The nightgown

I like to think I am organized, in how I run my blog, how I schedule my day and how I plan our weeks:

Gabriel: Bagged lunch on Tuesday
Alex: altar server training on Thursday
Mike: Staying in the city next Tuesday for a client dinner
Mommy: Make tacos, send check for school trip, kids wear mass uniform tomorrow, see journal, register the car!

If anyone looked a little deeper, they would see that there’s a lot I don’t like to organize, a lot that I don’t want to be seen at first glance. I deflect a lot and that’s because living with it is harder. It’s not that complicated an explanation, really.

The Nightgown @fillpraycloset #prompted #writing

If you came to my house you would be welcomed by a potted plant of purple begonias on the top step that I just bought over the weekend and a multi colored welcome mat that I bought last year. Ignore the wreath. Why? I want a new one. I would open the door wide and you’d see I was barefoot, in sweats, a high floppy pony tail and a wrap sweater. I love those. Let’s go upstairs, I want to show you what I’m getting at. In my bedroom, I have a dresser. I have two actually. I only really use one. I overstuff it with clothes I regularly use. The other, is left mostly, untouched.

In the top drawers, I keep extra buttons from cardigans, and pretty blouses. I never use them, and I could probably fashion something creative from them, but there they are patiently waiting for me, in their little plastic bags, sealed tight nestled next to the golf gloves my husband got me one year, old clothes that I promise myself I’ll fit into and the few pictures I have of myself in college. On the right side, I have baby teeth my children have brought home in miniature treasure chests taped shut that their teachers send. If I reach way in back, I have love notes that my children have written on the backs of magazine subscription cards and torn off post-its.

In the second set of drawers, things get more substantial. On the left hand side are things I wore when we were first married (wink) and all kinds of bathing suits from tankini’s to cover ups. They’re all practically new even though they’re about 4 seasons out of date. On the right side… there’s just one item in there.

It looks unassuming, even threadbare in places. I did move one button up on this item and that alone tells you how valuable it is to me. It’s a mid-thigh cotton, button-down, nightgown, with short sleeves. The pale blue plaid pattern, with pink stitching, and blue buttons, is contrasted by white sleeve bands and pink ruffle accents on the pockets. The pockets are rather useless, as they can barely hold onto thread long enough before a hole tears through. I think they prefer to be left empty and unused.

The next washing could be its last so I seldom wear it. The right pocket told me so the last time I washed it because it’s torn in the corner and flapped down like a frown. I only have 4 of the 6 buttons and can’t bring myself to add any from those eager buttons in the top drawer.

In my early twenties, I visited my grandmother every so often with my cousin. We would plan to meet up at this or that train station in NYC; usually Union Square where we could catch the L train that connected with the G train leaving us right around the corner from her apartment building. I would always run my hand along the apartment buzzer buttons as my cousin would buzz hers (was it 3N?). After we heard the sound and door click that allowed us entrance to the lobby, familiarity would set in and my shoulders immediately relaxed. How many times did I take this elevator up to see her, or down to the basement to help her with laundry? I would always watch where all the water from the washing machines drained as she folded fluffy towels, or magically tamed fitted bed sheets. I could never fold them like she could. Walking down the freshly waxed floor to her apartment you could hear the low hum of fluorescent lighting. Hers was just past the stairwell on the right side. Every door was painted a pumpkin orange and had a different ring when you pushed the bell, like the muffled plucking of a cello.

My cousin and I packed an overnight bag to get to where we were going the next morning. My grandmother loved to see her girls and would be sure she left her job early enough to make us dinner and hit the supermarket for my favorite desert, Breyer’s Vanilla Ice Cream. We always knew what was on the agenda, chatting about her travels to Mexico and Europe, going through her jewelry and asking for her memories of haggling for the best prices, painting our nails some variation of shrimp pink – her favorite color – and watching The Golden Girls, followed by Benny Hill. One time, I forgot to pack some pajamas, and she loaned me a short nightgown. I thought nothing of it until the next morning, when I should have left it in the hamper before leaving. My grandmother was the principal of a bilingual school in the Bronx and kept very early and very long hours. I was always awakened when I heard the door close as she crept out, well before our alarm went off. I always hated that part of my day – and I still do.

I didn’t want to give the gown back and thought I would just bring it to wear the next time we planned a sleepover. I stuffed it into my overnight bag, burying it under work pants and my makeup bag as we hurried out the door. She never asked about the nightgown and I never reminded her. I didn’t even let guilt push me into mentioning it when we spoke over the phone a few times after that.

My cousin and I didn’t get another night of shrimp pink polish and jewelry memories. I don’t know how soon after she got sick. Breast cancer. She died pretty quickly and I can’t place all of the details around her illness and death either. I avoided her a lot at that time because she was something I couldn’t equate with death. That was selfish. I know.

Yes, I attended her funeral – it was raining. Hard. I was asked to sing Wind Beneath my Wings at her wake, as much as I tried to convince my mother I wouldn’t get through it – I didn’t. I recall blurry splotches of people through my tears staring back at me as I tried to groan out the lyrics, choking and gasping, my grandmother lying, lifeless and cold behind me. She was 64. I was 24.

Sometime after she died, I was given a ring that my aunt gave her. It was a large black pearl ring that didn’t fit either of us, actually. It wasn’t something I remember her wearing and it wasn’t what I was promised (a plainer, simpler bracelet that she never wore either, but kept on a jewelry stand on her dresser). In that moment when my aunt gave me the ring, I remembered the nightgown and searched for it later when I snatched a moment. I remember holding the gown and crying in it. Crying so hard I could feel the wet on the other side. I’ve kept it in a drawer where I would always be able to get to it, when I needed it. It’s always a drawer that has just that nightgown in it.

