My Mother Wore Chanel

By Anita Pappas-Raposa

My mother wore Chanel No. 5 when she was a young woman. Sometimes, before I visit her at the nursing home, I dab a little on my neck from an old bottle that I use sparingly. I’m trying to make it last.

The elegant perfume takes me back to evenings in the fifties when she looked so pretty; sparkling in a colorful dress, wearing nylon stockings and walking tall in her high heels. She and Dad would be going out on Saturday night. Maybe to an American Legion event or to a friend’s house party, but no matter, she loved her date. The scent of her perfume lingered as they left for the evening.

What a contrast to Mom by day. She worked at the diner owned by my uncle and father; “The Day and Night Diner,” which incidentally, closed at 2:00 p.m. daily. Mom kept the customers like “Mac” Kelly, a truck driver and Mr. Brainard, the bank president, chuckling to her saucy retorts or latest town gossip.

But behind the banter was a sea of troubles. My father was determined to sell the business and move on to work in Boston as a salesman. Mom couldn’t bear to leave her mother. In small town Palmer, Mom was both daughter and confidante.

On Friday nights, Dad returned from Boston; full of his news and weekend plans. Mom would outdo herself preparing his favorite Greek foods, then getting “dolled up” for Saturday night. The Chanel No. 5 was the final touch before they made their way out.

On Sundays, after church and a large traditional dinner, my sister and I ran off to the Five Star Theater to meet friends and watch romantic comedies all afternoon. We didn’t know, consciously, that our parents were drifting farther apart with every passing month.

For years, Mom wore that cheerful mask to work, tended to Yia Yia next door, slowly losing herself as the inevitable separation occurred. We hardly noticed Dad was gone.

Mom occasionally went out with her waitress pals, Judy and Terry. The quick spray of her Chanel was her departure signal. It wasn’t the same though. She was old school and never recovered from the humiliations of Dad’s other life.

I often wonder how this beast we call Alzheimer’s selects its victims. Now, as I listen to her nonsensical ramblings and watch her fade away, I wonder if she wasn’t the perfect candidate. Maybe she slipped into a world where the injustices of love, the sorrow of loss, and the personal regrets of her own dreams, simply vanished. She lives in the moment; sometimes at peace, sometimes fraught with anxiety. She cries when sparks of old memories invade her conscious state.

On those days of sadness, I like to show her advertisements in women’s magazines. We always pause at the Chanel ads or splashy fashion layouts where women are dressed in vibrant party dresses, standing tall in beautiful designer pumps. “Mom,” I say quietly, “Remember those days? And she smiles.

\"\"Anita Pappas-Raposa is currently working on a memoir about her coming of age and small-town life in Western Massachusetts. She is a non-fiction writer and retired English teacher. She has published several essays and excerpts from her memoir.

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