Monday, July 16, 2007

Five Years Gone

Give her a reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”
--Proverbs 31

We found our mother’s wedding dress yesterday.

My sister and I are just into our second week of cleaning out the family house and we stumbled across the personal equivalent of the Holy Grail.

It was in my sister’s old bedroom, in the pile of boxes, books, clothes, tools, and snow shovels and God alone knows what else my father crammed in there over the years after my sister moved out.

I was helping her take some of this stuff out of the room when I saw a large cardboard box that crumbled at the touch.

"Marlene's Dress Shoppe" was printed in the middle and the address appeared in the lower right hand corner: 247 Grand Street.

I googled the name and street and while I found stores with similar names, the business that made my mother's dress is long gone.

I knew it was a wedding dress the second I pulled up the dusty flap, but for some reason I wondered whose dress this was.

"Is this mom's?" I asked rather densely.

Well, my sister is the only woman in the family and she's not married, which I guess narrows it down a bit. It's hard to imagine that something so important actually exists, that it's not in a vault or a museum someplace.

I knew we were going to find items of great emotional value as we cleaned the place out, but I have to confess this was a bit of jolt. The fact that this discovery comes one day shy of the fifth anniversary of my mother's death borders on the eerie.

The clean-up is a strange mix of physical drudgery and emotional turmoil. You dig through mounds of crap that should have been thrown out years ago, choking on dust. And then, like Indiana Jones, and you reach into the rubble and pull out some fabulous gem.

It’s hard to believe we’re actually cleaning up the house, after talking about doing it for so long. And it’s a little scary because when we’re done, the house will be ready to be sold.

I've only seen the gown in photographs, most notably in these 3-D slides my parents had made of their wedding day some 57 years ago.

There’s one photo in particular of my mother in front of triptych mirror that takes my breath away every time I see it. She looks so young, so nervous, and so beautiful in that dress. From that point in time, she raised four children, had two grandchildren, and now she's gone.

I try to imagine what the world was like back when that dress was new. The Second World War, in which my father fought, has just ended five years before.

This Day in History

Earlier that year, 11 men robbed the Brink's office in Boston of nearly $3 million in cash and securities. Harry Truman approved the building of hydrogen bomb and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel opened.

And, on their wedding day, Joe DiMaggio--one of my mother's few sports idols--becomes the first player to hit three home runs at Washington's Griffith Stadium.

My mom's parents, who had moved to this country from Italy, were still alive. From what I can see, some of the wedding photos were taken in our house. I believe that's where the mirror picture was shot.

I went to church today in remembrance of my mother, walking to Our Lady of the Rosary and kneeling down in the front pew.

There was no service going on and only a handful of people were there, praying, meditating or, in the case of one man, sleeping soundly.

It seemed fitting to go there today, at the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. When her health was failing, my mother was treated at St. Elizabeth Ann’s in Staten Island, eventually winding up at St. Vincent's Medical Center a short distance away.

Five years ago today I was working at Goldman Sachs when my mother’s doctor called to say she had gone into cardiac arrest. I got over there as fast as I could, but she was gone. It was unquestionably the worst day of my life.

At the wake, I started crying again when the priest spoke over her casket and talked about “our sister Gloria.” My aunt was standing next to me and started rubbing my shoulder.

We buried her and I recall that it was unbearably hot that day, no time to be in suits and riding around in hearses. But death really doesn’t take a holiday, it doesn’t call ahead, and it sure as hell doesn’t ask our permission.

I miss her so much and as I thought about her today in church, I thought I was going to start weeping again.

She was with me during so many rough times in my life, sharing in my failures and disappointments, feeling the pain as acutely as I did.

I think about all the stupid fights I had with my mother when I was young, how I gave her grief over the most idiotic things, and I cringe.

If I had known my time with her would be so brief, that it would fly by so quickly, I would never argued with her about anything.

So now she’s gone, my father died in January, and we’re going to sell our house. It doesn’t seem right or natural, but it really is nature at its most brutal. Nothing lasts forever, homes and people included.

I can only imagine what else we’re going to find as we dig through the house. I know it’s going to be painful—that's a given for when something so close to your heart comes to an end after nearly 60 years.

My mother's wedding dress is faded and musty now, baring little resemblance to the beautiful white gown my mother wore so long ago. But it's still beautiful to me.

And I don't know what we're going to do with it, but I do know that when we leave the house for the last time, that dress is coming with us.

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