When I was a little girl, my mother had one of those fur pieces that still had the animal’s head attached. I think it was an ermine, maybe a mink? It was dark brown, with glassy black eyes, and a mouth that opened and closed. It could bite its own tail.
I don’t know what people were thinking, but back then, it was quite the fashion statement. Plus, my three big sisters and I were fascinated by it. We watched my mother put on her stockings, her pearls and white gloves, pick up her pocketbook, then throw the mink-head around her neck. Then she went off to church, where I’m sure the hapless animal glared at Reverend Rapp and the choir.
When the mink wasn’t traipsing around church and such, mom zipped it in a mothball laden garment bag. Sometimes, I would crack the zipper so the animal could “breathe.” Sometimes I dressed him up and took him for a ride in my doll carriage.
Despite the fur-piece-with-a-head, my mother was a gentle soul. She taught us to love music, baking, sewing, and family. Despite the fur, she taught us kindness to animals and children. Most of all, she taught us about joy beyond obstacles. She got cancer when I was a teenager. I know it was frightening for her. How could she ever have lived with the inevitability of dying and leaving her beloved children? But she kept hopeful and refused to make cancer a central focus of our family. Instead we sang. Sousa Marches while driving to flute lessons; hymns in four-part harmony; girl scout songs; Broadway Show Tunes.
My mom died when I was quite young. It was devastating and had a profound impact, some of which was negative. But the spiritual lessons far outweigh any negative consequences. With my mom, I learned that vibrant life walks hand in hand with death. And that suffering cannot eradicate joy.
Today, on Mother’s Day in the midst of this pandemic, I honored my mother’s joy. I put our 16-pound rabbit, HipHop around my neck. I pretended she was a fur piece with a head. Strangely, our very Bossy Bunny cooperated while Hugh took my picture; and I sang from GUYS AND DOLLS, “Take back your mink; take back your pearls; what made you think, that I was one of those girls?” (See video from the movie here).
At sixty-one, I AM one of those girls, one of the four Hess sisters. I am a girl who delights in combining bizarre pictures of animals with quotes from Broadway Musicals. I am a girl who lives for ridiculous joy. And I have my mother to thank for that. Happy Mother’s Day, Beloved. Thank you for making me who I am.