Don’t Die With New Underwear in Your Dresser Drawer

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.

Like what?

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.

What else?

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

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20 Responses to “Don’t Die With New Underwear in Your Dresser Drawer”

  1. Cynthia Says:

    This is a great post, Melanie. The image of the new underwear….perfect. I confess that I sometimes hoard precious things. Like honey from France, salt from France, special jams, etc. But your post is a reminder to enjoy these simple pleasures.
    I cook most of my meals, and light a candle to share the meal with. This week, I am taking myself out to lunch every day in Lisbon to a different vegetarian restaurant, to relish the city in my last week. I am also collecting receipts in case I want to write an article about it!
    So thank you for the savory and sensual reminder to seize the day.

  2. Cynthia Says:

    P.S. I agree about the working at home in pajamas thing. First, I don’t wear pjs, and if I did, I wouldn’t want to schlub around in them all day. I can just see you dressed for work, even at home, because every time I see you you look fabulous.

  3. Elsi Dodge Says:

    New underwear? Mother didn’t have much of that when I cleared out my parents’ house. But she had multiple sets of unopened pajamas, and Daddy had several shirts still in the original packaging.

    Me, well, I read every book that looks interesting, often flipping back to page 1 when I finish the last page if it’s especially intriguing. I take myself out to lunch “more than I should,” just for the fun of it. And I happily drive my seven-miles-a-gallon RV around the country to enjoy the beauty.

    Haven’t managed my dream trip, yet, though it’s been planned for several years. It will be the northeast quadrant of the continent, and it’s a three-month itinerary. I want to time it so I’m on the eastern seaboard at the peak of fall leaf season, then follow autumn back across the midwest. Ah, bliss … what a thought … maybe next fall? Sure! ;-D

  4. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Cynthia,

    There is a temptation to hoard good things, waiting for the perfect moment to trot them out, isn’t there?

    But not dying with new underwear in your dresser drawer is, of course, about more than enjoying those things we already have. It is also about not waiting for life to come knocking on the door, but stepping out, meeting it, and shaking its hand. You, dear colleague, are a wonderful model for that!

    I encourage my readers to go to http://www.journeyjuju.com and you will see what I mean.

    As for appropriate work attire, you know, some days I wear jeans. Some days I wear a skirt and boots suitable for a client meeting. Some days I am completely age inappropriate in my attire and some days I am the model of chic conservatism. But I am always guided by how I feel that day and what I have planned. I admit that I use attire as high play. (And thank you for your lovely support.)

    Melanie

  5. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Elsi,

    Ah, you seem to have a knack for this full throttle living. Planning for dream trips counts, in my book, anyway–so long as it isn’t a substitute for actually living a good life. And that certainly does not seem to be the case for you!

  6. Kathleen Christensen Says:

    I love working in my comfy flannel pajamas, and I’m happy wearing my comfy cotton undies. But here’s one thing that’s important to me: Almost every day, I get outdoors on a short hike. I rarely miss the aspens turning, new snow on a favorite trail, the chiming bells or the penstemons or the sunflowers blooming. It’s a time of peace and connection every time.

  7. Kathleen Christensen Says:

    … and I meant to add, lovely post with such an important message!

  8. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Kathleen,

    Your living the concept, my friend! I suspect that one of the things our souls love about being in human form is the pure phyisicality of it and the sensory experience. I don’t want to be on my deathbed wishing I had hiked more, gardened more, sat outside starwatching more, or otherwise ignored the gift of the physical world.

    Thanks for your comments!

    Melanie

  9. Drea Says:

    I love this quote: “Memory is a home invader who rearranges the furniture of the mind while you are not paying attention.” Another reason not to dwell in it! I relate to Kathleen re: being outside every day. I also prioritize good (homemade) food and travel.

    Meanwhile, I am still learning that collecting a large number of experiences is not the same as enjoying life. That’s more like hoarding memories than living in the moment. Your post made me realize that savoring is not the same as collecting.

    Thanks for another great post!

  10. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Drea,

    I agree that collecting experiences is not the same as enjoying–let alone savoring–life. Your comment reminds me of something I witnessed (and experienced) many years ago. I was vacationing in California with a new boyfriend. We decided to make the 17-mile drive (Seal Rock, Pebble Beach, etc.–famous drive). I had made that drive before but had loved it and was keen to do it again. It was a new experience for him.

    At each stop on the drive, he got out of the car, took one quick look, checked off the stop on his guide, and was ready to go on to the next. I, on the other hand, wanted to just stay at each stop long enough to let it fill my senses. He was impatient and wanted to carry on after–I kid you not–about ten seconds at each stop.

    He was collecting experiences–and not even doing a very good job of it–while I wanted to be in the experience, right then and there, with each one.

    The relationship did not last long.

    I can laugh at it now.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    Melanie

  11. 1cindy Says:

    Dearest Melanie,

    Every moment with your words is a delicious reminder of the preciousness of each moment. Thank you for always showing up as an exqusite woman of impeccable taste and connection to the really important things in life.

    I too always eat off of fancy dishes, many of which have been loved by poeple before me. I never let a day go by without marveling at its beauty. And I NEVER let roses go unsmelled!

