One of my earliest memories of my mother is her coming in to say good night before she left with Daddy for a party in Washington. She rustled to my bedside accompanied by the tinkling of her charm bracelet and a cloud of Arpège. I remember the dress: pale pink silk faille dotted with rows of pearls. I remember too being enveloped in her arms, the warmth, the love, the feeling of inestimable pride that this fairy queen was my mother.
Some while later, on a summer evening, my older sister and I had been bathed and put to bed in our matching yellow gingham nighties. My father was away on a business trip and Mummy was going out. I don’t recall the circumstances, but before I knew it, my sister, Felicity and I had snuck out of the house into the crepuscular, insect buzzing evening to crouch on the floor of the back seat of the station wagon. How we managed to get out of the house past my mother, the baby sitter and our brothers undetected and then keep from giggling on the ride over to the club, which granted wasn't far, I don’t know. But we did, popping out only after my mother had parked. “Surprise!” we yelled very pleased with our feat of daring do. I don't know what we expected, but our wonderful mother didn't get cross; she laughed—I think she was quite pleased with the chutzpah of her two little girls. She even took us over to say hello to her friends before driving us back home.
In 1981 the summer before I went to graduate school, Mum and I went to Italy. In Venice at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, we were looking at a series of photographs of Peggy Guggenheim lining a downstairs corridor. A woman, clearly American, in flashy white pantsuit and bouffant hair rushed over to us. “Are you Americans?” she demanded. “Yes,” we replied, thinking she was in some kind of distress. “So, can you tell me something?” she asked; we nodded expectantly. “Why with all her money," she pointed at a photograph, "Didn’t she get a nose job?” There was a long pause while we digested her question and then my beautiful, but un-surgically enhanced mother said in an incredibly diplomatic tone: “Well, I guess her mind was on other things.” It was a Mrs. Prothero-worthy remark.
About a month before she died, Felicity and I were tucking Mum in for the night, all three of us curled together on her bed singing “Dites Moi” from South Pacific and “Jesus Tender Shepherd,” which was our lullaby when we were small. As we moved to go, she grabbed our forearms with a real sense of urgency. She was beaming and her eyes shone, “I wouldn’t trade this for a sharp price,” she whispered, squeezing our arms. What a gift it was to feel our mother’s abiding love expressed so poignantly as she struggled with the words she once so delighted in.
In reading the many condolence notes, “beautiful,” “elegant” and “intelligent” were used again and again to describe Mum. She also had a great sense of humor and a great sense of fun, though an acquaintance would not necessarily pick up on this, for Mum could be quite formal. A woman of substance who’d been forged in no-nonsense New England, she demanded the best from herself and expected it from others. In all her life, I don’t believe she ever did a petty or unkind thing. She was my lodestar, my mother and my friend.