New underwear. That’s what I found when I went through one of my mother’s dresser drawers after she died. The underwear she wore on a daily basis was old and stretched out. This was pristine, new underwear. She had saved it for trips to the doctor, the rare night out, and other special occasions.
I was not completely surprised to find the new underwear. It was consistent with her depression era mindset that the good things in life were in short supply and needed to be doled out carefully.
Some months before her death, I gave her the most beautiful flannel sheets I could find. Those last years of her life, she got cold easily. Some part of me knew that this could be her last winter. I bought the sheets for her birthday, but gave them to her when fall turned chilly, instead of waiting her birthday on December 23rd. The sheets were thick and elegant. The top sheet and pillow cases had scalloped edges and beautiful embroidery.
I mailed them off to her in October or early November. I wanted her to enjoy them as soon as the smell of winter was in the air, not wait for her birthday.
She called when they arrived. She loved them. She was surprised by the early gift and thought they were the most beautiful sheets she had ever seen. Was she going to put them on her bed immediately? No. She wanted to wait until Christmas. One of my sisters planned to come for the holidays and my mother intended to put them on the guest room bed for her to enjoy.
I think I screeched. Then I begged her to put them on her own bed. I think she waited until after Christmas to do that.
She died the following April.
My mother did not hold off on her enjoyment of everything . . . and thank the gods for that! But that new underwear in the dresser drawer and the memory of her waiting to enjoy the sheets intended only for her have been a lasting gift from her, a reminder to not follow in those particular footsteps.
I was quite young—six or seven, perhaps—when I had my first reminder to savor the day. Memory is a home invader who rearranges the furniture of the mind while you are not paying attention. I can only piece together the details.
I was watching television while visiting my aunt and uncle at their farm. The Loretta Young Show was on and in this particular episode, a wealthy woman from the city had stopped at a farm to buy apples. While there, she encouraged the farm wife to put aside her chores and bake her family an apple pie. The farm woman could scarcely imagine such a use of time during picking season, but the city woman reminded her that baking an apple pie for your family can sometimes be the most important thing you do in a day.
This episode of The Loretta Young Show just might encapsulate the overarching mindset towards women in the 1950s and we have surely come a long way since then. Or have we, men and women alike?
I am not going to itemize what we have gained over the past fifty or more years. It would be a long list. I am also not going to itemize what we might have lost. That list might be long, too. Ponderously long. But that first reminder to treat every day as important, a reminder I received when I was six or seven and which has stood me in good stead for over fifty years, tells me that even in the 1950s, we needed such reminders. I think we need them even more today.
If I admonish my readers—and myself—not to die with new underwear in the dresser drawer, I am not suggesting we abandon good sense and our current lives for some fantasy of a life in Tahiti or Timbuktu. I am suggesting, though, that we not put ourselves after the long list of what must be accomplished before the day is out and I am suggesting that we appreciate this day and this moment in some very simple ways.
When the weather is fine, I take a vintage tablecloth and the everyday china down to my lower deck. There my husband and I take our evening meal. And, yes, I have prepared that meal myself. It has come neither from a box on the pantry shelf or from some outstretched hand through a fast food window.
Well, I can only speak for myself and I know there are legions of entrepreneurs and wishful would-be entrepreneurs who seem to like the idea of working in their bathrobes. But I am not one of them. I dress to please myself, but I do dress most days before sitting down at my computer. There is something wasteful about treating any day as one that can be lived sloppily. So I dress for the occasion of the day. My habits regarding underwear are my own, but let’s just say that you can count on the fact that I’m not wearing old, worn out underwear.
I also write thank you notes on note paper and send them out in the mail, read good books before falling asleep, celebrate the accomplishments of my friends and colleagues, lift weights as if I planned to live to be a hundred, meditate for the pleasure of it, get to know store clerks, tend to my flowers with tenderness, and otherwise conduct my daily life as if it mattered . . . and as if it cannot wait.
Because, you see, it really cannot. I want to live life full throttle. That does not mean collecting experiences and things at breakneck speed. It means savoring moments.
I don’t plan to die with new underwear in the dresser drawer.
Note: I would love to hear about your own experiences. What things do you savor? How do you make room for life?
copyright 2008 by Melanie Mulhall