The next time I saw my mother was in a department store, the Broadway, that used to be on Hollywood Boulevard when I was growing up, right on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, catty cornered from the old, original Brown Derby Restaurant and down the Boulevard from a The Fog Cutter, a fancy steak house we used to go to on special occasions. All those buildings and businesses are long gone now, and both I and my mother have been gone from there for several decades, me to Northern California and my mother, I hope, to Heaven..
I saw her first from the back in the Broadway. There was a sale on nightgowns and I watched my mother, her head slanted as she sorted, dismissively I thought, sorting through some pretty trashy looking nylon affairs in old fashioned colors like Cerise and Sea Foam Green. She was only about twenty-eight, really pretty and sexy looking, she wore mascara and heels and bright red lipstick, her thick hair in a well cut duck tail, like Doris Day had. She had a great figure then, shapely and elegant. I knew she wouldn’t recognize me because in the dream I was about the same age as she was, the way things sometimes go in dreams.
All the women around her were dressed similarly to her, they had big handbags with fake gold clasps over their left arms. My mom was wearing a , with fake gold clasps, a brown polished cotton day dress with a flat collar and a daring vee neckline. She always liked to look sharp, she told me later, and she looked really sharp that day. Her face reflected a kind of interested contentment as she evaluated each garment for its worth and design.
I watched while she turned away and walked over towards the Woman’s dress section. On the way she passed the coats. Los Angeles never got much below 50 degrees but she loitered in the fur coats, running her fingers through the glossy, luxurious fur of mink. She would never own one of those coats, I knew. At most, she would have an ermine stole, its mouth biting its own tail, that she could wear over a well tailored woolen winter coat and wear that only if she went home to visit family in New York. I saw longing and sensuality on her face and I felt a stab of pain that she never got realty nice things, never grew wealthy or even nearly wealthy. Then I realized that stab was my own and not hers, she was actually having a great time.
I missed her so much that I couldn’t help myself from calling out to her at those racks.
“Estelle,” I said, “It’s me. Lisa.” (Once, when I was in my teens and she in her 40s, she told me that she had wanted to name me Lisa and that in that alternate world I became a Sociology Professor and taught at The New School of Social Research. None of that, or even anything like that happened when we were both on Earth together but I hoped to spur her memory of the future.)
She looked up at me, vaguely friendly. It was obvious that she had never seen me before. (‘Not even in your fantasies?’ I wanted to scream.)
“You know,” I said. “From the PTA.?” I realized my mistake at once. She didn’t have her first child, my sister, until she was thirty and when she was 28 she didn’t even live in Los Angeles.
“I mean, from the Synagogue.”
Another wrong guess, she was a committed atheist who once joked that she had moved from New York to L.A. for religious freedom, that is, for the freedom to be an atheist. At that age her father, my Grandpa Dave, sometimes went to services but she never did.
“Oh,” she said, smiling, “I think you have me confused with someone else.” She turned away and started walking toward the escalators.
Suddenly my need to reconnect with her was overwhelming. We were contemporaries now, there was so much I wanted to tell her about what was going to happen later and also to ask her about what had gone on with her before, about her marriage to my Dad and her relationship with my Aunt, her sister, and my Step-Grandmother Irene.
I wanted to ask her why she never used tampons and still used just raw cotton from the pharmacy when she had her period. I wanted to ask her about that handsome sailor, Syd in the black-and-white photo I saw in her photo album. He was in his Navy uniform, all in white, they are both leaning against a fence near water. He has her arm around her slender waist and is smiling mysteriously into the camera while she looks off, away from him, towards an unseen destination. Was he her real true love? Was he “The One”? Why didn’t she marry him? Did he not return from the War? Or had she only not waited, her confidence flagging, her urge to get on with her life pushing her into the arms of my father? I wanted to know if she really saw me as an air head, a luftmensch as she often said and if she missed New York as I ended up so missing it later. I wanted to tell her about my eventual husband and children who she had only met much later and also to offer a whole bunch of corrections to her version of our family history.
Instead, I followed her onto escalator and stood a few steps and two people back. I looked at the fine cut of her hair in the back. She held her head so straight and her neck seemed suddenly frail and beautiful to me, she who had loomed so large to me physically when I was I child and metaphorically in my memory.
We left the store and she put on a small hat, a toque, as she waited at the bus stop for the Hollywood Boulevard bus with other women who had been shopping. She carried two large paper bags with The Broadway printed on them and she stood up to let more burdened women, take a seat on the bench. She did not look back at me but did chat a bit with the woman next to her, probably about the bus schedule or maybe about the loveliness of the day, this afternoon with its blazing, beautiful blue sky and endless feathery clouds.
When the bus came, I felt funny about following her anymore. I didn’t know how big Heaven was and I was afraid to leave that corner but oh, I wanted to. I wanted to hug her and to thank her. I wanted her to know that I was okay, that everything was okay and that heaven, which she did not believe in, was not very different from wherever else she’d been.