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Felicity's disguise

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« In Which Our Gifts Hide Around The House »




Our potato knees match as we sit side by side on the couch, peeling clementines and watching Coronation Street. The radio is on in the kitchen and we've left the balcony door open, and I can hear our tablecloth flapping in the wind on the laundry line outside. Our upper duplex is shaded by the giant Maple tree out front, and yet, we still sweat matching sweat beads on our noses. Like my potato knees and dry skin, my sweaty nose was something that once embarrassed me. When the episode ends and the credits roll — the same slice of life song that for years has trickled out of our television, a plaintive, reticent tune — I stand up and cup my hands, offering to throw away my mother's clementine peels. We share a brief and unexpected smile, both quiet and wonderful, and yet somehow dire. As if anchored by a memory, or the threat of forgetting, I sit back down beside her and rest my head on her lap as she plays with my hair. She reminds me about something I did as a child; the clementine peels warming in my palms.  


For restorative purposes, my mother still makes the same fruit cake recipe each Christmas. Briefly, our home smells like a memory and all is forgotten, and the sound of batter licking the side of that yellow plastic bowl is truly captivating. I catch her stealing glances of the old TIME LIFE recipe book and then of me; two fixed and memorized parts of her life that she still anxiously peeks at. As if she'd ever forget to pack the exact measure of brown sugar or add the dried currants, or forget to ask me about my boyfriend, or if I needed to buy shampoo or toothpaste before leaving in a week. My mother will never forget that recipe, and though at first the tiny scar on my forehead appears fresh, "Is that new? What happened?", she quickly remembers how furiously I scratched my chicken pox as a kid. Those scars like the half cup of candied cherries, the shelled almonds, and the loaf pan lined with wax paper waiting on the stovetop, have always been there.  


Listening to your mom remember her first pair of bellbottoms or how growing up in Kolkata, she and her sisters would copy patterns from US Vogue, is like being told a psychic secret that finally invites you to a daughters club you naively sought membership to; the product of cable TV, Susan Sarandon mothers, Winona Ryder daughters, and sleepovers at friends' houses. In imagining my mother as impressionable and adolescent, perhaps a bit lithe with her new hips and small waist, and younger than I am now, I learned about nostalgia, borrowing it and misusing it. Listening to her delight in, recall and sometimes misstep while singing along to my Diana Ross CD, often confused those maternal lines that for so long had been much clearer.  


At my cousin's wedding years ago, my mother did the twist in her sari. She put out imaginary cigarettes with the balls of her heels and with her toes — she got real low. I stood against the wall next to my brother and felt for the first time a fiery sense of pride. As if baiting the rock and roll from them, a circle of clapping, cheering guests surrounded my parents. My mother was electric, possessed and polished with pink and yellow disco lights. She was entirely swept by the music, summoning moves that effortlessly returned. Her head rolled back and forth, her lipstick was faded, her cheeks were round and red. Nobody knew my parents were separated.

I drank cherry coke after cherry coke that night and fell asleep in the hotel with my wedding clothes on. I imagine my mother in front of the bathroom mirror, unwrapping her sari as I slept and folding it flawlessly pleat by pleat so as not to get it wrinkled on the flight home.  


Along with papier mache stars and bobbles from India, and ornaments we made in school as children, Happy Meal toys from McDonalds — Bugs Bunny, a plastic train engine, a monster from a movie I cannot remember — once hung on our Christmas tree. My mother used to pull out her sewing kit and tie thread around Donald Duck's tail and Marvin the Martian's helmet, and my brother and I would find the right spot to hang our little toys. If a toy was too heavy the branch would dip and mope. From the couch my mother could eye a stronger one and direct us to it; her field of focus shifting from tying tiny knots to scouting sturdy branches. Stevie Nicks, U2, Whitney Houston, and Run DMC were caroling on our record player, and the mischievous and saddling idea that our gifts were hidden around the house was omnipresent.

I can distinctly remember the year when I no longer wanted our toys on the tree. Similarly, I wanted white twinkle lights instead of our rainbow ones. I preferred our more traditional ornaments; the gold ones, wooden ones, angel ones. Left in a box marked DECORATIONS, our Happy Meal toys with cartoon eyes and Cheshire smiles were no longer a part of Christmas. I am embarrassed by the list of things I have asked my mother to change. It's terrifyingly easy to rekindle that feeling of complete shame. 


Deep inside our hallway linen closet and tucked beside our hand towels and faded neon beach towels, my mother used to store her extra boxes of sandalwood soap. Each bar was in an individual box — green with white patterns and red block letters — and each was imported from India in our suitcases, or an aunt's suitcase, or a friend of a friend's suitcase, along with guava jam and sandesh. The smell was so distinct and nearly potent and I remember thinking it was 'acquired' like wine or strong cheese. It was nothing like lavender, vanilla, chamomile, or jasmine. But my mother loved it, she always has. And watching her mind and luxuriate in its specific smell is more intimate than most things; like witnessing a secret through the slim crack of door left ajar.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here. "Dolores" is among the essays in My Parents Were Awesome, an anthology edited by Eliot Glazer, which you can purchase here. She last wrote in these pages about Titanic. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Photos by Rana Bose, courtesy of Dolores Chew.

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  • Response
    In the present world when poverty is rising every-day, the change of nature in education sector from being a public entity to a profit earning enterprise is a big hurdle in the way of poor to get themselves educated and improve the standards of their life.
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    In Which Our Gifts Hide Around The

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