Movie star mom

Mom – 1940-something

Summers brought activity in the house to a boil. University aged children – offspring of family friends – came to work on the docks or in the fish packing plant run by my father. They lived with us and were looked out for by my mother who also cared for me, my sister, two brothers and my dad. Mom and my sister made lunches for all, assembling three or four thick sandwiches for each young man, enough to last the whole day. At the end of the day she did full loads of fish-crusted work pants and shirts and sweaty wool socks squeezing them through the ringer washer and stringing them up to dry in the laundry room or outside on the clothesline on one of the rare days it wasn’t raining in Prince Rupert.

Despite her unglamorous life, my mother’s red polished nails, matching red lips painted with a lip brush that appeared as she magically twisted the slim gold tube, Helena Rubenstein face powder, and cheeks rouged by applying the red lipstick daubed with her index and middle fingers made her glamorous to me. Her eyebrows were carefully arched and darkened with eyebrow pencil. I thought there was no one – certainly among my friends’ moms – who looked as much like a movie star as she did. Her look softened over the years and the lipstick tended more to pinky red than bee-stung swollen stain of the Flapper era, but she always took care with her appearance.

Image result for theda bara cleopatra
Theda Bara as Cleopatra – 1917

Mom was born about the same time that Theda Bara made the silent film Cleopatra in 1917 and whose movie make-up signalled a radical change in women’s cosmetics. By the time mom was a young woman in the late 1930’s, her personal style was established, and by the time I was born in 1957 it was so much part of her identity that I never saw her without make-up, even when hanging up laundry, ironing my dad’s plaid work shirts and all the bed linens, going to the grocery store, or making 20 sandwiches at 6:30 in the morning.

In the early 1960’s, Mom cut her own hair in the style of Elizabeth Taylor and she kept the same cut for the rest of her life. Every few weeks she’d go into the bathroom with barber scissors, stand in front of the vanity cabinet mirror with a hand-held mirror behind her and start shaping her hair. She turned her head right, left, middle, snipping and appraising as she went. To finish the look she’d plug in the kettle, let it steam and then position herself over it so as not to scald herself while letting the hot mist pouf up her curly hair. She’d run her fingers through it making sure every strand got plumped up like wrinkles on Restylane. This was a trick I’d remember in the 1970’s when Afro haircuts for curly girls were in-style. I burned my ears more times than I can remember trying to steam my locks.

Image result for elizabeth taylor short hair
Elizabeth Taylor

The jeans revolution of the 1960’s did not catch on with mom. She never owned a pair but her penchant for ironing everything included my denims. My jeans had a crease so sharp you could cut steak with it. I bet she’d press my kids’ jeans, too, the ones with strategic rips and tears raising them out of tatters through starch and heat. But she embraced wearing pants instead of skirts so that by the early 1970’s she never wore a skirt again, not even to my wedding.

Thanks to mom, I have an addiction for crisp white blouses and t-shirts (which my sister calls white-shirt-syndrome); for red lipstick; for carefully plucked eyebrows (that no longer grow back and which I have to pencil fill); and broaches.

Mom died in her late 70’s still maintaining her look, wearing pants, a buttoned-up shirt closed with a rhinestone pin every day, self-coiffed curls in place, and short clear polished nails.

Today is her birthday.

Mom circa 1958

34 thoughts on “Movie star mom

  1. Manja Mexi Movie September 5, 2016 / 4:17 pm

    Much love for your mom. My mom used boiling water and rollers for her hair management. She put a bowl on a washing machine. I jumped on a toilet seat that stood by and dipped the underarm straight into the boiling water. I was so fast and so little, there is very little left to be seen, but parents had to take me to the doctor to change bandages daily for about a year. Possibly that’s why I love my hair wild and sea-managed. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne September 5, 2016 / 6:29 pm

      My hair sounds like yours – wild and sea managed, even in-land! Thanks for reading MMM and glad to hear you didn’t suffer permanent damage from your childhood misadventure just a sane approach to hair-care.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne September 5, 2016 / 6:28 pm

      Hi Julie! Thanks for reading and nice to hear from you.


  2. thecontentedcrafter September 5, 2016 / 5:03 pm

    I can’t tell you how this beautiful toast to your mother made me feel. I can tell you how extraordinarily fortunate you were to have such a woman be your role model, She sounds almost unbelievable to me. Here’s to your mom, Susanne, and to you! I finished with a smile, for your mom and I share a birthday. Cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Susanne September 5, 2016 / 6:28 pm

      She was a fine person indeed, a quiet, patient teacher, a superb knitter, a great letter writer, as good a mother as I could have. Happy birthday, Pauline!


  3. Luanne September 5, 2016 / 5:39 pm

    Happy birthday to your mom, Susanne. You’ve created a vivid image of her, and I love all that you have taken away from her sense of style. Who knew that white-shirt-syndrome was really a thing. My daughter has no-white-shirt-syndrome herself as she always spills right at the breastbone. We first realized this when she was about 10 or 11, but it’s never gone away. I expect it to be a lifelong condition. I also love white shirts with khakis, though I rarely dress that way anymore for random reasons. I love that your mother was born when Theda Bara was making a name for herself. It’s kind of a coincidence you brought her up because she was just mentioned on Downton Abbey this weekend ;). I dressed as TB for Halloween once many years ago. I will stop hijacking your post about your wonderfully elegant mother, Susanne. I think you have gotten even more from your mother than what you mention here.


