Monday, December 1, 2008

Family Ties

I think there are some interesting connections waiting to be made between fashion and grief. My grandma adhered to a custom for widows, wearing all white for decades following my grandfather's death. My mama chastised me throughout my teenhood for wearing all black. "Vhy you are mourning alvays?"

When my dad died I took on the painful task of going through his entire wardrobe, a narrow closet with tightly packed button-down shirts, sport coats, polyester pants, belts, ties, miscellaneous paperwork, slide carousels of my childhood, and a package of the teeny tiniest tape dispensers I've ever seen. (He would buy anything, no matter how useless, if it was on sale and blamed it on having grown up dirt poor during WWII in a dust cloud of rural colonial despair. An awesome strategy for shutting down opposition.) I went through every pocket of every item of clothing finding a neatly folded unused tissue in almost every pair of pants. It was intimate and sad until I found the drawer full of unworn "ladies" socks and my mom and I decided he was a "closeted" cross dresser. Our grief was momentarily interrupted with howls of delight. My mom made the decision to donate any clothing we weren't planning to save as keepsakes to relatives or organizations that offer aid to newly arriving refugees.

I brought several ties home with me, most of them still holding the knots my dad had made (he felt it was a waste to undo a perfectly decent knot for the sake of storage). And this summer, The Cupcake helped me screenprint the tie in the photograph above. I've often desired an occasion to wear a fiercely femme tie and now I create these occasions on a regular basis. I found the image online through a sex worker rights organization (I can't remember which one).

This tie is a recycled, reappropriated reminder.

Ties are so unapologetically standardized even though we're seduced into believing there are "risky" ones out there. What really changes? The width, the patterns, colour schemes, fabrics, the knots that we make...oh I guess that is kind of a lot. But what would it take to revolutionize our ties? To sensitize (not sanitize) ties. Oh puns or alliteration or rhyme or whatever the fuck. Let me know if it gets sickening and/or if you'd be willing to pay me to play with words all day. It's not like I'm getting any other work done right now.


Alistair LaQuisha Spiritrunner said...

It's interesting what you say about the connection between fashion and mourning. Reading your blog I was reminded of going through my mom's clothes after she died. Some of the clothes went to my sisters-in-law. I didn't keep any of her actual clothes for myself. But, for some reason, when we were gathering the her stuff to give to goodwill, I hid all of her purses in my closet. They are still there. I am really not sure why I did it, but I guess they seemed to signify my mom to me more than any of her clothes. It's not that they are all that fashionable (some of them are down right strange, like the one that looks just like a picnic basket and is yet probably my favorite)'s just that they are so inextricably tied to her. It's strange how certain articles of clothes or accessories can come to represent someone so completely.

But back to ties...and specifically your dad's ties. I am reminded also of the fact that I wore one of your dad's ties (his knot still intact) to my ex-girlfriend's lesbian wedding.

Little Ms Whatshertights said...

thank you for sharing that. i just got teary reading your story. i love that you kept her purses and "hid" them. at first i felt like i needed to hide the clothes i wanted to keep for myself. but when i told my mom i was taking some ties she thought it was sweet and my sentimentality surprised her considering how robotically i went about going through the closet. she couldn't be in the bedroom with me as i did this work (which actually took three days). but i'm so glad i took this on. it gave me a different perspective on his death and life in a significant way. three important days of my life that i'll never forget.

you are welcome to wear that tie again.

Rodney said...

These relics act as a bridge. From the past they find new life in the present, and we carry the lives that inhabit the relics. My pop-pop’s threadbare blue jacket: I imagine his smile, his cologne (or absence-trout/or burned coffee) and his voice saying, “Howdy.” I tried to toss it once, but Casey brought me back to my senses. I will wear it till it dissolves. Family Ties: I love ties. However, I just adore ascots.
Heck, I just love going ball out in costumes.

amy_d said...

i only saved some classy t-shirts of my mom's: the one you've seen me wear almost nightly, "miller's girl's night out" along with ones about Stress and PMS.

it's strange how, at one time, our styles were actually very similar--before discovering that fat girls can wear sexy, stylish clothes, too--now, these t's serve as a memory of both my mother and of an old me.

pisces76 said...

Thank you for writing this blog!

After my grandpa died we had to clean out his closet from the assisted living place. As I removed his neatly pressed pants from the hangers I discovered a folder newspaper under each pair. He had been padding his hangers with newspapers to keep a line from forming on his pants! Most of the newspapers were from the 1950s and 60's because he'd been using the hangers for over 50 years.

My grandpa also loved to wear these big thick rainbow suspenders. My mom wanted him to be buried in these glorious suspenders - but the rest of the family was vocally opposed.

At his wake my mom set out a bunch of his favorite t-shirts. These included one I sent from Guatemala with the UNRG's political symbol, a big yellow ear of corn, right in the middle. There was also one he made himself with an iron-on turtle and the message: you only make progress when you stick your neck out. His union and anti-war shirts also draped the table. All were faded and well-worn. At night I sleep in the turtle shirt dream of my grandpa.

Little Ms Whatshertights said...

I feel so choked up reading this sweet sweet memory, Pisces '76. Thanks so much for sharing. Thanks to all of you who have shared stories here. I love this. Keep writing!