Monday, November 19, 2012

Rambling: Courage and Lipstick

In my last ramble, I said that "'s somehow appropriate that it's Birdie, who was able to find joy no matter what, who has the courage to act." Since Mom's death, there's been some vibe in my thoughts about her that I haven't quite been able to get my hands around, and I realized just today, "Duh."

See, I don't grieve the loss of Mom's life as much as the loss of opportunity in that life, and the fact that that opportunity can never be recaptured. Mom, at least as long as I'd known her, never had the courage to act or to feel joy.

She was smart, but she actively concealed that intelligence, going out of her way to seem empty-headed, a Gracie Allan personality without a George to love her. The simplest of everyday competencies--balancing her checkbook, learning how to lock a newer model car, even writing a check to pay a bill--were opportunities for a show of what she surely saw as attractively feminine confusion. She cared greatly about religion, philosophy, art, politics, but she again never allowed herself to think seriously about those things, to express considered opinions, to understand or even be aware of gray areas. Her opinions rarely went beyond, "Well, I just don't think that's very nice," or "Aww, I think that's cute."

But I don't think that she was content behind that facade--I think that she always longed for someone to bring her out, to recognize the sharp mind behind the powder and lipstick. Maybe--and this is no doubt just a thought that I manufacture to make myself feel better--maybe to some extent I gave her that, because I was never willing to just accept Gracie: I was always arguing with the mind that I knew was there. Maybe she liked that. But I doubt it.

She was beautiful, and she valued her appearance immensely, but in my memory she never allowed herself to tend to it the way that it deserved. She insisted on wearing lipstick, but she never once bought a lipstick that cost more than a drugstore brand, and she never changed the color from the 1950's bright red that she'd always worn. She fussed incessantly over her hair, but she never treated herself to an expensive, or I suspect even mid-priced, salon. When she abandoned her straight short-cut hair for permed curls, she waited months between perms, so that often she had several inches of straight hair adorned with little bobs of curls at the very end.

She bought the cheapest of clothes, sometimes buying two of a garment because she knew that one wouldn't last. I remember her pleasure, early in my childhood, at a purchase of three pairs of very nice pumps at a deep store-closing-everything-must-go discount, but I rarely remember her wearing them. Her underpinnings were held together with safety pins and sometimes she wore two, one on top of the other, to do the job of one. Some of her blouses were so thin that she had to carefully plan layers so that you couldn't see through to skin.

And she was always, always worried--Does this blouse look OK? Do you think this needs earrings? Do you think the earrings are wrong? Should I tuck this in? Does this need a belt? She paused at every reflective surface to check her lipstick. For most of my life, I saw this as self-absorption, as vanity, but vanity would have been healthier. A vain woman would enjoy all this fuss and planning, and would obtain the toys needed to make it enjoyable, even if they had to be the cheaper toys. Mom, she worked and worried incessantly to follow what she saw as society's expectations of her, while ensuring that she took absolutely no joy in the process. And I still don't know why.

Was she always this way? Was there ever a time when she felt courage and took joy in life? In her youth, she was beautiful, and judging from the saved finery from that time, she took pleasure in that beauty and tended to it. And there's evidence that she was ambitious, that she did things that surely required her to express a considered opinion, perhaps sometimes even against opposition. Am I misreading the evidence?

What happened?


  1. I've been inspired to comment on your posts several times, but I've felt that my replies would have been more appropriate "off the record". So just a thought on today's topic: I have worked on understanding my relationship with my mom and hers with her mother. It has been a productive examination and, in the case of my family, it seems their ambitions for themselves were often (for better or worse) realized by their daughters. Every story is different, of course, so I wish you success in finding your answers.

  2. Hey, Lesa. I reallly appreciate your comment. I have been doing some thinking about Mom's relationship with her mother - and for that matter, her mother's with her mother's. They were all problematic, all in different ways.

    That's an interesting thought, about their ambitions. I'll need to think that over.

    Again, thanks for the comment.