Fashion

Award-Winning Author Kerri Sakamoto Wants You to Call Your Mom

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Every month has a mood, a feeling, some combination of memories, moments and nostalgia. You know it—you feel it—even if you’ve never really thought about it. To help encapsulate the moods of the months, we’re asking novelists to take on the calendar and evoke the feelings of each season through fiction, memoir or prose. Here, Kerri Sakamoto, award-winning author of Floating City, reminds us May is a time for moms and to call yours this Mother’s Day. See how other authors have represented your favourite month here.

May is for mothers—and for daughters who miss their mothers. It carries me back to the suburban basement where we held birthday parties and played games like Mother May I? My mother would grant you three baby steps forward so long as you asked nicely. If not, you took a giant step back. The first to reach my mother was the winner. (I always won.)

Someone once told me that life is a series of journeys away from and back to your mother. I’ve made many journeys and returns. Parting at the kindergarten door. Leaving to live like a bohemian in New York. Arriving back in Toronto following those threadbare years in New York. Because unforeseen historical events had altered the course of my mother’s life, she would prepare for the imagined ones ahead. Before my marriage, envisioning my lonely fate as a solitary writer, she and my father purchased a burial plot next to theirs with my name and birthdate carved in stone, followed by a dash and a blank space.

My mother loved flowers, and she loved dresses. In another time, another place, she would’ve been a designer, a couturière. In a modest way, she was. She learned how to draft dress patterns in a wartime internment camp. The hems of the gowns she sewed for her sisters brushed the dusty floors of the tarpaper shacks they lived in and the barn where dances were held. She worked in Toronto’s Garment District before (and after) my sister and I were born. When she finished her shift, she’d change back into her own flowery dress, donning gloves and high heels to board the streetcar. One day she stumbled and was helped to her feet, she liked to tell me, by a princely gentleman.

What she didn’t say was that she was pregnant at the time. She didn’t say that she’d injured her back in that fall and had to crawl on her knees to care for me in the first weeks after I was born. I’ve often wondered, for her to have broken her back like that, if I’d stepped on a crack in an earlier life.

My mother lifted up her sisters, daughters and herself by transforming a length of cloth into a hopeful dream for a more elegant and dignified life. She taught my sister and me to sew, and we became the fashion queens of our high school. When my sister was valedictorian, she gave the commencement address wearing a yellow satin Christian Dior gown she’d sewn from a Vogue pattern. I started making dresses for my mother when she had to squint too hard to thread a needle. I’ve kept them. One is purple and one blue, both with swirling blossoms and made of inexpensive yet indestructible polyester satin. I’m now the age she was when I sewed them; they fit me perfectly.

It’s a rare day when I don’t feel the ache that the sound of her voice would dispel. I never truly journeyed away from my mother, so there is no returning. Our closeness was simply the air we two breathed, sitting together or at opposite ends of a telephone line. In her frail later years, spying my number flash on the display, she’d pick up and answer with a spirited “I’m still here!” And she is.

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