Pluck

When I was my daughter’s age, six, I had already started giving Nona (my great-grandmother) spa days. We didn’t call them that.

I used to spend lots and lots of time with my grandmother, who lived with her mother in a house across the street from Winchell Elementary. There were stabbings on the corner and drug deals in the alley even then, thirty years ago. Her house was odd, because it used to be the corner store, so there was a big block of a room with a huge high ceiling and a concrete floor softened by a huge Persian rug, and she used this room as her primary living space, like a loft– and there was also a formal attached house with a kitchen and a dining room and a sunroom, just like lots of other California bungalows you see near the fairgrounds.

Nona lived in the bedroom in the real house, but the light was better in the room that used to be the store, so this was where I did the whiskers.

You have to understand, Greek ladies have more formidable whiskers than their Nordic counterparts. I’m sure that there are exceptions on both sides, but if you are one of those girls who must wonder if you really need to shave today or not, then don’t talk to me about hair. I don’t let blonde people wax my eyebrows, because those blonde people are different animals who don’t understand what real eyebrows even are. I digress.

My grandmother and Nona had to recruit me to do their whiskers, you see, because I was the only one who could see up close. My grandmother had reading glasses, but was vain and didn’t wear her real glasses. Nona was just ancient. At six, I still had clear vision and I was their only option, and so I would go over them with the cheap, bulky tipped tweezers– neck, jaw, chin, skip the mustache area, and eyebrows last. It turned into kind of a perverse pleasure, I think, for a six year old to have.

And then after the whiskers were all cleared away and the brows were shaped (one grandma at a time, Nona always first) out came the Pond’s cream, which I slathered on and wiped off with tissue after tissue. Then the foundation– again, my eyesight was handy, because I could see fingerprints, if there were any. Then eyebrows were drawn. Then eyes were lined and shadowed. Nona had to have her lashes curled, because they were so grey and short, and this part always made me nervous because it seemed as though some day those crispy wisps would just crack right off in the clamp of the eyelash curler. They never did.

My favorite part were the lips. Nona’s lips were thin and wide. Old lady lips, lined from decades of smoking cigarettes. It was a challenge to get those things on straight. I tried to get her to look like she was out of a rembetika LP, and she always looked amused when I finally handed her the mirror. They were humoring me and keeping a little kid entertained, but they needed me, too.

Grandma’s lips, though, were fuller and had some plump left in them. I loved doing her mouth up in fuschia or scarlet (usually Wet N’ Wild, or strange Mexican brands from the swap meet), or mixing liners and lipsticks to get the darkest, vampiest blood red I could manage. She liked these colors, too, and I emulated her the first chance I got. We have the same mouth, I see that now.

At the time, we would compare our wrists and fingers and see how mine were smaller, younger versions of her own. I still look at my hands, and see hers. Even more now that I can see my veins, and when I lazily layer nail polishes over each other, I think of her and how she once lit her layers of polish on fire while trying to light her gas stove.

This could turn into a post about how I pluck the same whiskers, but it won’t.

Today I did my mom’s face. She has always seemed so young to me. She was dating and working when I was Iso’s age, when I was learning how to pluck and moisturize, but now I am the age she was then, and she is older than the age my grandmother was– and so I did her face and reveled in it. I was able to show her the affection I’ve been wanting to, but haven’t been able to. We’re both kind of prickly. People who think they know us always say we are so nice and so quiet, but people who really know us know different.

So, after a few hard years involving cancer and surgery and therapy, and anger and fear from both of us, she relaxed enough to let me fuss over her and it was okay again. For half an hour, anyway. Her mother’s hands, probably at the age she remembers her mother fussing over her with, were there again, fussing over her again– plucking, slathering, lining. For the two of us, the lines between mother and child are all smudged. They always have been, and maybe this is why. The top half of my face looks like my dad, but the rest of me? I’m a copy of my grandmother, through and through, right down to my fingertips.

One of my grandmother’s favorite songs: here.

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3 thoughts on “Pluck

  1. I just loved this – I feel like it could be the start – or middle or something – to a novel by itself. Lovely and heartbreaking and evocative and nostalgic.

  2. Thank you! It’s kind of hard to write about reality, much more so than when I’m just making it all up. Also, I wasn’t sure if anyone would want to read about whiskers. Ha!

  3. It’s part of what made it so REAL-feeling. You could have been making up a story for all I knew. It felt like a short story or a snapshot of someone’s memories.

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