossy fabric. It was white with large purple flowers and ribbons. At the reception my boredom was alleviated when I spilled my cup of purple punch into my lap. I watched in amazement as the punch beaded up. It streamed to the floor in rivulets, not a drop sinking into my white skirt. The skirt, I decided, was made of Scotch guarded upholstery fabric.
I think mom must have been studying the paintings of the Dutch old masters the day she sent me to my social dance class wearing white gloves and a homemade blue taffeta dress. The focal point was a ruffled lace collar that sprang up around my neck like a clown at a tea party. My pride in my beautiful dress dried up quickly when the boys crossed the gym to pick their partners. Evidently they didn’t catch my costume’s historical references. That day, like most others, I was stuck dancing the man’s part.
Mom was obsessed with reading and memorizing European lines of royalty. She kept an illustrated diagram in her sewing room and would give me little lessons on the complicated bloodlines and intrigues. She once told me I was named after Queen Anne. My subsequent research uncovered the thrilling information that the Queen Anne was charged with adultery, incest, treason, and had her head removed. Mom did have a flair for naming things. Our spotted cat was ‘Blanche Dubois’. The black lab we found on the highway responds to ‘Carmencita la Infanta Gloriosa del Camino’. Our back porch is now known as ‘The Loggia’. The covered drive through, she insists, is the ‘Porte Cocher’.
Mom had a whole cart of herbal teas in the ‘breakfast room’ adorned with a mug tree, and blue and white teapots in their cozies. Tea-time was not a widespread custom in Dallas Texas and I scoffed at the cart when I would pass it in the kitchen on the way to school. Mom makes it a grand ceremony to emerge from the kitchen with tea and cookies to delight us on Christmas Eve. It makes her subsequent recitation of ‘The Messiah’ much more palatable.
One Christmas, Mom gave each of her seven daughters a heavy solid silver pitcher, with scrolling embellishments and a pretty apparatus to hold back the ice. Yes silver, real silver. She said it was for our ‘trousseaus’. When I moved to college, I had only a small closet of clothes, futon, bass guitar, and my silver pitcher. I had no shelves and so the pitcher had to rest alone on top of my boa constrictor’s cage. Even now that I am married, I am afraid I will never live up to that sweet pitcher’s expectations.
As high school drew to a close, the family’s finances began to rise closer towards those of the royals. The home soon populated with fake antique furniture. Real antique furniture followed and the last time I went home I found gilded oil paintings of the Virgin Mary on the bathroom walls. Mom had gone all the way to Cuzco to pick them out. Now at 60, She conducts bilingual tours at the local art museums. She keeps incredibly fit playing tennis every day followed by voracious reading about the royals. In her dotage her reading has even expanded to include royal mistresses and court portrait artists. I think she finally lives in the splendor she always dreamed of. When I call on the phone she almost always concludes our talk saying something to the effect of, ‘Well Annie I’ve really got to get in the tub! I’m almost finished reading ‘La Infanta Eulalia of Spain’ or ‘I’ve got to go, Enrique is building me a rack for my spools of thread.’ Somehow in adulthood my bewilderment and resentment of these strange customs has melted into a magical crush for a way of life that is more beautiful than reality could ever be.
Now , I’m 34. I call my mom on the phone every day, usually while I’m out walking the city streets. Over the sound of New York’s blaring sirens and construction sites, I press my headphones tightly to my ears. We coo over Lady Jane’s eutopian 9 day rule over England. We recoil at the mention of ‘Philip the Fair’. We troll the Netflix archives for ‘Movies based on English novels with a strong female lead’. Mom shares tips on making Madame Bovary themed candles or wonders how to create the perfect ratio of oatmeal to soap in her molded bars of ‘savon’. She marks them with the fleur de lys.
In my cozy apartment I create fanciful tiny replicas of antique furniture. Fireplaces embellished with cherub’s faces and cornucopia, beaded chandeliers, chairs with arching legs and embroidered vignettes on their backs. I set up my furniture in little scenes on my work table and turn to gaze at them as if in a trance. I can almost see my teensy mother pulling out a tiny chair and opening her reticule to lay out her craft supplies. My fancy little furniture is giving me a second pass at the dream mom intended my life to be.