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Two Closets

The house I grew up in in the 40’s and 50’s had only two closets – three bedrooms, but only two closets. One of those closets, Daddy’s closet, was in the bathroom; the other, Mama’s closet, was in Mama and Daddy’s bedroom.

Daddy’s closet was off-limits to me and my brother although we did sneak into it. We discovered its secret early. But it was a secret and we kept it. Daddy’s closet was his liquor cabinet. Mama was a teetotaler until I was seventeen. Daddy wasn’t. She knew better than to try to turn him into a teetotaler but he did agree to confine his drinking to the bathroom.

Daddy kept his bottle of bourbon in the same brown paper bag the ABC store placed it in when he bought it. He kept this brown paper bag tucked in the pocket of his heavy, old wool Army coat. The Army must’ve been planning to deploy Daddy to Antarctica given the weight of that coat.

When Daddy got home from work, he made a bee-line for the bathroom. We assumed he was washing up for dinner, but no, he was having his evening cocktail. Then at various times in the evening, while he was reading the paper or watching TV, Daddy would visit the bathroom. When he returned, we could smell the bourbon. We kept that secret, too.

Daddy’s closet wasn’t really useful for anything else. The floor was filled with things he never used: a tackle box (but Daddy didn’t fish), a tool box (but Daddy never used a tool or fixed anything), Daddy’s coin collection books, his old flashlights and radios, and an ancient fan, the one I have today, the one about which Mama said after Daddy died: ‘don’t you ever get rid of your Daddy’s fan.’

Daddy had a few clothes in the closet, not many because he’d become a minimalist with regard to clothes. The closet’s real purpose was not to hold clothes or other useful things. The real purpose was to serve as a vault for Daddy’s bourbon. When he died, the tackle box, the tool box, the fan, the coin collection and the assorted flashlights and radios were still lying on the closet floor. In the pocket of the old Army coat was a half-full bottle of bourbon. It had probably been there for years because Mama ceased being a teetotaler the summer before I entered college after which she had an open carry rule.

Mama’s closet was loaded with her fabulous clothes – all from the forties. Some of these clothes my brother describes in one of his poems: spaghetti strap dresses with tight waists, bolero jackets above full skirts of Italian taffeta, sack dresses made of raw silk, a polished cotton silver-gray cocktail dress trimmed in pink ribbon and studded with rhinestones.

When the 40’s became the 50’s, Mama closed the door on the 40’s and her closet.  Unwilling to get rid of those clothes, Mama left that closet to be a museum. She put a hanging rack on the back of their bedroom door where she started hanging her clothes. Later she bought a wardrobe.

The closet with the clothes and shoes from the 40’s became a museum no one ever visited. I was too afraid to open the door. It was dark and musty and I imagined mice or worse might chomping on those clothes. When Mama died, I had to clean it out. The clothes were dusty, moth-eaten; the shoes were moldy. I threw everything out.

Perhaps that closet was Mama’s memory. Mama didn’t know what I know about memory: you have to bring things out of the dark, shake the dust off, try them on to see if they still fit or you can find a use for them. Sometimes you might find something you didn’t know you had.

©Dorothy Kirk, 2016