“Where there is great love, there are always miracles.”
My Mother Grace Rose and Me, 1953
Amazing to think that my mom Grace Rose has been gone 25 years this past April and my book My Mother, My Friend: The 10 Most Important Things to Talk About With Your Mother has been out in the world for fifteen years. When the idea for this book came to me from my mother in a dream, I never imagined, for so many reasons, that it would see the light of day, much less find a major publisher and still be in print today. But the light kept finding me and I’m so glad and grateful it did.
To celebrate this milestone, here are two of my favorite stories from “Conversation 3: You Are So Beautiful — Self Image and Beauty.” Happy Mother’s Day Mom, and thank you.
That Toilet Paper Thing You Do With Your Hair (p. 79-80)
I never outwardly heard my mother diminish her body, except for wishing she could get rid of her jowls and crepey neck and keep her weight under control. She loved to shop for clothes and had two six-foot closets full of three different sizes of clothing. If I were a therapist, I’d say that she developed a clothing addiction to help her cope with her depression and my father’s difficult personality. Her weekly hair and nail appointment at the Edgewood Beauty Salon was as much an escape as it was a beauty treatment.
The first two nights after her hairstyle was freshly (and stiffly) styled, she wrapped her head in toilet paper, looking like she was wearing a papier-mâché beehive on her head. (Now, isn’t that a sexy image. I can just hear my father saying, “Oh Grace, would you please do that toilet paper thing with your hair again. It really turns me on.”) She continued this ritual until she died with the exception of one month when I was in my late twenties. Dad was trying to cut costs and told Mom that her weekly salon trips were being cut and she’d have to do her own hair. She accepted his decision, believing that his word was law, and set to doing her own hair.
The first week was a complete disaster, but Dad told her she’d get better at it. The second week there was no improvement so Dad suggested she call me to help her. She did, in tears. Angry at his insensitive behavior, but wanting to help her, I said, “Sure, Mom. How about if I cut and perm it too? I’ve watched enough hairstylists cut hair, and I just saw that new machine on TV that sucks your hair into a vacuum and cuts it perfectly.” Dad dropped her off and we went shopping for hair perm products and the vacuum cutting machine.
The stores were out of the cutting machine, so we bought a box of “Toni Natural Wave” perming solution and went back to my house for an afternoon beauty salon party. Two hours later when I was rolling a piece of perm rod paper around her hair for the hundredth time, I was ready to quit. Three hours later I knew I was in trouble when I had to cut shorter and shorter chunks of the same hair to match what I’d just finished cutting. When I finished five hours later and gave her a mirror to look at her new haircut, perm, and style, her eyebrows jumped up to the top of her forehead and her eyeballs bulged out like the black molly fish in our childhood aquarium. She coughed, trying to hide her shock. For a second we both stood there speechless and then she laughed, and didn’t stop until she doubled over. When she recovered she said, “Well, if I’d known this was what it would take to convince your father to let me go back to the beauty parlor, I’d have called you three weeks ago.”
“To seek after beauty as an end, is a wild goose chase,
a will-o’-wisp, because it is to misunderstand the very nature of beauty,
which is the normal condition of a thing being as it should be.”
Ada Bethune, in Judith Stoughton
Proud Donkey of Schaerbeek
Hairy Apes, Ugly Ducklings, And Swans (p. 81)
A very big part of my mother’s beauty to me was her laughter. Her sense of humor comforted me through many nights of tears during my growing up years. While I know there were happy moments, my memories of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade are more often filled with running from the taunts of peers, mostly boys, on the way to and from school. I was tomboy with a big crook in my nose and feet as big as the floor tiles in the school hallway. I was flat chested and string bean tall. My arms were so hairy that when the boys saw me they’d shout at the top of their lungs, “Look, there goes the flat-chested hairy ape.”
One particularly brutal day, I remember running the entire four blocks home, and bursting into tears as I opened the front door and saw my mother. After spilling my story, she told me that boys teased her the same way when she was my age. “They called me ‘Four-Eyes,’” she said, “Because I wore glasses, and ‘Greasy Grace’ because my thin hair laid so flat on my head.” She said she cried just like me, but her mother taught her to laugh it off. She promised me that one day I’d “blossom,” the hair on my arms would fade away, and that even though I felt like the ugly duckling, someday I would look in the mirror and see a beautiful swan.
Her words wrapped around me like a hug. I repeated her promise like a chanting Buddhist as I grew by an inch or two every summer, reaching my final height of five feet ten inches in my early twenties. By then, my feet had grown to a size ten and continue to expand – size twelve as I write.
As I’ve grown older, the hair on my arms has faded away just like Mom said. The only thing that’s blossomed though, is the rose bush on my balcony. It’s hard not to notice cleavage on the beach, but for me the health issues outweigh any satisfaction I’d gain from artificially blooming my breasts. Some days I look in the mirror and catch a glimpse of a swan, and some days I hear a lot of quacking. I’ve learned to smile; I hear my mother: “Look at that beautiful long neck.”
Questions to Ask Your Mom:
What do you like about being a woman?
What is one message about beauty or self-image you received from your mother?
What do/did you like about your mother’s appearance? Your own? Mine?
What’s the weirdest beauty treatment you’ve done?
What’s your favorite beauty tip?
What have you learned about beauty and aging?
If you would like to read more, My Mother, My Friend is available on Amazon. Click on the link or photo for more information:
Happy Mother’s Day!