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Tuesday, 15 September 2009


By Judy Vaughn

My mother leaned over a pot of boiling hot water and steamed her face. This stove ritual, she said, would protect her from wrinkles.

Carefully tending her body was part of this nifty lady's nightly routine. Like a performer coming off stage, she applied Ponds cold cream in round circular motions and removed it gently with a Kleenex, always with an upstroke from her neck to her chin.

There wasn't a night that she didn't do this. Not a night.

And there wasn't a night - at least not in her later years - that she didn't use bobby pins to hold tiny pin curls all over her head. My lasting image of my mother is with her arms raised, carefully pinning each curl.

We talked as she did it. Sitting in a semi-darkened room listening to Lux Theater, and later to television dramas, we had wonderful talks as she tightly coiled her thinning strands of hair. Theater, poetry and literary epics - there was magic in that room, and in our relationship, which stays with me still.

When she was a teenager, Jean Harlow told my mother where a young girl's eyebrows should be. The movie star plucked and plucked and plucked, and dutifully my mother did, too. Pencil thin brows were the cat's pajamas. Once plucked, she said they never grew in again.

Her generation, of course, was particularly enamored of movies. When stars marcelled their hair, so did mother and her girlfriends. At slumber parties during her high school years, they dreamed of Hollywood while starring in dramatic recitals in a small town not much bigger than a dozen streets crossing the highway. Accompanied by the late night music of the wondrous Wurlitzer organ on WLW radio out of Cincinnati, my mother dreamed mighty dreams.

World War II was a harsher time. Still, she put false hair "rats" on the side of her head and dramatically swept her own hair up and over them. Quite shy except on stage, she was a young divorcee in an era when women didn't get divorces. So when she boarded the crowded train to take two kids back home to visit grandparents in Indiana, she was still playacting, wearing the glamorous "do" of an aspiring actress going to the Columbia School of Expression in Chicago.

Put into the context of the 1940s, it gave her the appearance of Barbara Stanwyck waiting for the mobster's limousine to arrive. With great poise, she put a cigarette in her hand, sometimes even a cigarette holder.

Throughout her adult years she talked with her hands, gesturing dramatically to make a point, always holding the cigarettes which eventually took her life.

Tabu was the lady's perfume as well as her bath powder. Some of it I still have twenty years after her death. The powder with which she and her generation dusted their bodies came in a round black plastic container with a powder puff inside.

I can open that lid and smell my mother's fragrance.

I can open the bottle of Tabu my daughter once gave me in her grandmother's memory, put the tiniest touch of the amber liquid on the inside of my wrist and recall my mother all over again.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


For me it is (I think I have the name right) Persian Night for my grandmother and then Old Spice for my father.
Or tobacco with an apple core in the jar.

My mom wore Tweed and My Sin and Chantilly. I wish you could still get those now!

What a well written story full of warm and wonderful memories.
My mother also creamed herself regularly with Lady Esther.

I wore Straw Hat and Tweed, but I remember that Tabu was very popular. I wish I could still buy Straw Hat because I loved that fragrance.

It's amazing how a scent can recall memories better than anything else. I guess that's why we still use cologne when we are an elder, even though we no longer do it to attract men.

Lovely........yes, I cannot smell Chanel number 5 comfortably even yet. :)

I have memories of my mother sitting at her dressing table doing her hair as well. Lovely story!


I love stories like yours. They bring back such wonderful memories of our own Mothers.

To prepare to comment on your story, I just sprayed myself with Yardley's English Lavender Cologne Mist; so my Mom is here,too. That was her favorite scent. She was also a great fan of Lady Esther Face Cream and smeared her face with it every night. She died at 84 with a beautiful complexion and the lingering smell of English Lavender in the air.

My mom still puts on her cold cream every night and at 98 has few wrinkles.

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