Powder Puff Girls

Mom didn’t use a lot of make up, but she would powder her nose before leaving the house with Coty Airspun Face Powder.  I spent an hour today tracking down Mom’s little powder puff set, and here it is.  I only knew it by sight, so it took some detective work.  It’s a loose powder and is sold with the flat, orangish, disc-shaped puff inside.  She also carried a compact, with a solid powder.  Her compact had a beautiful Edwardian woman on it.

Mom would tell me she was ready to go, but just needed to powder her nose.  Of course, I’d have to make a nose joke, saying that we’d be leaving next year if she planned on powdering her whole nose.  Mom would anticipate this, and sometimes she would start the joke herself.  “I’m just going to powder my nose,” she’s say, raising her eyebrows, daring the forthcoming joke.

Mom’s face was so smooth and soft.  She had beautiful skin.  Our dermatologist, Dr Bastien, always asked about how Mom was doing.  He never forgot her.  “She’s really a neat lady,” he’d remark, “And she has such nice skin.”  She did.  The face powder  smelled so nice, like talc.  I remember the smell from if I kissed her cheek or whispered something in close.  It had a smooth satiny feeling.  Mom let me try it when I got a little older.

Other than powder, Mom didn’t wear a lot of make up.  If she and Dad were going out to dinner she might apply a light bit of mascara, so light it was barely noticeable.  Mom didn’t wear eye shadow or brow pencil or rouge.  She wore lipstick though.  Powder and lipstick.  She wouldn’t leave the house without those two.  She had mostly frosted, light pink lipsticks and maybe one or two of the clear or rose red 1940’s variety.  None of her lipsticks were bright or gaudy.

While Mom applied makeup with delicate subtlety, hair care was another matter.  Having curly hair was one of Mom’s least favorite things.  Forever attempting to straighten it, Mom would wash with Breck and set with Dipity-Do.  Pulling sections taut as can be with her pink comb, she’d wind gelled hair around large, brush-style rollers. Tighter than a spring, each was secured with an army of hair pins.  In the morning, dry hair would be released and deliberately combed through with the square, brown hairbrush we’d bought from the Fullerbrush man.  Finally, ten gallons of Adorn provided enough aerosol to bring down several rainforests (though we didn’t know this at the time). Mom fixed her hair each Saturday night so it would be nice for church on Sunday.  She’d wear a plastic cap to shower, a soft blue flannel nightcap to bed, and a fashion scarf out in any damp or windy weather.

It wasn’t until after Dad passed that Mom began going weekly to see Ginger at the beauty parlor.  She blow dried Mom’s hair with a large, round brush, which worked a charm.  As weeks passed, Ginger’s right bicep grew and grew.

“Look, this is from doing your Mom’s hair!” she would show me.

Ginger gave Mom hangars under her ears.  A hangar was a stiff, immobile undercurl.  John coined the term.

“Mom, those look like hangars,” John pointed.  “You could land a plane in those.”  He’d fly an index finger into Mom’s hanger.

They were fun to play with, and we all had to try it out.

“Now, kids, leave my hangars alone,” Mom would pat them down, her expression relayed that she was actually enjoying the attention.

After Ginger renewed Mom’s hangars each Saturday, Mom would come home and spray them down with the same ten gallons of Adorn.  She would re-spray with each outing, and in the mornings.

“You could bounce a brick off those,” John would tease, smiling.

When Mom was spraying her hair in the downstairs bathroom, I couldn’t breathe.  I would have to leave the room, even if we were talking.  I would try covering my mouth with my shirt, but it was still too much.  Sometimes I’d open the louvered doors across the entry and sit on the drier.

“You shouldn’t sit on the drier,” Mom would say.

Adorn and powder gave Mom a fresh, together scent I loved.  The two together seemed so dignified, so pulled together and classy.

As for perfume, Mom didn’t wear a lot of perfume.  She sampled Elizabeth Taylor’s signature scent, “Passion” when it premiered in 1988.  “White Shoulders” had a softness she appreciated.  Mom tucked away the fragrance cards from magazines, which she would give me to put as sachets in my bureau drawer.  The most time Mom spent at the perfume counters was when I was a baby.  She would drive the nuns to the department stores where Sister Virginia Mary and a few others would spend time smelling the different perfumes.  Mom remarked later how she would be looking at her watch, nervous she would be late in making Dad’s dinner.

There was one perfume Mom loved.  Mom’s all time favorite scent was the Wicked Wahini Dad brought from Hawaii.  He would always deplane with a beautiful bouquet of anthuriums.  From his “E.B.” initialed suitcase he would pull out a few bottles of Wicked Wahini.

“For my Beautiful, blue-eyed bunny,” Dad would be so happy handing Mom her perfume.

“Oh, Edmund!”  Mom would beam.

They had fun teasing about that perfume.  The formula was considered a love potion, mixing exotic floral scents of the Islands.  The mixture had even been used in romantic tribal rituals by Kahuna.  It is said to consist of “orange flower, island rose, pikake (Hawaiian jasmine), a bit of white musk, sandalwood and fascinating energy of graceful Aloha spirit.”

“We have to find Wicked Wahini for my Mom,” I confided my mission to Eric.  As he and I planned our trip to Maui, I wondered how we could find it.

Mom had not worn it since Dad passed away.  She saved that last bottle, and sometimes she would open the bottle, close her eyes, and inhale.  Smiling, Mom would recall Hawaii with the anthuriums.  She would remind me that Kauai was Dad’s favorite island, and how many times he had asked her to accompany him on his trips.  Mom would refuse, reasoning that if the plane crashed, we kids would be orphans.

“Mary, you can take the next plane then,” Dad would suggest.

“No, Edmund, I don’t want to take any unnecessary chances when the kids are small and need me.  I promise to go with you when they are grown,” Mom would offer lovingly.

These memories were in my mind as I planned to find Wicked Wahini for Mom on our trip. Sometimes perfume that sits too long loses its exact scent.  Eric and I kept our intentions a secret.  Maybe they didn’t even make it anymore.  It had been over a decade.

“Mom… this is for you.  Close your eyes and put out your hand.”  I placed the perfume in her outstretched hands.  “Okay, open your eyes,”  I smiled.

“Oh, Lorraine!”  Mom teared up.  She was so happy.  “Thank you, thank both of you kids.”

I had brought Mom several bottles.  “Now you can wear it and not worry about running out,”  I explained.

Ten years later, when I first experienced the internet, looking for Wicked Wahini was one of the first things I did.  I found it, available to order, and bought some for Mom for her birthday.  I never wanted her to run out again.

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