My mom wasn’t like anyone else’s. She was so pretty, for one thing, that when my family walked into a restaurant for dinner, everyone would stop eating, mid-bite, and stare at her. At least that’s how I remember it (I was a painfully self-conscious kid, so this sometimes posed a problem for me—I must have been an incredible pain). She had been a runway model for the french designer Givenchy before she married my father, and, after he died, she did print ads, if I’m remembering correctly, for companies like Rolls Royce. Her closets were full of crazy, fashion-model props: feather boas and falsies, bright-green suits, and a tackle box heavy with makeup.
Being beautiful was not the important quality I’m trying to draw your attention to about my mother, though; what was striking to me about her when she was young, was how independent she was. She left home when she was seventeen, and she found a way to travel the world alone. It’s true that when I was old enough to notice such things, I watched her grow dependent on the men in her life, and defer to them. But I also observed how she didn’t conform to the culture at large—no one else’s mom took her kids fishing; no one else’s mom phoned the school to say she’d bought tickets to a rock concert, and she’d be by after school to pick them up. My mom called me into her bedroom when I was fourteen or so, and asked if I wanted to sign a petition to legalize abortion. My mom bought me a membership to NOW when I was fifteen.
I have this one memory of my mother that has stood out in mind, even while many of the others have all but faded away. One time I was playing kickball in Bethany Martin’s yard across the street with all the kids on the block, when I saw my mom’s car come around the corner. She never liked that car—a black special-edition 1956 Lincoln Continental with red leather seats that my father had picked up somewhere—but, especially on this day, she looked amazing in it. She was a tall, thin brunette, with big, amber eyes—usually. On this day, though, the woman who drove by in that stylish black car had short, white-blond hair like someone from a magazine in the mid-1960s. She told me later that she didn’t like that haircut. She said that Vidal Sassoon himself had cut it, and in the back he’d carved the first letter of his first name: V. Not my mother’s thing.
I have to dig out the box with my photos and get them scanned, so I can show you. Hang on…