28: Well Manicured

28: Well Manicured

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Well Manicured

Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic.

~Rosalind Russell

My twin sister and I have been using nail polish and make-up since we were seven years old, when our mom became an Avon Lady. Mom was the quintessential saleswoman, a charming conversationalist with impeccable style who loved the luster of cosmetics. I still remember the matte black Avon cosmetic sample case filled with fabulous colors and scents: nail polishes, perfumes, lipsticks, eye shadows, hand and face creams. These tiny samples were just enough to capture your attention.

Mom taught us her cosmetics tips beginning with the “less is more” philosophy, as she believed that make-up should look natural. Her number one rule was that nail polish should never be chipped, for soft, manicured hands create a wonderful impression. We’d smooth on hand creams and manicure each other’s nails every week with colors that got bolder as we matured.

She allowed us to dye our hair when we were sixteen, because it was fun. Our mom was progressive like that. Instead of continual arguments with her teenage girls about beauty products, she showed us how to use them properly. She taught us that, in a pinch, a bit of lipstick could be dabbed on your cheeks as a substitute for rouge. Nail polish was her emergency repair product for ripped nylon stockings. Just dab the polish around the rip and the “stocking run” was stopped in its tracks.

When we got older we’d shop together for department store make-up bonus packages that were offered with a purchase. The alluring parcel would contain sample-sized products of rouge, lipstick, face cream and mascara in a dazzling carrying case. It was delightfully reminiscent of her Avon days. We loved to sit and trade our make-up jewels like kids with Halloween candy.

She was an adoring grandmother and great-grandmother. Even when she and our dad moved to Florida she’d buy and ship stylish clothing to her great-granddaughters (with instructions for me to purchase matching nail polish). When she became too ill to shop, my sister and I would buy the gifts, take digital pictures of the bounty and mail them to Mom for review and discussion. That was our version of virtual shopping.

Because our folks worried so much about air travel during the wicked winter weather, my sister and I surprised them with an unannounced visit one weekend in March. We both felt the need for an extra visit as our mom’s health was deteriorating rapidly. It was a comforting and well-timed trip, and before we left for home I gave our mother a manicure. I filed and smoothed her nails, massaged lotion into her hands and polished her nails a regal violet.

Two weeks later Mom was in hospice and we were on the way to see her. Regrettably, we were trapped at the airport in the aftermath of a severe snowstorm that delayed our flight for hours. We did, however, speak with our mother just before we boarded and in a whisper she wished us “travels with milk and honey.” This was a traditional family saying to ensure us a sweet and safe trip.

Unfortunately she lapsed into a coma an hour before we landed. Yet I firmly believe that she waited for us to arrive at the hospice and hold her smooth, manicured hands for an hour before she took her last breath. We opened the patio doors to let her spirit soar and wished her travels with milk and honey.

Months later my sister and I were walking through our local mall when we came upon a chic store dedicated exclusively to cosmetics, skin care, fragrance and accessories. We both looked at each other and said in unison (as is usual for us as twins) “Mom would love this place!” We walked in and were delighted with the colors, scents and energy that seemed to give the store a pulse.

Our eyes centered on an enormous carousel of nail polishes, which contained hundreds of bottles in every color one could imagine. We were both drawn to and reached for one particular glitzy purple among a dozen variations in that shade. Looking at the bottom of the bottle for the name of the color we were stunned to see it — “Call Your Mother.”

We hugged each other and knew it was her spirit sending us a sign. We smiled knowingly. “Of course,” we said, “a cosmetics shop.”

~Lee Rothberg

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