This is the mascara that my mother used. After she put on her foundation and powder and a bit of rouge and sometimes a wee beauty mark if she was feeling extra sharp, she’d bring the tray up to her lips and spit on the mascara cake. Then she’d move the brush back and forth until it was loaded with mascara and then she’d have at it with her eyelashes.
She sat at a vanity table while she put on her make-up and sometimes I sat on my folks’ bed and watched. It was there I learned the order of things.
Several years ago, I wrote an essay about going to my father’s house after my mother died. And, not surprisingly now, looking back, make-up played an outsized role in my reaction to her death. In the essay, I refer to the tiny red mascara box and the mascara cake that required a squirt of spit. So, I read this essay to my writers’ workshop on Tuesday and it wasn’t until I read the words out loud that I realized that this bit of fact, this cultural reference from the 50’s, was likely unknown to the people listening.
This was eye-opening, so to speak.
I am an older woman writing. And the metaphors and images that are in my mental inventory, the Volkswagen with the engine in the rear and the trunk in the front, the seams on my nylons that were never straight, the Kotex I threaded through an elastic belt I wore for five days every month, all of these things are cultural references from another century.
I am agape at that.
My grandmother was born in the century before the last century. I knew and loved a person who was born in 1884 and now it is 2020. That’s a span of 136 years. It’s brain-frying to ponder, if you ask me. But I am pondering it, nonetheless.
The choice is then to find a more current metaphor or to explain more about the tiny red box of mascara and, of course, I am choosing the latter. Because that is where I’m tied, that is where I’m anchored, sitting on the bed in my mother’s bedroom, watching her put on her make-up, learning the order of things. That’s the story I tell.