    In appreciation for YOU today,
    Cindy Morris, msw
    Practical Priestess Entrepreneur
    http://SpeakerCindyMorris.com

  12. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Cindy,

    You are a wonderful model for living the dream, living in the moment, and living a life of savoring the important things! Thank you for your kind comments (she writes as she blushes).

    I hope my readers will check out your wonderful blog: http://www.priestessentrepreneur.wordpress.com

    Melanie

  13. Rosemary Carstens Says:

    Melanie: this is a topic that certainly resonates! Beautifully discussed and obviously resonated with some other readers as well. I can’t tell you how many unused gifts I’ve given to both my mother and sister. They seem to think the highest compliment you can give someone upon receiving a gift is, “Oh, it’s so lovely! Too nice to use… etc.” As you said, in these situations where we can’t change the person if they are dead set on denying themselves something, there is the gift of turning that around and taking it as a lesson for ourselves. I try to remember daily not to miss what is happening NOW because I am so concentrated on what must be done another day. Getting outdoors on a beautiful day because it’s beautiful THEN–especially in Colorado it’s so true! Staying in the moment when I’m doing yoga instead of going through the checklist mentally of all I’ll do later that day. Looking up, down, and all around wherever we are to absorb beauty where we find it. I use everything or, if I know I won’t, I pass it along to someone who will. Thank you for your lovely reminder of an engaged way to live and savor life. Rosemary

  14. Claire Walter Says:

    I think many of us have stories of finding things that people in our parents’ generation hoarded. The corollary is finding huge collections of wire coat hangers and fleets of plastic margerine jars.

  15. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Rosemary,

    You have put it beautifully. Yes, it is very much about being present and engaged in the moment, savoring each moment, and remembering what is important. At the end of my life, I suspect I will have no regrets about moments spent outdoors on a beautiful day.

    Claire has made a comment just after yours and I think of you both as being engaged in meaningful activity on an ongoing basis. Between the two of you are wonderful blogs rich with good words about food, travel, books, and art. These are all things savored in the moment (and in the later telling of those moments).

    Melanie

  16. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Claire,

    You are so right! And the images of wire coat hangers and plastic jars hoarded is enough to make me thankful that my mother had only kept a few pieces of new underwear and not those things. But it is the same issue, really. It is difficult for me to think that the hoarders of coat hangers and plastic jars could be savoring the moment and the simple, lovely things in life. They have lapsed into a bunker mentality.

    Your post is a good reminder to divest ourselves of what does not contribute to savoring life. Time spent on hoarding wire coat hangers and plastic jars is time wasted. It is time that might otherwise be spent savoring life.

    Melanie

  17. Maggie Risk Says:

    what a really lovely post, Melanie! I agree that in general saving the best for later is a sad way to live. But in the context of your mother’s generation and also having gone through a lean period in my life as a single parent, I certainly understand the desire to be frugal. When material things are rare, sometimes a person begins to believe that they cannot be readily replaced. Few of our generation have experienced real scarcity.

    These days I like to be free and easy with wonderful experiences like hiking to the top of “my” hill to enjoy the stupendous view of Boulder county. As long as I have my health I will never feel frugal.

  18. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Maggie,

    Yes, those of us with parents who lived through the Great Depression saw something of a paucity mentality in them. Not only did my parents live through the Great Depression, but I grew up relatively poor. My father had been severely wounded in World War II and could not work a typical job. My mother had four children to raise. We didn’t have much. From the moment I left home as a young adult, I knew I was financially better off than my parents and did what I could to help them out (while managing to get my BA and MA without any family help).

    But this issue of savoring life is not, of course, simply about money. It is about savoring life. That has less to do with money than with a mindset towards life. You have provided the perfect example with your “view from the top” luxury. That’s what it is about!

    Somehow your response is inspiring me to make the next blog post about this issue of frugality. We are navigating some pretty difficult economical times right now and it might be appropriate to address the issue. Many freelancers (like me) have been living frugality as a way of life. It might be time to share a few tips.

    Thanks for your comments!
    Melanie

  19. suecampbell Says:

    Your story about your mother is touching. Our parent grew up in a time when scarcity was the order of the day, and saving things for “best” or for others became the “right” thing to do. My grandma died the same way, she scrimped her whole life and left monetary riches to her sons. But she had a gift for enjoying the simple things, really relishing everyday comforts my generation takes for granted. It didn’t matter to her that she still wore a moth-eaten sweater (or holey undies) when she had nature’s bounty coming in from her beloved garden that she worked unto her death at 90. When I am feeling low, I think about how she savored the best things in life, yet lived simply. (I still wish she’d spent a bit more of her own money on herself though!)

    Lovely stories—get me thinking!

  20. Melanie Mulhall Says:

    Sue,

    Savoring the best things in life is what is all about! That is not, of course, all about owning fine things like houses, cars–or, for that matter, fancy underwear. Your grandmother and my mother were both gardeners. (My mother was into flowers, primarily. She had grown up on a farm and had enough time spent weeding fields to last her a lifetime.) That is my idea of savoring life.

    But it is also true that when we hoard beautiful, wonderful things we already own, we might want to question what we are waiting for. Every day is a fine day to live in a fine way.

    Thanks for your lovely commen!

    Melanie

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