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Blue, Green, Red and Purple: My Mother's Coathangers

She came to womanhood in times when girls were gentle,
when homes were soft shelters lined with the breast feathers
of crocheted tablecloths, embroidered cushion covers,
cross-stitch traycloths under shining cups and saucers, and
big teapots warmed by little porcelain ladies wearing
huge fluted woollen crinolines…

Betty Collins’s deeply evocative poem reminds us that something as simple as a set of coathangers can revive the deep comfort of knowing one is at home.

She came to womanhood in times when girls were gentle,
when homes were soft shelters lined with the breast feathers
of crocheted tablecloths, embroidered cushion covers,
cross-stitch traycloths under shining cups and saucers, and
big teapots warmed by little porcelain ladies wearing
huge fluted woolen crinolines; of rich-toned pianos
guiding sentimental tenors and heroic baritones:
when deeply curtained velvet windows enfolded mellow sounds - and she learned to sing softly, sweetly; to knit diligently.
and be quiet on Sundays

But her grandchildren wanted factory-made garments with brand names:
and food that’s advertised on TV –
(Not home-baked cookies, for Pete’s sake!)
TV’s and CD’s and DVD’s and whatever else’s new blare
from every room in every house 24 hours every day.
And her daughters, press-ganged into the strident world
where women must compete with men, had no choice
but pack away the crocheted tablecloths:
There was no time to eat off them – let alone launder them!
There was nothing left that anyone wanted that she could provide.
Therefore, to keep her hands busy,
(so that the Devil would not find mischief for them),
she covered coathangers. Remainders of balls of wool;
scraps left over from dress-making: even her old ball-gowns,
she cut up and used for padding. And
whenever we visited - she was always busy.
She ruched and gathered, crocheted and bound,
and made them finished up into little bunches of three or four,
wrapped in cellophane, tied together with soft baby-ribbon.
I was embarrassed by what seemed to me niggardly;
But still, I passed on her little gifts to my friends:
And my friends’ mothers;
And to my children’s school fetes,
And some of them even found their way into my own cupboards.

And there they are still.
And in the quiet evenings when I put away the busy day
Not only do I know that the soft, rounded, shabby shapes
Will cherish the most questionable of fabrics,
But breathing from them always, ineffably,
Unmistakably and enduringly,
Is the warm scent of home.

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