The conversation last Sunday turned to men’s suits and, briefly, to one of fashion’s most-maligned creations, the leisure suit.
By way of confession, I was a teenager in the 1970s, so I had a leisure suit. But the thing is: While I might now consider my leisure suit a fashion mistake, I very much loved its maker, my mom.
When I was a kid, my mom sewed a lot. I remember that she made dresses from patterns she bought at the store. I remember too that when I was in fifth grade, she made me a vest because I was a big fan of the TV show “Wild, Wild West,” whose main character, Jim West, wore suits with what struck me as stylish vests.
As I thought last Sunday about that leisure suit, it occurred to me that my mom was quite crafty. In the years before I was a teenager, for example, she made and decorated cakes on consignment. Also, a knitter and crocheter, she made, among other things, afghans. I still recall the one she draped over the couch in the living room at her home in Germanton.
Later, in my college years and afterward, my mom turned her creativity to more decorative things. She made me a ceramic chess set, and my wife and I still have the ceramic Christmas tree and nativity scene my mom made us. We display them at Christmas.
Some of what my mom did she did because our family had to be frugal. For the longest time, she was a stay-at-home mom to three sons, so it made sense to make some clothes instead of buy them. The cakes she made and decorated supplemented the money my dad made as a mechanic working on milk and ice cream trucks for a dairy in Winston-Salem. (And as if three wild boys were not enough, she briefly operated an in-home daycare.)
But long after my mom got a day job that paid a steady wage, she continued to make stuff. I didn’t think much about it then, but it occurs to me now that my mom needed or wanted a creative outlet. Maybe she needed a distraction from the daily grind, from caring for three boys, from cooking for her husband and sons, from cleaning house. Or if not a distraction, maybe she made a conscience effort to find time to express herself, express her in-born creativity.
But no matter my mom’s motivation, she was quite the talent, though it took me a while to realize and appreciate that fact. And truth be told, I didn’t know my mom was a good writer until after she had died. At her graveside service, our pastor read something she had written for the occasion. I don’t remember the words other than my mom, a good and faithful servant, planned to ask her creator why he saw fit to take one of her sons before he took her; it was, I think, the greatest sorrow she ever suffered.
But I do remember being surprised by and impressed with her writing. It was heartfelt, to be sure, but it was also articulate, with a writer’s rhythm. I remember thinking that I didn’t know my mom was a writer, and I remember thinking that I couldn’t pen something that good on my best day.
I suspect children, even grown children, tend to see their parents through a narrow lens. But parents are people too, with hopes and dreams, joys and sorrows, and sometimes considerable talents.
My mother was gone before I fully realized and appreciated her talents. Don’t let that happen to you.