Now, no matter where I move to, I know that the nightgown is always in the second drawer on the right, waiting, should I need to feel comforted. When I complain of having little drawer space, my husband tells me that I would have plenty of drawer space if I just got organized it. He’s right. But that drawer with her nightgown is so full, nothing else will fit. Her loss and my memories of her fill it to overflowing.

On those rare times, I slip on what I shouldn’t have stolen all those years ago (but am so glad I did) and my husband knows something’s going on with me that I can’t express in words, so he just sits with me. I am always silent but never present. He just reaches for my hand and squeezes it a little. Some times, I don’t even know what it is that’s bothering me.

Most times, I just miss her. I pray for her soul at every mass during the prayer of the faithful. I’m afraid to forget.

#writingprompt #writing @fillpraycloset

This is part of a prompted series from book titled “642 Things to Write About” by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. Today’s prompt was to write about a piece of clothing you keep just for the memory. And yes, it’s all true. If you feel so inclined, write about it. What’s the one piece of clothing you keep just for the memory?


14 thoughts on “The nightgown

  1. Beautiful Cristina. When my mother in love died almost 6 years ago, one of the items my girls wanted to keep was Grandma’s night gown. Not only did they want to keep it, they wanted it kept in a sealed ziploc bag so Grandma’s smell wouldn’t go away. Every so often they would open it and inhale and zip it back shut quickly. Unfortunately, the gown no longer smells like Grandma, so now we just pull it out every so often and look at it.


    1. Something so intimate as sleep. I think it’s this closeness to dreaming – of maybe seeing her there, you know? I dreamt of her a couple of times and I remember the last one vividly. It’s been a while. Smell, one of the stronger senses. I have so many small snatches of memories from our time together.


  2. This was beautiful. The one article I have doesn’t harbor the same level of sentiment. It is a ratty Aquinas High School sweatshirt that belonged to my mother’s cousin and then my mother. I wore it in college but now it sits in a drawer. It made me feel connected to my mother’s youth.


  3. Cristina, as always, your writing resonates with me!!! I am one of eight children and lost my mom 25 years ago. She was a beautiful soul and many people (and many priests in particular) have told me that they believe she is a saint. No one would be more shocked than my mom to know that people still talk about her and the impact she had. She was not a soccer mom, or a PTA mom or anyone who desired any kind of social prominence – quite the contrary. She was very humble and demure and her entire life revolved around my dad, raising her children and her faith. She used to tell me that her greatest ambition as a child was to have a great husband, 6 children and a collie – but that God had blessed her with all that but gave her 2 additional children and a mutt instead of the collie 9a trade off age was quite thrilled with!)
    As children, we loved to go through her top dresser drawer and look at her jewelry (which she never wore) and all her little things; almost as if there was something in that drawer that unlocked the secret of her. When she died, the one thing I took was a veil that she kept in that drawer. I don’t wear it ( not my thing ) nor do I remember her ever wearing it, but for some reason I wanted it…..maybe because on some level it is a reminder of her simple powerful holiness. I hold it in my hand when I pray my rosary and for some reason it always brings me peace.


    1. There are so many things I wish I could ask her (and ask forgiveness for). There were sides of her she didn’t show many people and it’s interesting that I never “got that” from her, but get it now, as an adult. I’m sorry you lost your mother so many years ago. She sounds like a model of great faith, but at the very least, I know who my grandmother is hanging out with. 🙂


  4. What a beautiful way to cherish your grandmother’s memory! I enjoyed this post so much, especially since I too am struggling with coming to terms with my own grandmom’s age!


    1. Thanks, Roshni. It’s hard to remember her sometimes. She’s still to real and fresh in my mind. It’s been 12 years. You’d think she would have faded a little bit. I still hear the lilt in her voice and the slight accent she showed when she greeted me at the door “Hey, Teeeee”


  5. I have kept my grandmother’s pant suit ~ even if only in my dream. My grandmother suffered with alcoholism and died at age 62. She favored the boys mostly and I never felt that she liked me much. In fact, after she died, one of my aunts told me that she didn’t like me. I was crushed even though I got that from her without words.

    Without a blog post of my own in your comments, I will tell of only one of the encounters that I had with her that I believe were a gift from God.

    I was at her apt. with my mom, aunt and sister. In the dream, I walked into her bedroom while they were in the kitchen with the police. Everything was very neat, but dusty. The windows were open and a warm, gentle breeze was blowing the white sheers a bit.

    I noticed a pant suit laid out on a perfectly made bed and I laid down on it. Suddenly, she was in the room and corrected me. I jumped up and she was right there with me although I could’t see her. She exuded love and began to tell me that she wasn’t mad. She told me that when I was young, and she was unkind, it was no fault of mine. She said that something was wrong with her and not me.

    We hugged (still couldn’t see her) the most real and loving hug I have ever experienced and we laughed and laughed.

    I have felt peace ever since. I thank God, who knew my heart , for that piece of heaven on this sometimes bitter Earth.


  6. P#2 “was a gift”. And don’t ask about laid/lay/lie. I still don’t get it~
    I forgot to mention that sometime later, that same aunt gave me a decorative plate of my grandmother’s and it was Our Lady of Fatima (DVD 😉 who was the final straw to my rebirth. Then, I found out that the plate was a gift to her from my mother at age 15.


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