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talenti jars + face cream



It’s funny how you can go for months just catching glimpses of grief. Glimmers. A little remembrance here, a little missing her there.


And just when you start to think this is how it’s gonna be now, something sparks. And it rushes through you like wildfire. That fast. That hot. That ferocious and furious and all consuming.


I was reading a book the other day. A treat to myself, a slow morning to just read that turns into one more hour and one more hour and before you know it, late afternoon sun turns to dusk, and you’ve just spent the whole day just reading.


One of the characters, a tired and overworked and overwhelmed mom of the 80’s. It was just too on-the-nose not to have flashbacks of my own tired and overworked and overwhelmed mom of the 80’s.


I found myself less and less interested in the murder mystery that was unfolding. What I was craving were those little vignettes of mom. Brief. Fleeting. Not even the point. A supporting character at best.


As I read, I saw my hands holding the paperback open. I’ve recently started painting my nails again. I had given up for years. What’s the point when I’m so hard in my hands they just immediately chip? But I’ve returned to it nonetheless, so at least  for now, my hands are adorned with longish, freshly lacquered nails. They don’t even look like my hands. They look like my mom’s. Not quite as pretty. But almost.


The mom in the book is close to her sister. As my mom was close to hers. And as this fictional sister dynamic played out, all mannerisms, knowing looks, and things that don’t need to be said, I wondered what it would have been like, to know my mom, not as my mom, but as, I don’t know, not as a sister necessarily, just something else. I wondered if there was a stage in our relationship we would have gotten to, just around the corner from where we were, that would have felt different somehow.


I get up for a snack. Granola. With fruit and nuts. Old pecans from my mom’s fridge. When she died, nearly 3 years ago, and we went through the house, I grabbed stuff that made sense - jewelry, photos, paperwork - and stuff that didn’t - frozen pecans in old Talenti jars.


My mom collected old Talenti jars. Talenti was a brand of gelato she liked. The jars, plastic ones with screwtop lids that she liked to save for craft projects. She would spray paint the jars, adorn them with jute, and use them as planters for her succulents. When I came over for Sunday night dinner, she’d show me her creations with such pride. I’d ooh and I’d aw. She’d explain her process step by step, even though it was quite obvious, and inevitably she’d send me home with a few.


So I pour out the last few nuts onto my cereal, convincing myself that 3 year old pecans are probably fine. I consider googling the shelf life of nuts, but then don’t, knowing it doesn’t matter, I’m gonna eat them anyway. I put the empty Talenti jar in the dishwasher. That these are the last of my mom’s pecans feels simultaneously deeply significant and also completely inconsequential.


I return my attention to the book. There is an injury. A broken bone. And strangely I can’t remember if I’ve ever broken anything. I think I sprained my arm once. But somehow I remember a cast? But I may just be remembering other people’s casts. And it occurs to me the one person who would know for certain, the keeper of such things, my mom, isn’t here to ask.


And it goes on like this. Flashes of old sweatshirts and VHS tapes and cigarette smoke and lipstick and holiday wreaths.


And I am buried under nostalgia and the ‘what does it all mean’ and the ‘missing her’ of it all. Mostly the missing her. Searingly so.


Later that night, as I put myself to bed, alone, husband out of town, I will contemplate face lotion. Another strange thing I took. Her face lotion. Nothing fancy. Just some drug store brand I’ve never heard of. But I didn’t want it to go to waste. And the first time I used it, I realized it smelled like her. So now I use it sparingly. Only once in awhile, on a special occasion, when I want to feel close to her.


I wonder if tonight is one of those special nights. I don’t have much left. And somehow this feels far more precious than the nuts.


I imagine aestheticians everywhere gasping in horror as I carefully apply 3 year old drug store face lotion to my skin. But I do it anyway.


And that’s how it is, I guess. Some days are glimmers. Some days are wildfire.



  • Dawn, I really enjoyed reading this. Your writing is captivating and it leaves me wanting more. Thanks for sharing this with us- It brought back old memories when you said, “ Flashes of old sweatshirts and VHS tapes and cigarette smoke and lipstick and holiday wreaths.”. So my mom and I in the 80’s. Xoxo

    Sherri Verducci
  • Oh Dawn. I truly feel the emotion in this piece of writing. My mom lives in Florida. She’s 84. I’ve been balancing her mortality with the awkward, unsatisfying relationship I have with her now. She’s rude, abrupt, and lacks compassion. I’ve had dreams of spending these last years of her life reminiscing and sharing the family history she’s carried all these years. It’s not that. My last trip down was dreadful and I felt as though I said my final goodbye to her. I know her health is deteriorating and she’s in constant pain. It’s very emotionally stressful on me.

    So reading this, seeing how you’ve processed grief, and healing your mother wound has truly helped comfort me in preparation of the inevitable. Your words bring great meaning. Thank you. I’m so grateful to know you!

    Patty Muenks

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