As small children we adore our mothers, think them the fairest in the land, and when we are old enough, present them with gifts bought lovingly with hoarded coins passed over shop counters by chubby hands.
Among my childhood gifts to Mum were Soir de Paris perfume in its bottle of blue glass topped with a domed silver cap--and Californian Poppy with its jaunty red lid and cheery poppies on its label. Inside they had little white rubber stoppers, and Mum would tip the bottled and then touch the tiny stopper behind each ear, to each wrist and to her throat, a ritual I studied, and later imitated.
Both perfume bottles had in common their miniscule size, but somehow that just made them seem more extremely precious. They were the only perfumes I remember her using.
The rest of her life was far from glamourous. Recently I thought about the hard physical work she did every week just to get the laundry done. The sturdy white cotton twill bed sheets would be stripped each week, and while the bottom sheet and pillow cases would be laundered, the top sheet would be systematically rotated to the bottom. The sheets would be boiled, and then washed and rinsed by hand, and then put through a machine called a wringer, that had rollers to squeeze out the water. The sheets, heavy with water, were hard to haul from boiler to sink and then through the wringer.
Eventually Mum bought a spin dryer, which was a great labour saving device. She looked after it carefully, as it could not be easily replaced. The load of clothes had to be arranged "just so" in the machine and Mum would brace it with her body as she turned it on and the drum gathered speed, spinning crazily. She always conveyed great appreciation and gratitude for her possessions and she saved for them all from a small income.
Once she went into town to negotiate the purchase of a washing machine on a payment plan called "Hire Purchase." She was working by then, but I remember the indignity of her being unable to purchase the washing machine without my father's signature on the agreement. To those of us who knew their respective strengths and weaknesses, this was quite funny.
How easily we buy things now compared to then, and replace worn out things without a great deal of agonizing or thought.
I wish that Mum had had all of the little luxuries she truly deserved, but then I think she felt herself rich in what mattered, always telling us that she loved us "more than all the tea in China." We, of course, were richest of all, in having her.