I think this picture of my parents was taken at a party in 1954, right before they were engaged. I recognize the look on Dad’s young face. When he is sincerely happy his contagious smile lights up a room. The woman leaning into him is the reason for his smile. I know this because Mom loved to tell my sisters and I the story of her lipstick.
It’s hard to see in a black and white photo, but she’s wearing ‘Love That Red’ by Maybelline. Shortly after they started dating, Mom told us she was browsing the lipsticks at the make-up counter of the Five and Dime, when she spotted the name. Since Dad’s nickname is Red, she took it as positive omen and impulsively bought the tube. She never willingly wore another color. I say ‘willingly’, because there was an unfortunate period when Maybelline suspended production of ‘Love That Red’ for a short time.
A short side note about Mom. She was never the type to pick out a lipstick because of a shared a name with her boyfriend. That would have been silly. Mom is a lot of things; kind, loving, sarcastic, but never silly. Silliness irritates her, but she was compelled to buy it. When we still could talk together, she told us, no matter how angry she was at Dad, she still smiled when she reapplied her lipstick.
In the photo Dad is confidently smiling because he knows he’s loved. (I can hear him now, “No, it’s the beer.” Don’t believe him. I’ve seen him smile after a few beers. It’s not the same.) He is a jokester who deflects compliments with funny comments.
I love this picture because I’m able to see the beginnings of a bond, a choice, and an eventual promise made before wedding plans, in-law compromises, honeymoon, planning for future, first child, saving for home, brain tumor, blindness, putting house planning on hold, second child, third child, raising family, home buying, vacations, holidays, teenagers, daughter’s wedding plans, deaths of parents and brother, grandchildren, retirement, now it’s our time, recurrence of brain tumor, nursing home, great-grandchildren, deaths of dear friends…
Yes, nestled in between the life altering events most couples face is the brain tumor. Two years after their wedding, and four months after I was born, mom needed brain surgery to remove a benign tumor. Thank God she survived, but she never regained her sight.
Although her brain tumor was a defining moment in their lives, they NEVER allowed it to define them.
Our family grew, loved, argued, and went on. Dad still smiled, and mom wore her lipstick.
I came of age during the turbulent ‘60’s. With all my bratty twelve-year old fury, I let her know I didn’t’t understand how she settled. Getting dinner done on time, changing clothes, combing out her hair, and putting on that lipstick. All this preparation to celebrate dad’s nightly return home from work. She was an embarrassment.
“All you do is stay home and take care of us”
I wished for a mom more like Gloria Steinem, or at least Joan Baez.
After school one day I announced,
“Sister Celeste told me Dad is a hero.”
“Really, why?” Mom asked.
“Because he stayed with you even though you’re blind.”
I can still see my apron clad, ‘Love That Red’ wearing mom. She flashed her eyes, stood up straight, put her hands on her hips, and with quite confidence replied,
“Noreen, he’s also lucky I stayed.”
In that moment she replaced Gloria and Joan and became my hero. She never allowed the label of ‘handicapped woman’ to represent her or diminish her in any way. She wore her lipstick and strongly set a confident example for us. We watched how Dad respected this about her, and their example taught my sisters and I to expect mutual respect in any of our own relationships.
Even though she doesn’t wear ‘Love That Red’ anymore, mom is still able to smile when she hears,
“Red is here.”
And he confidently smiles back.
Today, May 26, 2016 they are holding hands and happily keeping the promise they made to each other 61 years ago.