My mom never owned or wore a pair of jeans. She was in her fifties (1970s) before she ever wore pants. Even then she wore knee-high stockings and dress shoes with her slacks. Later on, when walking became more painful due to arthritis, she would wear walking shoes that were leather and still dainty. No clunky shoes, no athletic tennis shoes ever. She got her hair done every Friday and always wore lipstick if she was going out. She always smelled so good.
When I was little and before she started wearing pants, she always wore a “house dress” to do her work at home. All the dusting, vacuuming, cooking, baking, scrubbing, and laundry was done wearing a dress. Every afternoon when her housework was finished, she would stop, take a shower, and change to a “nice house dress.” She would then put on her strand of pearls that my father had given her for their wedding. Next, you would see her sit down and read the afternoon newspaper, “The Washington Star” as dinner cooked. Back then, Washington, DC had a morning and an evening paper. She read the paper front-to-back, even the sports, which helped her connect to my brother’s world of sports and my father’s world of government service. Dinner would have been timed to have everything ready on time as Daddy walked through the door. It mattered to her that she looked nice, smelled good, and was not rushed when he got home.
Mom was a lady. She had been raised by her grandmother and mother as her father died when she was only six. It was a household where the work was shared and the work done early in the day. They were fortunate to be able to keep their home during the Depression by taking in laundry and sometimes boarders. She told me that her home had a proper “parlor,” a room that was only used when guests were present. To be in the parlor you had to be dressed in your best clothes, mind your manners, and be a lady. She was taught that a lady never runs, never rushes, and is gracious in all settings. The interesting piece is that while my mother followed all the rules, she was also a quiet rebel. She left home at age 20, rode a train across the country, by herself, to pursue getting a job in Washington, DC during the war years (1942). She was a gifted musician with perfect pitch, and she worked hard to develop these talents. She was a quiet woman, but she had inner strength that could be fierce. In her last 5 years, I would say she was a lady with grit. The amount of pain she endured day after day never broke her ability to be proper and gracious. My sister fixed her hair every Saturday. She still wore lipstick. She expressed appreciation often.
Today our lives are more complicated, moving faster, and casual dress is the norm. I confess that I can’t wait to get home from work to be able to put on my sweats. I don’t like to work in a dress, and often I don’t remember lipstick–much to the chagrin of my sister. I don’t often have dinner planned and ready as my husband comes through the door.
I dream of living a gracious life, but I realize that the drive to be constantly working, always striving, and trying to keep up with the busy, contemporary world make that dream difficult to achieve. I guess I can just hope that one day, I’ll be the gracious lady in her sweats.