My mother had a special porcelain shoe on her bureau. Its white veneer spilled ruffles around the vamp while little blue, pink and yellow flowers and cherubs pranced around the toe. I always tried to put it on my pudgy little foot as I watched my mother getting ready for a party. It was Cinderella’s magic slipper.
The shoe and the bureau were upstairs in our house, built in 1756, on North Main Street in Southampton. My great grandfather, Austin Herrick, bought the house in 1835. It was already known for having been headquarters of British officers during the American Revolution. It had barely ever changed.
Mamma had wavy black hair and deep brown eyes. I loved to observe her prepare to go out. Checking her dress in the mirror, she raised her eyebrows to endow a flirty smile at my reflection behind hers. Just about ready, she dotted her neck and wrists with perfume and then me, too. At last, looking wonderful, she would make a funny face, scrunching her nose and sticking her tongue out to make both of us laugh. She was gorgeous.
Descended from East End whalers and farmers, Constance Edwards grew up on Hill Street in Southampton. Her father, an insurance agent, bought one of the first cars in the village. Her parents, Frank and Francis, drove their young daughter into New York City to buy beautiful dresses on 5th Avenue. Afterward, they went out. Mamma told us of attending Ziegfeld’s Follies when she was eight years old. “You might see some nearly naked dancers, dearie.” her mother warned. Mamma described the blue wool dress coat she had on and how all eyes followed her as they walked to their seats. She chuckled recalling herself as the only child there.
After graduation from Southampton High School, she studied fashion at Pratt Institute in New York and then worked for Franklin Simon, the department store, as a window designer. She recounted how when changing a display, she stood in the window as still as she could and then surprised passers by with a wink or pursing her lips as if to give a kiss. She loved city life, but loved Samuel Herrick most and inevitably, returned to Southampton to marry Daddy. Now she was the wife of a respected community leader and mother of four, a member of the Presbyterian Church and active in the ladies association.
“Dare to be different” she told me when I was age five. She had the desire to stand apart, too. She did, naturally, through an eye for beauty and fashion intuition. Always a step ahead of the norm, she sewed Vogue Patterns into stylish dresses no one else in her church ladies circle would wear. Her niece, who lived in India for a few years, knew to bring Aunt Connie exquisitely embroidered silk cloth so she could make something stunning.
Odyssey opened on Jobs Lane in the late 1960’s. The boutique and its exotic inventory from places like India and Indonesia drew Mamma’s attention. She became a favorite customer. Once, I remember returning to the store several days in a row for her to try on a stunning white on white embroidered tunic dress. She wore it to Southampton Hospital’s new summer gala where she received some envious looks.
Even during her eighties, with memory slipping, she cared about her appearance. It was then that she connected to an iconic outfit that became her trademark. “I remember your mother’s straw hat” remarked Dennis Schmidt one day as I stood at his checkout counter. I reminded him that she always wore it, even in cold weather, with a blue cashmere sweater, white linen pants, and red shoes.
We moved into the family homestead in 1959 after my widowed grandfather remarried and moved to his bride’s family farm north of the highway.
It was like a museum. This was the house I proudly brought my third grade class to tour for their history studies. My Grandfather started with “if these walls could talk” and then proceeded to tell of British soldiers who ate at a table in what was the main room during the 1770s and now our living room. My mother demonstrated how to slide bread into the small oven tucked back inside the big fireplace. And everyone stared in amazement at the soldier’s sword and epaulet left on the mantle after the British vacated the premises.