When I was about Kolby’s age—three or maybe four—a man approached my mother and I at a restaurant. He was well attired—dark hair slicked back, expensive suit and rather dashing to boot. He got down on one knee and said to me in a thick and husky accent, “Do you know your mommy is the most beautiful woman in the entire world?”
I nodded yes and he proceeded to ask my mother out on a date. My mom declined, but her smile was wide like a Cheshire cat. She sent the handsome dark haired man away and leaned over to me after he left.
Then she whispered words of wisdom into my tiny ear, “Samantha, Italian men are flatterers. Don’t believe anything they say.”
I giggled and nodded, but secretly, I knew the man was right.
Nobody else’s mommy looked like mine. She wore beautiful clothes and jewelry and looked like a glamorous movie star. Other mommies drove mini-vans and had baby vomit stains on them. My mommy zipped around in a yellow corvette and wore cobalt blue leather pants.
I was pretty sure my mom was special.
Growing up, I saw my mom through child’s eyes—a rather myopic view that changed as I grew older. As a little kid, she seemed bigger than life and I treasured the time I spent with her. She worked hard and often had a second job, so our hours together were very precious.
Recently, she confessed to me that one of her biggest regrets was teaching me to read so young, because once I mastered the words I didn’t need her anymore. I was off in my own world devouring books instead of cuddling next to her at bedtime.
But this love of books was something we both shared. On Thursday nights when my step-dad was off playing poker we had a ritual of going to a French bakery and then to the bookstore where we picked out juicy new reads. We had lots of little special Seal Beach rituals—brunch on Sundays downtown, chocolate croissants at the Swiss Bakery, Char-o-Chicken nights and Ruby’s on the pier were always a treat.
We spent many happy days shopping. My mom was the master shopper and picked up clothes, antiques and textile on a dime. We spent so many hours at South Coast Plaza they knew us by name. To this day, my husband says I have mall GPS . He can thank my mom for that gift. I would take a book and hide under the racks. I knew every bench in every store where she would try on one outfit after the next. We would arrive home limping and crash in heaps on the sofa from exhaustion.
My mom’s closet was my playground. It was a part of her and I felt connected to her there. I would hide in there as a kid when I felt scared or alone. I would try on clothes and hats and scarves pretend to be a princess or one of my favorite characters in a book. And she would laugh at my get-ups and eventually lock me out of her closet by the time I was a teenager.
I found myself in there last week, staring at her clothes, remembering the way she put things together and crying as I breathed in her smell.
We had different personalities. I was more introverted and a bookworm, she was a social butterfly. I was more conservative—she liked to take risks with fashion. I was a dreamer—she more pragmatic. And yet, despite our differences we rarely argued. Our home was always peaceful and serene.
I’ll never forget when I bought her a workout outfit as a young teen. It was a unitard with neon cutout straps in the back. When she walked in the door after working out my mouth dropped open. She had it on backward and the neon straps were barely covering her ripped abs and bust. I, of course, was horrified and told her she couldn’t wear it like that. She laughed at me and said she liked it like that. And she continued to taunt me by wearing it backward for years.
That was my mom.
But as I grew older, I began to notice different things about her. During the last four months as she battled pancreatic cancer I saw a different woman than I knew as a tot.
First, she knew how to make the ordinary things extraordinary. She celebrated the smallest things in life. If she was going to have a snack it was on china and crystal. If she left the house, she was ready for the paparazzi because she always looked gorgeous. She made the holidays into an art form and the most intimate dinner parties into an event. Her home became her show piece and every object and every arrangement has her fingerprint on it. She was extremely thoughtful and if you showed up for Christmas your gift would always be perfect for you—even if she barely knew you.
Second, I saw the connection she had with my step-dad and it was different than most marriages. These two truly put each other first. They were best friends and playmates, dance partners, travel buddies, and lovers. They say the grass is greener where you water it. If that’s true, then my mom kept her sprinklers running constantly because her lawn was a brilliant green. Few people are married over 30 years and are still giddy with romance and yet my mom and Herman had an intimacy that I hope to model in my own marriage. My mom taught me by her actions how beautiful a relationship can be if you put in the extra effort.
Last, as the end drew near, and in the final months I began to see the impact my mom made in the lives of the people around her. She was so well loved—in fact her friends in Indiana held a service at the same time as her funeral in California.
She was truly adored by the friends she taught with, zumba’s with, volunteered with at the art museum and by everyone she met. I have never seen an outpouring of affection like I did with my mom. She had hundreds of visitors in the last few months. There were always people staying in the home and there was always someone knocking on the door.
I believe it’s because my mom had a tremendous gift of hospitality. She was an inviter and she welcomed everyone into her beautiful world. She was the ultimate hostess and she cooked and prepared for days to offer her gifts of food and presentation to her friends. She loved to serve people in her way—with grace and beauty, good food and good wine.
She also never burned any bridges. Even if someone ticked her off she covered it with a smile. I liked that about her. There was very little relational drama with her. She got along with everyone. And even in the end, she didn’t complain much. It just wasn’t her style.
I think of my mom as a work of art—like a sculpture defying the ages. She did life her way and on her own terms. She was strong—with a backbone of steel and the cardiovascular endurance of a twelve year old from forty years of step classes and spin. She was the epitome of elegance and when she walked in the room people stopped and watched her. It wasn’t just her beauty—although that was part of it—but it was something about her. She commanded space. My mom had a charisma all her own.
Her favorite color was cobalt blue and it’s all I’ve been wearing the last week. Before she died, she told me to rent a U-Haul to take all her clothes home with me. I’m hoping it won’t come to that, but then again, this woman had clothes in abundance. She expressed herself through fashion.
I do know that every time I wear one of her dresses and it draws admiration, every time I write a story that moves someone to tears and whenever my home is open and hospitable and the food and wine are flowing freely—my mom’s spirit is still alive and kicking.
I believe my mom’s legacy is beauty and elegance with a perfect twist of fabulous.
Becky Ann Parsons 1945-2014