The dressing table is a dark reddish Ewardian mahagony, lovingly polished weekly, always dustless. A small crocheted lace doily in a octaganal pattern keeps her crystal dresser set from scratching the delicate varnish. The sterling brush and mirror set from Birks has lost its shine, is tarnishing slowly and exorably from the next generation of neglect. The tilting mirror gazes back at Kay as if to say, “Aren’t you new here?”
Kay is looking for Mother’s birth certificate. Where in blazes could she have put it? Kay has gone through each of the files expecting it to be there, but it isn’t. Kay is beginning to feel that she is getting useless, forgetful, stupid. She can’t even remember if there was a birth certificate.
She remembered a stack of cards that Mother kept in her purse, held together by an elastic that went one way, then twisted once and held the cards in a springy cross shape. The purse was empty. Completely empty. No wallet, no cards, nor make up; no blush-on, no lace handkerchief, no comb, no money. Where could all of that have gone? The purse was still perching up above the center bracket in Mother’s closet.
Kay vaguely remembered the day the clothing was sorted and packed away. She had looked into the purse and, yes, it was empty even then.
“What did you do with the contents of Mom’s purse?” Kay said a bit querulously.
“I emptied it out, ” replied Lizbet a bit defensively. We were all pretty sensitive at that stage. “There wasn’t much in it, anyway. Just a comb and a lace handkerchief and her wallet. I didn’t even think about it. Why? Do you want it? ”
“Well, I need her papers. I need her personal documents, her social insurance card, her health card, and whatever else she uses for identification. I don’t know exactly what I need, but I need it. I’m supposed to be taking care of it. It can’t just go into the garbage.”
“It hasn’t gone into the garbage. It’s around somewhere. It’s okay. Everything is still here”
But that was two months ago. And what had Kay done with it? For someone who was supposed to be looking after everything, there were too many things going missing. There was this, now, the birth certificate, that she was looking for. And the ring. Kay explored her faulty memory, searching for a hiding place, a safe place. Had she really put them away, or just thought she had.
The ring was important. It would belong to Heather, if Kay could find it. It was Mother’s pride and joy, designed for her by Willie Van Ypren, the jeweller on Tenth Avenue, fashioned from her wedding engagement rings that had become somehow problematic for her in their original state. There were diamonds in it. Kay supposed that if she could not find it and it was under her care, she would have to reimburse Heather for the loss from her own money. That didn’t really matter to Kay. She could do it, but it bothered her immensely that she was losing things and couldn’t find them afterwards. Rather, she was putting things in safe places and then not being able to remember where she had put them. It smacked too much of Alzheimerish activity.
” It’s too early for me” Kay said to herself as she searched. “I don’t want to go yet, and I don’t want to go, so forgetful that I can’t look after myself. ”
In the bottom drawer of Mother’s dressing table on the left hand side are belts. A slew of them. One drawer up, there are gloves. The drawer is full. The top drawer has scarves of all patterns and colours. There is no packet of identity cards.
On the right hand side, the top drawer has handkerchiefs. When they became difficult to find in the regular stores, or when she found them, they were enormously expensive for a handkerchief, Kay started to look for them at church sales. The elderly were dying off, leaving behind messages on dainty cloth handkerchiefs, laced with tatting or crochet, patterned with cut work or embroidery. At ten cents a handkerchief, Kay bought them all, washed them, gave them to mother. It wasn’t a big gift – a stocking stuffer at Christmas, a token at Easter, Mother’s day or a little extra on her birthday. Now the drawer was full of lace, embroidery, tatting and cutwork. But the little Japanese cloth envelope, or was it a wallet that usually contained Mother’s set of going-out jewellry, was not there. The ring was still missing and the identity cards elusively hiding elsewhere.
There were curlers in the next drawer down and stockings down below.
“Oh dear, what can the matter be,
Oh dear, what can the matter be,
Oh dear, what can the matter by,
My memory’s no longer there.”
In the bottom of the stocking drawer, Kay pulls out a slip of tissue thin paper. It’s an invoice, a bill for dresses from La Belle Rose. It appears as if two dresses have been purchased. One of them has a charge for alterations. May 17, 1974. Mother was sixty three, still teaching one last year so that she could get a pension; she needed ten years. Father had just retired. The first dress was one hundred thirty six dollars and eight dollars more for alterations. The second for one hundred twenty six, was on sale. That was a lot of money then.
I bought my brand new Datsun for two thousand five. You couldn’t get the same car for twenty five thousand now. My house was fifteen thousand, but that was out in the country and inflation hadn’t hit. How could you compare? You were supposed to remember the price of bread and compare then to now for a common multiplication factor. But that was too difficult especially when you took in the China factor which made all manufactured goods thirty percent less expensive than Canadians could make for the same object.
Were these the two dresses that she took with her to a conference? Were they still hanging in the closet, waiting for probate approval so that we could give them to the Historical Costume Society?
Kay laid the bill aside, thinking to come back to the thorny question of value; she must not get distracted from her task. The Birth Certificate had to be be found.
After a day of searching, Kay had packed up three more boxes of stuff for her move; written two more business letters; reviewed and checked the probate information; revised the spreadsheet format; thrown out a waste basket full of unnecessary papers; air fluffed two pillows with a softener tissue in the dryer to make them smell fresh; done a white load and a coloured load of laundry; printed labels for moving boxes and searched.
And searched. And searched. And searched.
Still no ring. Still no Birth Certificate. It wasn’t funny!