At some point around 2002 or so, my dad gave me Mom’s mink coat. My sister lives in Florida and I was in Manhattan. I can only guess that was why I ended up with it. At 26 years old, I was in no position to wear a mink, and real fur had been deemed cruel, inhumane and unfit to wear at least two decades earlier. So the mink resided in my small closet in my one bedroom apartment. I wore it exactly once, on New Years Eve 2005. I went out to dinner and a party, one of those prix fixe New York events, best for a small group, with my then-boyfriend and his siblings and significant others. I wore a bridesmaid dress from my friends’ wedding. Bridesmaid dresses are generally awful but this one was floor length, old Hollywood chic and looked amazing with my mom’s mink. I felt most glamorous indeed. I never wore the coat again.
A couple of years later, I mentioned to my dad that I didn’t know what to do with it.
“Daughter, maybe you’ll change your mind. Tell you what. You put it in cold storage. Call Macy’s. I’ll reimburse you for whatever it costs.”
This was insane to me and I never took him up on it. I was supposed to hold on to this thing indefinitely and let my dad know when he was due to pay me?
In 2018, one state, two apartments, one husband and one baby later, I decided I’d had enough of hauling the mink from place to place, still in the same dry cleaning sleeve from 2005, not having the heart to tell my dad that I found it a royal nuisance. I told my sister that I was going to donate it and not to tell anyone.
“You don’t want it, do you?”
“I can’t wear it here. Maybe you could have it altered? Make into a chic stole?”
“I still wouldn’t wear it.”
“Let me ask cousin Chris. Maybe she would like it.”
“Let me know. I’d really like to get rid of it.”
My sister texted me the same day. Chris couldn’t wear it, likely couldn’t sell it in her consignment shop and also didn’t want to pay for cold storage. I was free to do with it whatever I chose.
After much Googling, I ultimately donated it to Coats for Cubs, an annual fur drive that helps rehab injured and orphan animals. I took the coat out of my closet and walked it exactly five blocks to Buffalo Exchange, the retailer who operates the drive every year. Donated furs are used as bedding for animals in wildlife rehabilitation centers. I was finally done with it and felt great about my decision.
I know my dad meant well and likely thought that having something of my mom’s would be special to me. After she died, Dad had divvied up Mom’s jewelry between my sister and me. I have a couple of yellow gold rings, my mom’s charm bracelet, complete with trinkets from her life’s milestones: graduating from nursing school, her wedding anniversary, a toy poodle. The kicker is that I don’t wear gold jewelry but very much wanted to be able to wear my mom’s pieces. In my early twenties, in a rare moment of not thinking (one must think before talking to my dad. He remembers everything and two weeks after you’ve mentioned something that seemed innocuous, he will find a reason for it to bother him), I told my dad that I planned to have Mom’s pieces dipped to platinum or silver or white gold so that they would match my other jewelry. So that I could actually enjoy it.
He was horrified, as if doing so would somehow be sullying her legacy.
“Absolutely not. Why would you ever do that? Your tastes will change as you mature. Give it time.”
I’m 42 years old. I still haven’t worn her jewelry and my mom’s been gone for more than 28 years. I don’t even want to wear it at this point. The charm bracelet represents her life, not mine. The rings aren’t really my style, even if I were to have a jeweler dip them. Do I offer them to my sister? Save them for my daughter? Sell them and add to our savings or our daughter’s college fund? Like the mink, they follow me from home to home. Unused, unworn and unloved.
I don’t feel closer to my mom because I have something she wore. I have my mom’s chubby thighs and wide hips. I have her bunions. My nose is a bit pointy, like hers. I’m 5’3, like every woman on my mom’s side of the family. I have her f*cking DNA. Even if these biological elements weren’t in place, she’s in my heart and the grief I felt upon losing her is a dull but consistent ache I will carry with me until I see my last sunset. No thing, however treasured, will make a dent in that.
I tell my dad none of this. Were he to ever ask about the mink, I will relay that I lost it in our last move. Please don’t tell him the truth.
(c) 2019 Katherine Williams Leventhal