My mother was a prolific list maker. They were all over the house and jammed into her purse. If the season changes and she added a chic new exchequer, the lists made the transfer with her lipstick and wadded up currency and life savers. They were as constant as the rising sun and the stars in the sky.
Those bits of her streams of consciousness always smelled of TABU and tobacco and sported the inevitable loose speck of her Virginia Slims. Every once in awhile she would cleanse the house of her lists and slowly, but surely the accumulation would begin again. Mostly they were grocery lists, but there were reminders to write her sisters or her brother. She never wrote “Bill”…always “Brother” and the random events…PTA meetings and Christmas parties…birthday notes and something for a neighbor. Her conversation with herself because there was no other adult in the household to share the weight of her thoughts.
I am her. I have a lifetime of my own lists…and remake them religiously. I keep notebooks and they are a grand design of random thoughts, tasks, and doodles.
Many of my mother’s lists were simply replays because in the melange the original was ‘somewhere’ and time was wasted sorting through the paper trail to update them. Besides, I think it was a comfort device for her to put those things down in her flourishing handwriting and begin afresh. Again…like me.
Except for Christmas lists. Mom was trained in Gregg’s shorthand.
She knew my sister and I would stumble across one of the months of wish lists and spoil her Christmas Day surprises. Instead there were among the daily wool gatherings that began in October, the purposeful squiggles that we couldn’t decipher…no Google in the 1950’s. It wasn’t driven by today’s nutty Christmas marketing before Halloween.
No, it was about a single mother putting our gifts on layaway and paying on them incrementally until they were freed from their ransom and she could bring them home for her girls.
The only telltale mark that my sister and I sleuthed out was the check mark next to a line of squiggles…some ‘thing’ was paid for.
One elegant purse lives vividly in my memory. She carried it at my wedding. Mom had saved for it and treasured it above others. Yes. Elegant. That was her. And when she helped me change into my ‘going away dress’, she opened her purse to retrieve a hankie and there in the midst of the familiar tobacco bits, lipstick tubes, crinkled cash and perfume was her latest list of ‘things to do’ the morning of my wedding.
I am so fortunate to have had a wonderful mother who kept lists and loved to be vivacious until her last days. I bought her a new purse for every birthday and put in a note in lieu of a list…one item. Thank you, Mom.
Deborah J. Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
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