Several of you have asked why the blog background/header image is red lipstick. The image has changed from time to time but it’s always some version of red lipstick. The answer is two words…My Mother!
My mom, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 89, wasn’t a fancy society lady who lunched at swank restaurants with other fancy society ladies. Juanita made us pressed ham or tuna sandwiches on Wonder Bread for lunch-which we ate at our kitchen table. (In those days kids actually went HOME from school for lunch!) Sometimes, when were out of school and Mom was feeling a bit on the fancy side, she would make us “Eggs ala Goldenrod” for lunch–chopped hard boiled eggs served in a cream sauce over toast points, and my sister, and maybe even my brother, and I would eat in the dining room and feel a little fancy too. But Mom didn’t get facials or manicures or have other fancy beauty rituals.
Juanita was a wife, a mom, a daughter, a sister, a school teacher, a singer, a friend– who lived her entire life never believing she was attractive—she said it often…not in a way that was a sneaky plea for compliments, or a statement to be protested, but simply as a matter-of-fact personal observation about herself. And I didn’t grow up feeling pretty—or being told that pretty should be my goal—being kind, getting good grades, laughing often—these were the things I grew up thinking important-the things that were rewarded.
But despite Mom’s self-assessment as “plain,” Juanita was seriously dedicated to the idea that Cute Counts. And Mom was CUTE! Please remember the CUTE I’m writing about in this blog is much more about attitude than pulchritude. The CUTE I’m writing about is found by keeping the girl you used to be (or wished you were) alive and kicking! Other than lipstick she didn’t wear makeup until later in her life and even then it was just a swipe of drug store eyeliner pencil and the faintest brush of blush. She didn’t spend much time in front of the mirror, but LIPSTICK WAS HER GO-TO—and her hair was always done. EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I mentioned earlier (LESSON 5 – Mirror Mirror) that when my mom was in her early 80’s some fairly debilitating health issues finally slowed her down. But even after months of being house or hospital bound—she rolled her hair every night (but was NEVER seen outside of the house in said rollers) and put on her good robe and lipstick every day because she never stopped being concerned about her appearance.
Pictures of my mom early in her life—before she was a mom, and after,
tell the story. She didn’t go to work, the super market, the drug store, the dry cleaners, choir rehearsal…anywhere without lipstick! She wore red until she was somewhere in her 70’s. Then she switched to a deep rose color.
I remember being a kid (we all got home from school at roughly the same time) and watching Mom, somewhere between 4:30 and 5, before my dad got home from work, run a comb through her hair and refresh her lipstick. There was no lip liner or brush or gloss. Just a swipe from
the Helena Rubenstein or Coty tube (Most often without a mirror-which totally fascinated me!)
It all took less than one minute.
At the time I wasn’t really aware what that simple one minute act represented.
Honestly, I was in my early 30’s before I understood, that my mom, had not, like many other moms I knew, surrendered whatever “Cute” she possessed to motherhood. I had not understood until my early 30’s that my parents had a relationship, between the two of them, that had absolutely NOTHING to do with being Mommy and Daddy to my brother, sister and I. I had not understood that my mother cared about her appearance—not just for my dad, but for herself. I had not understood that my mother was aware that PRESENCE was important. I had not understood that perhaps lipstick was her way of countering the kind of invisibility women in general and Black women in particular were so easily subject to in those days (and perhaps still in these days.) I had not understood when I watched our neighborhood White pharmacist and White shoe repair man, call her “Mrs. DeBerry,” apologize if the prescription or heel replacement wasn’t ready, tell her thank you and to have a nice day- how different that was. I had not understood that my mom’s self-care and the personal dignity that behavior manifested, made people treat her with respect. I had not understood that she was teaching me, by example, (which we all know is the best way to teach anything) that it doesn’t have to be a big thing to make a big difference. It can be something as simple as combing your hair and putting on a little red lipstick.