According to my Mother, water proof mascara did more to change the South than air conditioning.
She was an old school Southern woman who believed you had to create a little magic each day as you went forth to play your role. I’m not sure she ever knew she was playing a role, but she was a consummate actress. Someone once said that whenever a Southerner decided not to take the stage, the world lost a great actress. He must have known my Mother.
I’ll never forget her maquilage. She had a vanity in her bedroom with a gigantic mirror and with 3 drawers on each side. She would put on her girdle, of course, her slip and stockings and then sit down at the mirror to work her magic. She would turn on every light in the room and pick herself apart in that mirror as she dressed and made herself up for my Father and the women of the clubs. She never knew how truly beautiful she was….
I would sit on the bed sometimes and watch her. Powder puffs with powder that matched the scent of the Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass cologne. Her little bit of “good” jewelry in the drawers, taken out piece by piece. It was magic watching her create magic.
Later on, she would discover “Make Up Mirrors” and bought several. She eventually got to the point she would put on her make up in a speeding car going cross town. But I remember when it was a determined part of her day. Getting ready for my Father to come home, getting ready for a club meeting or getting ready to go out for the evening. I would sit on the bed and watch her and talk to her. She would explain how important it was for a woman to look good. She would relish the few special nights on the town in a small Southern town. She enjoyed it and I loved to watch her prep for it.
My Mother was a very determined woman who lived life by conditions and negotiations. My parents were married seven years before I was born. Lou, my Mother, would not agree to children until she had a house. She got the house in 1957 and I came along in 1958.
She worked after I was born, then spent a few years as a housewife, until after my sister went to school. I remember when she was a receptionist at Dan River Mills. I’m not sure what her actual job was, but to her it was pure theatre.
She never learned to drive until she was 25 years old. After I was born, my Father bought her a 1957 Oldsmobile that was named the “ScottMobile” after me. The woman did know how to negotiate….
She had a new baby, a house in the suburbs, a nice used car and was living the American Dream of the late 1950’s early 1960’s. I’ll always remember driving across town with her in that car to my Grandmother’s every day as she went to work. We had a maid to do the laundry and ironing- every middle class white family did then- but Evelyn could not do my Mother’s detachable collars and cuffs justice. But she did box pleats brilliantly.
My Mother would get in the ScottMobile every morning to drive to work. First Stop was Granny’s to drop me off and complete her look. Granny did her collars and cuffs. She would emerge from the ScottMobile, drop me off and run to the back bedroom at my Grandmother’s 4 room mill house. She would step into her crinolines, add the collars and cuffs Granny had ironed and starched and go on to sitting behind her desk in her “Mad Men” world. She was quite proud to be a receptionist and not a telephone operator or secretary or some other non-visable role. It all got a lot easier and less magical when she changed to her Jackie Kennedy shifts….
In later years, she let things go bit by bit. She still went to the hair dresser once a week to beat up her bouffant. But the maquilage became less important.
But makeup never lost it’s significance. Make up means a lot in the South. The Pentecostal Holiness and other “plain” Christian sects did not think it was appropriate. Lou had no patience with them. She would no more have walked into North Main Baptist Church without make up than she would have shown up in her bathrobe.
I’ll always remember being in line for a steak dinner at the Steak King Restaurant in Danville before one of my sister’s dance recitals. My sister, Lisa, had on full stage makeup, but my Father wanted a steak before the 3 hour dance recital. Some woman behind us in line said something like: “I can’t believe someone would take a child out in public all made up like a prostitute.”
What happened next was not pretty. Lou said: “Do you know me? I don’t think I know you. Who are you to talk about my children?”
My Father said: “Goddammit Lou, shut up and don’t pick a fight. Let’s just get our steaks.”
Lou said: ” No, I will not shut up. Who is she to judge me and my daughter? ” She turned to the woman: “My daughter is going to be in a dance show. Obviously, you know nothing about this, so you should just keep quiet. This make up is for Art!”
I’m convinced my sister’s incredible sense of entitlement started that day…
Eventually, my Mother went back to work full-time. She worried less about her appearance as time went by. She got older and heavier. She cared less.
But she never stopped caring completely….
She went to work again at Dan River Mills at Hilton Hall. This was basically a building full of secretaries and clerical workers. But she still did her makeup everyday. Just in the car.
My Mother was never on time for anything in her life and never understood “punching the clock” so she just ignored it. If she got there 15 or 20 minutes late, so be it. But, periodically her bosses would threaten her, so she would try to be on time.
Thankfully, by this point, we rarely had to drive cross town with her. Instead of an hour at her make up mirror, she would put on her make up in the car’s rear view mirror- while driving across town at 65 miles an hour in a 40 mile an hour zone. Stop lights be damned. Eye lash curlers, mascara, lipstick, blush, powder- all in the 15 or 20 minutes it took her to drive cross town. This was true magic.
She once told me: “I don’t understand waterproof mascara. I mean, running mascara is a girl’s best friend. I’ve been stopped by the cops several times for speeding, but let the mascara run, and they let you go. Same if your Father is being mean. I mean, water proof mascara is okay if you are going to the pool or to a funeral or something, but raccoon eyes have saved many a woman a lot of trouble.”
And such is the story of makeup in the South.