Blast From the Past,  Mom

The Limits of Magic









I got a magic set for Christmas in 1977.  I adored it, and I practiced making a red furry ball disappear into a yellow cup until I was ready to present my act to the family.  It was a huge hit, too.  No one could guess where the ball had gone.  Years later my mom pointed out that no one was watching the actual tricks; they were watching to see when my mustache would fall off.

When I first found this picture I laughed at the mustache, too.  Then I looked more closely and saw several items that I took for granted back then, but which have since attained special meaning.

My mom brought the two black cocktail tables back from Korea.  The tops are a swirly design constructed of Korean coins.  When we were small Aunt Su and I would turn the tables on their sides and pretend they were a space ship.  Today those same tables are in my house, and my boys are just as fascinated by the foreign coins as I was.

You can see a tiny picture on the bookshelf above my hand.  It’s a picture of me and my sisters.  My mom was always dressing us up in pastel dresses and putting ribbons in our hair and taking us to get our pictures made.

As the years go by I’ll be wearing a dress in one picture, and  Su will wear it in one taken a couple of years later, and Lulu would wear it yet again.  Riding to Olan Mills studio without getting wrinkled was a nuisance at the time.  Once we ran out of gas on the way back and my sisters and I cried in the back seat of the pea-green Chrysler while my mom flagged down a good Samaritan.

Today my sisters and I have these pictures displayed prominently in our homes, a reminder of our shared past and the solidarity we’ve built over the years, especially since my mom passed away.

My parents were so fancy that they didn’t keep their gin and bourbon in the bottles they came in. Instead, they poured the alcohol into lovely crystal decanters that were lined up on the shelves of the bar. Each decanter wore a silver label like a necklace: GIN, SCOTCH, VODKA and BOURBON. You can see them on the shelves above the chair.

The chair in the background has been recovered many times, most recently in a cream chenille with tan spots.  If I’d done it it would have turned out Elvis-jungle-room wild.  My mom chose the fabric, though, so it’s tasteful.

The Monday night before my mom went to the hospital to have her cancer surgery, I took Drew and Porter to her house and we hung out with Mom and Lulu, who had flown into town.  Mom always sat in that chair, and she did so that night.  We talked and watched the twins play.  Although the doctor had drained a lot of fluid from her abdomen the previous Friday, by Monday night she was swollen again and sat sideways in the chair, obviously uncomfortable, yet happy to be surrounded by her family.

I’ve always believed that she knew she wasn’t going to make it out of the hospital.

It’s odd how you can peer into your past and see clues to your future. A picture. Silver tags, once cherished, now stolen. A chair. You have to live those moments to understand the clues and their meaning.  There’s no magic set to help you skip the process of living the tragic parts.  Fortunately, you must live the happy moments as well.

That Monday night was a little bit of both.

One year ago in My Tiny Kingdom: The Wrong Approach 


  • Melinda

    You’re so right. I have the chest, the pictures, and the chair, but what I treasure the most is her velour robe. It was her favorite and she wore it all the time. I have it now and I wrap myself in it when I need a hug from my Mom.

    Even the happy memories sometimes bring the tears. Where did time go?


    Melinda’s last blog post..Jesus Loves Me!

  • Brandy Poole

    I have tons of Olan Mills photos, some of which are downright embarrassing, but I still treasure them. I have my momma’s belongings from her nightstand stored in a box. When I get to missing her I open the box to get whiff of her because all the stuff in there still retains her scent (a mixture of Tresor perfume and stale cigarettes. Gross, I know, but it comforts me.)

    Brandy Poole’s last blog post..Flashback Friday: Giddy up little doggie

  • pyzahn

    Ah yes. Olan Mills. Did your pics have your face floating in an airbrushed oval with hazy edges? That technique seemed to be all the rage then. But I’m probably much older than you so the fad could have faded.

    Sweet story. You have such a good memory and a lovely way of retelling family events.

    Here’s a link to my more cheezy flashback Friday post.

    pyzahn’s last blog post..A flashback to happy days

  • Ladybird

    I gave my younger cousin a magic set last year for Christmas and it was a huge hit. Unfortunantly, it did not have a mustache or it could have been so much more fun!

    Ahh…Olan Mills. I still have nightmares.

    Ladybird’s last blog post..FF- Go Rough Riders!

  • Melissa

    I can’t believe your mom made you ride to Olan Mills wearing the dress! Each year, I made the trek to Olan Mills wearing shorts, a button down shirt and a shower cap… So my curls wouldn’t get crushed against the seat. My mom and grandma would kindly kick the photographer out of the studio while they changed me into my dresses. My record is 4 dresses in a single session.

  • Karin

    I used to think Olan Mills were the most annoying thing, but they served a good purpose. I have some great pics from those days. Now I have to do it myself, since they are no longer calling me.

  • Marine Wife

    Good Lord! I have that chair. My MIL gave it to me last year when she decided she didn’t want it anymore. It still has the same fabric as yours in the picture altho’ it really needs to be reupholstered.

    Marine Wife’s last blog post..dancing raindrops

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