I’m off to the East Coast tomorrow to visit family. I haven’t seen them in two years, and I’m especially happy to be spending time with my only sister. It sucks, big suck, living so far away.
In honor of the journey, I’m sharing an essay I wrote about the last trip I made to her home. It’s titled “Love in a Bottle” and it was published in Skirt! magazine in April 2015.
Hope you enjoy it!
Love in a Bottle
My sister Judy is the queen of health and beauty aids. She has products to volumize, moisturize, slenderize and beautify from head to toe. She has a serious beauty product fetish, so of course she over buys. We live on opposite coasts and over the years she has cross country mailed me cartons and cartons of stuff. Lotions, potions, shampoos, conditioners, bath salts, perfume…..so much stuff I’ve had to wonder to myself if she was making some kind of statement about my personal hygiene habits. These shipments of mercy are always precluded with statements like—I bought this stuff but it just doesn’t work for my thin hair, (or oily skin or the color of my eyes), so I’m sending it out for you. I secretly suspect there’s more to it than that. You see, in the last decade or so, every time I’ve flown back east to visit her, she generally greats me with statements like “Hi, how are you? We’re dying your hair”, or “I’ve got some great moisturizer for you.” Makes one a little suspicious is all I’m saying.
I admit, when it comes to self-beautification, I’m a miserable failure. I wait too long between cuts and colors and end up with shaggy DIY hair at least 70 percent of the time. My moisturizer comes from the seconds on the shelf at the Grocery Bargain Outlet, and my hands and fingernails, well, we’re just not going to go there. As a matter of fact, the only professional manicure I’ve ever had in 56 years of life was the one Judy treated me to when I went east to attend her son Joshua’s wedding. The Friday before the event, she scheduled us a day of beauty at the salon she works at as a part-time receptionist. (She gets a healthy discount on all her beauty services and products there. It’s the PERFECT part-time job for her.) So she treated me to a haircut and color and a manicure. I think I spent more time in the salon that day than I would in a typical year. But you know what, I walked out of there looking like another women. My thick crazy wavy hair was transformed into warm chestnut locks, cut in a sophisticated bob, blown dried straight and smooth as pudding. My hands were soft, my cuticles dewy, my fingernails perfectly shaped and glazed metallic gold to match the gold threads in the outfit I would wear to the wedding. I felt so glamorous and wished my husband was there to see me instead of at home in Washington State babysitting the dog. I’m sure he would have inhaled audibly and said something like “Who are you?”
The morning of the wedding, a stylist from the salon came to Judy’s home to do her hair. My sister is one of that rare breed of women who look better and better as they age. They grow into good looks over time like the rest of us grow out of them. She’s figured out over the years how to dress in a casually elegant manner, she knows the best cut for her hair type and she is not afraid to play with color. She has large almond shaped brown eyes and an exotic look that, in her fifties, still draws admiration from members of the opposite sex. Did I mention she’s been skinnier than me forever? And she has very few wrinkles, just pretty little crow’s feet that, get this, add character to her face when she smiles. So when her hair was done in a pretty upswept do and she got her make-up just right and put on her elegant Mother of the Groom outfit, she was pretty stunning. And she was obviously enjoying the whole process of dressing up and looking like a princess for a day. She radiated happiness, confidence and graceful Mother of the Groom beauty.
I, on the other hand, was red faced and frustrated and rummaging around under her bed trying to find a pair of black shoes that would fit since I only have one pair of dress shoes and they are second week of August in Seattle dress shoes, not Connecticut in March dress shoes. I couldn’t get my hair to look smooth and silky like it had the day before when I left the salon no matter how long I blow dried it or what I put on it. Even Judy couldn’t. My eyes were puffy from eating too much salty food at the rehearsal dinner and trying to put eyeliner on was like drawing with a crayon on crepe paper. My outfit, a black and peacock green and gold blouse and black slacks, was not elegant, but it fit and was tolerable.
By the time I finished dressing I was already uncomfortably warm and exhausted and resentful of all the effort it took for such a disappointing result. I was quietly thanking God that I had opted out of motherhood so I never had to be the beautiful Mother of the Bride or Groom, and I was thinking dogs don’t get married and how fortunate that is for me. My brother Phil told me I looked nice and I swore at him.
But the wedding was beautiful, and I balled like a baby when my sister did her Mother of the Groom dance with Joshua, who’s grown up to be such a fine young man. I was glad then that I hadn’t spent too much time putting on a lot of eye make-up because it would all be running down my face and of course I hadn’t thought to bring back up make-up. Although I’m sure Judy did.
I have a photograph of my sister and me from that day. I don’t look great in it but Judy looks beautiful. I display it in the living room. There aren’t a lot of pictures of the two of us together–just a few, so they’re precious to me. If I stand back and don’t look too close, I can’t see the puffiness of my eyes at all. I can just see that we are both smiling. She is happy because her son is getting married and it’s a joyful day and she looks like a princess. And I’m smiling because I am just happy to be a part of it all. And that’s just the way it should be.
There have been times when I’ve felt hurt that my grooming and fashion sense never seem to live up to my sister’s standards, but I try not to take it personal. She really is trying to help. My sister likes that stuff more than I do, and it’s an important part of her self- image, the way painting a good painting or writing a good poem is to mine.
Judy and I have spent our entire adult lives living on opposite coasts, and it’s coming up on a year since the last time I saw her. The older we get, the harder it gets to travel back and forth cross-country to see each other, but it gets more important to make the effort with each passing year. I hope I’ll get out to see her sometime soon. And when I meet her at the airport and she looks at me and squints her eyes and tells me she can do something with my hair or she has some great product she can’t use that might work for me, I’ll just smile and nod my head and tell her “Thanks sis, I love you too.”
©2015 Ilona Elliott