My Mom always wore make-up. Her train case was stocked with just about anything you’d find in a standard beauty salon. And Mom always kept it hidden in a deep drawer of an Old Hutch in a kitchen corner. I know– now it seems odd to me too, but for many years of my youth I thought all women applied makeup at the kitchen table.
I wasn’t real sure why that was, because I thought I could put a bottle of foundation and an eyebrow pencil in my pocket and apply makeup standing up, if that time ever came. At 9 or 10, I honestly believed I’d never wear the stuff at all anyway– if I could help it.
But it was a tantalizing event to see my Mom apply makeup, and I was happy when I woke up early enough to watch. I didn’t learn until much later that the ‘Kitchen Arrangement’ began years before when Mom rose early for her job at the hospital while dad slept-in after a 12-hour swing shift at the copper mine. It was a matter of convenience. The house was quiet at 4 a.m. and Mom rose and tip-toe’d to allow my dad an extra 40 winks.
She’d open her train case and lay out all the items she needed. The most fascinating to me was the flat red, oblong plastic box from Maybelline. When opened, it held a little brush that looked fitting for one of my dolls. And a thin slab of what looked like hard black shoe polish. I remember Mom spitting on that little brush with stiff bristles. Then she would scrub that brush hard on the layer of black shoe polish.
After much spitting and scrubbing the brush filled with flakes and Mom applied dampened powder to brows and lashes. Amazing! What an ingenious process, I thought, for eyebrows and eyelashes. Maybelline surely were the smartest people around. My mom told me there were ladies who had no lashes at all, but painted them on entirely with their little red Maybelline box. And then there was dye, too, but Mom never used that.
Mom had a few of those train cases over the years. Being a thrifty person, she would use the same train case until the handle broke and the clasp no longer held the lid closed. Then a shiny new train case would replace the old one and Mom would go shopping. She loved buying make-up and always looking her best. Unlike me, who sits around on Saturday morning in bathrobe and messy hair until forced to get dressed, Mom was up early with make-up applied and blond hair brushed before the sun finished rising. Looking back, now, I wish I had inherited that habit from her.
As much as I’d like to forget Mom’s last train case, it haunts me still. Like all the others, she had used it until the handle was broken and the lid no longer latched. The big hutch no longer sat in the kitchen so the old train case sat on the floor, under a corner of the kitchen table. Mom had been moving to the ‘Group Home’ the last day I saw the train case. It stayed where it was beneath the table since our arms were full with other things, and if Mom remembered it after the move, she never mentioned it again.
I didn’t see the train case again for more than 2 years. After Mom passed away, I went back to move her belongings in preparation for new owners to move in. The entire ordeal was heart breaking and the train case was the last straw. Childhood memories of me and Mom and her morning make-up ritual flooded back and I began to cry anew.
I opened the, much lighter than I remembered, train case to find it almost empty except for several eyebrow pencils, sharpened to stubs, too short to fit anyone’s fingertip. A solitary powder puff, left only with the fine scent of what use to be. Empty foundation bottles, one with a q-tip swab to savor the last drop. Opened and empty lipstick tubes containing only smudges of Mom’s dark red shade. It was obvious, Mom’s train case had been emptied of make-up for many months before it was abandoned and left behind when Mom moved away. And I knew, that no matter how many times she had opened the case and reminded herself that she needed to shop for make-up, or how often she made a mental note to tell me that she needed to shop for make-up, Alzheimer’s always won and her memory failed her. I wish I had known.