I grew up in a small town. How small was it? It was one of those towns so small that everyone did in fact know everyone else. You couldn’t get away with anything because someone would tell your parents, usually within minutes of the infraction. Yes, we walked to elementary school, but it wasn’t miles. And I did have shoes as well as boots for the snow, for those who thought I was going for the, “Why, when I was your age…” yammering.
When I was twelve and in sixth grade, I was tall for my age and bean-pole skinny. My school picture from that year shows that my mother had probably cut my hair herself in a style that was….well, I’m not quite sure how to describe it. It was short and choppy, and my bangs went across my forehead in a zigzag pattern. Not my best look.
It was October 1962 and Anderson’s Drug Store had two huge picture windows where they displayed their Halloween masks for sale. There was only one mask that I wanted. I’m assuming it had been made from latex, as it was soft and rubbery. The face was of a beautiful woman with wavy brown hair, red bow lips, perfectly arched eyebrows, and a tiny nose. I coveted that mask. I wanted to be that woman.
“It’s too much money,” was my mom’s response. “Pick something else.”
There wasn’t any other mask I wanted. Every morning on my walk to school, I would gaze at that mask in the window. Every afternoon on the way home, same deal, until the day my mom had set as a deadline for settling on a costume. On my way home that day, the mask was gone. I cried as only a young child can cry over something so petty.
When I got home, my mom met me at the door with a brown paper bag. And of course in it was the mask. Somehow she had scrimped enough money to come up with the extra dollar or two that THIS mask had cost.
In 1962 in rural Pennsylvania, middle school was not yet a concept. Sixth grade was still included in elementary school. The custom at Halloween was for all the school children to march around town in their costumes before the judging took place back at the school.
Well, that year I won the prize for the most beautiful. Tall, bean-pole skinny, choppy hair with zigzag bangs ME won for the most beautiful. At the time, it completely eluded me that the mask had been chosen as the most beautiful, not me.
This may seem like an odd story to choose as my favorite one in remembering my mother. But consider what had to be going on: My mom instinctively knew that, for her youngest child among six, the stupid mask was a very big deal. We were poor and coming up with a couple extra dollars was no small feat. But because she loved me, she found a way to turn my wish into a reality.
This happened long before I realized that the true reflection of beauty happens in the heart and not on the face.
To my readers: Share your favorite story about a parent.