    • Susanne September 5, 2016 / 7:37 pm

      No-white-shirt syndrome is also a thing as is no-white-pants and no-white-skirt the latter two being the ones I’m afflicted with. How fun to dress up as Theda Bara – did anyone recognize you? I’d love to do that wild make-up!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luanne September 10, 2016 / 1:56 pm

        I went around telling around who I was, of course. But I didn’t need to do that the year I was Carmen Miranda with fruit on my head.


  4. Cathy Murphy September 5, 2016 / 5:49 pm

    What a beautiful picture of your mother and I too think this is just the tip of the iceberg, she clearly influenced you in many ways and perhaps when you write you wonder what her true passion may have been. Hugs to you on her birthday xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne September 5, 2016 / 6:24 pm

      Thanks, Cathy. She was remarkable in many ways. I seriously could write a ton about her although much would be conjecture because she was so self-effacing that I know very little about her opinions and thoughts.


  5. leggypeggy September 5, 2016 / 6:18 pm

    A beautiful tribute to your mum. Thanks for sharing.


    • Susanne September 5, 2016 / 6:21 pm

      I could write a book about my mom! Thanks for reading, Peggy.


  6. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner September 5, 2016 / 6:26 pm

    Beautiful tribute. You always leave me wanting to read more, Susanne. So, when’s that memoir going to be finished?


    • Susanne September 5, 2016 / 6:56 pm

      I’d have to start the memoir to finish it, Donna. I’ve thought about it but I need a focus and for the moment I’m too scattered to get there. I do appreciate the encouragement though!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Cynthia Jobin September 5, 2016 / 6:45 pm

    I remember the red lipstick, the rouge, the drawn arches of eyebrows and red nail polish from that era. My own mother was quite beautiful, though she was a country girl and did almost none of that; she did, however, acquiesce to the slavish, quiet suppression—or was it repression—of the full female personality. Our mothers certainly mark us as women in so many ways—- some for the good and others for the not-so-good—-and we can never in our hearts totally disown or erase that mark. Beautifully written, as always, Susanne.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne September 5, 2016 / 6:55 pm

      Oh my, how many cans of worms this comment opened for me, Cynthia. There was certainly lots of both suppression and repression of my mother’s personality and the full female personality, too, and it is inevitable that it gets passed on. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to recognize it and try and recover from it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Shubha Athavale September 5, 2016 / 8:56 pm

    Hi Susanne

    Got to your blog via Cynthia’s. Been reading for a while but first time commenting.
    Has been mother’s week this week! What with Cynthia and me sharing our mothers’ departure day.
    Loved your tribute to your mother and my respect to your mother.
    My mother was ahead of her time, in India! She wore red lipstick and sleeveless blouses with her sarees! How I envied her silky smooth exposed midriff and arms!
    Wonderfully written Susanne.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne September 18, 2016 / 3:42 pm

      I have fallen woefully behind in replying to folks for which I apologize, Shubha. It is so nice to have you here and I appreciate your comment. Isn’t Cynthia a marvelous poet? I can’t remember how I stumbled on her site but I look forward to her work.


  9. D. Wallace Peach September 5, 2016 / 9:16 pm

    Happy Birthday to your mom, Susanne. I love reading stories about the amazing women who were, in many ways, the backbones of their families and still found ways to assert their individuality. I can picture her through your words, and she sounds like a woman to be admired 🙂


  10. Osyth September 6, 2016 / 6:32 am

    What a wonderful woman! Thank you for sharing this portrait and window into a world I will never know but can still yearn for a little in that way that nostalgia has of creeping into crevices one didn’t even realise we’re there and seeming to fit perfectly ☺️


  11. Lisa @ cheergerm September 6, 2016 / 8:06 am

    Just beautiful Sue. She was gorgeous. Happy Birthday to your MMM.


  12. jbbluesman September 7, 2016 / 11:32 pm

    I wish I had got to know your mother. This tribute to her is really beautiful thanks for sharing and happy birthday to her.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne September 8, 2016 / 3:49 pm

      There are so many questions I would have liked to ask her, JB. I wonder can we ever really know our parents?


  13. insearchofitall September 18, 2020 / 10:05 pm

    Oh my goodness, Susanne! This is almost surreal in so many ways. It’s my first visit here and I love the wonderful tribute to your mother and then to see Pauline’s comment left of HER birthday sent me almost over the edge. Your mother was so very different from mine. I like how you write about her and your growing up. I almost feel drawn here for some reason. I’ll explore here more soon.


    • Susanne October 16, 2020 / 7:38 pm

      Hi Marlene,
      I haven’t posted here in four years and I keep meaning to clean up this site and migrate everything to Wuthering Bites. For some reason I visited tonight and thought I’d better get cracking on that project when I saw your comment. I’m kind of reluctant to move anything because I’ll lose all the comments from other bloggers I’ve loved like Pauline and Cynthia (who were friends). Anyway, guess I’ll leave it for posterity. Glad I got here and saw your wonderful comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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